Is there such a thing as too much genre cinema? If so, then it would likely occur at Montreal’s Fantasia Festival, an over-three week long celebration of the bonkers and brilliant excesses taking place at the exciting edges of filmmaking. The fest’s 23rd edition begins July 11 with a slate of world premieres along with many well-curated gems from across the 2018-19 festival circuit. Whether you’ll be joining me in Montreal for the festivities (say hello if you’re there from July 19-21) or just following along online, here’s what to look out for at Fantasia — and what hopefully you will be seeing too in a matter of time, distributors willing!
This year’s Fantasia boasts no shortage of world premieres, and the one that first caught my eye was Malik Bader’s Killerman. This New York underground action flick features Liam Hemsworth and Emory Cohen (Brooklyn, The Place Beyond the Pines) as two small-time hustlers on the lam from armed men within and outside the law. Not much more is known at this time, and maybe that’s for the best! I, for one, look forward to seeing what a movie like this can do with the iconography of someone like Liam Hemsworth, who’s really yet to find a career groove following the success of the Hunger Games franchise.
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there’s John Adams and Toby Poser’s The Deeper You Dig, the kind of DIY American genre indie that festivals like this serve to elevate. The filmmakers are true multi-hyphenates – directing, writing, shooting, starring, composing – making a scrappy movie that enters the supernatural realm in the wake of a car accident. This kind of lo-fi project has the makings of a festival breakout, as does David Marmor’s 1BR, an apartment horror tale with a cast of unknowns. All the better for us not to know who we can expect to survive until the end based on the size of their Instagram following!
Fantasia is throwing the considerable weight of its festival laurels to world premiere a debut feature from Matthew Pope, Blood on Her Name. The film, which promises a fusion of neo-noir and Southern gothic, looks like a real opportunity for its star Bethany Anne Lind (Ozark, Stranger Things) to shine. Her character, Leigh, kills a man in self-defense and struggles to deal responsibly with the aftermath as she attempts to cover up her deed. Like many a film with an unintended body count, there’s potential for real psychological depth to amplify the horror that follows. That level of emotional isolation is matched at a physical level in Jordan Graham’s Sator, a minimalist horror film that revolves around a young man living alone in a sparsely populated forest. What could go wrong? Luckily his grandmother is a “receptor” for the titular spirit, so that’s probably going to work out really well for him.
While this list of world premieres has been entirely American films thus far, let me at least speak up for one title with a little Canadian flair: Phantom of Winnipeg, a curious cultural documentary about the shocking success of Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise in Manitoba. While considered a flop in America, the film apparently did boffo business in Winnipeg. The concept feels very Searching for Sugar Man, and the doc looks likely to get a hero’s welcome at Fantasia with legendary genre producer Ed Pressman and songwriter Paul Williams attending the film’s premiere.
With the exceptions of Cannes and Venice, practically every film festival’s programmers add films they’ve seen elsewhere to their own slates. Whether it’s to add a sure-fire crowdpleaser to the slate or to shine additional light on an emerging filmmaker, these picks are often a strong anchor of any schedule. Fantasia is no different, and any fest-watcher will recognize titles that have already drawn buzz out of marquee events like Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca and more. There’s even a title direct from Cannes itself, Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium, a Critics’ Week hit starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots that’s sure to be a hot ticket. (That’s not to be confused with Eisenberg and Poots’ other collaboration, The Art of Self-Defense, which is also playing at Fantasia and opens in U.S. theaters this week.)
The most prominent title making the trip from Park City to Montreal is Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Lodge, which Neon will release this November. (Our own Eric D. Snider gave this quiet and ominous horror flick points for outsmarting him at Sundance.) But lest you think Fantasia is just playing the big hits, the programming team also brought back some that flew under the radar like Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy and Punch, Alice Waddington’s Paradise Hills and Makoto Nagahisa’s We Are Little Zombies. The latter looks especially promising, and given the strength of Nagahisa’s short film And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool, I’m in.
Elsewhere from the circuit, there’s SXSW hit Daniel Isn’t Real, an exploration of mental illness and toxic masculinity that proved a favorite of Britt Hayes’ out of that fest, and Porno, the feature debut of Student Academy Award winner Keola Racela. The concept of his horror film sounds particularly intriguing: five teens working at their small Christian town’s local movie theater discover a hidden film reel only to discover it unleashes a succubus.
Mutliple Tribeca midnight titles, including Joe Begos’ Bliss (described by our Bill Bria as “a blood-drenched romp”) and Jennifer Reeder’s giallo-cum-coming-of-age story Knives and Skin, will also be making the trip up to Montreal. Fantasia also booked Swallow, which played in Tribeca’s more strait-laced narrative competition and won the Best Actress prize for star Haley Bennett. Hollywood has been trying to make her a Jennifer Lawrence-style star for years now, and I’ve never quite found the appeal. Perhaps her work in Swallow, deemed “extraordinary” by Bill Bria at Tribeca, will turn the tide for me.
I’m sure that I missed more than my fair share of notable titles among the 130-feature strong Fantasia lineup, but such is the nature of festivals! Check back in throughout the festival for my dispatches that highlight the best of what I saw, many of which will likely not be films listed here. As always, I look forward to overhearing conversations in queues or theaters where people rave about their latest discovery to the point where I myself have to go see what all the fuss is about.