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Knight at the Movies: Valentine Road; We Are What We Are; notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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On the morning of July 12, 2008, at approximately 8:15 a.m. while sitting in class at the E O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif., 14-year-old Brandon McInerney pulled a .22-caliber revolver out of his backpack and shot another student in the back of the head. McInerney dropped the gun, walked out of the school and was apprehended by authorities just blocks away fewer than 10 minutes later. His victim, 15-year-old Larry King, died within two days and was buried in a cemetery on Valentine Road—which provides the ironic name for Marta Cunningham's extraordinary documentary debut feature about the tragedy.

It's ironic because two days before the shooting King approached McInerney at school and asked him, in front of several of his friends, to be his valentine. That wasn't the first time the openly gay King had publicly verbalized his attraction to McInerney, who was straight and the embarrassment of being the object of a same-sex attraction—in particular by a boy who also used make-up and wore female clothing to school—was widely seen as the motive for the killing.

In Cunningham's film—which debuted Oct. 7 on HBO and which will be broadcast throughout the month—King's declaration and, even more, his burgeoning acceptance and public display of his transgender status, are seen as just cause for McInerney to end his life. Time and time again, the movie gives those involved—teachers, jurors, attorneys, family, and friends—a platform upon which they hang themselves by almost eagerly revealing their deeply ingrained prejudices toward King's behavior and deride his insistence on being his true self. Never have I seen a film that is a more telling example of the "blame the victim" mentality.

Cunningham's film is filled with dozens of moments that leave one enraged at the vile insidiousness of prejudice and the justification for violence done in its name. It's never in doubt that the diminutive King—an adopted child whose hardscrabble life finally found a measure of peace and acceptance when he was placed in a group home for troubled youth—was the tragic victim of a hate crime.

However, the reasons for that crime by its perpetrator—who also came from an extremely troubled background—and the larger, complex questions surrounding social and institutional attitudes toward sexual minorities, gun violence and the judicial process are also explored in Cunningham's remarkable film. Its horrifying clear in the unforgettable Valentine Road, a deeply thought-provoking documentary, that McInerney's heinous crime had consequences far beyond the ultimate one suffered by his unfortunate victim.

Briefly noted: Director Jim Mickle's We Are What We Are, opening this Friday at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., is another welcome entry in the ongoing revival of horror movies that relies on character and setting rather than shock and gore to chill audiences to the marrow. No one seems to think it odd that so many young women have gone missing and no one seems to connect their disappearances with the elusive Parker clan. But during a period of unending rain, accompanied by flooding of the area's waterways, pieces of evidence surface that suggest that the Parkers are a lot more than the pious, churchy folk they seem to be.

The death of Mrs. Parker in what appears to be a drowning ( but is actually something much more sinister ) especially piques the curiosity of the local forensics expert whose own daughter went missing years before. It won't be long before various outsiders will attempt to pierce the shroud of mystery surrounding the family that is headed by a stern patriarch ( Bill Sage, who was so memorable as the child molester in Mysterious Skin ).

Mickle's film is a moody, slow-building remake of a 2010 Mexican movie that gives away the family secret long before it reaches its horrific conclusion but that's not necessarily a bad thing in this gorgeously shot and scored picture which envelopes the audience in its dark, rain soaked landscape from beginning to end. And there are some twists in the last half hour which are both surprising and may just satisfy gore fans to boot. Michael Parks is wonderful as the suspicious pathologist while Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers are preternaturally beautiful and eerie as the teenage Parker girls, charged by their unyielding father with continuing the family "traditions." Out actor Kelly McGillis has a small but telling part as a kindly neighbor.

Film notes:

—A day of Halloween movies: If it's October, it must be time for horror-movie marathons. The first up is The Massacre which is being held at the Patio Theater, 6008 W. Irving Park Rd., and starts Saturday, Oct. 12, at 11 a.m. ( A second 24-hour horror marathon is being held on Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Music Box; there'll be details on that line-up in next week's column. )

Highlights of The Massacre include a great assortment of old and new creepy classics and schlock masterpieces—Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Hellraiser II, Army of Darkness, April Fool's Day and Slither, among them. The fest also includes a rare screening of 1985's Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge with a big bonus: Mark Patton, the openly gay, HIV-positive star of the film ( see my interview with him in this issue ) will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A, and sign autographs and pose for photos with fans. The Massacre includes vendor tables, prizes, a live charity auction for Vital Bridges and more.

—Chicago home-movie day: All Chicagoans are invited to dig out the best of their Super 8 home movies—beloved records of family and cultural occasions—and bring these celluloid histories to the Chicago History Museum ( 1601 N. North Ave. ) on Saturday, Oct. 19. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., members of the Northwest Chicago Film Society, which sponsors this annual event ( this is the third ) will inspect your films, project them and offer tips on preservation and how to transfer them. This year's attendees will also get to participate in Home Movie Day Bingo which features an assortment of prizes donated by local film organizations like the Gene Siskel Film Center and Chicago Filmmakers. Admission is free.

—DVD of note: Laurence Anyways, from out writer-director French Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, is out on DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures. Dolan's nearly three-hour story is the story of a French schoolteacher and the impact his transition to becoming female has on his relationship with his fiery girlfriend ( portrayed by Suzanne Clement in a career-altering performance ). Dolan's movie, epically scaled from 1989 through the mid-'90s ( the soundtrack and fashions are spot-on ) really gets at the heart of the emotional challenges facing both the person desperately needing to transition and the conflicts faced by their loved ones. Heartfelt, messy, filled with genuine emotional insight, Dolan's movie is a marvel.

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