Horror, fantasy, Hong Kong action, animation, strange documentaries, thought-provoking science-fiction, Japanese new wave and martial arts are just among the many genres the Fantasia Film Festival covered in its nineteenth year of programming. Famous for being the largest genre film festival in North America, Fantasia is packed with Canadian, North American and worldwide feature-length premieres as well as shorts. This year’s line-up included 22 World Premieres, 13 International Premieres, and 21 North American Premieres including Marvel’s Ant-Man, the animated Miss Hokusai and the much-anticipated Attack on Titan. As of Wednesday night, August 5th 2015, the most recent edition of the festival will be a thing of the past.
With over 130 films screened in 23 days, it’s impossible to see them all. This year, I tried my best to pace myself. Long gone are the days where I would cram in 3 or 4 movies in a day. Maybe I’m getting old and just don’t have the energy anymore or maybe I’ve just come to realize that you don’t need to see them all. That said, I still managed to watch a whopping 32 films during the three and a half week run. Festival veterans and newcomers alike had a stunning choice of movies to discover and this year I’m happy to report that I only saw one movie I disliked. It may not have been Fantasia’s strongest year (that honour still goes to the 12th edition) but the lineup was incredibly strong once again. After having properly digested the festival fever, I’ve asked our staff to put together a list of our personal favourites. Each of us chose three films while avoiding any overlap. In no particular order, here is the list of movies we most recommend watching when and if you ever have the chance. (Ricky D)
100 Yen Love
In some ways, the Japanese director Masaharu Take’s 100 Yen Love feels about as old-hat as the 12/8, bluesy guitar music which makes up the bulk of the film’s score: it’s yet another boxing drama about an outcast who finds herself in the ring. There’s nothing in the story we haven’t heard before, and, like the music, its willingness to rehash cliches makes it risk self-parody. But conveying art through established traditions can have a certain nostalgic charm, and both the music and the film it provides the soundtrack for play off tropes to create a crowd-pleaser which oozes appeal. (Max Bledstein)
Cop Car is the type of movie that knows exactly what it is as well as how to press the right buttons to excite the audience. On first glance, the concept sounds rather far fetched. Then again, kids, because of their nature, do incredibly stupid things. If some chap is foolish enough to leave his or her car unattended and a couple of bored 10 or 11-year olds creep up, who knows what preposterous ideas their imaginations will conjure up. The magic that director Jon Watts and fellow screenwriter Christopher D. Ford whip up in Cop Car is in keeping the silliness grounded in a sense of reality, which in turn makes the film all the funnier and more exciting. The adventure is simultaneously wild and believable enough to retain the viewer’s attention. ‘Compromise’ is often viewed as a negative thing in filmmaking (a writer or director’s vision being compromised by forces beyond his or her control and wishes), yet with Cop Car it makes the film all the more engaging than it might otherwise have been. (Edgar Chaput)
According to writer-director Miguel Llansó, Crumbs was created mostly on circumstance and coincidence which might explain why the film seems constructed as an assortment of random images and confusing scenes. But don’t let that scare you: Ethiopia’s first post-apocalyptic sci-fi feature (spoken in Amharic) is a technically stunning and emotionally wrenching directorial debut. There’s little narrative so to speak, but Crumbs does feature an eccentric love story and a dash of politically charged surrealism. (Ricky D)
There’s plenty of vivid splatstick here, from dismemberment, disembowelling, beheading, and the like. 90 minutes viewing bodies ripped apart by power tools might not appeal to most viewers but those who like hyperbolic gore, will appreciate how it is handled with bloody conviction. Once the film kicks in, with a frantic opening credits montage that’s comprised of hilarious animation and miscellaneous black and white sketches, it rarely slows down. Paired with some truly inventive effects (especially considering the budget), Deathgasmcombines heavy metal and splatsitck into a rocking-good-time. Deathgasm is an escalating series of nauseating set pieces and somehow manages to be funnier with each disgusting new sight gag and Howden has a knack for shifting gears with unpredictable abandon between extreme gore and outrageous humor that calls to mind Sam Raimi’s best work. Warning: Deathgasm is guaranteed to test your intestinal fortitude. (Ricky D)
Even if the details of Goodnight Mommy, the Austrian chiller from co-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala are unclear, the basics couldn’t be straightforward enough: twin brothers Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) are suspicious of their mother (Suzanne West). She comes home from facial surgery with a countenance covered in bandages, and the boys suspect that she’s actually an impostor. Her inability to recognize herself when one of them makes her “Mama” in the Post-It celebrity guessing game (in a scene whose economy would make Quentin Tarantino jealous) fuels their suspicions, as do her harsh discipline tactics. From there, most of the film consists of a chamber play in which the boys’ suspicions mount and she denies them. Naturally, her denials provoke them even more, and their desire to expose her for what she is gradually becomes more and more malicious. (Max Bledstein)
