The 16th annual Fantasia Film Festival is underway in Montreal, Canada. The festival is so packed this year that it’s overwhelming to even begin looking at the film schedule. The horror lineup spans 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.
In its 16th year, there are over 160 screenings during the three week festival, and it would be insane to even attempt reviewing them all. I’ve been running to the various theaters to catch each flick, and I still can’t watch them all. Although it would be ideal to write full reviews, it would take way too many days, and way too many cups of coffee. What follows are mini-reviews on what I’ve seen so far at Fantasia 2012 including The Tall Man, Sushi Girl, Black Pond and The Devil’s Carnival.
Most of you will recognize Pascal Laugier as the director of the deeply disturbing French flick, Martyrs. Let’s get things straight, The Tall Man is not another Martyrs. In fact, it’s far from it. If you are expecting another visceral, intense horror film, you will be disappointed. Laugier takes a completely different approach to the genre with The Tall Man that some viewers will love, and others will loathe. The film explores the modern slender man myth, and it sees Julia Denning (Jessica Biel), a small town nurse, as she encounters the Tall Man snatching kids from the village. There’s a heck of a lot more to the film than this, but saying anymore would ruin what could be a unique viewing.
Unfortunately, this film will suffer simply due the fact that it is being marketed as a straight up horror movie. What starts out as a beautifully filmed horror film quickly turns into a twist-ridden thriller. The cinematography is beautiful, and there’s a pervasive eerie mood throughout, showcasing Laugier skills as a director. But, the middle of the film is cluttered with uncertainty. The Tall Man will have its fare share of haters, but it does not deserve the amount of hate I imagine it will get. Laugier takes a huge risk in order to offer something totally different from standard, dull, modern Hollywood horror movies. This is a quite intelligent film, with solid acting, and an engaging plot. The Tall Man will split fans right down the middle, and will likely become a hot topic for many late night bar arguments.
Directed By: Kern Saxton
Starring: Mark Hamill, Tony Todd, James Duval, Andy Mackenzie, Noah Hathaway
The cast behind Sushi Girl is absolutely insane. It’s chock full of 80s and 90s action stars including Jim Fahey, Michael Biehn, Tony Todd, James Duval. Oh, and Mark Hamill AKA Luke Skywalker. Sushi Girl is this debut feature film from Kern Saxton, and he proves himself as being capable of working with such a wicked ensemble cast. Sushi Girl centers upon a group of professional criminals who reunite 6 years after their last diamond-stealing heist went wrong. The dinner goes sour, and turns into an all out torture fest as they try to find out where their diamonds are hidden.
The film is in a similar vein to theatrical movies like 12 Angry Men and Reservoir Dogs, taking place in a single room (for the most part). This flick has everything the fourteen-year-old boy inside me loves from naked chicks, to stylized shootouts, to great dialogue. Mark Hamill gives a particularly noteworthy performance as the sadistic Crow, who is a mix somewhere between Joker and Truman Capote, with a flamboyant edge. The end may be a bit predictable, but it fits with the overall aesthetic style.
Saxton delivers a thrilling, dynamic film in a very limited setting, while paying tribute to 80s and 90s cinema. The film has already been noted for its similarities to a Tarantino film, but it is an impressive directoral debut, and it marks Kern Saxton as a director to watch out for. If you are a fan of exploitation movies with a modern edge, Sushi Girl will be right up your alley.
Black Bond is refreshingly hilarious break from the type of humor that has become commonplace in post-Anchorman North America. The Brits definitely have their own brand of dark humor, and it comes through in Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe’s Black Pond. The film focuses on Tom Thompson (Chris Langham) and his average family who are accused of murdering a stranger, only to become the laughable subjects of the media. This is a charming, absurd, and real look at the nuisances of suburban family life and suicide that is as funny as it is gloomy.
Black Pond combines standard mockumentary style interviews with bleak comedy interspersed to create something not often seen in the film world. Each actor gives a breathtaking performance, allowing the audience to empathize with the characters they are laughing at. This is the first film in a while from Chris Langham, who has a seedy past of his own, and he offers a bona fide performance as a well-intentioned, albeit naïve father of this messy family. Black Pond is an intelligent examination of the modern nuclear family, and does a commendable job of showcases the bleakness of reality.
Anyone who lingers around horror film websites has probably spent some time researching hauntings, possessions, and ghost stories, ultimately coming across the infamous Amityville house. If not, you’ve likely seen one of the many film versions out there. There is an abundance of information on the events that occurred in 1975, and this documentary makes it clear that there are still plenty of skeletons in the closet. The film is an in depth looks at Daniel Lutz, the eldest child of the infamous Lutz family, who lived in the house for a terrible 28-day stay. Through a series of interviews with Daniel, the documentary presents a fascinating depiction of the events that are said to have occurred nearly 40 years ago.
What is most impressive about this documentary is how inclusive it is. My Amityville Horror offers an incredibly informative telling of the 1975 events for those who know nothing about it, while simultaneously presenting a wealth of new information on the subject. Often, documentaries such as this tend to focus a bit too much on the paranormal happenings and risk venturing into Ghost Hunters territory. However, My Amityville Horror turns the focus onto a deeply troubled man who hated his stepfather, a man who may or may not have had paranormal encounters, a man who still troubled by it today.
Whether or not the events occurred is still a mystery, and the director Eric Walter does an incredible job of showing both sides of the story, without turning Daniel Lutz into a crazed lunatic. What is most terrifying is that regardless of what actually occurred in the Amityville house, Daniel seems to believe it was paranormal wholeheartedly. There is a lot of fascinating, and some downright spooky, content in My Amityville Horror, and it well worth a watch for anyone mildly interested in the Lutz family.
The Devil’s Carnival is not just a movie, it’s a mixed-media circus piece that includes live stage sideshows, some shoddy hosting, a recap of Repo! The Genetic Opera. Only after an hour of filler do you get the main attraction which is a one hour film from Darren Lynn Bousman. The first thing to understand is that this type of show is not for everyone. If you dig dressing up in clown, sing-alongs, and Repo, you’ll probably love it. However, if you’re not a fan of the horror-musical mashup, then you’ll be perplexed.
My showing began with a juggling act that was far from impressive, followed by a semi-naked girl performing a blood-ritual and dancing with a snake. These opening acts are location specific, and they pull them in from the surrounding area of the screening. Given that Montreal is home to one of the most world renowned circus schools, you’d think they could find far more impressive performers.
After the opening acts, comes a rough 20-minute behind the scenes look at Repo! The Genetic Opera. While I understand that they are trying to appeal to their fan base, I did not attend the screening to see Repo rehashed, I came to see a creative film and to get outside my comfort zone.
The Devil’s Carnival itself is just under an hour in length, and while it is gorgeous to look at, it’s a less than affable romp with a messy, unfulfilling storyline. It takes you down into a version of hell filled with bizarre rides, games, and shows. I have a strong love for traveling carnivals, but The Devil’s Carnival is far too contrived for my likings.
The Devil’s Carnival is comprised of three acts, each following a different, un-relatable character as they take a trip through the park. There is very little narrative flow and almost no character development. The musical scenes have brilliant lighting, but the actual music feels flat. None of the songs are catchy enough to stay in my head, and I cannot visualize crowds of people chanting along with the scenes, as one would at a Rocky Horror screening. The film ultimately has far fewer interesting elements than Repo. As I said before, if you’re partial to baroque rock musicals, you’ll enjoy it. As a film, it looks pretty on the surface, but offers of little substance.