Fantasia International Film Festival (Fantasia) is coming back, and coming soon. From July 18 through August 6, Montreal will be home to a showcase of over 100 feature films from around the world, along with a wealth of special events, conferences, and parties. Audiences can look forward to discovering numerous World and International premieres, as well as the Canadian debuts of some of the most acclaimed genre works from this year's Cannes, Sundance, SXSW, Berlin, and Tribeca film festivals. Fantasia's full lineup will be announced shortly; but, for now, Fantasia is pleased to reveal a small sampling of highlights to whet proverbial whistles.
The Conjuring (Dir: James Wan, USA, 2012)—For their Opening Night, Fantasia offers The Conjuring, which they describe as "one of the most frightening, intelligent, and well-executed supernatural horror films in recent memory." Before there was Amityville, there was Harrisville. Based on the true life story drawn from the case files of married demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring tells the tale of how these world renowned paranormal investigators were called upon to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful demonic entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most horrifying case of their lives. The Conjuring stars Academy Award®-nominee Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warrens, and Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor as Roger and Carolyn Perron, the residents of the haunted house. Joey King, who plays daughter Christine Perron, will host the Opening Night festivities. The Conjuring's world premiere took place as the closing night entry at the first edition of Nocturna: Madrid International Fantastic Film Festival, followed by two screenings of the film at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Justin Chang raves that The Conjuring is "a sensationally entertaining old-school freakout and one of the smartest, most viscerally effective thrillers in recent memory." At Hitfix, Drew McWeeny predicts "The Conjuring is going to be one of this summer's biggest word-of-mouth phenomenons. It does not reinvent the wheel, and it's not a movie that suddenly redefines a genre, but it is confident, it is beautifully acted, and when it gets serious about being scary, it is remarkably tense and terrifying." At The Wrap, Alonso Duralde deems The Conjuring "a contemporary horror classic" and confirms that his screaming out loud "counts as a standing ovation." Dread Central claims "The Conjuring is home to some of the single most frightening haunted house scares ever committed to film" where "Wan manages to clearly ride the line between reality and the absurd as if he were a stone grinding against the blade of a razor." At Film Fracture, Kathryn Schroeder describes The Conjuring as "the horror movie we dream of" because it harkens back to an older style of horror filmmaking, before torture porn, excessive gore, and found-footage held the genre hostage. Interviews with Wan can be found at IGN, Hero Complex, and Entertainment Weekly. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.
Edgar Wright, UK, 2013)—Fantasia's official Closing Night film will be Edgar Wright's hotly anticipated apocalyptic comedy The World's End, starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Rosamund Pike and Martin Freeman. As Fantasia was the site of the Canadian Premieres of Wright's landmark 2004 debut Shaun Of the Dead as well as his most recent Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, they couldn't think of a better way to close this year's festival. Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind's only hope for survival. Wright and select members of the cast will accompany the film's Canadian premiere. Interviews with Wright can be found at IGN (who also boasts a behind-the-scenes featurette) and Yahoo, whereas Collider talks with Simon Pegg. Empire offers individual character banners. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.
Lorenzo Bianchini, Italy, 2013)—A brilliant opposition of new and old narratives, this chilling discovery from Italy is—according to Fantasia—"the most downright efficient atmospheric horror film you'll see anywhere this year, haunting with a slow-building, intense crescendo approach to its atmosphere of disorientation and dread." From the director of Custodes Bestiae (2006). As synopsized by Todd Brown at Twitch, "The story revolves around an ethnologist working in the remote woods, trapping animals and mounting cameras on them so that he can monitor their behavior remotely. The resulting recordings lead him to a remote village, the site of an ancient curse, where he is trapped due to heavy rain fall raising the level of the river and flooding out the only access." World premiere. IMDb.
Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado, Israel, 2013)—Described in its official marketing as "a brutal comedy for a mad mad mad mad world", this gripping, genre-bending tale of vengeance and fury is one of the greatest films you will see anywhere this year. Its launch at the Tribeca Film Festival deservedly saw it emerge as the single best-reviewed title in the festival's lineup, including accolades from Frank Scheck at The Hollywood Reporter who wrote, "Featuring mind-bending plot twists and generous doses of mordant humor, this fiendishly clever Israeli thriller succeeds brilliantly on its own terms while instantly qualifying for a Hollywood remake." At Screen International, Mark Adams concurs: "In amongst the lashings of torture violence, there are some deliciously dark and funny moments. ...this is a unique and dark and disturbingly left-field film well worth attention." At Film Comment, Laura Kern adds: "Wolves is an extremely well-made work that cleverly toys with genres (blending elements of horror, crime thriller, revenge drama, and black comedy) and with the audience's emotions, making them unsure of what to believe and feel throughout." At Fearnet, Scott Weinberg describes Wolves as a "devious delicacy" and adds that "the intangibles are pretty fantastic as well: Giora Bejach's crisp and gorgeous cinematography keep the film visually appealing while Frank Ilfman's wonderfully Herrmann-esque score manages to become its own character by the time Act III ramps up with some chases, scrapes, and escapes." The film's Canadian premiere will be hosted by directors Keshales and Papushado. IMDb (several more favorble reviews can be found at External Reviews). Facebook.
