Something’s stirring inside me. It’s a strange feeling that I can’t resist, won’t resist. This year, as I gather my top must-sees, I’m being pulled into new directions at the altar of Fantasia’s offerings.

This is my fifth year covering the fest, and although I certainly won’t pass up the opportunity to immerse myself in my go-to films genres, I’m finding myself peering into different wells from amongst the 130 features screening over the next three weeks.

Here are the top 10 films you should see this Fantasia season.

#10. Born of Woman

001-16International Short Film Showcase/2016/ Multiple

I’m stoked beyond words about this showcase. This dedicated space at the Fest, serves highlights some of the powerhouse filmic voices of new auteurs whose works “centre on the body and uncanny of the interpersonal,” Programmer Mitch Davis adds, “the filmmakers you will encounter here are exciting, essential new voices that we cannot wait to introduce you to.” Not gonna miss this.

From the US, there is Venefica Maria Wilson, followed by Dianne Bellino’s The Itching, and then Jessica Makinsons’s Skin. Ensuite comes Anna Zlokovic’s Shorty, and Jill Gevargizian’s The Stylist. The third act consists Canadian filmmaker Tanya Lemke’s Static,  Whole from german animation duo Verena Klinger and Robert Banning, and last but not least, Australian filmmaker Kaitlin Tinker’s The Man Who Caught A Mermaid.

Screens July 23 • 5:00 PM at J.A. De Seve Theatre

9. Little Sister

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USA/2016/Zach Clark/Comedy

Official selection at SXSW and the Boston Underground Film Festival, Little Sister comes highly recommended by fellow genre film buds. From the director of White Reindeer, comes this black comedy about Colleen, a young noviciate at the Sister of Mercy, who is pulled back into the world of the youth which she’d left behind her in exile. Once home, she finds much of what she left behind intact including her goth-y room, parent’s pothead ways and her recently returned veteran brother.. well, he’s changed. Can this short visit home and Colleen’s faith prove enough to make things right?

Screens July 28 • 9:45 PM  and July 29 • 2:45 PM at the J.A. De Seve Theatre

#8. Shelley

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Denmark-Sweden/2016/Ali Abbasi/Horror Drama

Shelley comes from the producers of When Animals Dream and Only God Forgive. Already, these are some strong signs that it is bound to be of solid quality.

Shelley follows Elena, a single mother in need of some serious change, who takes on a job as a maid for the forest dwelling of what she comes to know as an unusual couple. Signing a three year contract overlooking their odd lifestyle for the peace and quiet she needs. Then, the couple, whom she learns cannot conceive, ask Elena to be their surrogate mother in exchange for a hefty compensation. She accepts.

Soon, however, Elena begins to sense that there is something terribly wrong with what is growing inside her. From the trailer, Abbasi’s Shelley is likely to deliver a body horror gothic tale with a gripping performance at its heart.

Screens July 22 • 3:00 PM  and August 2 • 7:30 PM at the J.A. De Seve Theatre

#7. Lace Crater

Lace Crater from Festival Fantasia on Vimeo.

US/2015/Harrison Atkins/Romance & Comedy

During a getaway with friends, Ruth, who is recovering from a nasty break up, decides to stay in an adjacent guest house, despite a warning that it is haunted. When it comes time to retire from the evening’s festivities, Ruth returns to the guest house and slowly begins to feel a presence in the room. Out comes a burlap wrapped ghost, Michael, as he calls himself and naturally (or supernaturally), one things lead to another…

With a premise offering an intimate look at sexuality, the shame one can feel about what they enjoy, and the possible for some interesting character studies, Lace Crater also stars one of my favourite actors, Lindsay Burge, who was stellar in Sarah Adina Smith’s The Midnight Swim.

Screens July 28 • 7:30 PM J.A. De Seve Theatre

#6. Women Who Kill

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USA/2016/Ingrid Jungerman/ Romance, Thriller, Comedy

Morgan and ex-girlfriend Jean run a weekly podcast, Women Who Kill from their apartment in Brooklyn. The two specialize in talking female serial killers. When Mogran meets Simone, she is goaded by her friends to unpack the mysteries of her new lover. A film noir modern comedy, Women Who Kill, draws inspiration from relationships, womanhood, and the director’s personal life and neighbourhood. This film didn’t quite catch my eye until I read more about it and I have high hopes for it.

Screens on July 27 • 9:50 PM  and July 28 • 3:00 PM  at J.A. De Seve Theatre

#5. Operation Avalanche

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Canada/2016/Matt Johnson/ Crime-Thriller

Fantasia presents the Quebec premiere of  one of most anticipated films coming to the fest this year: Matt Johnson’s Operation Avalanche, an official selection at Sundance, SXSW, AND Hot Docs 2016. I fucking loved Matt Johnson’s The Dirties and after speaking with him last year, am fascinated by what else this guy can come up with. It seems I am not alone and that The Dirties wasn’t a one time thing and that Matt Johnson and his team represent some major talent – talent that is steeped in they love of cinema and filmmaking.

In Operation Avalanche, worried that NASA and its Apollo program may be compromised and infiltrated by a Russian mole, a pair of young CIA agents pose as documentary filmmakers to gain access to uncover what kinds of sinister activities may be going on. Once there, they realize the space program isn’t as ready as NASA has been reporting to the world. Perhaps, with their geeky knowledge of film and uses of the camera, they can be of help.

Screens July 30 • 7:00 PM  and July 31 • 2:30 PM  at J.A. De Seve Theatre

#4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

New Zealand/2016/Taika Waititi/Comedy

I absolutely adored Eagle vs Shark (2007),  Boy (2010) and What We Do in The Shadows by Waititi (2014). His sense of humour and cinematic eye are a serious treat.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a filmic adaptation of Barry Crump’s over Pork and Watercress. Rick Baker, a foster kid who can’t seem to stay in a home for very long, is placed with a new family where he develops a friendship with his foster mom, Bella. When Bella suddenly dies, Ricky runs away into the depths of the forest and Hec, Bella’s partner, goes out to find him. Misunderstandings lead to social services assuming the Hec has kidnapped Ricky. From the trailer, I can already tell I’m going to love Ricky played by Julian Dennison.

Screens July 17 • 2:15 PM SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre)

#3. The Lure

Poland/2015/Agnieszka Smoczynska/  Discoball of Genre Hybrid Magic

What even is this magical gem of a film? Fantasia’s descriptionn of it has the longest list of genres I have ever seen listed. Seems like it’s uncontainable, just like the creatures surfacing in The Lure.

In early 80’s Poland, two mermaids Golden and Silver arise from the sea in search of nourishment: hearts. They find themselves in a good position to do so when they join an erotic discotheque where their mermaid act, less of an act than their horny audience expects, is perfect to reel in some fresh hearts. Thing get entangled when Silver develops feelings for one of their potential appetizers. If the trailer above alone doesn’t convince you to want to see this, please swipe left.

#2. Trash Fire

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USA/2016/Richard Bates Jr.

Narrowly beaten by Embers for the number one spot, Trash Fire has been on my radar for a while now and I’ve been burning with anticipation to see it. I had the chance to catch Bates Jr.’s two other films at Fantasia.

Excision remains to this day the most beautifully fucked up piece of gory poetry I have ever seen – I literally couldn’t breathe for a while after the credits. Suburban Gothic was a totally different beast, a lighter dark comedy oozing with ghostly love.

Trash Fire, as I understand it, was written during a bout of crippling depression and yet, Mitch Davis hails it as the filmmakers strongest work yet and that it “mines uncomfortable laughs from interpersonal dysfunction and a myriad of phobias, personal demons and deep-rooted resentment, proving once again that much of the best comedy is born from pain.” Um, yes!

In the film, a longtime fizzled out couple Owen (Adrian Grenier) and Isabelle (Angela Trimbur) visit Owen’s family and childhood home as a a sort of deal breaker for Isabelle who wants to see if Owen is the kind of man to build a family with. As the survivor of a horrific family tragedy, Owen’s got some issues and isn’t the easiest dude to build an intimate relationship with. When the two set out to meet his surviving relatives, they uncover things best left to rot alone….but it’s too late now.

Screens July 23 • 9:30 PM at SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre)

#1. Embers

USA/Poland/2015/Claire Carré/Sci-fi

Embers takes the top spot in my must sees of this year’s program. A poetic humane sci-fi offering with what looks to be a distinctive and unique aesthetic, Embers takes place in a world where humanity is denied memory. Following a few of the remaining survivors of this apocalypse, Embers explores the very foundations of human nature through the very promising cinematic voice of newcomer Carré.

