Tag Archives: Fantasia Film Festival

Summer of 84

All year long I wear the badge of wimp proudly. It’s made out of bubble wrap and bandaids, and is attached with safety velcro in order to never risk the prick. I DO NOT WATCH HORROR MOVIES. I do not. In fact: I cannot. I even turned my cowardly back on Hereditary despite its starring one of my all-time-favourite actresses, and I stalk her from beneath her floorboards 4 days a week. I don’t watch em. I can’t do it. They don’t just make me scared, they make me mad. And not just husband sleeps with your best friend on your birthday mad. Oh no. I’m talking REALLY mad. Mad that I have ALLOWED myself to feel this bad. So I sit there seething. Self-loathing. And so scared I might pee – and that’s not an expression, it’s an alarmingly real possibility.

But.

But in July, I make an exception, an exception called The Fantasia Film Festival. It shows an incredible lineup of genre films, which takes me out of my comfort zone and challenges me as a movie lover, watcher, and reviewer. It’s got odes to action, horror, sci-fi, and loads besides – the most frontier-pushing stuff from Japan, South Korea, and more, and stuff to inspire fresh nightmares for a year. Truly something for every sicko out there, and I love it.

And this isn’t the first time I’ve let myself be pee-strength scared. As a kid I remember that a simple game of hide-and-go-seek would strain my 7 year old heart into cardiac arrest territory. Relocate that game to the woods, and set it at night, and I was a cowering, quivering mess. Did anyone else put themselves through these MV5BNWNjOTNkNTAtOTQwNi00MzM0LWE0OTktY2VmYzE2NDdiY2Q2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTU4ODA4MTg@._V1_neighbourhood games of hell? Obviously someone must derive pleasure from being on the brink of abject horror, and at the beginning of Summer of 84, we meet 4 such young fellows. Davey and his friends are 15 in the summer of 84, mere shadows of mustaches playing on their upper lips, and haven’t yet outgrown their midnight game of “manhunt.” I think it’s creepy even before the big news is revealed: the Cape May slayer is on the loose in their community. With 13 confirmed kills and a preference for teenage boys, Davey and his buddies should rationally be concerned about this serial killer but they’re kids, hornily hovering about the precipice between childhood and growing up, and instead they think it’s kind of cool.

Kind of cool until Davey (Graham Verchere), an amateur conspiracy theorist, convinces Eats (Judah Lewis), Woody (Caleb Emery), and Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew) that his next-door neighbour Mackey (Rich Sommer) fits the serial killer’s profile, and that Mackey’s job as a cop is nothing more than the perfect cover. So even though there’s a beautiful girl next door, a couple years older and rocking a side pony, Davey is single-minded in his surveillance and suspicion of Mackey. Which makes me hyperventilate on at least two fronts: 1. If Mackey IS the killer, Davey et. al are drawing an awful lot of attention to themselves, and 2. If he is not the killer, then the killer is on loose, and the boys are very distracted, which makes them easy targets. 

This is the most recent offering from directors RKSS (Roadkill Superstar), a trio of talented young Canadians otherwise known as Anouk Whissell, François Simard, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Summer of 84 is inevitably being compared to Stranger Things, but that comparison isn’t really fair, just a lazy nod to the 1980s nostalgia they both evoke. Summer of 84 more like The Goonies, a childhood adventure movie, but with higher stakes. RKSS is not afraid to let some kids meet with some pretty real-world consequences.

As you can imagine, this movie is brimming with barely-awakened testosterone, and enough tension to blow the roofs off several treehouses. 105 minutes is a long time to be barely containing the urge to scream “Get out of there!!!!” in a theatre full of heavy-breathing moviegoers. My notebook reveals that I survived the ordeal by sketching people’s shoes. But I also survived by being pleasantly surprised by the production value in this movie. RKSS know and love their gore, but they’ve also crafted a movie that looks terrific. It certainly looks levels above what their budget must have dictated, and it’s rooted in an 80s realism you’ll identify as “grandparent’s rec room chic” rather than the too-slick, glossy, neon, facile and over-stylized way many other directors are dazzled by. Of course, it’s rather ironic since the film makers were not likely even born yet in the summer of 84, but who’s counting?