E.L. Katz, USA, 2013)—The directorial debut from E.L. Katz stars Pat Healy (Compliance) as a recently fired father facing eviction who agrees to take on an escalating series of insane challenges in exchange for cash payments from a rich couple with a twisted sense of humor. Winner of the midnighter audience award at SXSW and the Director's Choice Feature Award at the Boston Underground Film Festival. The film's Canadian premiere will be hosted by director E.L. Katz. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.
At Variety, Joe Leydon raves: "E.L. Katz deftly sprinkles dark portents amid the early scenes, so that by the time Cheap Thrills settles into a long stretch inside the claustrophobic confines of Colin and Violet's home, auds are primed to expect the unexpected. But even that won't be enough to fully prepare some viewers for the outrageous twists and reversals of fortune that occur as the pic goes to extremes, and then further, while more than making good on the promise of its sardonic title." At IndieWire, Eric Kohn concurs: "Even when it's fairly obvious where things are headed, the sick ride continues to speed forward, arriving at a gloriously absurd final shot that perfectly encapsulates both the ideas and visceral experience of the movie in their entirety. Ahead of its satiric aims, Cheap Thrills ultimately delivers its titular promise again and again." At Shockya, Perri Nemiroff adds: "It's one thing to show blood and brutality, but it's another to earn it and E.L. Katz's Cheap Thrills is a prime example of a piece that's exponentially more impactful courtesy of quality characters and a well-calculated build that justifies its gore." At Twitch, Peter Martin notes: "Class warfare comes perversely home in Cheap Thrills, a fiendish, fierce, and funny morality tale about the true value of money. It's absolutely convincing, even though it shouldn't be." At Fangoria, Samuel Zimmerman suggests: "While there's nary a viral video to be found in Cheap Thrills, the film is imbued with the culture of now (maybe always) and the fact that despite pleas for peace, we as humans enjoy seeing each other embarrassed, devalued and crushed. It's inherent in reality television and 30 second fail videos, transcends friendships and class, and extends right to the 1% who have so much that the only true entertainment left is the indignities of others." At Film Threat, Don Simpson claims Cheap Thrills "is clearly the smartest hyper-violent film I have ever seen." Interviews with Katz can be found at Diabolique and Ain't It Cool News. For an earlier interview with E.L. and his brother Peter when they produced Adam Wingard's Pop Skull, check out my conversation with them at The Evening Class.
Dilip Ghosh, India, 2013)—Brace yourself for two solid hours of delirious action cinema featuring the superhumanly talented Vidyut Jamwal (Thuppakki), who dazzles in an arsenal of brilliantly choreographed, stunt-packed combat sequences that recall Jackie Chan in his prime. See Commando and you will become an instant Jamwal fanatic. Period. North American Premiere. IMDb. Wikipedia.
Eddie Mullins, USA, 2013)—Dirty Fred (Justin Rice) and Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick) are convinced that the world is approaching its end and consequently see no reason to hold jobs or even have homes. An idiosyncratic instant classic "pre-apocalyptic comedy" evocative of early Jarmusch and Linklater, Doomsdays is intelligent, hilarious and genuinely counter-cultural. It's an astonishingly terrific debut from former critic Mullins, initiated by a successful Kickstarter campaign. The film's world premiere will be hosted by writer / director Mullins. Official site. IMDb. Facebook.
Sebastián Hofmann, Mexico, 2012)—A haunting and grotesque examination of urban loneliness and emotional decay, Halley reinvents the conventions of the modern zombie film by treating the state of living death as a degenerative medical illness. Premiering at the Morelia International Film Festival, Halley went on to become a major breakout at this year's Sundance and Rotterdam Film Festivals. Halley's Canadian premiere will be hosted by writer / director Hofmann. Official site. IMDb. Facebook.
At Screen Daily, Mark Adams describes Halley as a "disturbingly stylish and surrealistic drama", though "hard to define ... given its strangely compelling story, impressive performances and strange sense of the grotesque." At Twitch, Ard Vijn states Halley "begs sympathy for the zombie" but qualifies that "although Halley is at times revolting, it is not a horror film. The focus here is on human drama, on losing your humanity, on body illness, and loneliness." At IonCinema, Nicholas Bell characterizes Halley as an "exquisite debut" that "combines the existentialist ennui of Reygadas with Cronenbergian body horror. Hauntingly surreal, and sometimes maddeningly oblique, it never fails to be consistently compelling, and Hofmann's eerie protagonist manages to resonate long after its final frames."