Screens on July  22 • 5:00 PM J.A. De Seve Theatre & August 1 • 12:45 PM J.A. De Seve Theatre

Something’s stirring inside me. It’s a strange feeling that I can’t resist, won’t resist. This year, as I gather my top must-sees, I’m being pulled into new directions at the altar of Fantasia’s offerings. This is my fifth year covering the fest, and although I certainly won’t pass up the opportunity to immerse myself in my go-to films genres, I’m finding myself peering into different wells from amongst the 130 features screening over the next three weeks.

Amongst this top 20 you’ll find my usual favourite flavours – sci-fi existential films, gut wrenching looks at the underbelly of families, coming of age, and the nature of life itself. There’s no hiding that I’m a bit of a misanthrope with some leftover teenage angst.

This time, however, you’ll also find a lot more comedies, crime thrillers, and, the biggest surprise of all to me, several body horror and creature features. Take this leap of faith with me as we embark once again on our yearly Fantasia pilgrimage.

#20. For the Love of Spock001-9

USA/2016/Adam Nimoy/Documentary

For the Love of Spock is an in depth look at the Star Trek’s most popular character and the actor who brought him to life. The doc is narrated by Nimoy’s son, Adam Nimoy, and takes a look at the life and work of Leoard Nimoy through interviews with fans, family, friends, colleagues and his relationship with his son. For Trekkies and the Trek curious, For the Love of Spock is sure to please. Live long and popcorn.

Screens July 16  at 4:10 PM at the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre)

#19. The Master Cleanse

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USA/2016/Bobby Miller/ Horror, Comedy

This black comedy follows Paul (played byJohnny Galecki), who in the throws of heartbreak, decides to join a spiritual retreat to flush out those inner demons. Relatable. This retreat, however, might be more than his gut can handle.

The Master Cleanse is Bobby Miller’s feature debut and is having its international premiere at the fest. Mitch Davis, Fantasia Co-Director, hints to one of the secret ingredients in this cleanse regiment: “a assortment of practical puppeteer and animatronic creatures whom, it must be said, are some of the cutest creations the screen has see since Gremlins, even if they come from a much darker and more Cronenbergian place.” I’m sold.

Screens on July 16 • 10:00 PM at the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre)

#18. Don’t Breathe

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USA/2016/ Fede Alvarez/Horror

I hesitated at first with this film because I’m a bit done with home invasion films right now. That being said, this one offers a new perspective right off the bat: it is from the perspective of the home invaders. A trio of friends picks the wrong mark, a lonely blind man, when they suddenly find themselves trapped in the home in a hellish labyrinth.

With Ariel Esteban Cayer, fest programmer, hailing Don’t Breahe amongst the ranks of Saulnier’s Green Room and Fincher’s Panic Room, it’s hard to resist not going through that door (or broken window) ourselves.

Screens August 3 • 9:45 PM at the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre)

#17. The Dark Side of the Moon

The Dark Side of the Moon from Film Fund Luxembourg on Vimeo.

Germany/2015/Stephan Rick/Thriller

Urs, the head of a phamarceutical company, is growing weary of his life and after some bad shit goes down, decides, like one does, that what might really help him is to go do some drugs with a bohemian woman in the forest. Instead of finding an inner peace of sorts, Urs finds himself unraveling and desperate to find a way to stop things before he becomes something else entirely.

#16. Some Freaks

001-15USA/2016/ Ian MaCallistor-McDonald/Drama

Matt Ledbetter is a shy kid with a patch covering a missing eye. Being different in high school is certainly not synonymous with popularity. When Matt meets Jill,a large girl who is outgoing and brilliant, he feels an instant connection with her.

Some Freaks follows their relationships and the unexpected ways in which is it is challenged. When it comes to films about teenage outcasts, I trust programmer Mitch Davis’ instinct. He says of Some Freaks that it “will charm you heart – and demolish it.” Let’s just hope we are ready for this kind of heartbreak.

Screens July 19 • 5:00 PM at the J.A. De Seve Theatre

#15. Bad Blood

USA/2016/Tim Reis/Horror

Bad Blood is having its international premiere at the Fest and I’m stoked. There’s a lot going amiss around this local Texaco station. If only Victoria, a college student just doing her thing, had happened to walk into the middle of well… what is going on exactly? This creature feature promises to get messy doused in crimson and slimey love for those monster movies of old while offering a fresh and witty take.

Screens on July 23 • 11:55 PM at J.A. De Seve Theatre

#14. Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children

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Spain/2015/Alberto Vázquez, Pedro Rivero/Animation

Having spent the last year working with animators, my love and admiration for works of hand drawn animation has woken from its hibernation ready for a bountiful spring. Fantasia delivers with Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children. There’s been a great accident on the island, and teenager Dinky wants to join her friends in leaving behind the dread and darkness of this place. But, Dinky won’t leave without Birdboy, whom pretty much everyone despises and who is a troubled drug-addicted outcast.

In 2010. Vasquez brought to screen his graphic novel ‘Pisconautas’ to the screen with the short film entitled Birdboy, shown at Fantasia’s Small Gauge Trauma. Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children brings to life an expanded and enriched version of Vasquez’ surrealist world.

Screens July 23 • 1:50 PM at SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre) and July 24 • 7:30 PM J.A. De Seve Theatre

#13. The Love Witch

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USA/2016/Anna Biller/Horror-Comedy

The first thing that strikes me about Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is it’s clear recreation of the mood of 1960s technicolour, romance/erotica and horror. It’s so meticulous it sort of feels like a time capsule. It almost seems to cast a glamour. Add to that high praise from my favourite film writer, Justine Smith, and that the film was shot on 35mm and my heart definitely starts to flutter.

Elaine, a witch with a strong appetite for love, comes to town and stops at nothing to have men love her. Even with a grimoire full of spells, she can’t seem to find love! Well, love that stays alive that is.

Screens July 16 • 5:15 PM at J.A. De Seve Theatre

#12. If Cats Disappeared from the World

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Japan/2016/Akira Nagai/ Sci-fi, Fantasy, Drama

When a 30 year old lonely mailman receives the bad news that he has only days to live, he gets a visit from the Devil. The Devil, known to love a pact or two offers him the following deal: for each day of extended life, the mailman must accept whatever the Devil selects and in exchange for his increased lifespan that one thing will disappear, even from memory. It’s only a matter of time before things get messy, perhaps worse than death itself, for a pact with the Devil is never what is seems.

Screens on July 24 • 7:15 PM at the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Hall Theatre)

11. A Conspiracy of Faith 

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Denmark/2015/Hans Peter Moland/Crime-Thriller

I gotta admit that lately I’ve been fascinated by cults. I’ve also been yearning for some solid crime thrillers for summer reading. Fantasia delivers, like Santa does since he always knows, by programming A Conspiracy of Faith where cold case investigators are stirred into action by a message in a bottle alerting them to something amiss with a rural sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The film promises a a troubling and tense ride.

Screens on July 17 • 10:00 at J.A. De Seve Theatre

Halloween is here once again, it is hands down my favorite holiday. Actually no, fuck that, Halloween is everyday! I wear my freak flag proud 365 days a year.

For most “normal” people, Halloween is the one day of the year that it is socially acceptable to dress up like a weirdo and live their freak fantasy. Sadly commercialism and an oversexed media has turned it into a money making skank fest.

There are literally slutty versions of every costume (even in the kids section): slutty nurse, slutty referee, slutty cop, slutty witch, slutty vampire, slutty pirate, slutty prom queen, and the list goes on. These costumes seem to be invented with pedophiles in mind. Men and young boys seem to have it a little easier and can just put a mask on it , become their favorite action hero or movie killer, or slip on a dress and be a bearded lady.

Stop the trend. The only way you can break out of this is by making your own costumes for your children. Halloween costumes you buy are very expensive and poorly made anyways.

More gore and less whore. Being a bloody zombie is an easy and fun way to celebrate this holiday season. Instead of being a slutty version of something be a bloody zombie version instead!

It was funny, the other day I went to a costume party with my friend Erik and he doused himself in blood and called it a day for his costume. The cab driver asked us like ten times if it was real. A person covered in real blood is every person’s worst nightmare, so I get it when people freak out over a gory costume. Its all about shock value.

The original Theatre du Grand-Guignol in Paris
The original Theatre du Grand-Guignol in Paris

Haunted houses are insane, filled with passionate actors willing and ready to scare the shit out of anyone who walks through the doors. I am a pussy when it comes to stuff like that.

I remember being a pretty young girl and going into a Haunted Catacomb and when the actor wielding a chainsaw came after me I kicked him in the shin and ran. It was fight then flight, I felt like I was going to die. Now it’s a little different, as an adult I realize that I am probably not going to actually die. It’s all entertainment.