The four young actors are all quite good; Verchere has an honest and earnest face that’s hard not to root for, and Emery’s face is probably already familiar to you. There’s an easy and genuine camaraderie between the boys, which makes it easy to care for them even if their characters aren’t exactly well-developed. And getting us to care for the lambs being left to slaughter isn’t something you can take for granted in a horror movie. Blood comes cheap, but RKSS pays full price.

 

 

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Genocidal Organ

In the near future, a devastating terrorist attack in Sarajevo shocks the world. The governments of most industrialized countries use the widespread panic to justify an increase in surveillance of their own citizens. While the developed world is safer than ever before, the third world- without the means to conduct such widespread surveillance- descends into chaos and mass murder.

Captain Clavis Shepherd  is one of the few Americans unfortunate enough to have to navigate this chaos. As a covert intelligence agent, Shepherd conducts bloody and dangerous missions around the world while his superiors monitor his vitals from Washington to make sure he’s not feeling too much compassion. His latest mission is to track down the mysterious John Paul, the architect of so many genocides around the world.

Genocidal Organ is not always easy to follow but will reward those who try to try to keep up. It took me about twenty minutes, given that this is a Japanese film with Japanese animation and Japanese voice actors speaking Japanese, to realize that most of these characters are supposed to be American. It feels weird at first. This must be how Russian people feel watching Eastern Promises. Once you’ve figured out who everyone is though, it’s easy enough to settle in and just enjoy the movie.

Visually, Genocidal Organ is an impressive film. The animators create a believable setting and the shootouts have better choreography than most live-action films do. As I’ve said before, I’m no good at describing animations so here are some stills to give you an idea.

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As a story, it’s an engaging spy thriller that tricks you into having fun because it looks so good. At its heart though, Genocidal Organ is hopelessly bleak. It’s a movie that, like John Paul (who is quite fond of monologuing), has a lot to say. While the script probably has a couple of speeches too many, its musings on linguistics, psychology, American foreign policy, and freedom are always interesting and often troubling. Be prepared to sit and think about this one for a few days after you see it.

Teiichi: Battle of the Supreme High

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Don’t ask me how this happened but in 2006 I found myself reading an interview with Chris Klein. You all remember Chris Klein, right? He was Oz in the American Pie movies and, according to IMDB, Brad on a 2015 episode of Motive. Well, he was also in one of my favourite films of the 90s and this is the one I found him reminiscing about in this 2006 interview. Klein good-naturedly admitted that he was too young while filming 1999’s Election to really understand what was funny about it.

If you haven’t seen Election, it’s a subtle but hard-hitting satire about an ambitious overachiever’s quest to win her high school election. And the best way that I can describe Teiichi is it’s the Japanese version of Election that the 19 year-old Chris Klein would have loved.

teiichiTeiichi has only one ambition: to become Prime Minister and to build his own empire. Luckily, he’s come to the right place. The prestigious Kaitei College is the place to be for future world leaders and all Tiichi needs to do is be voted in as chairman of the student council and he’ll be well on his way to power and glory. Trouble is, his longtime rival Kikuma wants it just as bad as he does. So the battle for Kaitei College gets pretty intense where everything, including wiretapping, sabotage, nipple pinching, and merciless tickling is fair game.

Teiichi, based on the manga “Teiichi no Kuni”, goes for bigger laughs than Election did and isn’t afraid to go pretty lowbrow to get them. Almost every situation is taken to the wackiest possible extreme and the performers overact in the best way possible. What impressed me most was the impeccable comic timing of the physical comedy, which went a long way in helping me forgive all the exaggeration. teiichi drum

Somehow I still couldn’t help feeling sad for Teiichi, his inner circle, and his rivals. There seems to be way too much on the line for such young boys. For Teiichi, losing the student council election would almost literally mean that his life is over. Everything in his young life has been leading up to this one moment and he seems to have no idea what he would do if he were to lose.