I'll Follow You Down (Dir: Richie Mehta, Canada, 2012)—Haley Joel Osment and Gillian Anderson star in this captivating film that is equal parts ingenious science-fiction mystery and heart-wrenching human drama. This is the kind of smart, plausible sci-fi tale rarely told anymore in cinema, a precious gem created with absolute conviction that delivers like an existential powerhouse. From the Genie-nominated director of Amal. This film's world premiere will be hosted by writer / director Richie Mehta and Producer Lee Kim. IMDb. Facebook.
Herman Yau, Hong Kong, 2013)—The dynamic final chapter of the Ip Man saga! Controversial godfather of exploitation cinema Herman Yau, who helmed the popular prequel The Legend Is Born: IP Man reunites with his award-winning Untold Story star Anthony Wong (an actual martial artist specializing in monkey kung fu) and displays his abilities in all their glory, while his high-caliber thespian skills yield a more nuanced Ip Man than Donnie Yen's signature performance. IP Man: The Final Fight was the opening film at the 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival. Canadian premiere. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.
At Twitch, James Marsh finds The Final Fight a "low-key but enjoyable drama focusing on the twilight years of Ip Man's life. Less an action movie than a love letter to 1950s Hong Kong, the film nevertheless cements the man's position as a modern day folk hero." He adds that The Final Fight "is ultimately less interested with the action and more committed to recreating a particular period in Hong Kong's eclectic past. The soundtrack features a number of classic Mandarin pop tunes from the era, while the script touches on social issues of the day, including union strikes, water shortages and police corruption." At The Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young observes: "IP Man: The Final Fight is an enjoyable if far less sophisticated tale that nostalgically taps into Hong Kong cinema of yesteryear, while still delivering considerable excitement in the fight scenes. Offshore, it may hitch a ride with dyed-in-the-wool martial arts fans on the coattails of The Grandmaster, but more likely will get lost in the shadow."
Satoshi Miki, Japan, 2013)—J-pop star Kazuya Kamenashi plays a slacker who multiplies himself until his life becomes a bizarre nightmare in this mix of off-the-wall comedy, realistic science-fiction and surreal thriller by genius filmmaker Satoshi Miki (Adrift In Tokyo). The film's Canadian premiere will be hosted by writer / director Satoshi Miki. Official site. IMDb.
L'Autre Monde / The Otherworld (Dir: Richard Stanley, France, 2012)—The director of Hardware and Dust Devil returns with an astonishing documentary journey into life on the other side of the mirror. Dive with him into a place hidden deep in the South of France, untouched by the modern age, known as "the Zone", where magic is currency and the supernatural is a part of everyday life. The Otherworld's world premiere will be hosted by director / co-writer Richard Stanley, co-writer Scarlett Amaris, composer Simon Boswell, editor Patrick Tremblay and cinematographer Karim Hussain. Official site [French]. IMDb.
Shinsuke Sato, Japan)—In 2019, an elite squad has to fight to save books from aggressive government censorship. Reminiscent of Farenheit 451, yet surprisingly playful, Library Wars will keep you on the edge of your seat with its epic action sequences, brilliantly crafted by Shinsuke Sato (Gantz). Library Wars had its world premiere at Filmart. Its Canadian premiere will be hosted by director Shinsuke Sato. Official site [Japanese]. IMDb.
At Screen Daily, Mark Adams writes: "The fight for freedom of information and expression reaches action-packed heights in Shinsuke Sato's adaptation of Hiro Arikawa's best-selling novel The Library War—which has sold more than 2.8 million copies since its publication in 2006—which delivers engagingly over-the-top militarized mayhem, all in the good name of saving books. ...The book has been adapted before—the Japanese animated series Library War in 2008 and the 2012 animated television film Library War: Wings Of Revolution—but this big screen version is a sci-fi film that makes the most of the most incongruous of action concepts. Casting of cult star Chiaki Kuriyama (from Kill Bill) as Kasahara [Nana Eikura]'s best friend could help international profile, plus the action sequences are expertly staged, especially as the film hits its stride in the thrilling last third."
Magic Magic (Dir: Sebastián Silva, 2013)—Juno Temple and Michael Cera star in this Polanski-esque, paranoia-tinged psychological thriller that haunted all manner of psyches at Sundance and Cannes. In remote Chile, a vacationing young woman begins to mentally unravel; meanwhile, her friends ignore her claim until it's too late. An interview with Silva and Cera can be found at Independent Film Quarterly. Canadian premiere. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia.
