Fantasia 2024

UniQue(bec): Fantasia International Film Festival 2024 preview

Fantasia 2024 will take place 18th July to 4th August. For more details, visit the festival website

The official poster art for this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival – the 28th edition – shows a demonically horned ginger cat riding a motorbike into the dark, with a dog clutching a popcorn bucket in the sidecar. This marks the return of a pairing that have featured on many – but certainly not all – of Fantasia’s posters over the years. Given the traditional enmity between these two animals, they may appear to make an odd couple – but it will turn out that felines and canines can happily coexist and even perfectly complement each other in much the same way that Fantasia, even in its very name, has the cinemas of the fantastique and of Asia blithely riding along together, even if it is never quite clear which of them is the driver and which the passenger. For here, not all the genre films are Asian, and not all the Asian films are genre, but somehow the Venn diagram that they form together represents a broad spectrum of filmic excellence. It is also a festival that prides itself on backing local Canadian titles, while fearlessly promoting the weird and the wayward from all over the planet. 

This year’s festival opens with Ant Timpson’s Bookworm, and closes with the Quebec première of Damian Mc Carthy’s Oddity – and in between, there are world premières of, among others, Scooter McCrae’s Black Eyed Susan, Pratul Gaikwad’s Dead Dead Full Dead, Steven Kostanski’s Frankie Freako, Toby Poser and John AdamsHell Hole, Isaac Ezban’s Párvulos and Chris Stuckmann’s Shelby Oaks. Rather, though, than speculate – with extreme prejudice – on titles to which I am looking forward from this year’s programmed selection, I shall instead recommend here a selection of eight films that I have already managed to see elsewhere.

Calvin Lee Reeder’s The A-Frame (full review for Projected Figures) 

The A-Frame

“the film itself is simultaneously following two paths that are only contingently related and only occasionally intersect. On the one hand, this is a sensitive drama about coming to terms with disease and death, as Donna and Linda negotiate what they want out of what little life cancer may have left to them; while on the other, this is science fiction – with elements of Cronenbergian body horror – as a sociopathically hubristic scientist’s experiments with teleportation lead to disastrous, grotesque consequences à la The Fly (1986).”

Joel Potrykus’ Vulcanizadora (full review for Projected Figures) 

Vulcanizadora

“Tracking two young men who are burdened with frustration and despair, who are not quite sure where they are headed, but who know that the past has not been their friend, Vulcanizadora captures their sense – an existential, perhaps even universal sense – of living on borrowed time. Yet with best-laid plans going wrong, Marty is left in a littoral limbo, not sure why he keeps evading punishment for what he freely admits he has done, trying belatedly to make some kind of amends, and digging hopelessly for answers or evidence as he struggles to unearth any meaningful trace that he might have left on an indifferent universe – like some self-documenting archaeologist or Sisyphean antihero.”

Kourtney Roy’s Kryptic (full review for Projected Figures) 

Kryptic

“This is what makes Kryptic as much a ‘good for her’ revenge story as a monster movie, where close attention is required to chart the precise coordinates of Kay’s picaresque, escapist walk on the wild side – and on the margins. “Being on the road,” as Sally Antoine puts it, “nothing beats it. No baggage and shit can be a truly liberating thing. Yet is there really any getting away from what our addled heroine seeks to flee, or is she just going in circles in her bid to break free? Trying to work out that conundrum and to square that circle is the challenge presented by this radical reimagining of the Little Red Riding Hood myth. For here too, a girl is lost in the woods, there are disguises and camouflage on all sides, and something monstrous and hidden is waiting to break through.” 

Karl R. Hearne’s The G (full review for Projected Figures)

The G

“…so refreshing, as it upturns our expectations of the revenge picture by placing a septuagenarian woman at its centre, while simultaneously undermining the Hollywood notion that the elderly are all homely, hokey sweetness and light. “I’m not a nice person,” Ann will tell Joseph, in what is part confession, part warning, “but I do have other other qualities.” The viewer is likely to agree with both these sentiments, while also agreeing with Joseph that Ann is “amazing” – the sort of complex, unlikeable, tragic character rarely seen on-screen in their seventies, let alone after the Seventies. Here revenge is a dish best served old.”

