The last thing I ever thought I would say a movie that concerned a village of dwarves fighting off flying heads with intestines dangling from the neck would be that it was boring. Alas, The Dwarves Must Be Crazy borders on interminable despite its mere 90 minute runtime, constantly seeming readyt to kick into higher gear only to reset and calm things down again. I purposely chose the movie to start my day at Fantastic Fest, thinking it would jolt me awake better than any coffee could - if anything I found my cup of brew more exciting.
Essentially a zombie outbreak kind of story, there is really no good excuse (creatively speaking anyway) for how long it takes the shit to hit the fan, considering how early our dwarf heroes find and eat the insects that turn some of them into the flying head monsters (called Kra-Soo or Kra-Sue; the difference to my eyes was impossible to discern beyond the color of the light that eminated from them). I would guess it was only about ten minutes into the movie before some of them started showing signs of turning (eyes rolling around, weird shrieks, etc), which suggested a full blown outbreak by the end of act one. Instead, very few of them turn, and the movie focuses most of its runtime on the still-human protagonists just going out their usual routine.
That routine consists of two things, seemingly: finding food, and arguing about how they stack for their human pyramid (which is more like a human totem, but this is the least of my concerns). Whenever they need to grab something up on a tree or a high ledge, our five heroes will sit and discuss who will be on the bottom, who will be on the top, etc. I assume it's supposed to be funny, but neither myself nor anyone in my audience was laughing even at the first such scene, and there are three - one near the film's conclusion, when things should be most exciting.
But a few unfunny bits aren't enough to sink a film - it's the pacing that keeps it from ever being as engaging and insane as its premise suggested. Every single time it seemed to really get going, everyone would just run away from the threat and it would disappear for like ten minutes. Late in the film there is a minor twist concerning the true nature of the Kra-Sue (Soo) and a new threat to contend with, but even that fails to really make it come alive - there are still too many pointless diversions keeping the film's pulse low. A group of monks forgetting the words to their chants, a character who doesn't seem to realize she's sitting on a giant snake, even a couple of random (thankfully brief) song and dance routines - these things would have been fine in the early stages, before any threat had been introduced, but once we know that there are flying disembodied heads that like to eat butts, we kind of just want to see flying disembodied heads eating butts, you know?
There are enough scattered bits of insanity to keep it from being unwatchable, thankfully - I particularly liked when they are trying to be quiet and a Kra-Sue keeps biting one guy's butt, at which point they all accuse one another of being the culprit (while remaining silent, so a form of sign language and some very odd facial expressions serve as the dialogue). Those scarce butt munching scenes are always a welcome sight because of how insane the idea is, and the film offers plenty of piss and poop driven jokes that occasionally succeed just by the law of averages. And thankfully it never feels too exploitive - I may not have found it very funny, but when I DID laugh I never felt bad about it either, as the jokes would have worked if it were just a bunch of regular sized people. After a few minutes it barely even registered that they were at a height disadvantage until those goddamn human pyramid scenes.
Ultimately, it just proves that concept alone cannot sustain a feature film (I would make the joke that it would "work better as a short", but I'll refrain - not out of fear of being insensitive, but someone beat me to it on Twitter). It doesn't matter how crazy the basic one-line synopsis is - eventually the insanity becomes the norm, and the movie has to function just like every other film: with engaging characters, stakes that incrementally rise, and a desire to see the heroes overcome whatever obstacle they face. The folks behind The Dwarves Must Be Crazy seemed to think that brief appearances from crazy monsters would be enough to keep us entertained through the never-ending lulls. Alas, after fifteen minutes or so, I had seen everything the movie was ever really willing to offer.