Featured Image: Tom Meeten as Paul Dood in Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break. (Courtesy of Fantasia.)
Last year, I was lucky enough to be able to cover the Fantasia International Film Festival for my first festival as a member of the press. It was an exciting time; reviewing films and doing interviews for them. I’m happy that this will be my second year covering Fantasia on the festival’s 25th anniversary, with the festival running from August 5 through August 25.
The festival is North America’s largest genre festival, and this year it has 110 features to choose from and 255 short films… (For my Canadian readers, you can get a festival passport to all of it for $75!) When I went through the festival programme, I’m not kidding when I tell you I was interested in literally 80 out of the 110 feature films on my first run-through.
There’s not enough of me to watch all those films; and there’s probably not enough of you to go through the programme. Below, I’ve highlighted 14 feature films that I’m really itching to see at this year’s festival.
I’ve tried to pick a variety, highlighting some of the horror (zombies especially), thrillers, actioners, documentaries, retro cinema, animation and world cinema. Just to note, in honour of the 25th anniversary, this year’s programme features 30 films from Japan as Fantasia highlights Japanese cinema. Without further adieu, find the anticipated features films below.
I might as well start with the film kicking off Fantasia, and that’s Julien Knafo’s Brain Freeze. It’s a homegrown Quebec offering about a fertilizer spread over a golf course that’s designed to help the rich play all year-round; but instead turns everyone into zombies. The film seems to mix comedy and horror – with some commentary about the environment and disaster mismanagement. Give me some guts and laughs, and I’m a happy camper.
TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD
Hopping in a Fantasia time machine, there’s a Spotlight called ‘Fantasia Retro,’ highlighting some of history’s missed gems (like the long lost Swiss spy thriller The Unknown Man of Shandigor). I’m highlighting another zombie film with Spain’s Tombs of the Blind Dead. I love films that reimagine history, as this film puts a spin on the Knights Templar, as people cursed to walk eyeless and undead. The film, from 1972, feels like a neat piece of film history and I’ll be watching it at Fantasia because I’d be too lazy to seek this out on my own if not for the programme.
Remember when I promised a diverse list? Well, you’re getting another zombie suggestion, especially since Taiwan’s The Sadness comes with a trigger warning from the festival. Any movie so wild that it needs a trigger warning at a festival like Fantasia warrants excitement. It’s about an alternate Taiwan facing an escalating pandemic that the government ignores, which turns everyone rabid. Both these first two suggestions feel appropriate to our current times. The one thing that sells me on The Sadness, too, comes from the Fantasia write-up: “Limbs are torn, faces are peeled, everything becomes a weapon.”
PAUL DOOD’S DEADLY LUNCH BREAK
Let’s take a turn and go away from the zombies with the delightful Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break. It’s more dark comedy and thriller than horror (though you’ll find some perfectly staged scenes with horror elements), I saw this back in March at SXSW (my review here over at The Movie Buff), and it was one of my favourites of the festival. The film follows the titular Paul Dood (Tom Meeten), who, after a botched audition, looks to get revenge on five terrible people who ruined his big day. A satire on fame and social media, but just an all-around helluva good time, Paul Dood is so easy to love.
Let’s stay in that comedy lane with Maxwell McCabe Lokus’ Stanleyville. To me, it seems like it matches three distinct loves of mine: A psychological experiment, one of my favourite sitcom tropes where a group of characters attempt to win a car, and Canadian treasure Julian Richings, who oversees this oddball group of characters. I don’t need to know much more than that to be truly excited for this one.
FRANK & ZED
A film that premiered at last year’s inaugural Nighstream Film Festival in October, Jesse Blanchard’s Frank & Zed was one of my favourite films at that festival. The effort in the film truly shows as a product of seven years of work, utilizing practical effects throughout the film, with fantastic puppet design, an exciting story – where the co-dependent friendship between Frankenstein and a Zombie is the beating heart of the film. It all ends with an Orgy of Blood that will leave you reaching for a cigarette. (Check out my Nighstream review here.)
WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED: A HISTORY OF FOLK HORROR
Let’s go onto another labour of love, and that’s Kier-La Janisse’s extensively researched documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror, tracing the folk horror genre from its beginnings to what it is today. I consider myself a huge horror fan but I don’t know nearly as much as I should, so I want to watch this to soak up other people’s knowledge on folk horror. As well, I didn’t watch when it premiered at SXSW partly because of its three-hour runtime. I’ve been regretting it since March, so I’ll definitely set a day aside to watch this documentary, and happily jot down the film’s recommendations and gain some more appreciation for folk horror.
