Fantasia 2023

Mont(un)real: Fantasia International Film Festival 2023 preview

Fantasia 2023 will take place 20 July to 9 August. For more details, visit the festival website.

The mascot on the poster art for this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival – its 27th edition –  is the nine-tailed fox, a legedary shape-shifting figure found across the folklore of East Asia. This encapsulates the spirit of a festival whose very name punningly betokens a dual commitment to the fantastique and to Asian cinema. For Fantasia showcases both the finest genre pictures from all around the world, and more specifically in the best cinematic output coming currently from the East – and it is precisely the shifting, mercurial nature of these interests (the genre films are not all Asian, the Asian films are not all genre) that ensures the Montreal-based event its special dynamism. Like a fox – indeed like a mercurial, mythical fox – Fantasia is keen-witted, fleet on its feet and hard to pin down. 

The full programme lineup will be revealed in early July, but there have already been two ‘waves’ of titles already announced, and a shape, however Protean, is starting to emerge. The festival will open with the serial killer thriller Red Rooms from local Canadian filmmaker Pascal Plante, and will also feature Yuval Adler’s tense twisty crime flick Sympathy for the Devil (starring Nicolas Cage and Joel Kinnaman), Danny and Michael Philippou’s very well received spirit-conjuring chiller Talk To Me, and Lee Won-suk’s campishly genre-blurring fairytale musical Killing Romance

Sometimes it is the talent involved in a film that draws the attention. For example, this year’s River comes from the same director, Junta Yamaguchi, whose similarly time-travel-themed Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes (2021) previously wowed Fantasia. Teresa Sutherland’s Lovely, Dark, and Deep, whose plot involving an isolated female park ranger (Barbarian’s Georgina Campbell) sounds a little like Roxanne Benjamin’s Body at Brighton Rock and/or Joe Lo Truglio’s Outpost, is the directorial debut of Teresa Sutherland who previously penned Emma Tammi’s The Wind. And Jenn Wexler, herself an old hand at The Ranger subgenre, is world premièring her latest, The Sacrifice Game!; the viciously violent Mayhem! comes from genre maestro Xavier Gens; with Blackout, producer/director/actor Larry Fessenden, one of genre cinema’s smartest and most enduring contributors, finally essays the werewolf form; and the Adams family, whose last two features The Deeper You Dig and Hellbender cemented their niche in the indie horror pantheon, are back with another world première at Fantasia, Where The Devil Roams. I have seen none of these films yet, but my enthusiasm to do so comes with extreme prejudice.

Fantasia 2023
Eddie Alcazar’s Divinity (2023)

There are a few titles that I have seen, and would whole-heartedly recommend. Here are excerpts from what I said about them elsewhere:

New Normal

(for BFI)

  “Set during a June marred by both a freak snowstorm and unnatural outbreaks of violence, these stories focus on lonely, insulated urban existence and the need for connection, even as disparate characters prove to have lives more closely interwoven than they ever realise. It’s a darkly, freakily comic mosaic of murder and mayhem, collectively unfolding broader themes of coincidence, fatalism and deeply ingrained malice.”

Suitable Flesh

(for SciFiNow)

“…the vanities that make us different from each other – our age, our gender, our sex – mean little to an eternal, transdimensional being that merely regards us as transient vessels for its pleasures. Meanwhile Lynch too finds sensational new forms to keep the old ones alive, in this lovingly batshit resurrection of Gordon’s Lovecraftian spirit.”


(for Signal Horizon)

“Like its writer/director Eddie Alcazar’s previous Perfect (2018), Divinity is a sci-fi allegory of human aspiration and evolution set mostly in a remote modernist mansion – except that Jaxxon’s luxurious home is not in the jungle, but out in the desert, a place whose very infertility reflects the new world that Jaxxon is creating. This is a peculiar parallel universe, presented in black and white (at least until the film’s final image), and offering a stylized future very much of the retro variety (all cassette tapes, VHSes, clunky answering machines, analogue equipment, and 8-bit computer readouts). It is also a universe given over to narcissistic, masturbatory pursuits, as a series of background TV ads for bodybuilding and sex toys (and, of course, for Divinity itself) would suggest. For this is a fallen world, whose promised immortality comes with an unseen (but eventually revealed) immorality, and it is heading fast to a drugged-up dead end of sterile hedonism.”

Late Night With the Devil

(for Little White Lies)

“Formatted in a 4:3 frame to emulate standard-definition TV, purporting to be compiled from “what went to air that night as well as previously unreleased behind-the-scenes footage”, and realising on-screen devilry through Seventies-appropriate SFX, this feature from Australian writers/directors/brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes (100 Bloody Acres, Scare Campaign) is found footage reminiscent of Lesley Manning’s Ghostwatch, Damien LeVeck’s The Cleansing Hour and Cristian Ponce’s History of the Occult. For here, the medium (in every sense) is the message, and viewers risk coming under its baleful influence.”


(for SIght and Sound)

Lit in Bava-esque colours, dripping with sexual frankness and surreal humour, and filled with characters whose bleeding or bandages are signifiers of a deeper collective trauma, Perpetrator assumes the mask of a slasher/superhero film to expose a patriarchal system that feeds on the exploitation of women. This is an allegory of female solidarity and empowerment, where both sexuality and gender prove fluid, where “the pain and the blood” that define women’s biological and sometimes social experience are embraced and weaponised, and where empathy itself becomes a transformative antidote to male oppression. Funny, freaky and full of feeling, Reeder’s genrefied feminist flick is a big deal.

Molli and Max in the Future

(for Projected Figures)

“No matter how absurd the flights of fancy in Molli and Max in the Future, it is always grounded in character. For everyone here is schlubbily human – including the aliens and gods – and even if the central couple must go through parallel universes (via a ‘PU box’), spiritual realms and the quantum zone to find themselves and each other, the results turn out to be surprisingly like any earthbound romantic comedy, only with quirky space opera to paint everything in surreal, subversive colours. This is a true labour of – and about – love that is out of this world.”

© Anton Bitel