People have always had a certain blood lust when it comes to being entertained. Grand Guignol is a form of theatre that is graphic, amoral, and horrific in nature. The most famous theatre of this kind and a huge target for censorship was the house of horror known as Le Theatre du Grand-Guinol, The Theatre of the Grand Puppett, in Paris France open from 1897-1962.

Everyone from royalty and celebrities in formal apparel to the common man would enjoy blood soaked plays about prostitutes, criminals, insanity, and grotesque mame and murder. People came to the shows to feel something, they wanted to be entertained and disturbed by the natural looking horror shows. The same crowd attends modern day slasher films and gorelesque recitals.

Most audience members became belligerent and boisterous. Others could not hang, often the special effects were so realistic that audience members would vomit or pass out during the performances.

I am part of a Gorelesque troupe called The Zombettes, we give a whole new meaning to Blood Lust. Once after a show I picked up a guy and left bloody handprints on his wall.

Gorelesque is exactly what it sounds like: Burlesque covered in blood. Dark, occult, horror, zombie, and gore added to the classic striptease based performance art. We have done everything from act out the ear cutting Stuck in the Middle With You scene from Resevoir Dogs to the opening scene from Scream or a reenactment of Friday the 13th. 

Once we did a show dubbed “too soon?” where my friend The Creeping Beauty dressed up like Amy Winehouse (literally two days after she passed) and I dressed up like Anna Nicole Smith to welcome her to the afterlife while the song Rehab played. Maybe that was utterly tasteless, but it certainly was memorable.

zombie amy winehouse anna nicole smith

Classic horror/slasher movies are a huge inspiration to my art. Dramatic music and imagination are important in horror flicks. It’s what you don’t see that can scare you the most. Same with burlesque, it’s what you don’t see that invokes the most titilation.

Everybody has nightmares and everybody watches the news. We all know that the world we live in can be a scary and evil place. Sometimes people go crazy and slaughter the innocent , war is happening while you read this, limbs being blown off, random acts of torture and violence are rampant, people are being raped, and there are unspeakable horrors happening in every city. Horror movies are just the artistic representations of these very real atrocities.

It’s the time of year that I re-watch all of the Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, Hellraiser and other various horror movies on repeat. The scariest of these flicks are the ones that are plausible. A real person can lose their mind and torture me.

It seems that there is a formula for these flicks that involves large breasted women or beautiful young virgin babysitters running around in white t-shirts covered in blood and being victimized by a male psychopathic sadistic monster.

Why are there rarely any sexy men in leading roles of horror movies? When a man dies in a horror flick it is quick. Scream Queens sell tickets. Misogyny rules in this genre. These women must fight to survive.

It reminds me a lot of porn to be honest with you. Young women cowering and screaming just as they do from being pounded by the twenty throbbing mega cocks being rammed down their throats in hardcore porn movies. Yes, I am a feminist who watches both horror movies and gang bang porn. Im more terrified by watching the Republican debate.

Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.

Carl Sagan

There is something particularly thrilling about watching people battling insurmountable odds. Perhaps this is due to the way many of us are (not so secretly) preparing for the zombie apocalypse or the moment when global warming finally wreaks havoc and kicks humanity to the curb. Or maybe, it is a fear of the inevitability of death that provides an adrenaline rush and brings Fantasia goers together to watch characters and human kind struggle to survive (or not) harrowing situations – supernatural and otherwise.

THE HALLOW the-hallow

Ireland / Corin Hardy /2015

As part of his job as a conservationist, Adam moves his young family to a secluded house in the woods in order to continue his work preventing the few remaining forests of Ireland from being devastated by disease and loggers. Although the house has bars on the windows and their neighbour is beyond nosy, from the onslaught, warnings from locals about the dangers of his trespassing go unheeded. As the young wife removes strange ugly bars from the windows of the house while the father journeys happily into the woods, baby in tow, they remain unaware that they are also being studied and that time for a safe exodus is running out.

It is obvious that the makers of The Hallow have a profound love of horror films. The film demonstrates a fresh and keen eye for the contemporary ripeness of age old lore.

With a premise that rings sweetly familiar, The Hallow offers unconventional pacing that will feel unexpected yet welcome as the story moves between the a tale of an eerie place to body horror (hands down my favourite element) and, finally, to horrific survival mayhem – scythe on fire and all.

This pacing is quick, unsettling, and I would argue, one of the more formula busting elements of the film.  The Harrow tends to feel somewhat pre-digested: film savvy audiences will find some of the story’s exposure repetitive and overly spelled out. Almost as if there was a fear the audience would not fill in the blanks on their own.

However, this doesn’t stop the film from offering some jumps and scary bits that will leave audience members short of breath. The Hallow may not be groundbreaking but several of its scenes, especially the first real encounter, go in unexpected directions that are happy offerings to lovers of the genre. As a creature feature, The Hallow delivers some pretty sweet practical and special effects presenting some of the more horrific screen monsters in recent memory.

BRIGDEND

Denmark/ Jeppe Rønde/ 2015

Bridgend has earned iBridgend_PresseStill_0000000ts place as one of my favourite films of recent years. I would not be surprised to see it win several awards at Fantasia, and beyond, this year.

Bridgend is a riveting film with beautiful well-crafted visuals. This first narrative film for director Jeppe Ronde is an emotionally gripping exploration of painful subject matter inspired by recent events the the Welsh town of the same name.

Sara, her beloved horse, and her father move back to Bridgend, Wales when he takes on a job as a local cop. However, the two were not prepared for what is happening in the town they called home many years ago. A wave of cluster suicides has stricken the town, not unlike an epidemic, and the townsfolk are left with a host of unanswered questions.

Quickly, Sara begins befriending the local lost boys and girls, whom many view as troubled and destructive, while her father, preoccupied with distractions of his own, is tasked with addressing the scope and severity of recent events. Rebellious teenage antics are more than they seem as Sarah’s new friends show her a world of bonding, pronounced highs and lows, and youthful romps: a place where the dead are, perhaps, not lost forever.

Tackling the phenomena of youth suicide, in any media or format, is no simple feat. Few films have done so successfully and Bridgend stands alongside Quebec feature Toute est parfait (2008) for doing the subject matter justice. Bridgend moves beyond the grounded realism of Toute est parfait however, and delves into the realm of arthouse and visual poetics and offers a sensory experience that plunges the audience into this beguiling setting alongside Sara. Hannah Murray (known for Skins and Game of Thrones) stands out as Sara, whose world becomes ever murkier as she begins to unravel.

By refusing straightforward answers, allowing the contemplation of the unknown, and avoiding tropes, Bridgend opens up a world of questions and a multitude of interpretations by literally setting ablaze the screen with raw performances and inspired cinematography.

* Fantasia continues until August 5th, schedule available at fantasiafestival.com

On July 7, humidity engulfed Montreal, gloomy, thick and viscous. The perfect setting for suspense and dark tales to unfold. On that day, Fantasia Film Festival unveiled its generous program chock full of unnerving, innovative flicks that will haunt you potentially for years.

For many, this season offers more gifts than any other festivities: over 130 features across the genre spectrum. Navigating the whole shebang can be dizzying, and so here are my recommendations for a varied selection of the most promising films to check out this summer:

10. The Invitation – USA/Karyn Kusuma/2015

 August 3, 7:35 PM, at Concordia Hall Theatre

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Karyn Kusuma, known for her breakout debut Girlfight and the fun Jennifer’s Body offers what might just be that unexpected unnerving Fantasia experience that stays with you for weeks. A young couple, Eden and Will, splits after a tragic event and depression ensues for the heartbroken man who struggles to move on.

Years later, an invitation from Eden proves too hard to resist. This dinner party, however, is strange – the kind of strange you can’t quite put your finger on. Mitch Davis, co-director of the fest, hails the film as a “astoundingly frightening film, a brilliantly scripted, character-driven ensemble horror work of the rarest kind.”

9. Crumbs – Ethiopia/Spain/Finland/Miguel Llanso/2015

July 31, 7:40 PM and August 3, 3:30 PMat J.A. De Sève Theatre

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Crumbs is a post-apocalyptic work of afro-futurism. In this world, relics of the past are so old and unknown that they hold a sort of mystical quality. Candy, a man, forgoes his routine in the search for some answers. This sci-fi feature is part of a resonating Ethiopian new wave and its name has been on critics’ and programmers’ lips since its screening at the Rotterdam Film Festival.

8. Cherry Tree – Ireland/David Keating/2015

July 25, 9:45 PM, and July 31, 1:00 PM at J.A. De Sève Theatre

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Cherry Tree is one of two Irish genre cinema picks on this list, and for good reason. In a tiny town with a rumoured dark past, Faith’s father is very sick. Things seem hopeless until one of her mentors makes her an offer she can’t refuse. Fantasia wouldn’t be complete without a film doused in dark intentions and sprouting from satanic intentions.

