By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Some of the year’s most eagerly awaited fright flicks are coming to the Canadian event.
The 27th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival takes place July 20-August 9 in Montreal, with screenings taking place largely at the Concordia Hall Cinema and also at the Cinémathèque québécoise and Cinéma du Musée. Joining the first round of movies announced here are the following features:
Coming to christen Fantasia’s 27th edition days after its Karlovy Vary competition debut, RED ROOMS (LES CHAMBRES ROUGES, pictured above) is the haunting third feature from celebrated Quebec filmmaker Pascal Plante (FAKE TATTOOS, NADIA, BUTTERFLY). The high-profile case of serial killer Ludovic Chevalier (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, STANLEYVILLE) has just gone to trial, and Kelly-Anne (Juliette Gariépy, BOOST) is obsessed. When reality blurs with her morbid fantasies, she goes down a dark path to seek the final piece of the case’s puzzle. Opening Film. North American Premiere.
Award-winning director Yuval Adler (BETHLEHEM) reunites with Joel Kinnaman following 2020’s THE SECRETS WE KEEP and brings Nicolas Cage on board to deliver one of the most intense performances of his career in SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL. After being forced to drive a mysterious passenger at gunpoint, a man finds himself in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse where nothing is as it seems. This riveting crime thriller will leave you breathless. International Premiere.
When a group of friends discover how to conjure spirits using an embalmed hand, they become hooked on the new thrill, until one of them goes too far and unleashes terrifying supernatural forces. An astonishing feature debut from Australian filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou, TALK TO ME is an exhilarating rollercoaster that balances imaginative scares with emotionally nuanced characters and an ingeniously original concept. It became an instant classic from the moment of its lauded Sundance premiere, and Fantasia couldn’t be prouder to host the film’s national debut. Stars Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen and Miranda Otto. Canadian Premiere.
An urgent Ukrainian screenlife film that will have your heart in your throat, shot against the actual Russian invasion, STAY ONLINE is the gripping feature debut of Eva Strelnikova. Katya (Liza Zaitseva), a volunteer from Kyiv fighting against the invasion of Ukraine, uses a laptop donated to the resistance and comes into contact with the young son of the computer’s original owner, who is desperately in search of his missing parents. Her attempts to help the child will see her risk all she holds dear. Being the festival where screenlife storytelling was first introduced to audiences with UNFRIENDED in 2014, Fantasia is especially proud to be world-premiering this landmark film, an intimately human thriller about war, made in war. World Premiere.
Equal parts crazy cartoon caper, shadowy film noir, nostalgic escapade, and steampunk fantasy, KURAYUKABA is a retro-flavored anime reimagining of the freewheeling Taisho era, Japan’s equivalent of the Roaring Twenties. It’s the long-awaited personal project of director Shigeyoshi Tsukahara, whose résumé includes stage design for adventurous pop-rock superstars Sekai no Owari. Preceded by a pair of rare short films by Tsukahara, Fantasia’s world premiere of KURAYUKABA is a chance to discover a distinctive emerging talent in the anime field. Axis Section. World Premiere.
Back to Fantasia for the first time since the 2016 premiere of LITTLE SISTER, director Zach Clark goes extraterrestrial with his latest, THE BECOMERS. A romantic tale of two body-swapping aliens trying to find their place on this big, dumb planet, THE BECOMERS combines lo-fi aesthetics with Clark’s signature sharp, sardonic comic talents. An off-kilter dark comedy navigating the strange and often off-putting contemporary American landscape, at its heart THE BECOMERS stands out as one of the great love stories of our age. World Premiere.
In ROMI, AI takes control when a young woman hides out in a state-of-the-art smart home while evading the law. As her reality unravels, she discovers she’s not the only one with secrets. Director Robert Cuffley first explored the horrors of AI in his 2019 short of the same name, and now he’s expanded the terror to a feature-length film. Starring Alexa Barajas (YELLOWJACKETS), Juan Riedinger (EXCESS FLESH, RICEBOY SLEEPS), Pavel Kríz (MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL) and Jocelyn Chugg as the omniscient ROMI, this safe house is anything but! Septentrion Shadows section. World Premiere.