H explores the lives of two women both named Helen, the older of the two (Robin Bartlett) lives with her grumpy husband and finds solace in caring for a baby doll who she treats like her own child. The younger (Rebecca Dyan) is a successful artist, expecting her first child, and coping with her husband’s infidelities. After a meteor shower, the people of the town of Troy, New York experience strange happenings, a portion of the populace wanders off into the woods, men seem affected by a high pitch frequencies, water flows upwards defying gravity, and people seem to generally lose their minds. H is a bizarre and entirely dream-like representation of a town caught in the graps of some otherworldly force. For a first time feature, H is a tightly constructed little film that knows its budgetary limitations and never tries to overreach its grasp.
Rollins plays Jack, a stoic loner struggling to keep his violent proclivities and cannibalistic urges in check. This gets harder when Jack runs afoul of the local mob, forcing him into a number of violent confrontations.
He Never Died may lose a bit of steam around the midway point, and it desperately needs a better ending. But all the same, the film is an engrossing experience. This largely comes from Rollins himself, who reveals himself to be an absolute master of deadpan delivery and quiet charm. The slow unraveling of the mystery of who or what Jack is keeps the viewer guessing and the consistently strong supporting cast (including Trevor Phillips himself, Steven Ogg) ensure that this isn’t just a one-man show, though it easily could have been.
He Never Died gets the viewer engrossed in its world and central character, leaving them as hungry for more as Jack probably would be for them. (Thomas O’Connor)
And to top things off, The Interior features some truly stunning cinematography as the camera glides smoothly and confidently through the woods in deep focus, allowing us the soak in the quiet atmosphere, both soothing and overwhelming, of the British Columbia woods. It’s staggering that these sequences were filmed without the use of a Steadicam rig, and they only add to the dreamlike atmosphere the film takes on in the second act.
If comedy and horror are two sides of the same coin, The Interior is perhaps one of the few films in existence to encompass the whole coin in one cinematic experience. (Thomas O’Connor)
Love & Peace
Sion Sono is a director usually linked to extreme-cinema with some citing him as a replacement for Takashi Miike who now sits comfortably in the mainstream. And like Miike, Sion Sono is one of the busiest filmmakers in the world, averaging about two movies a year. We’re only halfway through 2015 and he has an impressive three features (Shinjuku Swan) (Love & Peace) (Tag) out in cinemas, with three more set for release before 2016 rolls out. With Love & Peace, the director comes out of his comfort zone to deliver a startlingly touching and accessible film that the whole family can enjoy. Based on a screenplay he wrote two decades ago, Sion Sono gives the rock movie a makeover by fusing together slapstick – romance – politics – classic Hollywood Christmas movies – Tokusatsu films, puppetry and stop-motion animation. A bizarre thing, this crazy movie is every movie you loved as a kid crammed into 117 minutes of cinematic lunacy. (Ricky D)
Meathead Goes Hog Wild
Tough to categorize, hard to forget, Meathead Goes Hog Wild is an unsettling and bracingly original micro-budget gem that firmly places a trio of young indie filmmakers on our must-watch list. Collaborating on their first feature after directing various shorts, Kevin Cline (who stars), Zach Harris and Sean Pierce deliver a razor-sharp character portrait of a man who slowly begins to lose total control of his body, his mind and his soul. Diving into a pit of desperation and rage, Meathead Goes Hog Wild pushes character-driven comedy right to the edge. (Ricky D)
The link between death and desire is at the heart of the Blaine brothers’ debut feature, Nina Forever. After the death of his girlfriend and a failed suicide attempt, Rob (Cian Barry) starts a relationship with his young co-worker, Holly (Abigail Hardingham). But every time they have sex his dead girlfriend, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), appears mangled and bloodied in their bed. At the heart of absurdity is fear. Great horror is often intensely absurd, borrowing as much from comedy as it does from the macabre. Nina Forever faces death and it cuts back with a sarcastic remark. The careful balance of the tone never undermines the weight of grief, but it puts it in a wider perspective. Death is inevitable but we treat it as a great injustice. We talk about fairness in conversations about death, as if some lives are more valuable than others, or that death is avoidable through good living. The absurdity surrounding death is the greatest comedy and the greatest tragedy of our existence. (Justine Smith)
Delivering a brisk and fast-paced action comedy about the nature of reality, Sion Sono’s Tag stands out as among the best films so far this year. Sion Sono has never been a stranger to pushing boundaries – his films have consistently tackled taboo subjects through the gauze of the unreal. His most famous works operate on the tone of hysteria, as emotions and actions are amplified to create a surreal and fantastical landscape.
