Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 reviews: ‘Baby, Don’t Cry’ & ‘Wonderful Paradise’


BABY, DON’T CRY

Baby, a withdrawn and sensitive 17-year-old Chinese immigrant from a troubled home, is living in the outskirts of Seattle. One day, she meets a 20-year-old delinquent named Fox. Together they embark on a twisted journey to escape their hopeless fate.


A story of cyclical abuse with a touch of magical realism, Baby, Don’t Cry was a completely unexpected journey. Fair warning for survivors of abuse, this film may be a trigger watching for you. The deeper you go into the story the more complex our leads are revealed to be. Two young people in hopes of escaping their sad circumstances, latch onto one another. It’s evidently unhealthy to the audience but entirely understandable. Lack of father figures is a running theme, as are racism and mental illness. The emotional burdens that Baby and Fox carry are unrelenting. Zita Bai, our leading lady, and creator of Baby, has given us a thoroughly nuanced character. Some moments will make you infuriated with her, while others provoke sympathy It’s an extraordinary culmination of emotions. Baby, Don’t Cry will make you cringe, shake your head, and fill you with a bit of wonder.


DIRECTOR

Jesse Dvorak

WRITER

Zita Bai

CAST

Zita Bai, Boni Mata, Vas Provatakis, Helen Sun


WONDERFUL PARADISE

The Sasayas are moving out, but not without a party! A demented spin on the unwanted-guest scenario from punk iconoclast Masashi Yamamoto.


Thanks to Twitter, an estranged and dysfunctional family throws an accidental party on their move-out day. A barrage of quirky characters show up to explore and wreak their own brand of havoc. Wonderful Paradise is an absurdist sideshow. I would genuinely recommend watching this high. The number of times I exclaimed, “Huh?”, “What?”, or, “Sure, why not?! ” I lost count quite frankly. I must applaud the cast for their absolute commitment to their craft. The cast grows exponentially as the film rolls on and every single performer gives it 110%. The slow and district progression of the set is wild. The practical FX combined with the wackiest of screenplays make Wonderful Paradise perfect for Fantasia audiences. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Do I understand the final result? Absolutely not. Would I watch it again? Don’t threaten me with a good time.


DIRECTOR

Masashi Yamamoto

WRITER

Suzuyuki Kaneko, Masashi Yamamoto

CAST

Akira Emoto, Seiko Ito, Kaho Minami, Miyu Ogawa, Soran Tamoto


 

 

Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 review: ‘MARTYRS LANE’ is one of this year’s best.

MARTYRS LANE

Leah, 10, lives in a large vicarage, full of lost souls and the needy. In the day the house is bustling with people; at night it is dark, empty, a space for Leah’s nightmares to creep into. A small, nightly visitor brings Leah comfort, but soon she will realize that her little visitor offers knowledge that might be very, very dangerous.


I feared this Martyrs Lane would be overlooked among the plethora of gore-filled content. That would have been the biggest shame to befall this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. Writer-director Ruth Platt‘s carefully crafted tension and mystery should be celebrated. It has a quieter Babadook energy to it that is unmistakable. The film manages to be both a slow burn and a vice grip of tension. The editing puts your head in a spin in that you’re never sure what is real until the very final scene. Performances are outstanding. The fact that the entire premise mostly hinges on the work of two small girls will blow you away. It is no wonder young lead Sienna Sayer won the Special Jury Rising Star award. Martyrs Lane will hit harder for parents. Any story centered around children begets that internal ache from the very getgo and Martyrs Lane is no exception. It’s beautifully shot and elegantly lit. The exquisite progression in makeup heightens the overall dread. It speaks to the consuming power of grief and secrets. I cannot wait for Shudder audiences to experience this film in a few weeks. This one is special. Undoubtedly, one of my favorites from this year’s lineup.


Martyrs Lane Streams Exclusively on Shudder on Thursday, September 9th

North America, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand


Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 review: ‘COMING HOME IN THE DARK’ will disturb you to no end.