 

In general, I will always prefer the subtlety and bite of Election to the slapstick comedy and mostly heavy-handed satire of Teiichi: Battle of the Supreme High. But somebody needs to be making movies for 19 year-old Chris Klein and Teiichi is extremely entertaining and even a little thought-provoking once you get used to its zany sense of humour.

 

Shorts: Fantasia

Sleazy Pete: At less than 12 minutes long, Sleazy Pete still manages to go through 55 gallons of fake blood. That seems extraneous since Sleazy Pete is a priest who lives by the principle “Love thy neighbour” but the convenient loophole there is that the homeless aren’t neighbours to anyone so are therefore ripe for the killing. If you love B-movie gore, this one is wall-to-wall apocalyptic violence

Don’t Ever Change: Karen Hickman is newly paroled after spending her entire adulthood in DontEverChange-CyndiWilliamsprison for a crime she committed when she was 17. She’s in the midst of reconnecting with her biological daughter when a “fan” shows up with an inappropriate request. The productions values are great, the writing is fun; in less than 10 minutes director Don Swaynos gives us something truly satisfying…although I wouldn’t have minded even more!

The Story of 90 Coins: A man is much more serious about his relationship than his girlfriend is. As a compromise, she agrees to be wooed for 90 days. Every day he leaves her with a coin. At the end of 90 days, they’ll either have enough money for farewell drinks, or a marriage certificate. Sure it’s hella romantic but it also puts our poor heroine in the unfortunate position of having to choose between love and career. This short film is gorgeously shot, and if you’re in the mood to have your heart strings yanked upon fiercely, there are buckets of tears wept in the 9 minute running time.

The Madame In Black: A woman was burned for witchery, and centuries later, children still remember her with a game wherein the very brave call her name 3 times into a mirror. This short horror is perfectly edited for maximum tension.

Free and Easy

To be honest, it took me a while to adapt to the pace of this movie. It is slow, deliberate, and very measured. There’s no getting ahead of yourself. But the unusual story and glimmers of humour hooked me and I was glad I stuck it out. Free and Easy is genuinely something that feels new and unique.

It’s about a “soap salesman” who never sells a single bar but does encourage people to sniff his product (“a different scent on all 4 sides!”) because doing so induces loss of consciousness. Once his would-be customers are asleep on the ground, he frisks them for money and valuables. So he’s really a thief, posing as a salesman.

1_22_free-and-easy1-676x450Director Geng Jun shows us a side of China rarely seen: crumbling, bleak, all but abandoned. This cold, deserted, post-industrial town in northeastern China is dotted with rural characters, and they’re all as shady as the salesman.

It almost watches like loosely connected vignettes, a series of petty crimes where corruption and lawlessness is the new normal. But whenever these criminals encounter each other, you can’t help but laugh. The humour is deadpan but it landed surprisingly well for a movie that runs the risk of being lost in translation. There’s some slap stick, which I suppose is universal, but really it’s just the contrast between this totally depressing setting and the buffoons that populate it that just works.

The film is minimalist but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of attention to detail poured into each shot. Out-of-focus details often sharpen into the butt of the joke. You have to stay alert to small gifts planted by the director along the way. Sure the subtext of the film is a little depressing, but it’s delivered in such an obliquely funny way, the message presented by sliding it in sideways, that you’ll laugh appreciatively at things that aren’t even overtly funny. In a film full of grifters, it’s the cops who are the dirtiest  of them all. That’s the lens through which contemporary, provincial China is explored in (ironically titled) Free and Easy, and the film stays remarkably on-brand.