At Screen Daily, Tim Grierson writes: "This psychological horror offering from writer-director Sebastián Silva (The Maid) aspires to do little more than unnerve you as strenuously as possible, and in this regard it succeeds. ...Silva manages to build a mood of general unease with an irreverent tone, suggesting that the filmmaker is enjoying the vague anxiety he's creating in his audience. That playful spirit can also be felt in the lack of explanation concerning Alicia's mysterious condition, which is why Temple's portrayal gives the movie the anchor it desperately needs. ... As a result, Magic Magic turns out to be little more than a one-woman show. Thankfully, Temple is up to the task: She's crazy good." At IonCinema, Nicholas Bell characterizes Magic Magic as an "excellently crafted descent" that recalls "a genre of women and madness features that populated plenty of classic titles from the late 60s and 70s." He concludes, "Its spell will stay with you, creepy crawling down your spine." At Sound on Sight, Josh Slater-Williams adds: "For all its strange turns and moods, Silva grounds his horror of mental unravelling in the real world, or at least a hallucinatory, ethereal version of it. Christopher Doyle and Glenn Kaplan's cinematography makes particularly effective use of stark yellows and blues, and the sound design is impressively oppressive."
Sean Ellis, UK / Philippines, 2013)—A provincial farming family migrates to the heartless big city of Manila and find themselves pulled into a sinkhole of crime and corruption in this gripping, moving thriller that took home the audience award at Sundance. An incredible film. Canadian premiere. IMDb.
At The Guardian, Damon Wise describes Metro Manila as "unpredictable with a poetic and searingly realistic migrant drama that gradually becomes a crime story." Wise dispatches as well to Empire, where he states that Metro Manila provides an "expert combination of genre and naturalism" that convinced him it was "one of the best films of the festival, poetic, authentic and damn near perfect."At IonCinema, Nicholas Bell writes: "At its core, the film features a dynamite lead performance from [Jake] Macapagal, and it's worth noting that the screenplay was written in English, with the actors translating their dialogue to Tagalog. If anything, this third feature from Sean Ellis should definitely cement the filmmaker as one of the most chameleonic and intriguing British filmmakers currently working."
Return to Nuke 'Em High, Vol. One (Dir: Lloyd Kaufman, USA, 2013)—The brilliant, maniacal mind behind Troma Entertainment triumphantly returns to Fantasia with the hotly-anticipated first chapter of his epic new masterwork—and you'd better be ready for Lloyd Kaufman like you've never seen! When evil once more roams the halls of exploitation cinema's most infamous high school, the demented residents of Tromaville must band together one more time to take down bad taste … and replace it with something even more foul! The film's world premiere will be hosted by director Lloyd Kaufman. IMDb. Facebook.
Jeon Kyu-hwan, South Korea, 2012)—A hunchbacked mortician takes delicate care of corpses before they rest for eternity and encounters broken characters as strange as the funeral rituals he sees. Evocative of an especially taboo-smashing version of Delicatessen-era Jean-Pierre Jeunet, The Weight is a major discovery in the annals of subversive cinema. North American premiere. IMDb. Wikipedia.
The Weight had its world premiere in the Venice Days sidebar of the 69th Venice International Film Festival, where it won the 2012 Queer Lion, an award for the "best film with a homosexual and queer culture theme." It is the first Korean film to have won the prize. It also won a Special Award at the 2013 Fantasporto Orient Express Awards. Jeon Kyu-hwan also won the Silver Peacock award for best director at the International Film Festival of India and was awarded Best Director at the 16th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival where the jurors stated, "Never wavering from his singular poetic style, Jeon Kyu-hwan deftly pulls the audience through a barrage of painful and extreme imagery into what in the end is a very touching film about love and acceptance."
Bobcat Goldthwait, USA, 2013)—Bobcat Goldthwait, celebrated comedian and brilliant director of such black comedy masterpieces as Shakes the Clown, World's Greatest Dad and God Bless America shifts gears and veers off into left field with this chilling, subjectively shot horror film about a couple on an exploration into all things Bigfoot who stumble onto things most unusual. Willow Creek's international premiere will be hosted by writer / director Bobcat Goldthwait. IMDb.
At EFilmCritic, Jay Seaver writes: "Ever since The Blair Witch Project kickstarted the boom in found-footage horror a decade and a half ago, there's been a tendency to make the form ever more elaborate, until the likes of Cloverfield and Trollhunter are basically special effects blockbusters in disguise. Every once in a while, though, someone strips the form back down to its roots, and Bobcat Goldthwait does a damn good job of it with Willow Creek." At GoSeeTalk, Andrew Crump claims, "Willow Creek accords only a small portion of its 77 minutes (thereabouts) to actual scares, but invests so much in its characters and gives them such a bounty of material to play with that the terror becomes that much more organic and intense. [It's] slow-burning in the best way possible."