Sadly, the Fantasia Film Festival came to a close this weekend in Montreal, Canada. This year, Fantasia was easily one of the best of its fifteen-year history, bringing in stellar horror films from across the globe. Although it is all coming to an end, there was a fair crop of excellent horror films for you to feast you eyes on in the coming year.
Fantasia is so loaded with horror films that it’s overwhelming to even begin looking at the schedule. The list of horror films is vast, spanning across subgenres and budgets and this is precisely what makes Fantasia so special. Giving equal attention to major productions and low budget indie films, Fantasia has something for everyone.
Instead of cramming full-length reviews down your throats, what follows are mini-reviews on some spotlight horror flick I’ve seen at Fantasia 2011. It was a wonderful year, and I can’t wait for the next installment in 2012. Read on for the skinny…
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Starring: AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, and Brandon Carroll
Adam Wingard is generally known in the indie horror scene for his surreal, paranormal, psychedelic style. However, with A Horrible Way To Die, he switches over to a more realistic approach, and the progression suits him well. Although you still get the same shaky camera going in and out of focus (which could make your stomach turn), the new realistic Wingard is a pleasure to watch.
A Horrible Way To Die is a dark, depressing, and heavy semi-love story about a girl with a drinking problem and her serial killer ex-boyfriend. What you get is an elegant and unique serial killer movie that focuses more on the emotional side of things rather than slashing throats and ripping out bowls. Much of the film goes to show that serial killers are real, albeit messed up, people, who may not even understand themselves.
This flick is an intense portrait of a murderer and those he knows all too well, and while you might expect a lot of gore and “horror”, it’s actually quite a calm film. The vast majority deals with the girl trying to cope wit her past and her new boyfriend, jumping from past to present. Everything builds to a quite absurd concluding scene that you’d never see coming given the realism of the rest of the film. If you can get over the shaky camera and the foray of Christmas lights that pop up everywhere (which look quite beautiful most of the time), A Horrible Way To Die offers a exceptionally different take on the serial killer subgenre.
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine, Morgan Peter Brown
Absentia is a very, very, strange film, and it is most definitely unlike anything you’ve seen before. Absentia largely works to address the horrors of lost loved ones, and missing persons who return after years of non-contact. The film follows a young (pregnant) woman dealing with her husband’s disappearance and her (drug addict) sister. After seven years of missing, her husband finally returns, bloody, battered, and bruised from a land unknown.
For a film that never shows the actual creature, and constantly blurs the scare moments out of focus, it does a hell of a lot of frightening. You are told early-ish in the film that the creature that steals people from the real world is like a giant silver fish, which alone is gross as f*uck (I have an abhorrence for bugs). Things start off a little slow, with some awkward on screen interaction, but by the middle of the film, sh*t hits the fan.
I really loved Absentia until they brought so many tidbits of philosophy, religion, fairy tales, drugs, and science. It was nice to get an explanation of the monster, but they needed to focus on one or two elements rather than ten. The final scene of the film is quite disturbing; let’s just say the pregnancy is terminated. Absentia is a great film for the most part, and I’d love to see more filmmakers rely on the audience’s own mind to create the fear rather than use cheap scare tactics. If you weren’t scared to walk in dark places before, you will be after watching Absentia.
Directed by: Jim Mickle
Starring: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis, and Danielle Harris
Of the slew of vamp flicks coming out this year, Stake Land was the one I had the highest hopes for. Unfortunately, it was a letdown. Mickle is known for his debut film Mulberry Street, which many fans went wild over because of it’s “allegorical” vision. Personally, I didn’t care for it. Anyway, Stake Land, as most of you know, is about a rebel rousing hard-ass who hunts vampire in a post-apocalyptic world. Somewhere along his path he picks up a young teen who he decides to train in the way of the stake, on their journey to “New Eden” in Canada (which is hilarious). Stake Land is ultimately a coming of age story, except instead of a Bar Mitzvah, the kid drives a piece of wood through an undead heart.
Stake Land starts off very strong, with some interesting character contrasts and some killer fight scenes. The vamps look awesome; think of a bloodier, angrier version of Buffy vampires. There is also some haphazardly thought of war going on between evil religious fundamentalists and the rebels. Unfortunately, things only seem to fall apart from here on out. Characters keep coming and going out of nowhere, and events seem episodic to the point of irrationality by the end. Some people may like the ambiguous conclusion, but I found it baffling. Fans will appreciate Stake Land for it’s visual appeal, and rough and gruff attitude, others will see it as simply another film in the vampire fad.
Directed by: Shunji Iwai
Starring: Kevin Zegers, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Amanda Plummer, and Trevor Morgan
Let me start by saying that Vampire sits on a fine line between beautiful indie art film and messy horror drama. It’s hard to explain how this movie makes you feel because it runs a gamut of your emotions, tickling your funny bone and making you feel depressed at the same time. Those expecting to get a unique vamp flick that strays from the mainstream are definitely in for a treat…just one thing, there are not “real” vampires in this movie.
Vampire is about a deranged, yet oddly caring, high school science teacher who finds people that want to die, and then drains their blood so he can drink it. The newspapers call him “The Vampire”, but really he’s just your average blood addict (as real a vampire as you can get). The plot of the film is intelligent, brilliant actually, the camerawork is incredibly elegant, and character interactions are hilarious. The only issue is that it’s hard to tell if this is a very well made art film, or a crappy vamp drama. Personally, I choose to see it as the former.
The film makes you feel extremely uncomfortable with a mix of dark comedy and outrageous killing scenes. As an example of how outrageous it is, “The Vampire” keeps his Alzheimer’s mother locked in a room by tying tons of balloons to her so she cant get out the door. Eccentricity aside, what this film really suffers from is being fifteen minutes too long, with a final scene that doesn’t seem, or need, to fit. No doubt, this is a horror dramedy that audiences will love or hate, but either way it’s worth a watch.
Directed by: Lucky McKee
Starring: Carlee Baker, Shana Barry, Sean Bridgers, Marcia Bennett, and Angela Bettis
A Lucky MacKee film entitled, The Woman…hmm smells like feminism to me. MacKee attempts to tear down boundaries and break away from conventional filmmaking as much as possible, whenever possible. As you may expect, The Woman emphases the brutality women face both in real life and in horror films. The extent of this brutality is not for the feint of heart, but if you are one of those people, you’re at the wrong website. Chris (Sean Bridgers) finds a savage woman one day while hunting and decides to capture her and bring her home as the new family pet! Quickly, the each family member gains their own responsibility in taming “the woman”, while trying to manage their own issues (trust me, they have lots).
The Woman is a bizarre film, mostly coming from the performances given by the family. The father, Chris, delivers an outstanding over the top performance as the epitome of everything that is wrong with men. He even goes as far as telling his own daughter, “you’re no different from that thing, you and every other c*nt” (referring to the woman he’s got tied up in a cellar). The metaphor is obvious, women are people, and shouldn’t be expected to act or dress in a certain way. As you may expect, retribution is a bitch, quite literally in the film, and every character gets what’s coming to them (sort of). I won’t spoil anything, but as gruesomely entertaining as the final scene is, it seemed a bit too much. The Woman is a well executed flick that will have it’s fair advocates.
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