COMING HOME IN THE DARK

Director/co-writer James Ashcroft introduced Fantasia 2021 audiences to a gutwrenching neo-noir. As a family attempts to enjoy a road trip, they are suddenly accosted by two men with an evil agenda. The complexities of COMING HOME IN THE DARK go far beyond a random encounter. This film was created to make you shudder. Redemption, revenge, cruelty, and shock all play huge parts in this journey. This is a film that will have you on the edge of your seat. Ashcroft’s feature debut deals directly with NZ ineptitude in their state-run facilities. This particular aspect of the script could be applied to any country. The abuse of children becomes an ironic twist that comes to haunt the viewer in more ways than one. The intensity that builds in this screenplay is unrelenting. The brutality is unforgiving. With a large amount of dialogue and action occurring under duress, and inside a car, the claustrophobia is palpable. The ability to build fully fleshed-out characters under the circumstances is truly astounding. Performances from this small cast will captivate you. The cinematography is incredibly thoughtful. It isn’t too often that I stop taking notes while watching a film. I didn’t write a single thing down during my viewing experience. I could not take my eyes off the screen. I cannot fully express how my entire body was shaking as I watched this film. I do feel compelled to warn viewers of the level of violence. Coming Home In The Dark is a traumatizing experience.



CAST:

  • Daniel Gillies
  • Erik Thomson
  • Miriama McDowell
  • Matthias Luafutu

Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 review: ‘When I Consume You’ is a haunting allegory.

WHEN I CONSUME YOU

A woman and her brother seek revenge against a mysterious stalker.


When I Consume You is a unique horror film that pulls you into the lives of Daphne and Wilson Shaw. Their past will not let them go. For better or for worse, we’re on their twisted journey for justice. The darkness of this story is palpable from the very beginning. Quite frankly, it never lets up. MacLeod Andrews, who most recently blew me away in A Ghost Waits, does it again. His energy swings from manic to terrifying. Libby Ewing, as Daphne, is both lead and narrator. Her voiceovers are soothing through the chaos. The chemistry with Dumouchel feels tangible. Evan Dumouchel playing Wilson is the real soul of this film. His emotional journey spills off the screen in a way that hypnotizes the viewer. I was captivated by every single one of his scenes, which are the majority of When I Consume You. This cast was perfect.

Perry Blackshear is the man with all the hats taking on directing, writing, cinematography, and producing. One of the best goosebumps-inducing moments occurs in the form of actress Libby Ewing’s hand appearing from nowhere. There is something so startling about this simple action. Its impact speaks volumes. There is a nice connection between the physical and metaphorical. The fight training scenes are a great representation of emotional preparedness. And without spoiling anything, the devil you know is sometimes a safer bet than the devil you don’t.  When I Consume You is an addiction allegory. Whether that is drugs or depression, the weight of trauma never quite leaves you. While the pacing of the film had some static moments, overall this is a fresh take on a haunting premise.


 

Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 review: ‘HELLBENDER’ rocked me to my core.

HELLBENDER

A lonely teen discovers her family’s ties to witchcraft.


Honestly, if I could choose to grow up in another family, it would be the Adams family. I’m not talking about Morticia and Gomez. While I adore that lot, I’m talking about the indie horror filmmaking family. These industrious and smart people consisting of Mom, Toby Poser, dad, John Adams, and daughters, Zelda and Lulu. Fantasia 2019 audiences got their first taste of spooky genius with The Deeper You Dig. It was scary, intense, unique, and then some. This year, Fantasia 2021 audiences got to experience a new tale of terror with Hellbender.

Their cinematography is stunning. They really understand how to fill a frame. Their writing feels collaborative. John Adams’ score is deliberate and insanely effective. The songs are so fantastic I would buy their album! Within the first three minutes of Hellbender, I gasped and rocked out. If that’s not a winning film, I don’t know what is.

Zelda Adams as Izzy is so intriguing in her innocence and curiosity. Her journey from child to adult occurs before our eyes, whether we like it or not. Toby Poser, as Mom, is a force of nature. Often telling an entirely emotional story without words. Their chemistry is never forced. This is not always the case when a family works together. In the case of the Adams family, it’s their biggest strength. Their work is dark and that takes trust and guts. And allow me to assure you both are teeming in Hellbender, quite literally. There is one special effect in particular that blew me away. When you see it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

It’s a mother-daughter relationship film that just so happens to center around a witchy heritage. Predictably, deceit under the guise of protection is bound to backfire. Hellbender is about a secret and sacred family history. But, it’s also about the power of the feminine and a slick takedown of any sort of patriarchal structure. The social commentary between the treatment of witches and any female, ever, is glaringly obvious, but no less genius. Hellbender is undoubtedly one of the most kick-ass films from this year’s festival. It’s no wonder it won Best Score and Best Actress (Zelda) in the CHEVAL NOIR AWARD FOR FEATURE FILMS. I cannot wait for Shudder audiences to join in their fandom.

