Films that frighten, films that shock and films that provoke laughter, sometimes all at the same time, are the meat (and gristle and bone) of the Fantasia International Film Festival…
After 17 years, the Fantasia International Film Festival is still renowned for its world premiers and rare finds in the horror, thriller and fantasy genres, with a strong emphasis on bringing Asian films to a wider audience. This year, from July 18 to August 7, choose from among 120 feature films, along with 200 shorts, numerous Q&A sessions with directors and actors, a live theatrical production and outdoor screenings of classic cinema.
Fantasia 2013 opens with one of the biggest names on the Asian-horror scene: Takashi Miike. The Japanese director’s newest film, Shield of Straw, is a thriller that tracks a manhunt for a killer and the moral dilemmas therein. Miike’s 2012 film, the deranged Lesson of the Evil, also gets its deserved Canadian premier at the festival. Creepiness abounds in festival co-opener, The Conjuring, American director James Wan’s horror-suspense film based on a true story of paranormal events at a secluded farmhouse, starring Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air). Another big name closes the festival: Edgar Wright (Shaun of The Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) is in town to host a screening of his newest film, The World’s End, the tale of five friends on a pub crawl that becomes a fight to save humanity.
International and Canadian premiers are left, right and centre at Fantasia, such as Joe Swanberg’s erotic thriller 24 Exposures, Toya Sato’s reboot of 1970s Japanese anime series Battle of the Planets, retitled Gatchaman, V/H/S 2, an intense horror-film anthology created by the same people who brought us the Blair Witch Project and Richie Mehta’s I’ll Follow You Down, starring Gillian Anderson (pictured at top). Humour and horror get along fine at this year’s festival, especially in Don Mancini’s newest in the Chucky series and a return to bloody-horror form, Curse of Chucky, with the director and cast members fielding questions at the screenings, and in Mike Mendez’s Big Ass Spider, which is exactly what it sounds like: a spider hell-bent on eating Los Angeles. The timeless American western is no stranger to the festival either: this year, see Sweetwater, starring January Jones and Eduardo Noriega as upstanding farmers in an immoral society run by violent criminals and a half-mad sheriff, played by Ed Harris.
In a fitting tie-in to the summer vacation season, Canadian film Cottage Country, starring Malin Ackerman and Tyler Labine, brings some good old-fashioned cabin-in-the-woods suspense to the fest. And Taiwanese director Hou Chi-Jan reflects Fantasia’s penchant for quirky, romantic, yet bizarre films in his When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep, while Satoshi Miki’s It’s Me, It’s Me goes from quirky to freaky faster than the fastest of zombies. Which, coincidentally, prove their continued popularity, in film at least, in the post-apocalyptic Zombie Hunter, starring Machete’s Danny Trejo. Hong Kong-based director Johnnie To delves further into the gangster-suspense genre (popular at Fantasia) in Drug War; and Croatian director Branko Schmidt offers up Vegetarian Cannibal, darker and more subversive than its title suggests.
Fiction and fantasy aren’t the only obsessions of Fantasia: documentaries are hot too, and this year’s docs shed light on some behind-the-scenes movie action. Jeffrey Schwartz’s I Am Divine, an official selection of the SXSW music festival, looks at the life of John Waters collaborator Divine, otherwise known as performance artist Harris Glen Milstead; the brother of Tom Berninger, frontman of rock band The National, follows the band on tour in Mistaken for Strangers; the now-retro and almost-obsolete VHS tape is the subject of Rewind This; and peek into the dark side of the ‘70s in Sheldon Renan’s The Killing of America. And this year’s offers something a little different for a film festival: horror writer Clive Barker’s play The History of the Devil, the story of a lonely Satan who stages a trail to be allowed back into heaven, in a live a three-night run at Place des Arts, produced by Montreal’s Title 66 Productions.
Fantasia doesn’t limit itself to the confines of air-conditioned theatres, taking advantage of the fine summer weather to host several outdoor screenings. On July 22, the fest joins Just for Laughs at the festival’s Videotron Stage outdoors in the Quartier des Spectacles to go back in time to the silent era: watch three comedy classics starring comedy legends Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy, with composer Gabriel Thibaudeau playing rousing piano accompaniment. And right before the festival official begins, Fantasia Under the Stars screens films downtown at Parc de la Paix next door to the SAT on St-Laurent, July 10-11 and July 13-14, setting the mood each night at 7 p.m. with a gourmet BBQ eats and electronic-music DJs, followed by films at 9 p.m. See South Korean director Yim Pil-Sung’s Hansel & Gretel (French subtitles) on July 10 and, on July 11, a series of fake horror movie trailers put together by Quebec horror-fiends Pierrot Néron and Carnior. On July 13, see three episodes of the 1975 Japanese sci-fi TV show The Goldorak Event and on July 14, see 1975 Italian cult film A Genius, Two Friends and an Idiot. Outside under the stars or indoors in the dark, Fantasia consistently brings the strange, scary and suspenseful to town.
Fantasia International Film Festival, July 18–August 7, 2013