By MICHAEL GINGOLD
The long-running Montreal-based genre showcase has a slew of exciting movies coming in its 25th edition.
Like last year’s event, the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival will be a virtual event, available to audiences across Canada on a screening platform created by Festival Scope and Shift72. This year, the fest is putting a focus on Japanese cinema, though the extensive initial round of features hails from all over the world. In addition to the previously announced opening film, Julien Knafo’s Quebecois zombie comedy BRAIN FREEZE, the lineup includes the following:
- Brace yourself for THE LAST THING MARY SAW (pictured above), a breathtaking period occult drama set in an isolated farmhouse in the winter of 1843, where a young woman is under investigation following the mysterious death of her family’s matriarch. It soon becomes apparent that ageless forces are at play, from within and without. An eerie and hypnotic nightmare vision from debuting writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti, starring Stefanie Scott (INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3), Isabelle Fuhrman (ORPHAN), Judith Roberts (YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE), and Rory Culkin (LORDS OF CHAOS). WORLD PREMIERE.
- Welcome back to Hyakkaoh Academy, where the students engage in compulsive gambling to climb the social ladder, but this time around the return of a demented alumni will wreak a new kind of havoc on the school. KAKEGURUI 2: ULTIMATE RUSSIAN ROULETTE, written and directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa (PROJECT DREAMS), raises the stakes beyond money and clout to a game of life and death. This highly creative, colorful, and thrilling manga adaptation makes a reinvented poker game as engaging as a championship match. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
- Richard Bates Jr. has been a longstanding member of the Fantasia Family with fest favorites EXCISION, TRASH FIRE, TONE-DEAF and SUBURBAN GOTHIC. We’re thrilled to announce his return with the outlandish KING KNIGHT, an outsider’s outsider comedy starring Matthew Gray Gubler and Angela Sarafyan as Thorn and Willow, husband-and-wife high priest and priestess of a coven of witches in a small California community. When Willow unearths a secret from Thorn’s past, their lives are thrown into turmoil in this kooky, clever treat, decked with a wild cast that includes Nelson Franklin, Johnny Pemberton, Barbara Crampton, Ray Wise, Andy Milonakis, and the voices of Aubrey Plaza and AnnaLynne McCord. WORLD PREMIERE.
- Six high school friends reunite for a wedding ceremony in the newest feature from Fantasia favorite Daigo Matsui. They reconnect as if no time has passed, but there’s an unspoken question lingering in the air, as one of them should not be there. Adapted from a stage play inspired by the death of a real-life friend, REMAIN IN TWILIGHT takes audiences on a bittersweet, grief-stricken journey at the crossroads between a buddy comedy and supernatural drama. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
- The new wave of South African genre cinema continues to astonish in INDEMNITY, the feature directorial debut of Gambit Films’ Travis Taute, co-writer and executive producer of Nosipho Dumisa’s Fantasia-award-winner NUMBER 37 (and director of the originating short) and a writer and director on the hit Netflix series BLOOD & WATER. A subversive, high-tension action thriller that follows a fireman (Jarrid Geduld) with an anguished past who finds himself on the run for a crime he has no memory of, the knockout feature speaks to the horrors of the international arms trade and the use of trauma itself as a weapon. Co-starring Gail Mabalane (BLOOD & WATER), Andre Jacobs (BLACK VENUS), Nicole Fortuin (FLATLAND) and Tshamano Sebe (8, a Fantasia 2019 breakout premiere). WORLD PREMIERE.
- Punk iconoclast Masashi Yamamoto is back with WONDERFUL PARADISE, a demented spin on the unwanted-guest scenario that builds and builds until all notions of cinematic realism are thrown out the window and social constructs–of family, class, and Japanese decorum–are skewered by mayhem. Moving out of their house in the wealthy suburbs of Tokyo, the Sasayas find the transition made all the more complicated after their daughter posts an open party invite online for anyone to join, inviting a parade of estranged family, jilted lovers and supernatural surprises into their lives. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
- 1876. A young girl (Haizea Carneros) is severely injured when a religious orphanage is bombed during the third Carlist war. On the verge of death, she is healed by a mysterious woman (Itziar Ituño) whom she perceives to be an angel. They are soon separated, the child left to fend for herself–for decades upon decades. With ALL THE MOONS, director Igor Legarreta masterfully employs the tenets of vampire lore as the basis for an intimate epic dealing with themes of life and death, love and loneliness, devotion and intolerance. Impeccably crafted, it ranks among the best of vampire cinema. INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE.