Dead Shack

Dead Shack is that rare comedy-horror hybrid that actually works on both counts. It was yet another surprise from Fantasia’s lineup and I really have to stop being surprised because the truth is the programming is quite excellent even if the movies tend to do be a little wheelhouse-busting.

[I mean, what the hell is a wheelhouse anyway? Well, okay, I know what a wheel house is, it’s the little shack on a fishing boat where the wheel goes. If something’s in your wheel house, then you’re capable of doing it. And it’s not that I’m incompetent or unable MV5BZTgzODJjNDUtNGVhNC00NmUxLWJmYWUtMWU0ZTRiMGZmMzMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,743_AL_to watch genre films, it’s just that I’m rather chicken and often shy away. But here I am, grabbing the ole wheel by its…spokes? And I’m loving it.]

Dead Shack is about a family who goes on a budget camping trip to a rundown cabin in the middle of some bug-infested hellhole, and if I stopped writing right there, well, that’s horrific enough for me. But no. While on the trip, Dad and Dad’s new girlfriend immediately set to partying (euphemism for heavy drinking). His teenage Son and Daughter and their Ambiguous Friend knock about in the creepy surrounding woods and stumble upon a neighbour who looks like a Volvo-driving soccer Mom until she puts her armor on and brings home human prey for her undead family to feast upon.

For a movie about cannibalism, it’s actually quite funny. A lot of the fun comes from Dad, who is earnest and geeky and trying just a little too hard to be Cool Weekend Dad. But then it’s his kids who have to come to the rescue with their improvised armaments and slapped-together weapons. Death Shack kind of has the feel of an 80s movie – picture a Goonies-Evil Dead mashup. And there’s still plenty of gore and tense framing and a pretty heart-pounding soundtrack to satisfy the sickest of you souls. Bon appetit.

 

 

 

The Honor Farm

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I hadn’t seen my friend Josh in months and was eager to tell him all about the exciting new movie I saw at the Fantasia Film Festival. “I just saw The Honor Farm and I’m still trying to figure it out,” I told him while seated at a nearby Mexican restaurant.

I hadn’t seen the baby boomer somehow standing right over me until he chose this moment to cut me off. “I just saw that,” he complained. “It was terrible“.

I didn’t really want to get into it with this guy nor was I even confident that I had understood the film well enough to defend it so I just smiled politely as he told me that it wasn’t even scary. I bashfully admitted that I was the guy who jumped and cried out during the final act.

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The Honor Farm is exactly that kind of movie. It’s the kind of movie that you need to let sink in while you ignore those who will immediately and loudly dismiss it. Lucy (Olivia Grace Applegate) seems to feels like she’s just going through the motions as she prepares for her prom. After her drunk date embarasses her and tries to force himself on her, she reluctantly agrees to accompany her best friend Anne (Katie Folger) and a classmate she barely knows into the woods to take shrooms in an abandoned prison farm.

Other than that, the less you know about The Honor Farm the better. Although you should probably be warned that horror fans like the one described above may be disappointed. Because the set up seems bloody perfect. Eight teenagers, most of them seeming to fit a typical scary movie stereotype, entering a creepy prison on prom night might make you start placing bets on who will be first to die but this isn’t your typical scary movie. What follows is truly surreal and genre-bending and few of these character arcs play out like you’d expect.

I may have been a little lost during the closing credits but The Honor Farm keeps getting better the more i think about it. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Poor Agnes

Men murder whores; women murder their babies. Where the fuck does that leave Agnes? Sure she’s a serial killer but she’s alarmingly adept not just at murder but at slow, meticulous torture. She surveys a therapy group that meets about their hostage experiences, and takes notes.

Her most recent victim is chained up in her basement right now. Mike (Robert Notman) is a private detective who ironically came asking after a former victim from a decade ago. Now he’s in chains, starving to death while she plays games with him. Agnes sees beauty in other people’s pain.

