Fantasia has arrived again, bringing its distinctive mix of genre films to Montreal and the world. The 23rd edition of the festival will welcome  close to 700 guests from all facets of the film industry, as well as hosting the 11th edition of the Frontières International Co-Production Market.  Amongst the 130 features from around the world, festival will host the World Premieres of MYSTERY OF THE NIGHT, BLOOD ON HER NAME, STARE, 1BR, THE DEEPER YOU DIG, and HOMEWRECKER; the North American Premieres of VIVARIUM, DREADOUT, and LES PARTICULES; and the Canadian Premieres of THE LODGE, PROMARE, ANOTHER CHILD, and SWALLOW.

The festival opened last night with the North American Premiereof SADAKO, the latest sequel to the RINGU series, and the marked by the return of the series’ original director, Hideo Nakata. 20 years ago his film made its North American premiere at Fantasia led to  Dreamworks acquiring the franchise and what is largely seen as having been the birth of J-Horror in the West. What might filmgoers discover in 2019?

Here are a few of the films I am most looking forward to:

VIVARIUM
DIRECTOR Lorcan Finnegan
WRITER Garret Shanley
CAST Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Eanna Hardwicke, Jonathan Aris, Senan Jennings

DENMARK, IRELAND, BELGIUM 2019 97 MINS ENGLISH
OFFICIAL SELECTION Cannes Critics Week 2019, Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival 2019

Schoolteacher Gemma (Imogen Poots) and her boyfriend Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are madly in love and looking to buy a home. They meet with a rather unusual real estate agent (Jonathan Aris), who pitches them on a new suburban development by the name of Yonder (located, he says, “near enough, and far enough”). They follow him out there, driving behind as they watch the streets gradually evolve into labyrinthian rows of identical houses. They’re being shown Number 9. It’s not a starter home, they’re told. They soon realize that the agent appears to have left them there. He’s gone, as is his car. Fed up with the whole experience, Gemma and Tom get in their car and drive off. And off. And off even further. Somehow, with all the cookie cutter homes, they can’t figure out how to find their way out of the area. Worse, after all the driving, no matter which turns are tried, they keep finding themselves back at Number 9. Situations proceed to get especially strange. And deeply, deeply frightening.

BEARS: Since the Art of Self Defense (also playing Fantasia), I am officially on the Jesse Eisenberg bandwagon. I consider him one of the most subtle and nuanced actor working today, a fact often overshadowed by the type of roles he receives. As he makes his way deeper into the genre world, I am excited to see him break out against our preconceptions.

RIOT GIRLS
DIRECTOR:Jovanka Vuckovic
WRITER Katherine Collins
CAST  Alexandre Bourgeois, Munro Chambers, Ajay Friese, Madison Iseman, Paloma Kwiatkowski, Evan Marsh, Jenny Raven

CANADA 2019 81 MINS ENGLISH
OFFICIAL SELECTION Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival 2019

Get ready for a bittersweet cocktail of DEGRASSI, punk rock and S. E Hinton. Scratch (BATES MOTEL’s Paloma Kwiatkowski) and her girlfriend Nat (JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE’s Madison Iseman) fend for themselves with a band of friends and family in an alternative, mid-’90s, post-apocalyptic world in which the adult population has been decimated by a deadly plague. When Nat’s brother Jack (Alexandre Bourgeois) is captured by a rival gang led by the devious jock Jeremy (played by Canadian genre favourite Munro Chambers of DEGRASSI, TURBO KID and KNUCKLEBALL), Nat, Scratch and the lovable new member of the community Sony (Ajay Friese of Netflix’s THE ORDER) set out to save him. The three young punks now must brave enemy territory and face off against an armed-to-the-teeth squadron of fascist jocks sporting letterman jackets and a whole lot of squarehead hatred.

BEARS: Ever since Vucokic’s anthology win with her piece in XX, I have been anxiously awaiting her feature debut. The ‘world without adults’ is a tried and true premise so anything fresh her must come from the director and writer Katherine Collins who worked on the new Lost in Space and Blindspot.

 

JESSICA FOREVER

DIRECTOR Caroline Poggi, Jonathan Vinel
WRITER Caroline Poggi, Jonathan Vinel
CAST  Aomi Muyock, Sebastian Urzendowsky

FRANCE 2018 98 MINS FRENCH
OFFICIAL SELECTION Toronto International Film Festival 2018, Berlin International Film Festival 2019

In a near future, in a common suburb of soul-less villas with beige, roughcast walls, a disturbing calm has been present for too long. The silence is suddenly broken. A bay window explodes into a million pieces. A boy has thrown himself in it, pursued by the threatening murmur of a thick cloud of killing drones. He is saved by a gang of armed young men, led by a woman, Jessica (Aomi Muyock, seen in Gaspar Noé’s LOVE). She has a soft voice, an unplaceable accent, and piercing blue eyes. She gathers the lost boys of a dystopian Neverland, where she prepares them for love and death.

BEARS: I am just a sucker for a strong female lead in a dystopia world. And Aomi Muyock was the best thing in the highly overrated (sorry) Gaspar Noé film that beguiled audiences.