- Based on the beloved TV series by the same name, Toya Sato’s CAUTION, HAZARDOUS WIFE stars Haruka Ayase (REAL) as an amnesiac housewife living a quiet life with her perfect husband (Hidetoshi Nishijima, CREEPY). As her memories begin to return, she discovers an unexpected and dangerous side to herself she never predicted. Combining first-rate fight choreography with a winning comedic charisma from Ayase, CAUTION, HAZARDOUS WIFE is an absolute must-see for any action fan. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
- Actor turned director Mark O’Brien (READY OR NOT, ARRIVAL) makes his feature debut with the slow-burn, character-driven occult chiller THE RIGHTEOUS, one of the year’s most thrilling genre discoveries that takes full advantage of Newfoundland’s maritime otherworldliness while blending timeless themes with an inventive and exciting filmmaking approach. A former priest who left the church to start a family is gripped by tragedy after his child’s death, and the life of him and his wife are thrown into further chaos upon the arrival of a mysterious young stranger. The film is written and directed by O’Brien, who also co-stars in the film alongside his READY OR NOT castmate Henry Czerny and a terrific Mimi Kuzyk (LOST AND DELIRIOUS). WORLD PREMIERE.
- A death metal singer must team up with the ghost of her recently deceased father to uncover a scheme underway at the company he left behind… and miraculously save his life! A punchy, playful, and pleasingly morbid comedy romp, NOT QUITE DEAD YET mixes up a quick-paced concoction of corporate intrigue, family melodrama, and supernatural silliness. With deft timing, first-time director Shinji Hamasaki orchestrates an outstanding cast of sympathetic characters interpreted by stars Suzu Hirose (CHIHAYAFURU), Ryo Yoshizawa (BLEACH), and Shinichi Tsutsumi (THE MOLE SONG). NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
- After a botched burglary, a pair of criminals take refuge in the house of a single mother as they wait on their getaway driver to hash an escape plan in Mikhael Bassilli and Luc Walpoth’s phenomenal BABY MONEY. Mounting suspense, textured characters and jolting storytelling come together in this powerhouse, pulse-racing crime thriller. Led by a remarkable cast that includes Danay Garcia (FEAR THE WALKING DEAD), Taja V. Simpson (THE OVAL), Michael Drayer (MR. ROBOT), and Joey Kern (GOOD BEHAVIOR) alongside newcomer Vernon Taylor III, an exceptional special-needs talent. WORLD PREMIERE.
- While theatres were shut down due to COVID-19, young Kabuki-actor Kazutaro Nakamura decided to unite with many unique artists to create ART KABUKI, a compelling filmed performance under the subject of “Play, Beauty and Life.” A visually stunning modern take on a centuries-old, traditional art form, Nakamura succeeds exceptionally at inspiring hope and joy through creativity in these difficult times. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
- An occult, coming-of-age film unlike any you’ve seen, HELLBENDER is the extraordinary new creation from the Adams Family (John Adams, Toby Poser, Zelda Adams), the gifted filmmaking family behind 2019’s indie sensation THE DEEPER YOU DIG. It further affirms their stature as singular poets of the genre, making soulful and wholly original works with a one-of-a-kind look and feel, this time in the dreamy story of a lonely teenage girl (Zelda Adams) who finds guidance in her family’s suppressed supernatural lineage. HELLBENDER imaginatively explores questions of identity, instinct, and power roles in youth and parenthood alike. An uncanny film that’s all at once haunting, heartfelt, freakish and fun. WORLD PREMIERE.
- 12 years after BURATINO, SON OF PINOCCHIO, Rasmus Merivoo has returned to filmmaking with KRATT. In a small Estonian village, two kids (Nora and Harri Merivoo, the director’s own children), hoping to get out of farm work, bring the local legend of The Kratt–a Terminator-like demonic spirit that must always be fed work, or else–to life so they can escape their chores, but in doing so they may bring about the destruction of all human life on earth! It’s pretty safe to say that no other movie at Fantasia 2021 will reach KRATT’s delightful preposterousness–unless another Estonian dry comedy/fantasy/political commentary comes along to outplace it. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
- After his car breaks down, Glen (Vincent Kartheiser, MAD MEN) spends one hell of an odd night with a married couple, setting into motion a chain of events that alter their lives plus those of several random strangers. That’s the official synopsis of Rob Schroeder’s ingenious ULTRASOUND and it’s best we don’t say a word more without running the risk of ruining the film’s endlessly twisty surprises that easily make it one of the most engrossing and unexpected genre creations of the year. Co-starring Breeda Wool (MR. MERCEDES), Chelsea Lopez (ARE WE NOT CATS), Tunde Adebimpe (RACHEL GETTING MARRIED), Rainey Qualley (OCEAN’S 8), and Bob Stephenson (LADY BIRD). INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE.