*PS- The Adams’ have agreed to let me be part of their family via Instagram. I couldn’t possibly be more excited. I’ll run the camera and hold the boom next time. Also, not afraid to get covered in blood.*


 

Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 review: ‘BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES’ is a mind-blowing cinematic feat.

BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES

Born out of an acting workshop and shot on an iPhone, BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES is a high-concept time-loop movie that transcends expectations with its inventive concept. Kato (Kazunori Tosa) is at a bit of a dead-end in life. He lives above the cafe he owns and feels that his life isn’t moving forward when, one day, his computer screen starts to talk to him. The twist? It’s Kato from two minutes in the future; the sullen cafe owner has somehow stumbled on a very limited time loop. As he draws in his friends and coworkers, they all try to make sense of the weird phenomenon while also inventing creative ways to profit from their two-minute insight into the future.


If you had the inexplicable power to travel into the future two minutes, what would you do? There are innumerable answers to this query. Director Junta Yamaguchi takes that very concept and runs with it, quite literally at times. With an enchanting soundtrack and carefully crafted editing, the action starts immediately. When Kato realizes he can communicate with himself from two minutes in the future, chaos, and hilarity ensue. Unable to keep it to himself makes for a sticky situation. Once others know, things get even more complicated. With great power comes great responsibility.

Performances across the board are stellar. The commitment to the absurd is magic. The chemistry within this cast is outstanding. They are charming and energetic. It’s like watching a group of bright-eyed kids play. The camera work is a real marvel considering the impressively long takes. This film is all about timing, no pun intended. The cuts, if any, are tricky to spot. You’d think that reliving scenes would get old, but they manage to feel fresh each play based on location. Makoto Ueda’s script is that phenomenal. The camera also allows the viewer to feel like they’re part of the action. BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES will be a huge hit with Fantasia audiences of all ages. It’s a nonstop, joyous experience.


 


Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 review: ‘KRATT’ brings life to lore and plenty of gore.

KRATT

Ah, children. The source of much joy, hope and innocence for many, but truth be told the little monsters are out to kill us all. Let’s be honest, they’re all selfish wretches who do nothing but drive you crazy and suck up your will to live. And now, in a small Estonian village, two narcissistic little brats (Nora and Harri Merivoo, the director’s kids!), dropped off at their Grandmother’s (Mari Lili) farm for a few weeks while their parents attend a self-help retreat, may bring about the end of human existence as we know it. Complaining about the actual work they’re expected to do, these little snot-nosed pests bring the local legend of the Kratt – a Terminator-like demonic spirit that must always be fed work, or else – to life just so they can take it easy, but in doing so they may have set in motion the destruction of Grandma, her village and perhaps the world with it. And all because they couldn’t get internet access.


A delicious mix of absurdity and folklore, Kratt is everything Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 audiences want in a single film. There’s a plethora of practical FX and gore, but the best moments come from actress Mari Lill as Grandma. Her commitment to the slapstick and over-the-top character changes makes Kratt one of the best films from this year’s fest.

You cannot miss the mockery of government, technology, religion, extremist politics, and everything in between. The score is wonderful and the cinematography is sharp. The script has one of the most brilliant and whip-smart final moments, cranking up the social commentary to 11. Kratt will have Fantasia Fest 2021 audiences doubled over. Whether that’s from gross-out moments or the laughs us up to the individual.



Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 review: ‘Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It’ is the only title that fits this chaotic hilarity.

SWEETIE, YOU WON’T BELIEVE IT


Three friends are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is an unexpected buddy comedy that will entertain the hell out of Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 audiences. Our leading men accidentally witness a murder and now they must elude not only a vicious gang but a mysterious and vengeful stranger. The harder they try to survive, the weirder and more dangerous their situation becomes. So much for an enjoyable getaway weekend.

The film has some super fun camera work, taking advantage of go-pro technology, warping depth perception, and speed dynamics. Genuine laugh-out-loud dialogue pairs excellently with the ultra-violence. The choreography that went into some of these takes should be applauded. Performances are riotous. The line between villain and hero is blurred, making for an increasingly fun watch. I could easily see the rights for the script being snatched up for Western audiences. Could Fantasia Fest 2021 audiences be seeing the first film in a potential franchise? Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It… until you see it for yourself.



Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 review: ‘GLASSHOUSE’ is a twisted and beautifully macabre fairy tale.

GLASSHOUSE

Confined to their glasshouse, a family survives The Shred, a toxin that erases memory. Until the sisters are seduced by a Stranger who shatters their peace and stirs a past best left buried.


Entrancing and morbid, an airborne Victorian-era plague slowly diminishes the memory and faculties of all who dare to breathe it in. A woman, her three daughters, and an afflicted son survive inside the pristine remains of a botanical conservatory, giving us the title, Glasshouse. They protect themselves from outsiders, and the air itself, by adhering to rituals of daily life and recording their oral history to never forget. This film touches on natural selection, loyalty, family, and so much more. It is much more sinister than at first glance.

The set is enthralling. Painted windows, lace curtains, antique furniture, and gardens as far as the eye can see within the boundaries they protect. But this carefully curated surrounding is also a prison for this family. The moment this existence is challenged, their sacred way of life begins to crumble. Performances, across the board, are phenomenal. The script grows more intriguing by the minute. With learned skepticism and real fear of losing the ones they cherish, Glasshouse reveals itself like a meticulously structured novel. The twists are dark and plenty. The finale will shock you. Glasshouse is undoubtedly one of my favorite films at the Fantasia International Film Festival 2021.



Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 review: ‘THE SADNESS’ is ultra-violent, bloody mayhem.

Perhaps more aptly named The Madness, The Sadness is a tongue-in-cheek take on the insanity that the pandemic has reigned upon the globe. Rather than a variant that makes you sicker more quickly, this is a rage variant. The infected want to inflict as much pain as possible. The sexual violence is particularly egregious and repetitive… and that’s the point. If you are easily offended, this is not a film for your eyeballs. The simple premise of two lovers attempting to reunite among the chaos plays like a dream. Unlike similar films, say 28 Weeks, The Sadness is not a zombie movie. The infected are fully cognoscente of their behavior. It’s a psychotic switch that gets flipped, and what ensues is mind-blowing.

Performances are filled with greatness. What might only be a highlighted extra role in any other genre film turn into a slew of memorable ones. It’s that well written and performed. Seeped in genuine incel energy, social commentary, and over-the-top gore and violence create a shocking watch. The amount of movie blood that must have been involved in this production is unfathomable. I’ve watched a lot of horror, (like, a lot a lot) and The Sadness is not fucking around. One hour in, there is a moment so offensive, even I gagged. Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 audiences were treated to one of the most insanely disturbing films in the festival’s 25-year run. If you can watch and hold in your lunch, bravo. Director Rob Jabbaz, much respect to you, sir.



It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Fantasia International Film Festival 2020 is here!!!

If you did not sing the title of this article, then shame, shame, I know your name. It is no secret that Fantasia International Film Festival is my favorite of the entire year. While this year the fest is strictly virtual (because that’s the responsible thing to do), there are a plethora of amazing films to check out from the comfort of your own couch. Fantasia is always a sure bet for the films that will be talked about nonstop all year. Since we’re all stuck inside we might as well escape the scary reality with some scary unreality. Throw in the weird and wonderful and you’ve got yourself an annual good time.

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Here are just a few titles that should pique your interest, people.

MORGANA

How does one woman go from lonely housewife to Feminist pornstar? Morgana is an extraordinary documentary about sex positivity, self-worth, mental illness, and new beginnings. Stunningly visual and creatively edited, Morgana will knock your socks off… and maybe more. *Wink, wink. You can find our coverage of the film here.

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MINOR PREMISE

Attempting to surpass his father’s legacy, a reclusive neuroscientist becomes entangled in his own experiment, pitting ten fragments of his consciousness against each other.

 

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THE BLOCK ISLAND SOUND

Something terrifying is happening off the coast of Block Island. A strange force is thriving, influencing residents and wildlife alike. Birds are dropping out of the sky. Some people have been dropping too, into inexplicable emotional collapse. Harry Lynch (Chris Sheffield, THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT) has always been a bit of an outsider in town. Now, he watches in dread as his father (Neville Archambault, 13 CAMERAS) grows increasingly forgetful and confused. And angry. Very, very angry. His sister Audry (Michaela McManus, THE VILLAGE), whose work in marine biology will soon prove invaluable, returns to town with her daughter and immediately sees what Harry sees. Her explorations into the increasingly grisly wildlife phenomena intersect with the triggers of her father’s actions, leading them all towards chilling revelations that no one is prepared for. Revelations that will affect her family in unimaginable ways.