Tag is a vibrant chase film, building on increased momentum in an increasingly absurd world. The film easily ranks among Sono’s strongest works and is especially exciting for its concentrated action. Whereas Love Exposure (2008) is an epic in every sense of the word, Tag is lean and fast without any extraneous moments. Above all else, the film is funny and sexy — a gruesome journey into our sense of perception and the power we have over destiny.
If all you know about Tangerine going in is that it’s shot on an iPhone, you might think that the cinematography is a mere gimmick. But even if you don’t know that director Sean Baker kept the method of filming a secret until the movie’s premiere in order to avoid those sorts of preconceptions, it’s apparent from the opening frame that Baker had far more than gimmickry on his mind. The film tells the fast-paced and hilarious story of Sin-Dee and Alexandra, two transgender prostitutes living in a gritty part of LA. Sin-Dee gets out of jail to her friend’s unpleasant information concerning Sin-Dee’s pimp/boyfriend cheating on her with a white cisgender girl. Although Alexandra’s news is unfortunate, the adventure which follows is anything but, as the two embark on a madcap journey to track down the offending philanderer. With humour and heart bursting from the screen, Tangerine is a giant leap forward for both the technical possibilities of filmmaking and cinematic diversity. (Max Bledstein)
Despite films like last year’s Quebec premiere of Boyhood, Fantasia is unabashedly a genre film festival, and Turbo Kid is unabashedly a genre film. Beyond that rather broad categorization, it’s a particularly campy one. But its campiness is what makes it so damned fun. From the opening prologue, in which a narrator informs us that the film takes place in the terrifying future of 1997, to the equally tongue in cheek conclusion, Turbo Kid never lets up its goofiness or giddiness. Even when the blood splatters (and does it ever!), everything’s in the name of a good-natured tribute to post-apocalyptic ‘80s action flicks, and the film doesn’t have a mean bone in its body. For those familiar with the subjects of its homage as well as those who enter the theatre cold, Turbo Kid is simply a great time at the movies… read a full review here. (Max Bledstein)
We Are Still Here
It seems that these days, so many horror films are looking for the next great angle, some new clever spin to put on ghost movies to update them for hip modern audiences. “Oh, you want a spin do ya?” says We Are Still Here, “Well how’s this for a spin – it’s really scary and clever. There’s your spin. Enjoy”. And enjoy you shall.
After the tragic death of their son, a middle-aged couple retreat to a newly purchased house in a small town. Soon to be joined by their late son’s roomate and his parents, the couple slowly realizes that something is terribly amiss in their new home…and their new neighbors are in on it.
While other horror films flee from conventions, trying to reinvent or deconstruct them, We Are Still Here embraces those conventions, giving a loving bear hug to classic horror films of old, particularly Italian shockers like The House by the Cemetery.
With quiet, effective scares and buckets of blood and gore effects in equal measure, We Are Still Here is an excellent horror experience from start to finish, as straightforward, heartfelt and un-cynical as one could hope for. (Thomas O’Connor)