Writer-director Philippe McKie is Canadian by way of Montreal but has lived in Japan for over a decade. A multidisciplinary artist, he has worked in the fashion industry and as a DJ in Tokyo clubs, both of which inform Dreams on Fire, which had its North American debut at the Fantasia Film Festival.
The Premise: Yume moves to big city Tokyo in order to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer. Success is not exactly immediate, so we see her flit between street dance competitions, hip hop classes, anything likely to get her closer to her dreams. But her more imminent need for survival has her chasing cash into clubs where the girls aren’t necessarily dancing. It may not ultimately go on her resume, but Yume is certainly going to learn a lot about herself.
The Verdict: Rhythmic editing really draws us into Tokyo’s underworld, full of unrealized dreams and seedy potential, its lurid lights and colours casting an ominous glow on our protagonist and her compatriots. Bambi Naka is lovely as Yume, clearly a talented dancer in her own right, but willing to stretch and pour herself into the character. Director McKie is perhaps a bit style over substance, but the aesthetic is faultless and the film is never boring.
You’ve seen time loop movies before, but you haven’t seen one like this. An official selection of the Fantasia Film Festival 2021.
The Premise: Cafe owner Kato (Kazunori Tosa) returns home after a long day at work via a very short commute as he lives just above it. His apartment is just as he left it but contains a surprise: a message from himself, delivered “live” from the cafe downstairs. Weird, right? Turns out the monitors in his home and his cafe are linked, and the one in the cafe is suddenly broadcasting from two minutes in the future. By racing up and down the stairs, Kato can leave a message and then hear it, or deliver a message he knows he’s already heard. Things get interesting when his friends get involved, tinkering with the system in order to see deeper into the future, and using it to procure money, money that actually belongs to some gangsters because of course it does. Too bad they didn’t see that coming.
The Verdict: The film has an immediacy that distinguishes it from other movies in the genre. Kato’s ability to tamper with it and interact with it directly is also a refreshing addition to genre rules that are perhaps growing stale. But best of all, not to mention rather daringly, director Junta Yamaguchi pulls this off in a single 70 minute long take. One single take! It’s seamless, never gimmicky, infusing energy and urgency in a movie that’s surprisingly full of fun and a bubbling levity despite growing threats and intensity. It’s high-concept without being alienating, an inventive twist inspiring real creativity within the cast and crew. They keep things simple, the film bare bones in order to emphasize its moving parts. The characters are uncomplicated but surprisingly fully-formed, which adds to the intimacy of a time loop with such limited scope. Haunted by potential paradoxes, this madcap mini adventure shows us how anxiety drives us to recreate the past rather than pursuing the future. This movie is a testament to hard work both behind and in front of the screen; the crew pulls it off with an ease that only comes from serious rehearsal. I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes quietly became my favourite film at the festival.
I am a fan of a post-apocalyptic/dystopian nightmare done well, and I wasn’t sure that’s what Glasshouse promised, but boy did it deliver. Glasshouse is an official selection of the Fantasia Film Festival 2021.
The Premise: Living in a glasshouse in total isolation, a matriarch helps her family survive The Shred, a dementia-like virus that steals memory. They take turns standing guard, growing food, maintaining the home, educating each other, and comforting themselves with ritual. It’s survival and subsistence, but with a certain peace that very few others would have encountered in this new world. The tenuous peace is inevitably shattered by the arrival of a Stranger, the first in a long time that they haven’t immediately dispatched. His presence stirs up an uncomfortable past, and it seems perhaps there are worse fates than forgetting.
The Verdict: Director Kelsey Egan takes her time introducing us to the unique social ecosystem of the glasshouse in which our family lives. A dangerous toxin in the air means there are no live animals and edible plants need to be treated with the same care and attention as human lungs. It’s a precarious way to live yet we are given to understand that they are the lucky ones, and have stayed that way thanks to vigilance, ritual, and an armed guard. Yet they allow a stranger to enter, and to stay. True, two of the sisters are young women, and quickly seduced by the only man who isn’t their brother. But it turns out their relative peace was a carefully balanced construct and the Stranger has shifted the dynamic simply by infiltrating it. It’s always juicy and fascinating to imagine how someone would survive the end of the world, and this particular family makes great a host for the apocalypse. Writers Egan and Emma Lungiswa De Wet make a convincing and absorbing case for their take, creating a world that’s innately creepy and inspires suspicion. Families are of course always a bounty for a story-teller; they are unique partnerships built upon jealousies, secrets, and competition, yet they are bound to each other with ties only they, and sometimes not even they, can understand. A fantastic young cast including Jessica Alexander, Anja Taljaard, and Hilton Pelser make us believe in the frailty of their survival, and warn us that the last one to succumb isn’t exactly the winner. While oblivion is bliss, remembering is a burden.
Minny knows it’s a bad idea, but a surprise pregnancy has left her in want of money, so she warily allows boyfriend Gil to go along on a home robbery that promises him a ten thousand dollar payday, and even agrees to be the group’s getaway driver.