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BLEED WITH ME

With BLEED WITH ME, her feature debut, director Amelia Moses invites us on an intimate cabin trip where boundaries and relationships collapse. Rowan (Lee Marshall), a shy and awkward young woman, struggles to integrate herself on a weekend getaway with her best friend, Emily (Lauren Beatty) and her unfriendly boyfriend, Brendan (Aris Tyros). Feeling like a third wheel, she drinks to calm her nerves, pushing her body and mind deep into a hazy trance, where she begins to witness nightmarish late-night visions that make her feel increasingly unwelcome, unsure and unstable. A slow-burn thriller with arresting visuals, BLEED WITH ME, captures a vulnerability and discomfort as it explores issues related to self-harm and social isolation. Set against a wintry backdrop, BLEED WITH ME uses the limits of a small budget to its full potential.

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YUMMY

The young woman wants a breast reduction. … Wandering through an abandoned ward the boyfriend stumbles upon a young woman, gagged and strapped to an operating table; she is the result of an experimental rejuvenation treatment.

 

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THE MORTUARY COLLECTION

A kid is being interviewed for a job at the local mortician’s office and is asked to tell his scariest stories. What results is a collection of 4 of the scariest stories ever told spanning into 4 decades starting from the 50s to the 80s.

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LUCKY

Luck doesn’t seem to be with self-help author May Ryer (Brea Grant) lately. Her books aren’t selling like they used to, and one night, a masked intruder breaks into the house she shares with her husband Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh). To make matters worse, Ted seems strangely unconcerned about the incident, talking about it in matter-of-fact terms as if it’s just something to be accepted, and an investigating cop actually says they’re lucky things didn’t go worse. Then things do become worse as the attacker appears again… and again… and again, continuing to terrorize May no matter how valiantly she fights back. He seems to have supernatural properties, and when May seeks help, she’s met with indifference and condescension. One of her books is called Problem Solving for Staying Alive, and now she’s faced with a dilemma that seems to have no solution, and that may indeed claim her life.

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Shorts Programs

Do not miss out on the amazing short film programs. I am always partial to the Born Of Woman section, myself.

 

Fantasia 2020 officially opened last night.
You can purchase tickets and check out the amazing lineup of films and events at https://fantasiafestival.com/en/

 

 

Fantasia International Film Festival 2020 review: ‘Morgana’ opens with a bang.

‘Morgana’ is an artistic character portrait of a 50-year-old housewife, who re-invents herself as a sex-positive feminist porn star.

After 20 years as a dutiful housewife stuck in a loveless, sexless marriage, Morgana has had enough of her dreary life. Desperately lonely and starved of intimacy, she books a male escort for
one last hurrah before ending it all. Contact this London escorts agency to find more information.

Her final night takes an unexpected turn when her relationship with the escort opens up a new world of personal and sexual freedom. After hearing about a competition for first time erotic filmmakers, Morgana directs and stars in a film about her own story, ‘Duty-Bound’. Unexpectedly her film wins, catapulting her into the international Feminist Porn community.

Life merges with art as Morgana uses erotic filmmaking as a tool for creative catharsis while struggling with demons from her past.

This year’s Fantasia International Film Festival brings feminist porn to audiences that may not even know it exists. Morgana Muses is not simply breaking all the gender norms, she is blowing them to pieces in the sexiest, most honest way, ever. This doc beautifully tackles depression and the lasting effects words can have on the human psyche. Touch is a human need. Lack thereof can mean the death of the body and soul. We are privileged to be witness to Morgana finding herself, in a sense giving us full permission to say, “Fuck it, this is what I like.”  Directors Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard have presented us with an in-your-face, fearless look, at a woman to be respected, loved, and held as an example of the ever-changing times. The mixture of sit down interviews, stunning still photography, exquisite miniatures,  and scenes from Morgana’s own films paint a vivid picture. In 70 minutes, Morgana will enlighten you, entice you, and turn you on.

