Back for its silver anniversary, the Fantasia International Film Festival will once again be bringing its eclectic mix of genre and Asian cinemas to Montréal. This year’s event will include new titles from filmmakers as wonderful – and wonderfully varied – as Andy Mitton (The Harbinger), July Jung (Next Sohee), Mickey Reece (Country Gold), Takashi Miike (The Mole Song: Final) and Alexandre O. Philippe (Lynch/Oz), and retrospectives of Jeff Lieberman’s Blue Sunshine (1978), John Woo’s Hard Boiled (1992) and Face/Off (1997) and Marina de Van’s Dans Ma Peau (2002). Rather than speculate about the qualities of the many other films that I have not seen, here is a selection of six that I have, and would recommend.
Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s uproarious found-footage variant follows a hit-chasing ‘piece of trash’ vlogger (played by Joseph) as he records his overnight experiences in an abandoned cabin-in-the-woods Death Manor for his livestream channel Wrath of Shawn, only to meet his attention-seeking match in a terrifying spirit of the Evil Dead that craves publicity as much as souls. Narcissism has rarely been so frightening and fun.
Freaks Out (2021)
Gabriele Mainetti’s follow-up to They Call Me Jeeg Robot (2015) similarly rewrites the superhero tropes to follow an ensemble of empowered circus freaks from wartime Italy to the heart of Nazi Germany as they search for their Jewish ringleader. Merging X-Men, Hellboy, The Wizard of Oz and the Fantastic Four, while fancifully allowing itself, Tarantino-style, to reverse the Holocaust, this explores the limits of violence and the difficulties of resisting fascism, while boasting yet another star turn from Franz Rogowski as a villain trying to steal the future.
The feature debut of Avalon Fast follows five young women who, finding themselves unemployed, aimless and bored in the languid summer between high school and the world of adulthood, form an out-of-town all-female colony that quickly becomes a toxic cult. Here abstract rites of passage give way to “some Lord of the Flies shit”, except the flies are bees, and there are bitter stings mixed in with all the honey sweetness.
An apparently grounded gay potter (Ian Inigo) discovers that he has still not quite crawled out of the shadow of a traumatic childhood relationship with his estranged, unhinged mother, and struggles to heal. Addison Heimann’s feature debut is a queer, psychosomatic retelling of the werewolf myth, all at once hilarious, hysterical and harrowing.
Having long ago escaped an abusive relationship with an older man (Tim Roth), well-adjusted biotech exec Margaret (Rebecca Hall) finds her professional life, and her relationship with her adolescent daughter, unravelling as the ex resurfaces and returns to his old tricks. The tense cat-and-mouse that ensues in Andrew Semans’ psychological thriller is a master class in gaslighting and sadism, with the increasingly confounded viewer cast as victim.
In Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ pink-tinged psychoslasher, positive-thinking, puerile online influencer Cecilia (Aisha Dee) is reacquainted with her primary school BFF and invited to her hen party, only to find that a bullying bête noire from her childhood is also in attendance. All the unresolved recriminations and rancour will come with a gorily over-the-top body count, as the last vestiges of wellness will be sent over the edge and under the chassis.
Fantasia 2021 runs from 14th July to 3rd of August. Full details and the programme can be found here.
© Anton Bitel