An anachronistic firefighter, a quotidian poet and an expert soup-maker, Ducarmel (Emery Habwineza) also plays in a competitive basketball league. There’s only one problem with his hobbies: finding a babysitter to look after his daughter. Moreover, when he dozes off in the evening, he dreams…a little too forcefully. In his bizarre dream world, a beguiling blue book reigns, love looms, and he is the best basketball player of all time. Shot on magnificent, hazy 16mm film, IRLANDE CAHIER BLEU is the latest from Québec cinema’s iconoclastic Olivier Godin–offering a unique genre vision that alternates between dreams and reality, poetry and canny comedy. Camera Lucida section. World Premiere.
Fantasia’s world premiere of THE PRIMEVALS represents the culmination of a longtime dream harbored by visual effects wizard David Allen, whose career stretched from 1970’s EQUINOX through Oscar-nominated work on YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, WILLOW and beyond. Allen first conceived THE PRIMEVALS as a vehicle for his stop-motion talents in the 1970s and finally began directing the film in the 1990s under producer and Full Moon Features founder Charles Band, for whom he’d brought all manner of beasties to life. Sadly, the film’s completion was scuttled by Allen’s death from cancer in 1999 at just 54 years old. For the last many years, Band and longtime Allen associate Chris Endicott (THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR) have worked to see the film to completion, and it emerges at Fantasia as a glorious tribute to the classic films of Ray Harryhausen, with a true sense of adventure and eye-popping stop-motion animation. Special-effects fans will not want to miss this. World Premiere.
Nakami (Daiken Okudaira), an introverted young loner, takes refuge in the largely abandoned observatory at Kuyo High School, where he meets Magari (Nana Mori), an enigmatic and spontaneous student. Both suffering from chronic insomnia, they decide to revive the school’s astronomy club. INSOMNIACS AFTER SCHOOL, a magnificent adaptation of Makoto Ojiro’s popular manga masterfully directed by filmmaker Chihiro Ikeda, is a gentle immersion into the Japanese school life of a pair of endearing misfits. The luminous, moving story, portrayed with aplomb by two extremely talented actors, will stay with you long after viewing this exquisitely delicate work. International Premiere.
Random strangers have suddenly started attacking the otherwise unremarkable Vincent (Karim Leklou) with murderous intent. As things spiral violently out of control, he is forced to flee and change his life completely. Coming to Fantasia hot off its acclaimed Cannes Critics Week debut, Stéphan Castang’s phenomenal VINCENT MUST DIE (VINCENT DOIT MOURIR) is a high-energy kaleidoscope of genres–at once a horror, comedy, romance, fantasy and thriller–all working together. This is a thoughtful, pure-cinema experience to be savored and reckoned with. North American Premiere.
Mikoto (Riko Fujitani) works as a waitress at the Fujiya Inn, in a wintry valley town near Kyoto. As she stares momentarily into the river nearby–a blink, a lifetime–something feels off: the inn is looping…two minutes at a time! Microbudget time-travel maestro Junta Yamaguchi (BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES) is back, offering a savvy update on his innovative “tiny loop” concept. RIVER culminates into a multifaceted portrait of place as the various guests, employees and hosts band together to solve the mystery of the valley stuck in time. North American Premiere.
Bangladeshi folklore is rife with ghosts and unforgiving spirits, all deeply connected to its people’s collective history of injustice and societal dread. PETT KATA SHAW, an anthology inspired by oral legends from Bangladesh, is written and directed by Nuhash Humayun, the breakout star of Bangladeshi horror cinema. Winner of the Midnight Shorts Competition at SXSW as well as a Gold Audience Award at Fantasia 2022, his short film MOSHARI was the first Bangladeshi production ever to qualify for an Academy Award, catching the attention of Jordan Peele and Riz Ahmed. Reinvented in a contemporary setting, the spine-chilling tales of PETT KATA SHAW don’t shy away from issues such as mental health, religion, climate change, and gender roles. North American Premiere.
2041. People have a constitutional right to experience one full life. If someone dies an unnatural death, they are revived. All that’s needed is to regularly create a restore point–a backup where one’s memory is saved like a computer. Murder is nearly impossible. Nearly. A detective (Andrea Mohylová) attempts to solve the violent killing of a couple after only one of the victims (Václav Neužil, ZATOPEK) is brought back to life. The first Czech science-fiction feature in over 40 years, Robert Hloz’s RESTORE POINT is a provocative and visually sumptuous neo-noir creation that’s already being likened to MINORITY REPORT. Official Selection: Karlovy Vary 2023. North American Premiere.