A Feature Length Documentary Film: TRT 71 mins in English
Official Selection Fantasia Film Festival 2020
Screening Digitally August 20 – Sept 2
Directed by Isabel Peppard + Josie Hess
Produced by Karina Astrup

Review: ‘Depraved’ reminds us who the real monsters are.

The legend of Frankenstein gets a provocative modern update in the stylishly disturbing new film from indie horror master Larry Fessenden. Suffering from PTSD following his stint as an army medic, Henry (David Call) now works feverishly in his Brooklyn laboratory to forget the death he witnessed overseas by creating life in the form of a man cobbled together from body parts. After procuring a brain from an unwitting victim, his creation—Adam (Alex Breaux)—is born. But it soon seems that giving life to Adam was the easy part; teaching him how to live in a dark and troubled world may be perilous. A complex, emotionally shattering tale about what it means to be human, Depraved brings Mary Shelley’s immortal fable fully into the 21st century.

 

Like Mary Shelley‘s novel, as you watch Depraved, you immediately realize that our Dr. Frankenstein character is the monster and not his creation. The emotional connection in this script is what engrosses you from the very beginning. It explores the good, the bad, and definitely the ugly of the human condition.

Performances are out of this world. David Call as Henry is exceedingly ambitious. He easily flips from hopeful excitement to an underlying irrational rage, fueled by military PTSD. As a mother, it’s like watching myself teaching my toddlers, especially when I’ve reached my mental and emotional limits. Joshua Leonard as Polidori is the diabolical shit starter that propels the insanity to the next level. Alex Breaux as Adam is captivating. His vulnerability is literally a head to toe performance. These men give us a complex dynamic that is undeniably intense and brilliant. Director Larry Fessenden has created something spectacular in every way. Depraved is easily one of my favorite films of 2019.

The overall editing of Depraved is a masterclass unto itself. Utilization of flashbacks fills in the backstory gaps. The visual overlays of synapses firing are truly effective. We become Adam. It is damn near perfect. The special effects make-up is striking. The sound editing is hypnotizing and the score is breathtaking. Fessenden has given us a complex character study that subtly shines a light on issues from big pharma to the treatment of our veterans and beyond. It is a story about moral corruptibility at its finest. You will be left in awe. Depraved is a modern-day, movie monster masterpiece.

 In Theaters September 13

Directed and Written by Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter, Until Dawn, Habit)
Starring David Call (“The Sinner”), Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project), Alex Breaux (“When They See Us”), Addison Timlin (Odd Thomas, Fallen), Maria Dizzia (“Orange Is The New Black,” “13 Reasons Why”)

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: Let us all worship at the altar of ‘THE DIVINE FURY’.

The Divine Fury

After losing his father at a young age in a terrible accident, Yong-hu (Park Seo-jun) abandons his Christian faith and chooses to only believe in himself. Now as an adult, Yong-hu is a champion fighter and has everything he has ever wanted, that is until mysterious wounds appear in the palms of his hands. He solicits help from a local priest Father Ahn (Ahn Sung-ki), hoping the priest can help relieve him of the painful markings, only to find himself in the middle of a dangerous fight against otherworldly evil forces seeking to wreak havoc on the human world.

Set against the neon lights of Seoul, The Divine Fury utilizes incredibly effective special fx mixed with a dynamic plot of good vs evil. Roman Catholic use of exorcism is rare and must be approved by the Vatican. As a former Catholic school kid and genre fans since the age of 2, I know this to be fact… At least as factual as one can attribute to organized religion in general. All that aside, The Divine Fury adds an extra supernatural element by giving an MMA fighter a demon expelling stigmata superpower. It takes faith into a genre-bending underworld and it is fascinating. From the very first shot with its heightened sound editing, you know you’re in for a ride. There is never a dull moment during its 2-hour runtime. The fight choreography is outstanding and meticulously specific to this unique plot (Think MMA meets demon streetfighter goodness). As a “lapsed Catholic” viewer, it does a brilliant job of melding together religion and otherworldly lore for one hell of an entertaining storyline. I cannot express how truly fun this film is. As the closing film of Fantasia International Film Festival 2019, The Divine Fury puts this year’s selections over the top.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: ‘The Deeper You Dig’ will never let you rest in peace.

THE DEEPER YOU DIG

In the aftermath of a roadside accident, the line between the living and the dead collapses for a mother, a daughter and a stranger.