Alice Lowe’s Timestalker (full review for SciFiNow)

Timestalker

Here reincarnation, presented both in spiritual and psychological terms, allows Agnes’ character ever so gradually to develop and evolve over several centuries. The film too had a long period of gestation, conceived six years ago, only for its production to be interrupted by Lowe’s second pregnancy (the first coincided with her ‘foetus fatale’ feature debut Prevenge, 2016) and then by Covid. So it is merely a fluke of fate that this is being released at roughly the same time as Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast (La Bête, 2023), which shares its thematic concern with metempyschosis and multiple mirroring timelines. They are similar films, and would in fact make an excellent double feature. Yet what distinguishes Timestalker is just how very funny it is – so funny, in fact, that to reflect properly on all its immense thoughtfulness on questions of personal identity, free will and determinism, fatalism and self-actualisation, the viewer may need some time.”

Annick Blanc’s Jour de Chasse (full review for Projected Figures)

Hunting Daze

“Unfolding in a liminal forested zone that is all at once grounded and mythic, writer/director Annick Blanc’s lyrical feature debut blurs Nina’s reality with her vivid dreams. Indeed, her sojourn in the wild becomes a sort of vision quest, where, straying from the ‘pack’, she finds the wolf without as well as within, and becomes able to see clearly, along the fluid line between man and woman, her own – and everyone else’s – true nature. An aerial shot of the whole ensemble curled up asleep on the grass recreates the closing credit sequence of Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent (2014), as though to suggest that what we are watching may be a group hallucination, beyond everyday experience – yet Nina’s uneasy efforts to locate her own individual path, and her reluctance to settle for being either a sexualised object or just ‘one of the boys’, allegorise the familiar female struggle with being lost in the woods of patriarchy. For this is a dreamy vision of what it is to be a woman in a man’s world.”

Carl Joseph Papa’s The Missing (full review for Projected Figures)

The Missing

“Eric’s rebuilding of self runs in tandem with our reconstruction of the key event – the primal scene – that this fractured narrative is missing. Anyone who has seen Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin(2004) or Brad Abrahams’ documentary Love And Saucers (2017) will quickly grasp how Eric’s regular fugues into a nightmarish fantasy of alien abductions, tentacular probes and penile extra-terrestrials represent a way of processing unspeakable past trauma much closer to home. Papa traces the relapse of Eric’s damaged state, and his gradual, troubled journey back to wellness, with sensitivity and sympathy. It is a beautifully realised yet unnerving story of recurring memories and parallel timelines, where shame, guilt and fear from an abusive past still leave their haunting traces in the purer love of the present.”

Anouk Whissell, François Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell’s Wake Up (full review for Projected Figures) 

Wake Up

“As these unreconstructed, white, working-class brothers pass the hours in the back office, and the sextet of diverse, ‘woke’ youths enact their assault on middle-class North American values in the store beyond, a clash between them becomes inevitable – and when their first encounter quickly spirals out of control, something in Kevin cracks, and he takes it upon himself to hunt the co-eds down like animals in this corporate enclosure, using traps and weapons that he fashions out of whatever is to hand in the store. Accordingly, Kevin is somewhere between a grown-up version of his namesake from the Home Alonefilms, and a muttering monstrous killing machine engaged in cruel, deadly games of cat and mouse. For this is Bertrand Bonello’s Nocturama (2016) taken apart and put back together again as a popular slasher, while following the pack box instructions of Irving Pichel and Ernest P. Schoedsack’s The Most Dangerous Game(1932).”

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While I do not have published reviews of them, I have also seen, and heartily commend, Miguel Llansó’s trashy transhumanist trip Infinite Summer, Kim Da-min’s rice wine-inspired rites of passage FAQ, and Yoon Eun-kyoung’s Kafka-esque future trap The Tenants

© Anton Bitel