This movie is fucked up, totally, totally fucked up. But if you have the stomach for it, the writing is exceptionally good for this genre of film. Lora Burke, as Agnes, is perfectly cast. fantasia2017-Poor_AgnesAgnes is a psychopath but Burke never overplays her. She’s deeply disturbed but can come off perfectly sane and reasonable. Even more astonishing, she can say the most distressing things so pleasantly it takes a moment before your ears truly catch up to what they’re hearing.

Over time, Agnes and Mike form a bond that defies categorization. The film zings between victimization, sadism, cruelty, and remorselessness. Abu Ghraib’s got nothing on Agnes. She does abuse and mind-control like nobody’s business. But it’s not as brutal to watch as you might think; the one scene that made me GOL (gasp out loud) involved off-brand processed cheese, and believe me, that’s enough.

The most interesting thing about this movie is your reaction to it. Burke’s performance is so measured, it’s a struggle not to root for the bad guy. And she’s a very bad guy.

 

Museum

Detective Hisashi Sawamura (Shun Oguri) of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police is having a rough go. He’s tired. His overworking, long a point of contention in his marriage, has finally culminating in his wife and young son leaving him. And now he’s got a serial killer on his hands.

A few things about this serial killer, because he’s unlike anything you’ve seen in film GAGA_C&C_A4_frontbefore, and yet draws from many familiar sources. The serial killer only works in the rain. He plans elaborate, gruesome kills that seem to be some sort of punishment to his victims. And – how do I put this – he also appears to be a man with a frog head. There. I said it. Moving on…technically, the source material here is the manga, Museum: The Serial Killer Is Laughing In The Rain. But you’ll find the movie remind you of Seven, Saw, and maybe even Oldboy. I can’t say that Museum is that caliber of film, but it’s plenty bloody.

The first half works much better than the second does. Once the serial killer is “unmasked,” for lack of a better word, a lot of the fun and the sizzle leeched out of the movie for me.  I worried that the frog head would seem cartoonish and silly but I did find it rather sinister and regretted it when we lost it. Some of the acting, though, veered toward cartoonish, and that’s particularly hard on North American audiences who are more used to subtlety.

Still, the Assholes managed to enjoy this one, more or less. It has a frenetic energy to it thanks to manic editing. And if you just give in to the weirdness, the slight foreignness, it’s a little fun to watch the whole thing go down. Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival focuses on “genre” selections, which means you always get something special. We get exposed to titles we’d otherwise struggle to find, and it’s honestly a lot of fun to be pushed out of our comfort zone once in a while.

A Ghost Story

ghost-storyFilm as a medium is almost infinitely flexible, universal and personal at the same time. Film is capable of so much emotion and yet it’s also capable of conveying the complete absence of it. Beauty or lack of it.  Terror or peace. And, as A Ghost Story proves beyond any doubt, film can make you feel so fucking uncomfortable and voyeuristic that you would give anything for the director to just yell “cut” already!

Put another way: how long do you think you could bear watching someone eat pie? Think carefully before you answer. For the full A Ghost Story experience, write your response down on a little scrap of paper and hide it in your house (or underneath a rock if your house is just a couple of pegs in the ground).

Whatever you think you can bear now, the inescapable truth is that no amount of tolerance for pie voyeurism will be enough to survive A Ghost Story unscathed. In one strange, haunting scene, A Ghost Story makes its mark, and there are lifetimes of other achingly lonely scenes for you to digest (but only if you can stomach it).

A Ghost Story plods, skips, stops, philosophizes, winks, and does whatever it wants, conventions be damned. It is a wonderfully strange, unique and brilliant experience that I cannot recommend enough.

By the way, see A Ghost Story in a theatre if you can, because there is a magical dichotomy in the mixture of loneliness and comradery that should result from experiencing this film with others. That contrast is yet another example of film’s versatility, and doubles as a valuable touchstone if you ever happen to become a ghost. It will all make sense in the end, and that is a comforting thought, isn’t it?