Things went well and the couple went home to set up a nursery with a name brand diaper genie. The end.
Haha. Just kidding. The home invasion goes badly, because of course it does, and after a bloody shoot-out, Gil and the living remains of his posse hole up in the nearby home of a single mother and her special-needs son. Things are hair-trigger heated while they wait for their emotional and very pregnant getaway driver to return. Things are tense between the lady of the house and the criminals, of course, but they’re also increasingly volatile amongst the criminals themselves. It’s a bad situation quickly and steadily growing worse.
We’ve all seen plenty of home robberies (in movies, I hope); Baby Money distinguishes itself by being more of a character study of regular, relatable people in a desperate situation. Will they make good choices? They will not. How bad will things get? Watch to find out, and thanks to a company of strong performances, you won’t be disappointed.
Baby Money is an official Fantasia Film Festival 2021 selection.
Directors: Mikhael Bassilli, Luc Walpoth
Starring: Danay Garcia, Michael Drayer, Joey Kern, Taja V. Simpson, Eric Davis, and Vernon Taylor III
#Blue_Whale uses a played-out construct to frame its frenetic story, but the tale it tells is still relevant, and horrifying in more ways than one.
The Premise: Teenager Dana is reeling and confused by her younger sister’s recent suicide. Unwilling to accept that her sister was truly suicidal, she searches through her computer for evidence to the contrary and instead stumbles across something much more sinister. Sister Yulya was involved in an online game that hooked teenagers with a series of challenging tasks meant to ultimately result in their suicides. Convinced that Yulya must have been compelled, Dana seeks the truth the only way she knows how: by joining the game and risking her own life – and that of everyone she knows.
The Verdict: #Blue_Whale fits undoubtedly within the horror genre, but it’s also alarming to note that the movie is inspired by real-life online suicide ‘games.’ Director Anna Zaytseva tells the story through screens (screenlife storytelling ) – cell phone live streams, social media posts, desk top messaging, desperate texts. While this format may have seemed novel and exciting at first, now it feels like an annoying contrivance, not to mention a not very honest one. If you’ve watched any live streams, then you know they’re 80% blurry, 40% shoes/sidewalk, 98% heavy breathing, yet thanks to the magic of movies, this girl is able to keep herself in frame despite literally running for her life. Anyway, Dana struggles through fifty tasks in fifty days, each more dangerous than the last, each designed to alienate her from friends, family, reality, and hope. While she tries to tease out the game’s admins, she’s also worrying about and falling for another player, a teen who is legitimately suicidal. The film is fast-paced, an immediacy which reflects the almost non-existent attention span of this online generation, and a sensory overload that breeds an overwhelming paranoia. Anchored by a brave and ballsy performance by Anna Potebnya, #Blue_Whale’s success is found in her vulnerability, indeed in the vulnerability of all these susceptible teenagers, so close to adulthood, yet still at risk of manipulation. The film is a horror first and foremost, but it’s also a life lesson worth heeding.
Nightmares appear to become real in this female-directed British horror screaming at the Fantasia Film Festival.
The Premise: Little Leah lives in a vicarage; her father is a Father, and he welcomes lost and needy souls into their home, God’s home. If the house seems crowded by day, it gives ample space for Leah’s imagination to unfold into its dark corners at night. But while nightmares swirl around the old house at bedtime, a small visitor appears at Leah’s window. This ghost/apparition/whatever is also a little girl, and at first her presence is soothing to Leah, but soon we learn that this paranormal personality may not be as benign as first thought.
The Verdict: Horror movies have long since exploited the fact that a child’s perception can really amplify our experience of anxiety and fright. Leah is a fairly stoic little girl, surviving a less than stellar home life. Tinged by grief, trauma, and silence, Leah relates a lot to her ghostly guest, both harbouring a simmering anger and a desire to be heard by the adults determined to ignore and suppress them. Of course, the more you repress something, the more you’re guaranteed for it to pop out in surprising and unsettling ways. A reckoning is looming, but who is its target and how will the casualties come? As Leah is kept in the dark, literally and figuratively, to some of her family’s past and pain, we, the audience, are also left out, only putting together the story as Leah searches out clues and processes what they mean. While a supernatural spirit walks the halls of Leah’s home, it’s clear the house is also haunted by sadness and secrecy, grief becoming its own ghost. Writer-director Ruth Platt gives an old story new life, and elicits two very fine performances from young actors Kiera Thompson and Sienna Sayer.
Drama, fantasy, horror: All The Moons, an official Fantasia Film Fest selection, may look bleak, but its story may surprise you.
The Premise: During Spain’s war in 1876, an orphanage is bombed, killing all nuns and girls inside save one. The girl (Haizea Carneros) is badly injured but saved by a woman (Itziar Ituño) whom she mistakes for an angel, but who actually grants her eternal life. Now this little girl has infinite life stretching out before her, but must learn to survive it on her own, while avoiding those who might mistake her as a demon.