7. We Are Still Here – USA/Ted Geoghegan/2015

July 19, 7:20 PM at the Concordia Hall Theatre

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A couple attempts to start over in rural New England after the loss of their son. But there will be little time for mending wounds, as something is off with the house and it seems they are not alone. The floors are squeaking with secrets ready to spill out. Soon, they inadvertently unleash a bloody slaughter that will literally paint the walls red. 

This film is a Fantasia baby of sorts, directed by Ted Geoghegan, the fest’s Director of Publicity. Noteworthy is the casting of Larry Fessenden (director of The Last Winter and Wendigo) as a spiritualist hippy. Can’t wait!

6. The Blue Hour – Thailand/Anucha Boonyawatana/2015

July 24, 17:40 PM, and July 27, 13:00 PM, at J.A. De Sève Theatre

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From its trailer, The Blue Hour seems like one of those films the premise of which is less important than the experience of immersing yourself into its world alongside its characters. Tom, a young bullied queer man, meets up with a potential one night stand at an abandoned pool, which is supposedly haunted, and the two embark on a relationship that becomes increasingly murky. Fantasia programmer Ariel Esteban Cayer calls The Blue Hour a “masterpiece of tension” and hails its cinematography as “ethereal and painterly.”

5. Turbo Kid – Canada/Bew Zealand/François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell/2015

July 23, 7:00 PM, at Concordia Hall Theatre

I am beyond stoked for the Canadian premiere of Turbo Kid, a film that has come about as a result of the magic of Fantasia’s co-production market, Frontières, where industry members join forces to bring audiences their labour of love. This Quebec indie has been met with lots of love in its initial festival run, winning the audience award at SXSW and screening as part of the official selection at Sundance. This flick offers a post-apocalyptic tale of BMXs and kitsch, a killer electronic score, friendship and courage, and from what I can tell from the tailer, some good fun crimson splatter. Plus, it stars Munro Chambers (as The Kid) and Laurence Leboeuf (Apple) who must face off against Michael Ironside (the super evil Zeus). This will be rad.

4. Cub – Belgium/Jonas Goaverts/2014

July 28, 5:15 PM at Concordia Hall Theatre

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As a kid, I always loved going to summer camp and always envied scouts for their survival and wilderness training. I loved ghost stories and campfire scares even more. Cub centres on outsider Sam whose camp experience will earn him some unusual badges. Facing bullies and an unsympathetic scout master is hard enough, but Sam will come to face to face with a much more deadly foe.

3. Bridgend – Denmark/Jeppe Rønde/2015

July 15, 9:15 PM, and July 17, 2:45 PM, at J.A. De Sève Theatre

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If I were a gambling person, I would bet that this Danish production is most likely in the running for one of the bests of the fest this year. The subject matter is dark and disturbing; more so since it is based on the tragic epidemic of suicides in the town of Bridgend, Wales. Rønde dramatizes these events, refusing simple answers, into what Ariel Esteban Cayer calls “a tale of pure South Wales horror.”

2. The Hallow – Ireland/Corin Hardy/2015

July 15, 9:35 pm, at Concordia Hall Theatre.

The Hallow explores the consequences of trespassing and unheeding the warnings of locals and the land. A conservationist and his family move to a woodland cottage and are quickly met with the cold shoulders of neighbours. This does not bode well – secluded location, dark woods, critters in the woods… Building on mythology and lore, The Hallow offers a creature feature from the darkest corners of our nightmares. An official selection at Sundance, this film promises beautiful visuals and viscera gripping intensity.

1. Goodnight Mommy – Austria/ Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala/2014

July 20, 2:50 PM, and July 23, 7:30 PM, at J.A. De Sève Theatre

There is a slight chance I might pass out or have a full-blown panic attack during Goodbye Mommy, a nightmarish art house horror sure to mess with your head. Twins Elias and Lukas try to grapple with their mother’s odd behaviour since her return from surgery. Their mother, whose entire face is bandaged, has begun acting increasingly angry and the two begin to suspect that perhaps this woman is not who she claims to be. Convinced something bad has happened to their rightful progenitor, the two do anything necessary to force this imposter to abandon her guise.

Special Mentions: Bite, H., Anguish, Observance, Dark Places, They Look Like People

Fantasia Film Festival runs from July 14 to August 4, 2015. Tickets can be bought here.

With the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, summer movie season has officially begun. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, because one of the kinds of movies I like best, and feel most comfortable and confident assessing critically, is being catapulted at audiences worldwide like flaming boulders at an invading barbarian army.

With one hand, I shall smite the unworthy like a vengeful God, denouncing their crass, dumb boorishness. With the other, I shall hold aloft the chosen ones, the examples that prove that not all summer blockbusters are crass, dumb and boorish.

Over these offerings shall I sit in judgment, a stern but fair arbiter, sorting the wheat from the chaff, the worthy from the unworthy.

But until then, there’s fuck-all for me to watch. Nothing in the theatres, nothing new on Blu-Ray. So this week, I present to you a desperation move: Nightflyers, a frankly godawful 80s sci-fi horror flick that has fallen into such obscurity that even I hadn’t heard of it until recently. It has, thankfully, been uploaded to YouTube, in a sign that not even the film’s copyright holders could be bothered to give even the smallest fraction of a shit.

So what’s the hook, then? What makes this bargain-bin fodder worth digging up?

nightflyers posterGeorge R.R. Martin. Yes, that’s right. Nightflyers is based on a novella by a pre-Game of Thrones Martin. How much it has in common with the source material is something I’ve yet to find out, but let’s take a look and see if Nightflyers is something Game of Thrones fans or general Martin devotees should look into.

Our protagonists are a crew of scientists en route to the supposed site of a mysterious alien entity. To get there, they’re aboard the Nightflyer, a cargo ship captained and crewed by one man, Royd, who appears to them via hologram. While Royd and Miranda, who is one of the scientists, are striking up a relationship/potential romance, several mysterious incidents take place as the scientists learn more and more about Royd and the Nightflyer’s strange past.

Those watching Nightflyers expecting a work covered in Martin’s signature moves and motifs, or what the popularity of Game of Thrones has made him known for at least, will probably be disappointed. There’s nary a gratuitous sex scene or naked woman to be seen anywhere, so Last Starfighter fans looking for Catherine Mary Stewart to show some skin are bound for a let-down. None of your favorite characters die, but that’s more because the characters are, on a whole, so bland and underdeveloped that picking a favorite would be like picking your favorite shade of off-white paint.

Not that anyone’s that bad – the cast is actually all right, with appearances by John Standing, who would play Jon Arryn’s corpse years later on Game of Thrones, and The Shredder/Uncle Phil himself, the sadly departed James Avery. But none of them ever registers something as ambitious as a real personality. The closest we get is Miranda, Catherine Mary Stewart’s character, who initially gets set up as an Ellen Ripley style badass before becoming a fairly generic and agency-devoid female lead in the second half.

The closest thing to a Martin-ism is when Royd is revealed to be the gender-swapped clone of the Nightflyer’s previous captain, intended to be her son/companion/lover. Oh there you are, George! Wasn’t sure you were gonna show up, and really the intention of incest (or clone-cest in this case) must be the George R.R. Martin equivalent of a quick Stan Lee cameo in a Marvel movie. Just a quick hello to remind you what you’re watching.

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As a George R.R. Martin property, Nightflyers only bears the faintest stamp of what Thrones fans would recognize as his thumbprint, so for the most part Nightflyers is forced to survive not as a Martin property but as one of the countless 80s space-horror movies that sprung up in the wake of Ridley Scott’s Alien.

And in that regard, boy does it suck. It definitely has that “adapted from a book, or novella in this case” feeling, with hints of a much larger and more developed universe occasionally popping in to tantalize us with the promise of something more interesting than what we’ve got here, which is mostly a cramped, poorly paced slog. Plot points will come out of nowhere, you’ll think you’re seeing the climax on at least three occasions, and the whole alien entity thingy that the movie initially seemed to be about quickly gets forgotten for an oh-so-original rogue spaceship AI plot, with a slightly Freudian twist.

Stewart narrates a lot of it in this dry monotone, like she was auditioning for Metroid: Other M a few decades too early, and even if she had put a bit more nuance into the performance, narration is something that rarely works in movies for me. It almost always feels like a cheap way to deliver exposition without having to weave it into dialogue organically. There are exceptions, obviously, but I can’t think of many.

