Brain Freeze

Brain Freeze (2021)

Brain Freeze has its international première at FrightFest 2021

“Another win for Biotech M,” says a masked man in a team of similar men, all got out in hazmat suits, as they spray a green chemical over a snowy field at night, in what is the opening scene – and line – of Brain Freeze, directed, co-written (with Jean Barbe) and scored by Julien Knafo. In Quebec’s exclusive enclave of Peacock Island (or Île-aux-paons), separated from the mainland by a well-guarded bridge, these men are spreading an experimental fertiliser over the lawns of an even more exclusive golf course (“Golf isn’t a sport or a game,” as the course’s owner Marcel, played by Louis-Georges Girard, says, “it’s a social status”) to keep the grass green and free of snow throughout the winter. 

This transgressive act against nature itself will have unexpected consequences, as the fertiliser leaches into the gated community’s water supply, genetically modifying all who ingest it into creatures who may at first seem like conventional zombies, but exhibit their own rather peculiar behaviours. As spoilt, tech-savvy young teen André (Iani Bédard) tries to get out of his home and off the island alive with his infant sister Annie, they will join forces with the security guard (and survivalist) Dan (Roy Dupuis), who is desperate to find a cure for his infected daughter Patricia (Marianna Fortier). Ranged against them are a corporation which, keen on covering up its mistakes, has sent in a pair of psychotic twin assassins (both played by Mylène Mackay) to clean up any mess on the ground – and a populist shock jock (Simon-Olivier Fecteau) filling the air with his own brand of poison (evoking Bruce McDonald’s DJ-led zombie film Pontypool, set in neighbouring Ontario). 

“I found nothing on smoking grass on the net,” André tells Dan in one of the film’s more ridiculous double entendres. Grass is at the centre of everything here, as Peacock Island’s most privileged members seek to keep the stuff at its freshest no matter what the weather, even if it results in their being turned themselves, like Jordy Verrill from Creepshow (1982), into human turf. Yet the extra meaning in André’s words is typical of a film full of resonances. For this small offshore community is made to echo much broader Canadian/global issues of class division (“Do they want to unionise?” Stéphane Crête’s links manager wonders aloud as the clubhouse comes under attack from infected employees), environmental damage, executive corruption, virulent infection, the militarisation of the police and the monstrous transformation of the media into a right-wing propaganda outlet for corporate interests. In other words, this isolated suburb also serves as a microcosm, even if its more serious sociopolitical concerns come tempered by an understated if ever-present sense of absurdity. Perhaps smoking grass might, after all, make for the film’s ideal reception. 

strap: There goes the neighbourhood: Julien Knafo’s greenish-black comedy shows a zombie apocalypse fertilising in an exclusive Quebecois enclave

© Anton Bitel