The Verdict: All The Moons is a vampire movie without ever using the word, but there’s nothing like a long life for contemplating loneliness and mortality. Director Igor Legarreta seeks to redefine the vampire trope, making an intimate meditation on love and loss that includes some familiar facets but ultimately transcends the genre. Fans of bloodsucker flicks won’t want to miss it.
Fantasia will screen this film virtually on Saturday August 21st beginning at 9am EST.
A horror film set in the snow, and an official Fantasia Film Fest pick.
The Premise: Band peace officer Betty (Madison Walsh) is quickly overwhelmed when a hit and run goes unsolved, its victim a young community activist named Kharis (Sheena Kaine). Meanwhile, the community is also grappling with a mining company come to suck their tribal land dry. Even more concerning: some invisible predator is stalking and brutally killing one person after the next. Betty quickly deputizes game warden Stacey (Sera-Lys McArthur) to help hunt a killer who leaves very few tracks. No one is safe, and no one can quite agree whether these murders are the stuff of legend, but either way it seems one strict rule can be agreed upon: don’t say its name.
The Verdict: I had my doubts, but director (and co-writer) Rueben Martell pulls off his horror with aplomb. Its indigenous setting is rich and authentic, a natural backdrop for some terrifying First Nations traditions. Its unique perspective is augmented by a trio of strong female leads, with an especially admirable and grounded performance from Walsh, who calmly stands in the centre of the storm and bravely gets on with the job. From the very first scene, I was stunned by the film’s truth. Canada’s First Nations communities continue to be haunted by its missing and murdered women and girls, and the sight of Kharis walking alone along a dark road is eerily familiar. Spooks and spirits may plague this small community, but it’s the white man who truly poses the threat, wreaking havoc on the people and their native land in far more lasting and concrete ways.
Join us after the screening on August 18 at 9:10pm EDT for a live Q&A with special guest host Jesse Wente, director Rueben Martell, actors Sera-Lys McArthur, Julian Black Antelope, Val Duncan, Catherine Gell, Justin Lewis and Sheena Kaine, and producer Rene J. Collins.
Combining horror with family drama, writer-director Perry Blackshear returns to the Fantasia Film Festival with When I Consume You.
The Premise: Given her history and recent disappointment, Daphne’s death seems open and shut: overdose. But Daphne’s brother Wilson doesn’t buy it. He begins to investigate her murder, and to consider that the perpetrator may be the same supernatural source that’s been behind his family’s struggles for years.
The Verdict: Like Wilson, you’ll have to be open-minded to enjoy this movie. Are you comfortable lurking about in the shadows? Do you believe in paranormal criminals? Bad luck incarnate? Wilson (Evan Dumouchel) has a lot to contend with, and he’ll have to virtually become a whole different person in order to pursue her mysterious stalker. Don’t worry though, he does have someone in his camp: his dead sister Daphne (Libby Ewing). That’s right: it’s just like the movie Creed, if Rocky was a ghost, and Creed didn’t so much want to win boxing matches as avenge his sister’s death. So not really like Creed at all, except for the ‘learning to fight’ montage, and if you think boxing trainers are tough, you haven’t been schooled by a ghost and her various powers of motivation. When I Consume You deals with grief and trauma, but with supernatural forces dotting the edges. The film is disquieting, throwing you off-kilter even once you believe you’ve got the hang of things. Unexpected in intriguing ways, When I Consume You isn’t my favourite film at the festival, but I’ll definitely be thinking of it for a long while after, still muttering to myself that the title says when, not if.
How to watch:
Online screenings on Wednesday, August 18th at 9:30pm EST, and Friday August 20that 9am.
Join us after the screening on August 18 at 11:05pm EDT for a live Q&A with director Perry Blackshear as well as actors Evan Dumouchel, Libby Ewing and MacLeod Andrews. Tickets are $8.
You know what must suck? Running for your life and not knowing why. Indemnity, a South African action-thriller, is a fine example, and part of this year’s Fantasia Film Festival line-up.
The Premise: Theo is crippled by PTSD, having narrowly survived a fire that killed all of his colleagues. Plagued by guilt and debilitating flashbacks, he is unable to work, and volatile at home. Then he wakes up beside his wife’s dead body and things go from bad to worse. He’s the prime suspect of course, and his broken memory isn’t coming to his rescue any time soon. On the run, he’s pursued not just by the cops, but by an unknown third party, forcing Theo to connect the dots or die, or worse – because someone’s got his son.
The Verdict: While the premise is promising, the execution is a little lackluster, but Indemnity still managed to catch my attention and get me invested in finding out the truth, the ugliness of which is somewhat rooted in its alarming plausibility. Writer-director Travis Taute keeps us hanging on until the very end, and a frantic performance by Jarrid Geduld makes sure we’re glued to our seats.