If the film has one feather in its cap, it’s the set designs and effects, which are rather nice. Though, admittedly, the low-quality Youtube version probably did the film’s visuals a lot of favors. The sets have a sort of artsy, surrealistic vibe to them, lots of backlighting and flowing panels and such. There’s a tiny bit of makeup and gore action going on, the best effect probably being when the prissy British psychic has his head exploded by a laser.

There’s a reason you’ve never heard of Nightflyers. In the face of other, slightly more interesting Alien ripoffs like Forbidden World, Creature or Christ even Critters fucking 4, it isn’t hard to see why this thing never went anywhere. I mean jeez, at least Creature had Klaus Kinski in it for God only know what reasons. It’s very likely that in the next few years some company like Shout! Factory will pick up the rights to Nightflyers and re-release it, with “From the Creator of Game of Thrones!” on the cover, but I’d give it a pass unless you’re a hardcore Martin devotee or just a fan of really unremarkable 80s sci-fi horror.

Halloween is a special time of the year for horror movie fans. 364 days out of the year, our near encyclopedic knowledge of the kinds of movies where power tools are regularly applied to the bodies of screaming co-eds isn’t exactly the kind of thing you can bring up at trendy parties. But for one, beautiful day out of every year, if you have a reputation for knowing horror flicks, that knowledge becomes a commodity for all your normal friends looking for something gross and fun to watch on Halloween night.

So as in years past, this FFR is devoted to a few of fun picks I’ve recently stumbled across that would make solid viewing for your Halloween activities this year.

Neon ManiacsNeon Maniacs
“When the world is ruled by violence and the soul of mankind fades, the children’s path shall be darkened by the shadows of the Neon Maniacs.”

Right now, you’re probably wondering what the hell that means, and while I’ve seen the movie, I’m honestly as in the dark as you are. But that brief, puzzling opening monologue is the closest thing to rhyme or reason we’re given in the events of Neon Maniacs, a 1986 monster flick that sees, among other things, a monstrous samurai, a caveman, a cop, and a Native American warrior emerge from the Golden Gate bridge to wreak havoc and mayhem. Are they ghosts? Zombies? The product of some kind of gypsy curse? God only knows, but the film is fun enough that any lingering questions you may have get quickly cast aside.

Neon Maniacs feels like it was probably intended to start off a future cult horror franchise, something in the vein of Puppet Master. Sadly, it never happened and all we got was this one, weird, goofy as all hell but somehow endearing flick, a fun little monster romp that feels like it was probably someone’s passion project. Somewhere out there, there’s an alternate reality where Neon Maniacs became this cult horror classic with a dozen or so sequels, high-end merchandise and an impossibly detailed wiki. We don’t live in that universe, and if you ask me that’s a shame.

Pumpkinhead

But if you’re in for a more traditional, slightly less batty monster flick, Pumpkinhead may be what you’re looking for. Genre mainstay Lance Henricksen plays a good ol’ boy whose son is killed in an accident involving some rowdy teens, and does the only thing a grieving father would do in this situation: go to an old spooky woods-witch who uses his blood to summon Pumpkinhead, a snarling vengeance demon who proceeds to hunt down and kill the aforementioned teens.

What I love about Pumpkinhead is how defiantly oldschool it is. The story has this intentionally folkloric bent to it, like this could almost have been a Jersey Devil movie or something. There’s no hint of modern cynicism or post-modern hipness to elements like the scary witch, who naturally lives in a smokey forest, has a big ol’ crooked nose and lets out one of the all time great “Witch Cackles” near the end of the flick. It isn’t trying to be hip or edgy, it just wants to be a dyed-in-the-wool monster flick with lots of gory kills and a big cool monster at the center.

And speaking of which, Pumpkinhead himself is a glorious pre-CGI animatronic affair created by Stan Winston (who also sat in the Director’s chair for this one), the now departed effects guru who worked on everything from the Terminator flicks, Aliens, and even the first Iron Man. The creature may not be the most elaborate or iconic in Winston’s repertoire, but looks damn good on screen even today.

Intruder

Intruder Night Crew

But if you’re in the mood for something in a bare bones but effective slasher flick, no monsters or witches, just a crazy dude, a bunch of victims and a pretty decent gore effects department, maybe I can interest you in Intruder.

The set-up is simple, after the announcement that a local grocery store will soon be closing down, the owners and staff have to pull an all-nighter marking everything down. Of course, prices aren’t the only thing getting slashed (sorry, I had to) when a mysterious killer shows up and starts picking the staffers off one by one.

Even though you can enjoy sincerely, thanks mostly to some solid gore effects by Greg Nicotero, Intruder is a hell of a lot of fun to just riff on with your friends, which is exactly how I first enjoyed it. It has all these weird aesthetic choices, like POV shots from inanimate objects that led me and my friends to the running gag that half the items in the store were actually “were-things” that turned into phones and boxes of facial tissue by the light of the moon. Neon Maniacs has the same riff-worthy qualities, but Intruder comes a bit closer to balancing between being a big goofy romp and actually serviceable slasher fare.

Walk-on appearances by Ted and Sam Raimi and Bruce “Don’t Call me Ash” Campbell don’t exactly hurt either.

 In the years I’ve been covering Fantasia, there hasn’t been a lineup of filmmakers as diverse in terms of the gender as this year’s program. What often feels like a boys club (the film scene in general that is, not Fantasia) was refreshingly less so. One of the films that peaked my interest from the get go was Honeymoon, which tackles some of the ways that human relationships can be horrifying. I had the opportunity to speak with director Leigh Janiak about the inspiration for the film, casting, lepidoptera, and her experience directing an engrossingly eerie debut.

Offering an unconventional cabin in the woods tale,  Honeymoon refuses to rely on traditional scares and manages to build tension in a way that is insidious. Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) are a pair of lovebirds sojourning at Bea’s family cabin for their honeymoon. Neither of them could have imagined the turn of events just a few days in the wilderness could take.

Honeymoon_film_poster-1The incentive behind making Honeymoon, Janiak explained, came from trying to break into the industry with her scriptwriting partner Phil Graziadei in LA since 2005:

“There was the writer’s strike and it was just not a great time to be trying to be a new writer. And I think it was around 2011 that the movie Monsters came out and we kind of just had this epiphany of what are we doing here, why don’t we just make a movie?”

The idea of making a film that would explore a relationship launched the story that would eventually become Honeymoon:

“I like this idea of how you never really know who another person is. I think that anyone who has had any kind of relationship, boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, wife, husband, has had that moment where even if you’ve been with them for a long time, something happens and you are suddenly reminded that they exist outside of you,” Janiak added, “there’s this idea, this freudian thing of the uncanny, which was the Das Unheimliche, and that was a kind of core theme for the movie too. Which is that sometimes the most familiar thing can become horrifying.”

From this, Janiak and her writing partner began thinking about movies they both loved centering on 70s horror films like The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby and Body Snatchers, which she cited as the strongest influence. However, Janiak is more inclined towards sci-fi than horror and particularly “grounded movies that become fantastical.”

The casting in Honeymoon is excellent. The performances by leads Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway render Honeymoon’s tensions and eeriness palpable.

“I had read the Game of Thrones books before the show and Ygritte was one of my favourite characters. When Rose showed up I was just so excited because I had seen her on Downton Abby and this scottish show called Newtown. She was completely different in those two roles and then she was completely different again in Game of Thrones. I just thought her talent was incredibly immense. She just has this great charisma […] I just felt lucky that she responded to the material and signed on,” Janiak recounted.

“For Harry,” she continued, “I had been kind of scouring young actors and all of the agencies in LA were sending us ideas. Harry ended up being on one of those lists and I was immediately extremely excited when I saw it because I had loved him from Control and Fish Tank. He hadn’t just come to mind. I had just seen all of these American men that were talented but they were all kind of looking and blending together. They all seemed the same. So, I skyped with him. I think he was still on set for Lone Ranger at the time and he was wearing this crazy cowboy drag makeup. I don’t know how to explain it but when you have a conversation with Harry he just comes alive in this amazing way. He did a tape for us and it was perfect; he was Paul right away.”

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Janiak’s background involves working as a production assistant on several bigger film projects. When we spoke, I asked what unexpected lessons she had learned making her first feature. Janiak explained that although warned, she had left some of these unheeded and learned things the hard way.

“ Shooting on the water with a tight schedule is something that everyone had said is a nightmare, but I hadn’t quite realized how difficult it would be. Our amount of coverage just dropped, it was not as nearly close to what we had when we were inside […] The night shooting outside, that’s another that people had warned me about but I hadn’t quite realize the limitations that we would have with the limited schedule until we got there. And then the only other thing that I’d say really really was a great thing for me to learn and I’ll certainly keep with me on my next movies is the importance of a temp score.”