THE LAST THING MARY SAW
Let’s stay in horror with the World Premiere of The Last Thing Mary Saw, this film seems to trap you in its atmosphere as a film set in 1843 about a woman under investigation after her mother’s mysterious death. I’m very excited about it because of the dynamic between Stefanie Scott and Isabelle Fuhrmann as a couple in that age and how that plays into the plot. I’m also a big Isabella Fuhrmann fan, and after seeing what she did in The Novice at Tribeca in that leading role, I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do in this film.
Now, I mentioned some of the action films that Fantasia offers, and Brazil’s Yakuza Princess looks like one of this year’s most exciting offerings. Based on a graphic novel by Danilo Beyruth, it’s set in Sao Paulo’s Japanese diasporic community where two characters are at the centre: Martial artist Akemi (MASUMI) who doesn’t know her heritage and Shiro (Johnathan Rhys-Meyers), an amnesiac in a Sao Paulo hospital with an antique sword. Then, their worlds collide. I don’t need to know more than that to know we’re probably in store for, at the very least, some kick-ass martial arts action.
PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND
I didn’t need to know much more about Prisoners of the Ghostland other than it’s Nicolas Cage being Nicolas Cage to be fully interested in this film. Add on the great premise and Sofia Boutella, where Cage’s character, Hero, is plucked out of prison to go into a lawless locale called The Ghostland to rescue The Governor’s granddaughter, Bernice (Boutella). Add in the action and the horror, and it’s something I just want to see right now.
Let’s get to one of the many sci-fi thrillers at this year’s Fantasia, Glasshouse, one that calls to mind 10 Cloverfield Lane. In Kelsey Egan’s directorial debut, a family lives in a glass building protected from a toxin called the Shred, a dementia-inducing toxin. When one of the daughters let’s in a stranger, their entire family unit is threatened. These are exactly the kinds of claustrophobic thrillers I love and Glasshouse looks to sport a strong cast and characters, and a strong premise, to boot.
Mixing drama, thriller and western, John Swab’s Ida Red is a neo-Western set in the Midwest as Josh Hartnett stars as Wyatt, who’s taken over his crime family from his mother, Ida “Red” Walker (Melissa Leo), who’s serving a 25-year sentence in Oklahoma. Things get heated when a job goes awry, and Wyatt’s brother-in-law and detective starts investigating the situation with an FBI agent. The film sounds incredibly tense and the world building sounds incredibly layered, as well. As well, let’s hope that this continues to mark Josh Hartnett’s comeback in 2021 after Wrath of Man.
POMPO: THE CINÉPHILE
Getting to one of the 30 films that Japan has brought to this year’s Fantasia Festival, Pompo: The Cinéphile looks so charming to me. The anime stars the character of Pompo, the granddaughter of producer J.D. Peterzen, a legend in the film’s Nyallywood, the world capital of filmmaking. She has a love for films, and pushes production assistant Gene into taking on more responsibility. The film is an adaptation of Shogo Sugitani’s manga. I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen many anime films or read any manga’s, but I love the look of the animation and the heart of the film, and as a lover of films above all else, I love anything that’s a love letter to cinema.
In terms of world cinema, if I ever filter through a festival programme by country, South Korea is one of the first countries I look at. Films out of South Korea always seem to be so high-quality, in terms of writing and creativity especially, and that’s surely no different with Kwon Oh-Seung’s debut thriller Midnight. The basic premise is that a murderer is loose in the city and he’s just found his next prey; a deaf woman and her deaf mother who are vulnerable because of their disability. The film sounds like a tense cat-and-mouse thriller, and I am so in.
I’m sure after all the horror and action and dark films I’ll be watching, I’ll want to sit down with a romance film. Another film from South Korea is Kim Jong-kwan’s Josée, a live-action adaptation, where Josée is wheelchair bound and develops a romance with a man named Young-Seok. Josée very much lives in her imagination, and we see that as their romance grows. The film is adapted from a 1984 short story called Josee, the Tiger and the Fish by Seiko Tanabe. The short story was also recently adapted into an anime called Josee, the Tiger and the Fish, but I’m curious to see how a story like this one is handled in live-action. I’m not familiar with the source material; but I love romance stories and this looks very sweet.
What are you going to be watching at this year’s festival? Anything you’ll be keeping your eye on for after the festival? The Fantasia Film Festival runs from August 5 to August 25 and tickets for each film are available for $8 (to watch in Canada), where you can click on the individual films to find tickets, with all the films listed here.