In the Fantasia Underground section:
- Born out of an acting workshop and shot on an iPhone, the charmingly inventive BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES focuses on a small group of friends trying to make sense of a time loop that gives them a two-minute insight into the immediate future. A directorial debut from newcomer Junta Yamaguchi, the film plays like ONE CUT FROM THE DEAD meets TENET and uses meager resources to create a hilarious and crowd-pleasing film that’s already wowed audiences and won awards at BIFFF and Fantaspoa. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
In the Docs from the Edge section:
- The ’80s were the most fruitful years for direct-to-video oddities and in Uruguay, ACT OF VIOLENCE IN A YOUNG JOURNALIST, by Manuel Lamas, is the strangest of them all. Never seen outside of its country of origin, the film has been celebrated as a cult film (à la THE ROOM) by homegrown cinephiles and camp aficionados, while its origins have remained shrouded in mystery for decades… Until now! The behind-the-scenes mystery thickens in Emilio Silva Torres’ feature debut STRAIGHT TO VHS as we tag along on a quest with eccentric characters and through creepy locations to find the man behind one the oddest VHSes ever made. INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE.
In the Camera Lucida section:
- Like so many actors, Takumi Saitoh (playing a version of himself) is out of work due to COVID-19. He sits at home, and wonders what to do. Until kaiju expert Shinji Higuchi (ATTACK ON TITAN, SHIN GODZILLA) smartly suggests he buy capsule monsters online to defeat the virus. As film productions shut down across Japan, maestro Shunji Iwai turned to Zoom, the online lingua franca of these pandemic times, for THE 12 DAY TALE OF THE MONSTER THAT DIED IN 8. An ambitious slice of lockdown-life where fact, fiction, and inner worlds blend together. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
- Since birth, Uno (Luciano Pedro Jr.)–son of a taxi man–has had the peculiar ability of talking to cars. Together with his unhinged uncle he sets out to modernize his father’s fleet for a new conscientious age. Enter Carro Rei, the sentient car of the future…and an apt emblem for its undoing. Casting a critical light on Brazil’s ongoing populist nightmare and the limits of progressivism in a machine-driven, late-capitalist framework, Renata Pinheiro’s KING CAR takes place in an ominous junkyard universe. A film of the moment, wherein our machine fetish becomes a self-fulfilling tragedy. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
- Canadian genre experimentalist Seth A. Smith (LOWLIFE, THE CRESCENT) returns to the section with TIN CAN, a timely, yet thoroughly unpredictable science-fiction-cum-survival-thriller and a marvel of Sci-Fi design. In a world being ravaged by a mysterious fungal infection, Fret is the leading parasitologist studying to control it–until she’s kidnapped and wakes up in a human-sized tin can. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
- In AGNES, the latest from prolific filmmaker Mickey Reece (CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER), a dissident priest and a bright-eyed neophyte are sent to investigate rumors of demonic possession at a convent. Both will be met with temptation as the strange goings-on test their faith, as well as that of one specific nun in residence. This structurally daring film tests the narrow-minded restrictions of (self) narrative and memory, as well as those of institutional religion. Starring Hayley McFarland (THE CONJURING), Jake Horowitz (THE VAST OF NIGHT), and Ben Hall (MINARI), and featuring Sean Gunn, Rachel True, Chris Browning, and Molly C. Quinn. INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE.
In the Axis animation section:
- Beastly behavior abounds in Avid Liongoren’s HAYOP KA! THE NIMFA DIMAANO STORY, a steamy soap opera satire from the Philippines. The decidedly adult-oriented animation, which boasts a fully Filipino cast and crew, follows Nimfa the cat as she searches for true love and happiness and must decide between the two dogs in her life. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
- Midnight mischief is afoot in LITTLE VAMPIRE, the latest film adaptation from France’s Joann Sfar (THE RABBI’S CAT), who both created the original children’s comic and helm’s the magically monstrous and endearingly morbid feature about the unlikely friendship between a never-aging vampire and a human boy. NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE.
The second wave will be announced in June and the complete lineup unveiled in late July, with ticket sales beginning shortly thereafter. For more information on Fantasia, visit its official website.