Honeymoon boasts strong, at times subtle, stylistic elements as well as reverberating imagery. One of these is that of moths, fascinating creatures that they are. Janiak shared her experience directing moths:

“Fun is not the word. It’s interesting. My writing partner is an amateur moth-er, I guess, I don’t know what you call that. He advised the prop master about how we need to kind of capture moths and keep them happy and healthy while we are shooting. It involves this mixture of molasses and beer. And you are supposed to have this crazy light. They caught a bunch of moths and had them feeding in the back camera room. Then, we would start rolling and everyone on set would just be holding their breath that the moth would perform. We ended up getting really lucky. They did what they are supposed to do and go to the light [laughs].”

We’d like to thank Leigh Janiak for a captivating in depth interview that tempted us to write two feature length pieces.

Fantasia is upon us. If you are anything like me and the fans that flock to theatres for this one of a kind experience, your summer can finally begin. The lineup this year is stellar which makes choosing which films to see that much more difficult. Screening decision anxiety and panic is amongst us. Never fear! Take out your colour-coded pens, rulers and notebooks; here are the must-sees of the 2014 lineup!

15.  Metalhead

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Director: Ragnar Bragson

Writer: Ragnar Bragson

Iceland, 2013

Metalhead touches on themes of tragedy, grief, youth, faith and fate. Hera lives in a small town with little to offer her and is haunted by the death of her brother. She rebels against the bourgeois world of her parents and creates a safe haven for herself in the world of heavy metal: a world that she slips further into body and soul.

Screenings: Monday, August 4 at 7:10 p.m. and Tuesday, August 5 at 7:35 p.m at Salle J.A. De Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve w.).

 

14. The House at the End of Time (La casa del fin de los tiempos)

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Director: Alejandro Hidalgo

Writer: Alejandro Hidalgo

Venezuela, 2013

Dulce receives ghostlike messages warning her of her husband murdering his own children. Panic ensues as do tragic events and Dulce is incarcerated for a crime she didn’t commit. Thirteen years later, on parole, Dulce must stay within the house where all these tragic events happened. Fantasia programmer Mitch Davis hails this tale as both scary and touching: not your typical haunted house story.

Screenings: Saturday, July 26 at 9:30 p.m. at Theatre DB Clarke and Wednesday, July 30 at 5:20 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.

 

13. Feed the Devil

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Director: Max Perrier

Writer: Matthew Altman

Canada, 2014

The world premiere of Feed the Devil is co-presented by the Montreal First Peoples Festival. This film follows Marcus, who is in dire need of some fast cash, as he, his sister and his girlfriend search for a marijuana plantation rumoured to be near a First Nations reserve. According to legend, this plantation is smack in the middle of a hunting ground for the gods, where no human is to enter and no human who has dared to enter has ever returned.

Screening: Monday, August 4 at 8:30 p.m. at Cinémathèque québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve e.).
* Tickets for this film will not be available through Fantasia’s ticket outlets and Fantasia passes are not valid for this film. Visit Montreal First Peoples Festival for more info.

 

12. The Snow White Murder Case

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Director Yoshihhiro Nakamura

Writers: Tamio Hayashi, Kamae Minato

Japan, 2014

When a young office worker’s body is found, social media is quick to make the news viral. A television director soon comes into some juicy intel and realizes that this sensational case might be the perfect way to break through in the industry. He begins to to investigate the case, accounts multiply and cloud the waters: who killed Noriko?

Screening: Tuesday, July 29 at 10 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

 

11. Cybernatural

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Director: Leo Gabriadze

Writer: Nelson Greaves

USA, 2014

After a humiliating video is posted online by her friends, a young girl kills herself. On the anniversary of her death, the six cyberbullies meet up on Skype. However, an uninvited seventh user joins the conversation and seems to know everything about the crime. As events unfold in real time, the six cyberbullies get a taste of their own medicine and the body count soon begins to rise.

Screening: Sunday, July 20 at 9:30 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.

 

10. The Creeping Garden

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Directors: Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp

United Kingdom, 2014

This documentary centres on something all around us but almost everyone is unaware of it: plasmodial slime mold. Slime mold is not plant, not fungus, nor animal but a strange hodge-podge of all three. It even exhibits forms of intelligence. The Creeping Garden explores this uncanny organism through interviews and microscopic photography and boasts a score by Jim O’Rourke.

Screenings: Sunday, July 27 at 9:45 p.m. & Monday, July 28 at 3 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.

 

9. Life After Beth

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Director: Jeff Baena

Writer: Jeff Baena

USA, 2014

This comedy follows Zack who falls to pieces after the death of Beth, his longtime sweetheart. Zack grows closer to Beth’s parents in the wake of her death until they suddenly shut him out. For, you see, Beth has come back from the grave and doesn’t realize she’s died. Zack is overjoyed… but for how long?

Screening: Saturday, July 19 at 7:15 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

 

8. At The Devil’s Door 

Director: Nick McCarthy

Screenplay: Nick McCarthy

USA, 2014

From the writer of The Pact, a film that left audiences with an unshakeable chill, comes this tale of a real estate agent (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who faces the task of trying to sell a house with a sordid past. The film stars names you will recognize such as Naya Ricera (Glee) and Ashley Rockwards (Awkward). I can’t wait to see them in something out of high school and into a more dark and dangerous setting.

Screenings: Saturday, July 26 at 7 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre & Tuesday, July 29 at 5:10 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.

 

7. Honeymoon

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Director:  Leigh Janiak

Screenplay: Leigh Janiak , Phil Graziadei

USA, 2014

Honeymoon is a cabin-set flick that refuses to rely on traditional scares. Paul and Bea are on their honeymoon but things aren’t quite the bliss that you’d expect. The central questions in this film are “who did I marry?” and “am I enough?”

Screenings: Tuesday, July 22 at 7 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.

 

6. Jellyfish Eyes (Mememe no Kurage)

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Director: Takashi Murakami

Screenplay: Takashi Murakami, Jun Tsugita

Japan, 2013

There is a lot of excitement brewing around the sci-fi/fantasy epic Jellyfish Eyes sponsored by The Japanese Foundation at this year’s Fantasia. Masashi’s father was lost in the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 resulting in his mother relocating them to a small town, near a university research center. Masashi finds a little flying creature and soon discovers that all the others kids at school have secret creature buddies who — unlike his pink bud, Jellyfish Boy — are controlled by their smartphones. But all isn’t honky dory in this town and something dark is brewing…

Screenings: Sunday, July 20 at 12 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

 

5. Housebound

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Director: Gerard Johnstone

Screenplay: Gerard Johnstone

New Zealand, 2014

Kylie is on house arrest in the home where she grew up where she is forced to live with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Like Kylie, an angry spirit is also displeased with the new living arrangement. But like it or not, Kylie is gonna have to do the time — even if it’s in a haunted house.

Screening: Sunday, August 3 at 9:45 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

 

4. The Harvest

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Director: John McNaughton

Screenplay: Stephen Lancelloti

USA, 2013

When Andy gets sick, his pediatric heart surgeon mother, Katherine, has to start working from home. When a neighbourhood girl begins to befriend Andy, his parents — whose universes have centred around him and his illness — react in a strange way. According to Mitch Davis, “The Harvest exists in a disquieting median space between sinister fairy tale and shattering human horror.” And if that’s not enough, The Harvest promises what looks like a kick-ass performance by Samantha Morton.

Screening: Monday, July 21 at 9:30 p.m. at Theatre DB Clarke.

 

3. The Midnight Swim

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Director: Sarah Adina Smith

Screenplay: Sarah Adina Smith

USA, 2014

The Midnight Swim is one of the most intriguing films of this year’s program. Dr. Amelia Brooks studied the mysteries of bottomless Spirit Lake, which became the site of her death when she didn’t resurface after a dive. Her three daughters head to Spirit Lake to reflect on their relationships with their mother and return to their family home. The sisters begin to believe that something supernatural is at hand after they jokingly summon the spirits of women who have drowned in the lake.

Screening: Sunday, July 27 at 7:30 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.

 

2. Suburban Gothic

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Director: Richard Bates, Jr.

Screenplay: Mark Linehan Bruner, Richard Bates Jr.

USA, 2014

Suburban Gothic is the second feature by Richard Bates Jr., director of the bloody and breathtaking Excision. The film follows Raymond (Matthew Gray Grubler) who, like many of us in Montreal, can’t find a job with his college degree and has to move back in with his parents. Raymond has had visions for most of his life and joining with local bartender Becca (played by the amazing Kat Dennings) things go in unexpected ways. According to Ted Geoghegan, “Suburban Gothic is popcorn cinema at its most endearing — a saccharine ghost story featuring a faultless mix of honest scares and well-played humour.”