In KILLING ROMANCE, a disgraced star (Lee Ha-nee, PHANTOM) and her bumbling student neighbor who can talk to animals (Gong Myoung, EXTREME JOB) decide to do away with her awful husband (Lee Sun-kyun, PARASITE), but the best laid plans of the unlikely duo are dubious at best. Director Lee Won-suk, who won an Audience Award at Fantasia 2013 for HOW TO USE GUYS WITH SECRET TIPS, delivers his best feature to date with this madcap musical comedy. Imaginative, hilarious, and visually sumptuous, this film conjures up superb tableaux that borrow as much from comic strips as from Hollywood classics. Canadian Premiere.
Though just 18 years old, Alice Maio Mackay (SO VAM) is a fearless heir to the Queer Horror Canon. T BLOCKERS, her third feature, is an unapologetically trans homage to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS brimming with youthful energy and a punk attitude. Equal parts gross-out comic horror and heartwarming coming of age, T BLOCKERS is about a young trans filmmaker obsessed with a thought-to-be-long-lost film and the spread of a violent infectious parasite. Mackay channels Gregg Araki and John Waters in this playful and defiant sci-fi horror. Canadian Premiere.
A psychiatrist falls into a downward spiral of sex, possession, and death when a young patient shows up at her door with symptoms that are of another world. Heather Graham and Judah Lewis star in SUITABLE FLESH, Joe Lynch’s loving tribute to the late Stuart Gordon that reunites actress Barbara Crampton, screenwriter Dennis Paoli, and executive producer Brian Yuzna to forge a macabre supernatural erotic horror film straight from the depths of the abyss. Adapted from H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep.” Official Selection: Tribeca Film Festival 2023. Canadian Premiere.
Basketball has always given Ryota and his teammates a sense of purpose, and they’ll do whatever it takes to win the championship, in THE FIRST SLAM DUNK, the first new feature-length film from the globally cherished franchise in 33 years. An incredibly dynamic, electrifying underdog story loaded with inspiring moments, it’s the latest entry in Takehiko Inoue’s iconic franchise that’s had a huge impact in Japan. Written and directed by Inoue himself, making his directorial debut, his love for basketball is evident from start to finish through the stunning mix of CG and hand-drawn animation. THE FIRST SLAM DUNK not only made history at the Japanese box office as one of the top 10 highest-grossing anime films of all time but also won the Japan Academy Film Prize for Best Animation of the Year. Axis Section. Canadian Premiere.
Additional second-wave titles:
#MANHOLE (Japan)–Dir. Kazuyoshi Kumakiri: Successful salesman Shunsuke falls into a concrete manhole with no way out in this clever, gory nailbiter. A tale with more twists than a corkscrew factory, and an elegant balance of black humor, social satire, and nerve-wracking tension. Official Selection: Berlinale 2023. Canadian Premiere.
AS LONG AS WE BOTH SHALL LIVE (Japan)–Dir. Ayuko Tsukahara: Set in a fantastical version of 19th-century Japan, this romantic epic follows a tortured young woman who, after being married off to a ruthless military commander, still hopes for a better future. Adapted from a popular light novel series by Akumi Agitogi. Quebec Premiere.
DEEP SEA (China)–Dir. Tian Xiaopeng: The ocean’s depths are alive with dreams and nightmares in this emotionally courageous fantasy from director Tian Xiaopeng (MONKEY KING: HERO IS BACK). Using a cutting-edge digital particle-animation technique to emulate traditional ink-wash painting, Tian has created a visual spectacle of unprecedented richness, which will be screened, as it deserves, in 3D. Axis section. Canadian Premiere.
DIVINITY (USA)–Dir. Eddie Alcazar: In a barren future wasteland, two cosmic brothers abduct a mad pharmaceutical mogul on a quest for immortality. A face-meltingly stylized sci-fi mind trip produced by Steven Soderbergh, starring Scott Bakula, Stephen Dorff and Bella Thorne. Official Selection: Sundance 2023. Canadian Premiere.
IN MY MOTHER’S SKIN (Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan)–Dir. Kenneth Dagatan: In the final, dire days of the Second World War, the young Tala discovers something otherworldly in the woods. A Filipino folk-horror fairy tale set in a time of perfidy, dread, and desolation. Official Selection: Sundance 2023. Canadian Premiere.