This is one of the most unique films of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. The fact that our three stars wrote, directed and shot this film is absolutely astounding. The script is filled with intrigue from the get-go. You can feel the isolation of the Catskills location and the weather exacerbates the ominous tone. I’m a born and bred New Englander so I know what it feels like, smells like, sounds like to have a woodsy area covered in snow. I grew up with snow tires, daring to trek out in snowy weather when all else stayed home for safety. This super cool family dynamic works wonders on film. Not just between mother and daughter, but the trust that John and Toby must have had in an elaborately choreographed climax. Not to mention the gruesome violence inflicted on each of them during the course of the film. Toby Poser as Ivy is grounded and complicated. Her character’s intuition and boldness make her a strong hero. Zelda Adams as Echo (which, by the way, the name is a total double entendre for the plot and ridiculously genius) is pretty magical in both her vulnerability and her playfulness. John Adams as Kurt is scary. His slow descent haunted madness is wild. I was completely enthralled by these performances and the writing. Not only is it a complex ghost story, but it has intense dreamlike trances, communication with otherworldly spirits, and pure guilt-driven vitriol is quite a thing to behold. The practical and special FX are damn good. This talented trio of filmmakers deserves attention and applause. The Deeper You Dig had a visceral effect on me. This film will stay with me for a while and I am proud to highly recommend it.

THE DEEPER YOU DIG

 

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: ‘HARPOON’ is a wild ride of deceit on the high seas.

Wealthy Richard (Christopher Gray) is prone to fits of violent anger, particularly when he believes his girlfriend Sasha (Emily Tyra) is cheating on him with his best friend Jonah (Munro Chambers) — who’s been having worse luck than even his Biblical namesake. Once they reassure him that his fears are unfounded, Richard invites Sasha and Jonah on an excursion aboard his yacht The Naughty Buoy to make amends. What starts out as a pleasure cruise becomes a fateful trip when festering suspicions and resentments bubble to the surface, and the trio become stranded on the open sea with a dead motor, extremely limited food and water, and one of them grievously injured. Unconsciously violating any number of maritime superstitions, they are soon at the mercy not so much of the elements, but of each other.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 has had some instant hits this year. Saturday night was no exception as HARPOON wowed audiences at its Quebec premiere. From the incredible opening shot, this film comes at you like a rabid animal. Amazing, quippy, profanity-laced dialogue kicks off a ride we are are now ready for. This love triangle at sea plays off a classic dynamic of a wealthy asshole, girlfriend, and third wheel best friend where suspicion fuels jealousy. The script utilizes literary references, voiceover narration by Brett Gelman, and the kind of honest intimacy in dialogue that you only find between best friends. But, secrets are the one thing that can be a real friendship killer, even for those not stuck out in the middle of the ocean. Our three cast members are phenomenal. I completely buy these performances. Each is funny, vulnerable, and kind of dickheaded in their own unique way. The practical fx are gruesome and awesome. Writer-director Rob Grant has given us a goddamn indie gem. It’s got a twisted ending you will never “sea” coming. What’s a little murder between friends, after all? Fantasia International Film Festival fans will go overboard for Harpoon.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: “Culture Shock’ takes fake news to task with genre realness.

CULTURE SHOCK

The White House and their white nationalist propaganda make for great resistance in art these days. Hulu’s Blumhouse Into the Dark series is now streaming Culture Shock to its subscribers. Using real-life scenarios as a jumping-off point, this film takes illegal immigration beyond the hell we’re currently seeing at our border and brings it into true sci-fi territory. Our leading lady wakes up in a Valley Of the Dolls nightmare with its sweater vests and pastel coordinated everything and begins to lose time and all sense of rea Something about this “American Dream” is way off. Once she cracks the code, nothing can stop her from escaping.

Performances are eerie and amazing. Genre legend and timelord extraordinaire, Barbara Crampton plays a motherly figure looking after Marisol and her newborn baby. She sets the tone for the remainder of the film with her saccharine-sweet smile and creepy overbearing politeness. She is outstanding. Martha Higareda is the real wow factor. You are rooting for her the entire way and hope she gets everything she seeks. Her IDGAF survival attitude is pure magic. The script is edgy and brings a major creep factor that gets under your skin. The enhanced audio editing is a fantastic tool that heightens the inevitably squirming you’ll do while you watch. The story is one that will resonate with so many people living their own version of what is looking more and more like the American nightmare. This is a stunning debut feature for director Gigi Saul Guerrero and I know the industry, as well as Fantasia International Film Festival fans, can be excited for whatever comes next.