Screening: Saturday, July 19 at 9:45 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

1. Frank 

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Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Screenplay: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan

United Kingdom, 2014

Official selection at Sundance 2014, Frank stars Michael Fassbender as Frank, the frontman of a band who swears by a giant plaster cartoon head that he never takes off. The film follows Jon who meets Frank and his strange lineup of bandmates and follows them down a strange musical odyssey to the SXSW festival in Texas.

Screenings: Sunday, August 3 at 4:20 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre & Monday, August 4 at 5:15 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.

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Honourable mentions:

Man in the Orange Jacket, Aux Yeux Des Vivants, Prom Night, Dys-, Wetlands, When Animals Dream, To Be Takei, and Summer of Blood

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The 2014 edition of Fantasia runs from July 17 to August 6.

 I tried to find the words to sum up this year’s Fantasia experience but come up short. My love of film and festival endurance were tested this festival season by the desire to also volunteer for Montreal’s Rock Camp for Girls, trying in vain to keep up with the Fantasia post-screening parties and, most of all, be a more than usual critical and demanding eye for innovative films.

So far, I’ve reported on those films that struck me the most. Below are four more of the films that have made this 17th edition of Fantasia a memorable one indeed.

Across the River (Oltre Il Guado) (Italy, 2013)

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In anticipation of what was rumoured to be one of the most efficient atmospheric horror films, I could barely wait for the world premiere of Lorenzo Bianchini’s Across the River. In this movie, a wildlife biologist is tracking the patterns of predator and prey while staying in a small RV.

Following the travels of a fox, he ventures further down the river and deeper into the forest where he discovers an abandoned village. While he ventures into the dark of the night, an old man hearing the sounds of the forest remembers a nightmare that is far too real.

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Across the River is an extremely atmospheric film where the set is alive with horrific possibilities. Intriguing camera choices, including the use of the wildlife biologist’s own infrared cameras, provide the meat of a slow build towards a horrific conclusion. The soundtrack of rain, critters, and the deafening unnatural silence that occurs in the forest right before the strike of a predator joins forces with the camerawork to create a bone chilling atmosphere.

Indeed, Across the River is a slow paced but tense film which will evoke in small town viewers the horrors of local history and those places marked by them. As for city folk, the dark and strangeness of the wild will surely contribute to nail biting mounting stress.

Love Eternal (Ireland, 2013)

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I hesitated to see Love Eternal because the premise sent off alarm bells about the perpetuation of violence against women. Furthermore, it echos Vampire (Iwai, 2011), a film I unfortunately saw a couple years ago that left me enraged and caused more than seven women to walk out during the screening.

Based on the Japanese novel In Love with the Dead by Kei Oishi, Brendan Muldowney’s Love Eternal isn’t like the disturbing bullshit that is Vampire.

Love Eternal is the story of Ian who, as a teenager, stumbles upon the dead body of a young girl, a sight that leaves him traumatized. An extremely introverted man, Ian locks himself up until a second tragic event forces him out.

As he debates whether he can be part of the world of the living or join others in death, he finds himself in the woods again, in the company of yet another dead woman. Thus begins Ian’s odd and somewhat macabre emergence from a world of solitude and stunted growth towards various forms of human connection.

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There’s no way to shy around the fact that Love Eternal is weird and the premise kinda fucked up. The performances are strong (especially that of Pollyanna McIntosh as the grieving Naomi), the humour deadpan and the cinematography is well mastered.

It is a film about walking, or rather freezing, between life and death. Ultimately about loss and companionship, this film is redeemed by Ian’s transformation and moves past the troubling fetishizing of dead women.

Vessel (Australia, 2013)

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Cianco’s microbudget debut film Vessel, is one of the films I was most looking forward to this season. Before I had the chance to see it, I caught wind of a few negative reviews and began to have doubts. No need for worry. Vessel delivered exactly what I had expected, in the best of ways.

This is the story of Ash who feels himself drained slowly of what he deems are the markers of his humanity. We follow him as he juggles with a gift that feels more and more like a curse.

In Ash’s world, a special group of people named interfacers have been part of a secret government operation acting as informants through their ability communicate with extraterrestrials. The secrecy of this program and Ash’s crumbling pysche bring into question whether this covert world stems from a mental health affliction and/or a side effect of his drug use.

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Vessel is one of those fresh ambitious small films that makes Fantasia a cathartic experience in terms of the contemplation of human emotions and relationships. It looks at what brings people to the brink and the choices that need to be made when on the edge of one’s cohesive sense of self.

The cinematography by Aaoron Farrugia is compelling and successful in creating a city of desolate forgotten spaces where the fringe goes to rest, eat, or take a hit of some strange unknown substance. The acting by Mark Diaco is engrossing and compelling and is, along with the cinematography, the key to making this film work as a whole.

You’re Next ( U.S.A., 2011)

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Last but not least, Adam Wingard’s You’re Next has been making waves ’round the festival circuit for a couple years. Finally, it’s broken through it’s shackles and hit the Fantasia screen.

There was a ton of hype surrounding this film, however, I’m not big on home invasion movies. Since Funny Games (and the remake), I just wonder when I see this type of film hitting big screens – is this just torture porn meant to make people feel unsafe in their own homes?

Thankfully, Wingard’s You’re Next isn’t a redundant film trying to ride the curtails of Funny Games. In fact, it hits a home run when it comes to refreshing the home invasion flick.

You’re Next is shocking, hilarious and adrenaline pumping throughout. The less said, the better. Go Watch This. Bring Friends.

MAGIC MAGIC (U.S.A./Chile, 2013) 

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Written and directed by Sebastien Silva, Magic Magic was one of the first films to catch my eye in this year’s Fantasia program. Mostly because I felt utterly validated in my previous reading of Michael Cera as capable of immense creepiness. Here it was finally, a film in which Cera let his (true?) darkness shine.

Magic Magic was not at all what I expected. The synopsis is purposefully misleading and the film toys with its ambiguous development until the very end.  Alicia (Juno Temple) barely sets foot in Chile when her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning) whisks her away on a trip to a secluded island with her weird friend Brink (Michael Cera), easily annoyed friend Barbara (Catalina Sandino), and her good looking boyfriend Agustin (Agustin Silva, who is the director’s brother). This isn’t your typical young people go to a secluded place type of horror film. The horror rests in the film’s ripe psychological tension and compelling imagery. There’s something going on here with sheep and dogs that might be the basis of a funky cultural studies paper.

Although beautifully shot and blissfully disorienting, the film does have a couple elements that made me pause: there is the question of the portrayal of Mapuche culture that I can’t help but flag for a second viewing. That’s just what I’ll be doing before I fully make up my mind about just how great Magic Magic is.

OXV: THE MANUAL (England, 2013) 

002-2When I heard that OXV: The Manual, having its world premiere as part of Fantasia, was being compared in some ways to Shane Carruth of Primer fame and to films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I was all in. Darren Paul Fisher, the director of the film, labelled OXV: The Manual a scientific-philosophical romance and that’s bang on.

In the world of the film, knowledge determines destiny. Scientific research has discovered that people emit different frequencies and this has changed the world. Those persons with higher frequencies are helped by the world while those with lower frequencies attract bad luck and they are constantly out of sync with the natural world. Isaac-Newton and Marie-Curie collide – they are the lowest and highest frequencies respectively at their school for gifted children. Zak happens to have fallen in love with Marie, whose presence he cannot be in for over a minute a year for his own safety. The film follows the lives of Marie and Zak as he tries to to do the unthinkable: change his natural frequency and challenge fate.

OXV: The Manual is well executed, looks beautiful, and poses important questions. Questions about love, free will, scientific discovery, history, personal essence, intelligence. The list goes on. The performances are great and the way the storylines are weaved together and develop is well crafted. I won’t say much more and lead you to this gem with fresh eyes. Enjoy!

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THE BATTERY (USA, 2012)

“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s probably a fucking zombie.” – Ben

Written and directed by Jeremy Gardner, The Battery is at the top of my list for Best of the Fest at this year’s Fantasia awards. This micro budget film follows Mickey (Adam Cronheim) and Ben (Jeremy Gardner), two dudes who used to play baseball together, as they travel the post plague backroads of New England. The two men cannot be more different: Ben does all the dirty work while Mickey yearns for human connection spending most of his days avoiding reality by losing himself in music. While they face encounters with the undead, surviving each other might be the hardest ordeal they face.

