For even the most seasoned festival goer, the Fantasia Film Festival presents a daunting challenge. With over 160 films playing, it is impossible to see everything and compromise is not an option but a necessity. For the cinematic adventurer, however, Fantasia is a gold-mine: bringing to the forefront some of the strangest, smallest and craziest of genre cinema to the big screen. The success rate is not always high, but the joy of discovering an unexpected gem outweighs any disappointment that may be encountered on your adventures through the trenches of obscurity.
That being said, my most anticipated films of the festival combine the more highly anticipated works with some stranger more unpredictable entries. Be sure to check out the Fantasia website for a full list of films and leave a comment with your own list of anticipated features!
Excision (Richard Bates Jr.)
A hit at Sundance and featuring an all-star cast of cult acting favourites, Excision is a dark horror comedy about the perils of female adolescence. A feature length debut for director Richard Bates Jr., the movie premiered at Sundance to rave reviews, and the trailer suggests a rather unconventional take on adolescence. Comparisons as wide ranging as David Cronenberg, John Waters, Todd Solondz and Lucky McKee put this film in a category of high anticipation for me, even though these all-star comparisons similarly leave a lot of room for disappointment. Excision seems to be a dark comedy that veers into the horror genre, and one can only hope this film is better than recent dark “teen-flicks” like Saved! and Teeth, that supposedly explore through fantasy and absurdist humour the perils of contemporary American life. Excision seems to have a strong and inventive visual style, and features a large cast of cult-acting favourites. Let’s hope this film follows route of some recent female-centric horror films that are clever and disturbing, rather than passively misogynistic (still an unfortunate symptom of female centred horror). The film apparently revels in American popular culture, further contributing to its satirical bent. Though very successful at its premiere at Sundance, it is difficult to measure whether or not it’s popularity will translate to other audiences. In recent years Sundance favourites have been less than stellar, whereas some of its most controversial entries, like last year’s The Woman, (which also premiered at Fantasia) proved to be among the best films of last year.
As Luck Would Have It (La chispa de la vida) (Alex de Iglesia)
Not yet a household name, Alex de Iglesia has nonetheless left his mark on genre filmmaking. Over the years he has made films like Day of the Beast and The Last Circus, which have found cult followings due to their vibrant energy and successful blending of genres. Though not as overtly horrific in nature as some of his previous films, As Luck Would Have It nonetheless suggests the grotesque through the absurdity of the contemporary media circus. The film has already been compared many times to Billy Wilders biting satire, Ace in the Hole and in my esteem a genre filmmaker is far more suited to this premise than the cutesy-ness often found in the independent circuit. The scriptwriter also happens to be the guy who penned Tango & Cash, if that isn’t your thing… well, maybe you should stop watching new movies and stick to Criterion.
Chained (Jennifer Lynch)
I have yet to see a film by Jennifer Lynch, but I am hoping that will change in the coming weeks. It is a rare privilege that such a daring and unconventional filmmaker would come to Montreal, and Fantasia seems to have pulled all the stops in order to give her her due. Though I am equally anticipating the documentary, Despite the Gods, about the troubled production of her Bollywood horror Hisss about a woman turning into a snake, I am highlighting Chained as it promises to be one of the more unsettling entries in this years festival, and excepting Catherine Breillat, it is so rare that a woman filmmaker is so cutting edge and disturbing in their vision. Chained stars the always-intense-often-creepy-even-when-playing-Orson-Welles Vincent Donofrio, as a cab driver serial killer who kidnaps a boy only to raise him as his own… i.e. train him to be a serial killer as well. There is not much promotional material available for this film as of yet, but that doesn’t mean it wont be super awesome and super creepy.
Memory of the Dead (La memoir del muerto) (Valentin Javier Diment)
You may have already ascertained by my previous picks that I am not much of a risk-taker when it comes to selecting my most anticipated fantasia films, so this will be my entry to rectify that. My decision to choose Memory of the Dead hinges almost solely on the films trailer, which evokes a supernatural-giallo and Roger Corman adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe like House of Usher. The visual style is incredibly evocative, not only in its vibrant colour scheme, but in its art direction and compositional sense. Also, made in Argentina, this is one of several South American horror films playing at Fantasia this year. Featuring what was apparently the first Israeli horror films last year, Rabies, the festival consistently remains on the cutting edge. Not only showcasing unconventional entries in the genre, but through its ability to highlight emerging horror markets, create a culture of cinema where these are not seen as existing on the fringe of national cinema, but a staple of it.
Killer Joe (William Friedkin)
Those of you wary to see this film because it stars rom-com parasite Matthew McConaughey clearly have not seen his incredibly charismatic and creepy turn in Bill Paxton’s contemporary horror masterpiece Frailty. Though his choice in roles is often questionable, I have no doubt that he can not only carry a film like Killer Joe, but he can infuse it with an eerie out of character casting that is always satisfying when done correctly. Friedkin is not the most consistent filmmaker out there, but when he hits his mark he is remarkably effective, especially in the horror and thriller genre. Also, on my part, any films set in the American south have to work hard to disappoint me. If properly evoked, you have a wonderful sense of geography, atmosphere and culture that screams gothic horror. Big bonus, the supporting cast is kick-ass and the film seems to have a good sense of humour. Here is hoping this film is a hit!
– Justine Smith