CULTURE SHOCK

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: ‘The Art Of Self-Defense’

Jesse Eisenberg has mastered playing the quirky, whipsmart, douchebag. In The Art of Self-Defense, he plays genuinely sweet, pushover Casey looking to stand up for himself after a brutal attack. He gets a lot more than he bargains for when he signs up for karate lessons. The film is an unapologetic look at toxic masculinity.  It’s over the top dark comedy is a political blowtorch. If you can’t laugh at this film you need the stick removed from your ass. The snark factor is so high that even Casey’s answering machine is kind of a dick. Imogen Poots is equally impactful with both her physical and emotional performance. The humor lies in the absolute seriousness in which the cast says their lines. The film appears to take place sometime in the ’80s by the look of technology and funny enough, the misogynistic dialogue is most likely insanely accurate. Eisenberg is undeniably incredible. He is vulnerable and fearless and funny as hell. The Art of Self-Defense absolutely belongs at Fantasia International Film Festival 2019. The timing of the film is sheer perfection and this fest has the right audience.

THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: ‘The Incredible Shrinking Wknd’ is insightful genre bender.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WKND

Alba is losing time. A mysterious place in the woods has caused her days to take a true Groundhog Day turn but with an added twist. Each repetitive day during an overnight trip with her friends is one less hour than the day before. The only consistent thing is the clothing she ends her day with is the clothing she restarts in… and any bodily damage such as injuries or hangovers. Alba must decide how she’ll handle each repetition. How will she change her fate and those of her fellow cabin mates before the final hour runs out? This film doesn’t immediately reveal its deeper meaning. It takes it time and in a smart fashion. It’s much more introspective than at first glance. Abla takes risks to challenge her surroundings and presumptions about her predicament. All while finding buried childhood treasures around the property. Oh, that’s the only other thing that carries through. The film is not only a scavenger hunt for her past but her present as well. Iria del Río as Alba is amazing. She is raw and untethered. The Incredible Shrinking Wknd keeps the audience on its toes with its ” what would you do” scenario. It challenges the viewer to think about how selfish we are and how little we actually care for the people in our circle. The writing is truly engrossing and the performances are all extraordinarily solid. The very specific visual framing is a trick that I didn’t even catch until about midway through the film. Brilliance. Huge congrats to writer-director Jon Mikel Caballero. Fantasia International Film Festival is a delightful venue for this feature that is a relationship film wrapped in science fiction.

Review: ‘Astronaut’ soars.

ASTRONAUT

Starring Academy Award Winner Richard Dreyfuss

Richard Dreyfuss plays Angus, a grandfather who’s family has made him feel like a burden.  Forced into a home and with failing health, Angus and his grandson see a competition held by a billionaire entrepreneur calling for applications for the first civilian flight into space. Slowly drowning in a sea of the sad and lonely old folks residents, Angus takes a leap of faith and applies under false pretense with only seconds to spare. Could this 75-year-old civil engineer make it to space, with all the odds stacked against him? Not before making waves, of course.

Astronaut isn’t just about space. It’s about humanity at best and at it’s worst. It’s about joy and loss and time. It’s about family and sacrifice. It addresses ageism is a smart way. Dreyfuss is as endearing and brilliant as ever. His ability to connect through the screen has not waned from American Graffiti to now. His genuine and grounded performance is a masterclass in technique from head to toe. It taps into the curiosity of the unknown stokes in all of us. The idea that we’re not alone. And not just with respect to space. Astronaut explores the idea that we’re somehow all connected and the need to feel seen and heard. Elegantly scored, beautifully written and directed by Shelagh McLeod, Astronaut will touch your soul.

Quiver Distribution will release the heartwarming family drama ASTRONAUT in theaters and On Demand and Digital on July 26, 2019The film will release timely to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing (7/20/1969).

ASTRONAUT stars Academy Award Winner Richard Dreyfuss (The Goodbye GirlJaws), Lyriq Bent (“She’s Gotta Have It”, Acrimony), Krista Bridges (Land of the Dead, “Schitt’s Creek”), Graham Greene (The Green MileDancing with Wolves), Richie Lawrence (“Odd Squad”, “Heroes: Reborn”) and Colm Feore (ChicagoThor).