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The Battery is another film I was going to maladroitly skip: I’ve been feeling saturated in the zombie department. However, I kept hearing great things and also happened to meet Gardner and his girlfriend at the Irish Embassy. So, I decided to give it a look-see after all and was really impressed. The Battery isn’t like typical zombie flesh eating orgy films rather it focuses on the emptiness and bleakness of a post-apocalyptic world where human connection is few and far between. All of this with a killer soundtrack. Gardner’s performance kicks ass and his directorial instincts have definitely paid off boasting a few bold editing choices exemplified in the end sequence.

Not to be missed. That is all.

BIG BAD WOLVES (Israel, 2013)

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Highly recommended by fellow Fantasia reviewer Ian Sandwell, I took a leap of faith and decided to attend a screening of Big Bad Wolves, the second feature by Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. Although the trailer seems to indicate a sort of revenge torture porn plot, which isn’t something I’m drawn to lately, that’s not what Big Bad Wolves is actually about. The directors of past Fantasia favourite Rabies have created an engrossing thriller forcing viewers to ask themselves some tough questions around vigilantism, an important topic these days.

A young girl goes missing in the woods and a trio of sleazy cops makes the situation worse by beating up the primary suspect. Unfortunately for them, this incidence of police brutality has made its way to youtube and there are consequences. Determined to get his badge back, Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) sets out to prove that this suspect did indeed commit these brutal crimes. The film also shows how this assumption of guilt messes with the life of Dror (Rotem Keinan), the person-of-interest in terms of this series of sadistic murders. Finally, a third party is circling these bloody waters, the father of the missing girl who knows that the “the only thing that scares a maniac is another maniac.”

Following a breathtakingly beautiful dreamlike opening sequence, the filmmakers have found a way to weave three films into one poignant story: a story about bad cops, a story from the point of view of a suspected pedophile, and the story of a vigilante father. The result is nothing shy of intense. Some of the torture scenes made me cringe, sending visceral alarms throughout my body. That being said, the film balances blood and humour in a way that is very entertaining and delightfully twisted.

Literature is an endless permutation of themes. But, what happens when you mix zombies with Biblical stories? Stant Litore created the Zombie Bible, an ongoing re-imagination of our cultural heritage with an important twist–more zombies, more horror and managing to be relevant to our day-to-day life. I’ve been reading The Zombie Bible ever since its first volume was released in 2011. Despite being irreligious, its religious tones and themes didn’t put me off. The book doesn’t seek to preach and convert. Rather, it relates to the struggles of humanity against the swarms of the hungry dead.

The latest book, Strangers in the Land, follows the story of the prophetess Devora the Old. She sees what God wants her to see, and she finds herself called north. The zombies have returned, and the People are in danger. What was interesting about Devora was how well her inner strength was displayed. As a woman in 1190 BC, prophetic visions or not, she had to fight to be heard and recognized in a society where only men could hold power. There’s a constant aura of personal danger that permeates the story. Not only from the zombies, but from the men who are supposed to protect and travel with her. Every gesture and comment can be read with the subtext of imminent violence. Devora’s calm determination and sense of duty set her apart from the other characters, but her response to things that test her faith and perceptions are what really serve to humanize her. While you might find yourself rolling your eyes at her anti-heathen outbursts and almost unfeeling adherence to the covenant, Devora seems like a woman you could meet at the story, or on the job.

Strangers in the land'_The setting of ancient Israel was so well done that it was like I stepped through a time machine. The worldbuilding was painstakingly done–the landscape, down to the tents and the trees was authentic and beautifully described. The city of Walls, the camps, the zombies and the shared history merges together to create descriptive quality seldom seen outside of literary fiction. Nothing is held back or censored. The beauty of the land is coupled with the terrible destruction brought by the undead to form a chilling representation of what the past would have looked like with zombies.

In the end, The Zombie Bible is about people–our ancestors’ struggle with the undead. Strangers in the Land is no exception, but Litore does an excellent job of writing a heroine fighting for life and justice in a terrifying and unjust world. Even if you’ll never read The Bible, give The Zombie Bible a try.

B-movies are the best movies. Tired of being disappointed by Hollywood’s cliched offerings, I’ve been seeking refuge in the depths of cheesy goodness for a while. Watching a b-movie is like falling down the tunnel to Wonderland. Here are my picks for the most enjoyable form of masochism that exists today:

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Troll 2 (1990)

Spoiler: there are no trolls in Troll 2. Yes, I feel cheated. Instead, there are the most poorly done goblins imaginable.

Troll 2 is what happens when you let a contestant from Death Race 2000 run over your story idea and careen into your production staff. There has been a documentary made about how objectively horrible this movie is.

I couldn’t look away. I do not know of a descriptor that is worse than atrocious, and it applies in equal measure to: the special effects, the acting, the script, the storytelling, the hair (1990 bad perm power!). If you decide to watch this movie, make sure you hit pause every time you roll your eyes or laugh out loud. What is idiotic now fuels something even stupider a bit down the line.

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Feast (2005)

Feast is a relatively new monster horror film. IMDB thinks it’s also a comedy, and I do agree that there’s a comedic element to the film. However, I doubt it was intentional.

A group of people are trapped in a bar as monsters attack. These monsters are big, weird furry nymphomaniacs who eat people. The special effects are passable, but the technology available in 2005 by far eclipses anything available in previous decades. It’s still a guy with a scary glove punching through windows and exaggerated forced screaming from the cast, but it’s prettier.

Gyo Tokyo Fish Attack

Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack (2012)

While technically an anime, I am of the opinion that no one medium has a monopoly of amazing crap. I won tickets to see this at Fantasia last year. I brought a friend. He has yet to forgive me.

It’s an apocalypse movie with fart-powered fish on legs taking over Tokyo. Eventually, the contagion spreads to humans, which is just as obscene as it sounds. This movie made absolutely no sense.

Deathrace 2000

Honorable Mention: Death Race 2000 (1975)

I was first introduced to Death Race 2000 by my brother. I have yet to thank him for the joy this movie has brought me. Featuring the best of cheap 1970s special effects, a young Sylvester Stallone, and a whole lot of 70s hair, this movie blends car racing with a dystopian science fiction universe.

If you’re a gamer, it’s like Carmageddon, but with a plot. The movie makes no sense, but in the charming b-movie way that makes perfect sense. It’s not objectively horrible, in the way that the above are, but it is very special. Let’s just say that.

 

Because I’m a zombie horror writer, other up and coming zombie horror writers always want to give me their books. As a consequence, I’m well-versed in many of the undiscovered literary gems pertaining to our cannibalistic, undead friends. World War Z catapulted the zombie novel into the literary stage, but many more have followed in its wake. In addition to shock and gore, zombie stories can tell us about the primal struggles and hunger endemic to human existence. Zombie stories tell us about our hopes and dreams, our need to come together and our need to self-destruct.

#1. The Zombie Bible (Stant Litore)

zombie bibleAn ongoing series, The Zombie Bible seeks to retell Bible stories with a twist: that our saints and prophets also fought the undead. Litore’s elegant prose shows both the horrors of an undead apocalypse in Biblical times, and the beauty of the enduring human spirit. The religious element is kept tasteful and does not seek to judge its reader, but rather to fuel the spirits of his characters.

The writing style is very literary and flowery and the stories themselves are painstakingly researched. Some may find the language used tedious or object to the lack of chainsaws, but these books are worth a look if you want something other than the usual urban nightmare.

#2. The I Zombie I Series (Jack Wallen)

i zombie iI’ve been following this series for over a year, and I Zombie I is one of the most inventive zombie series I’ve ever read. The pages keep flipping and the plot twists and turns. By the end of the third book, I had no idea what to think. That’s a good thing.

What’s especially noteworthy about Wallen’s work is that he doesn’t shy away from strong female protagonists. No longer having to suffer the tired cliche of ditz-who-gets-everyone-killed, his character Bethany is a nerd girl who uses Linux, some common sense, and her mechanical aptitude to save the world. It’s not all high-tech geekery, though. All of the hallmarks of a great zombie story are in this one. Weapons, stealth, mystery, evolving zombies and intrigue are included with admission.

#3. The Zombie West Series (Angela Scott)

wanted dead or undeadZombies in the Wild West. I’m not usually a fan of the Westerns, but when done properly they do make an excellent venue to explore the mass slaughter of the walking dead.

It’s bounty hunter meets the-girl-in-the-wanted-poster. While there is a romantic sub-element to the story, it’s done in a way that isn’t absolutely annoying. The rest is standard Western fare. Saloons, shoot-outs, caravans filled with zombies and utter lawlessness are the name of the game. It’s all about a struggle to survive in a world gone horribly wrong, while trying to solve the mystery of a girl who is immune to the bite of the infected.