JOURNEY TO THE WEST (China)–Dir. Kong Dashan: Tang Zhijun, the middle-aged, down-and-out editor-in-chief of a science fiction magazine, embarks on a final journey to find aliens. A workplace mockumentary tour-de-force! Camera Lucida section. Canadian Premiere.
LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL (Australia)–Dirs: Colin and Cameron Cairnes: A career-best performance by David Dastmalchian headlines this innovative and nightmarish horror treat in which a live television broadcast in 1977 goes horribly wrong, unleashing evil into the nation’s living rooms. Accurately hailed by Stephen King as “absolutely brilliant.” Official Selection: SXSW 2023, Overlook 2023. Canadian Premiere.
MAD FATE (Hong Kong)–Dir. Soi Cheang: A demented fortune teller and a “born psychopath” try to beat fate and solve a murder in this madcap supernatural neo-noir, produced by Johnnie To’s Milkyway Image. Opening Film: Hong Kong International Film Festival. Official selection: Berlinale 2023. Canadian Premiere.
MAMI WATA (Nigeria, France, UK)–Dir. C.J. Obasi: An ancient water deity reigns over progress and power in this stunning and expressionistic African saga. Special Jury Prize, World Cinema Dramatic Competition, Sundance 2023. Camera Lucida section. Canadian Premiere.
MARRY MY DEAD BODY (Taiwan)–Dir. Cheng Wei-Hao: Ghost stories, gangsters, and gay pride collide in this three-way of supernatural goosebumps, high-octane thrills and odd-couple comedy. Official selection: Taipei Golden Horse 2022. Canadian Premiere.
MOLLI AND MAX IN THE FUTURE (USA)–Dir: Michael Lukk Litwak: Zosia Mamet and Aristotle Athari charm in this wildly endearing sci-fi romantic comedy about a man and woman whose orbits repeatedly collide over the course of 12 years, four planets, three dimensions, and one space-cult. Winner: Best Feature, Fantaspoa International Film Festival 2023. Canadian Premiere.
MY ANIMAL (Canada)–Dir: Jacqueline Castel: First pitched at the Frontières Market in 2019, this transformative queer horror drama flips the script of GINGER SNAPS, giving the slow-burn lycanthropic love story at its core some serious bite. Stars Bobbie Salvör Menuez and Amandla Stenberg, with Stephen McHattie, Scott MacDonald and Heidi von Palleske topping off Castel’s stunning feature debut about young lovers and an accursed family legacy. Official Selection: Sundance 2023. Septentrion Shadows section. Canadian Premiere.
PERPETRATOR (USA)–Dir: Jennifer Reeder: Kiah McKirnan, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Lowell and Ireon Roach star in a poetic and hyper-original genre creation of the kind that only Jennifer Reeder could make. At its core, it is a horror film inspired by the shared experience of generations of women. Official Selection: Berlinale 2023, Tribeca Film Festival 2023. Canadian Premiere.
SHIN KAMEN RIDER (Japan)–Dir. Hideaki Anno: The masked, motorcycle-riding dark superhero Kamen Rider embarks on a rampage of destruction to stop an evil organization in Hideaki Anno’s latest tokusatsu reimagining, this time of the enormously popular superhero franchise. Special Screening.
WITH LOVE AND A MAJOR ORGAN (Canada)–Dir: Kim Albright: In a world where our hearts are removable objects and we’re ruled by an app, it’s tricky to find authentic love. Anabel refuses to live via tech and falls for the emotionless George, impulsively ripping her heart out for him and turning her world upside down. This darkly funny fantasy with quirky charm stars Anna Maguire (VIOLATION), Hamza Haq (TRANSPLANT) and Veena Sood (CHILDREN RUIN EVERYTHING). Official Selection: SXSW 2023. Septentrion Shadows section. Canadian Premiere.
There will also be a special book-launch event for DARK MATTER PRESENTS: HAUNTED REELS, an anthology published by Dark Matter Ink and curated by David Lawson Jr., with 28 stories spanning horror, science fiction, alternate history and other genres, all written by genre filmmakers. A number of the authors will be on hand for live readings, including Jay Baruchel, C. Robert Cargill, Gary Sherman, Sarah Bolger, The Pierce Brothers, Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead and more. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.
The complete lineup of Fantasia 2023 films will be announced in early July, and ticket sales will commence shortly thereafter. You can find the festival’s official website here.