DEPRAVED
DIRECTOR Larry Fessenden
WRITER Larry Fessenden
CAST  Alex Breaux, David Call, Joshua Leonard

USA 2019 114 MINS ENGLISH
OFFICIAL SELECTION What the Fest!? 2019, Overlook Film Festival 2019, Sydney Film Festival 2019

A man (Alex Breaux) wakes up in an unfamiliar environment, confused and uncertain of who and where he is, his body covered with scars. He is greeted by a man named Henry (David Call), who calls him Adam and begins to educate him — but is reluctant to let him experience the outside world. Henry’s friend Polidori (Joshua Leonard) is more willing to take Adam on jaunts to everything from an art museum to a strip club. What Adam doesn’t realize at first is that he is Henry’s creation, a laboratory-created being with a stolen brain, and an experiment backed by Polidori, a Big Pharma executive who sees Adam as a tool to secure financing. The more Adam learns about who he really is, and the more he ventures outside Henry’s loft, the more confused he becomes. And with that confusion comes the inevitability that Adam will lash out in violent ways.

BEARS: A new take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein set in New York in the modern age of homemade technology and pharmaceutical abuse continues Fessenden’s investigation in the fine line between man and monster.

COME TO DADDY
DIRECTOR Ant Timpson
WRITER Toby Harvard, Ant Timpson
CAST Stephen McHattie, Garfield Wilson, Elijah Wood

CANADA, IRELAND, NEW ZEALAND 2019 94 MINS ENGLISH
OFFICIAL SELECTION Tribeca Film Festival 2019, Overlook Film Festival 2019, Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival 2019

Thirty-five-year-old Norval (Elijah Wood) journeys to the middle of nowhere to visit his father (Stephen McHattie) after receiving a letter begging him to come. Having not seen his dad since he was five, it’s all a little mysterious and vaguely emotional for him. He arrives at his father’s distinctly UFO-shaped home and almost immediately gets off on the wrong foot with him. Awkward unpleasantries abound, and soon, let’s just say, the unexpected happens. A number of times. Things proceed to get a little strange and a lot violent as Norval funds himself plunged into circumstances on the shiftier side of outright lunacy.

BEARS: It would be impossible for me not to be excited about the feature Directing debut of kiwi genre legend Ant Timpson, who gave us films as diverse as DEATHGASM, TURBO KID, and GREASY STRANGLER. And of course, anything with Elijah Wood in it is worth a view. Does he sleep?

AWAY
DIRECTOR Gints Zilbalodis
WRITER Gints Zilbalodis
CAST Gints Zilbalodis

LATVIA 2019 75 MINS WITHOUT DIALOGUE
OFFICIAL SELECTION Animafest Zagreb 2019, Annecy 2019, Shanghai International Film Festival 2019

In the middle of what appears to be nowhere, a barren desert engulfed in dust, a boy awakes to find himself suspended from a lone parched tree by the straps of his tangled parachute. As he hangs helplessly and assesses his surroundings, an uncanny entity emerges from the obscurity around him. It is enormous and imposing, and yet it seems like emptiness given form – a hungering emptiness with a voracious appetite for life’s energy. The boy eludes the monstrosity, at least for long enough to find refuge, and with it water, food, a few vital tools and clues, and a small bird for a companion. A map he discovers shows him the path back to human company, and a motorcycle, the means to get there. Whatever lies ahead, the boy must move forward – hope insists upon it, and the towering, life-threatening creature, slow yet inexorable in its approach, compels it.

BEARS: I love animation but I will admit (and apologize and dodge tomotatoes ahead of time) anime and traditional Japanese animation leaves me pretty bored.  But since catching Martinique’s BATTLEDREAM CHRONICLE at Fantasia a few years back, and giving it a US Premiere at Other Worlds, I’ve been desperate to seek out further animation from previously underrepresented countries.

ASTRONAUT
DIRECTOR Shelagh McLeod
WRITER Shelagh McLeod
CASTRichard Dreyfuss, Colm Feore, Graham Greene

CANADA 2019 98 MINS ENGLISH
OFFICIAL SELECTION Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019, Taormina Film Festival 2019

We all have a dream that keeps us going. It can be a dream of success, of love or an incredible goal, while for some it’s a place. For Angus Stewart (Richard Dreyfuss), it’s space itself, the opportunity to reach the stars close enough to touch them and see the Earth as he turns around. But Angus’ reality is much more grounded. His wife has recently passed, he’s in poor health, has lost his home due to debt and his daughter (Krista Bridges) and her family have just placed him in a retirement home. But even at 75, life can still give you reason to hope. Billionaire Marcus Brown (Colm Feore) is about to launch the first-ever commercial space flight and is offering one seat to an average citizen. So, with the help of his grandson (Richie Lawrence) and son-in-law (Lyric Brent), this retired civil engineer is going to take a chance to make his lifelong dream finally come to life.

BEARS: Dreyfuss’s eyes lifted to the sky like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, I’m in. Director McLeod is an actress-lifer making her feature directing debut, and it looks like the start of a brilliant new career for her.

FANTASIA runs until August 1st.

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