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Best Films of Fantasia Film Festival 2019 Best Films of Fantasia Film Festival 2019

Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: The Best of the Fest

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The Best Films of Fantasia 2019

Horror, fantasy, Hong Kong action, animation, strange documentaries, thought-provoking science-fiction, Japanese new wave, and martial arts are just among the many genres the Fantasia Film Festival covered in its twenty-third year of programming. Famous for being the largest genre film festival in North America, Fantasia is packed with Canadian, North American and worldwide feature-length premieres as well as shorts. This year’s line-up did not disappoint.

With over 130 films screened, it’s impossible to see them all. Festival veterans and newcomers alike had a stunning choice of movies to discover and while it may not have been Fantasia’s strongest year (that honour still goes to the 12th edition) the lineup was incredibly strong once again.

After twenty-two exhausting days of nonstop movie watching (and writing), our staff has watched over 70 films and written well over 40 reviews and now we’re ready to reveal our personal favourites. In no particular order, here is the list of movies we most recommend watching when and if you ever have the chance.

Side note: We will still be producing a ton of coverage over the next four days, so be sure to check back for more reviews, features and even a podcast.

Dead Dicks


Dead Dicks

Those of you searching for truly original work, look no further. This impressive first feature from Montreal-based duo Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer is one of the most unusual films ever fashioned out of the fears of depression. The script alone is a marvel of subtlety and intelligence, and for a micro-budget film made in a span of only ten days, Dead Dicks is funny, unexpected, and engaging. 

Dead Dicks is the surprise hit of this year’s Fantasia Film Festival — an ingeniously engineered slash of modern horror that doubles as a poignant family drama addressing topics of dependency, identity, and mental illness. It is clear that Dead Dicks is also a deeply personal film, and one can feel the passion and love that went into making each and every frame. (Ricky D)

Read the full review.

Come to Daddy


Come to Daddy

Come to Daddy is a genre-bender and one of the finest genre films of 2019. It’s a grueling little noirish thriller with slasher-worthy gore and humour that is sure to make audiences laugh. There’s no shortage of scenes that you’ll watch through your fingers but you’ll watch all the same to witness the many secrets, successful twists, and brilliant performances it offers. Come to Daddy is certainly a strikingly assured first feature and recommended viewing for genre fans everywhere. (Ricky D)

Read the full review.

A Good Woman is Hard to Find


A Good Woman is Hard to Find

Though at times it may seem as quiet and unassuming as its main character, A Good Woman is Hard to Find is a low-key thriller that knows how to draw attention to itself at just the right moments, expertly building tension from muted scenarios before punctuating them with bloody release. Though an anticlimactic end perhaps puts too neat a bow around the otherwise messy and fascinating package, confident direction and compelling performances bolster the deliberately paced story, resulting in low-key thriller that is rarely less than gripping.

This story of a blue-collar, widowed mother whose husband was recently murdered falls square into the ‘pushed too far’ section of the genre, as she is subjected to daily humiliations and the threats of a goofy-yet-menacing two-bit drug peddler. Eventually, the dam must burst, and the young woman must fight back. But what separates A Good Woman is Hard to Find from much of the empowerment pack is just how skillfully it paints its picture, never putting a halo over anyone’s head. Writer-director Abner Pastoll mostly maintains a more grounded subtlety, not afraid to understand that human beings come in shades. So, while the sadistic crime boss might not feel too out of place in a Guy Ritchie film, the rest of the characters are given dimension enough to keep viewers on their toes.

The proceedings eventually come to a boil in a brilliantly staged and edited event that is appropriately bloody and squirm-inducing, but the lack of sensationalism preceding it increases the impact. Anchored by Sarah Bolger’s powerful performance as a suppressed woman finally discovering what she might be capable of, and showcasing Pastoll’s confident, steady direction, A Good Woman is Hard to Find is a subtle thriller to look out for. (Patrick Murphy)

Read the full review.

Lake Michigan Monster


Lake Michigan Monster

Emerging from the murky depths of the state of Wisconsin, Lake Michigan Monster is a dizzying whirlpool of goofiness that manages to bizarrely combine the hit-or-miss broadness of a sketch comedy show with a rapid array of mesmerizing imagery that pays homage to black-and-white creature features, the imagination of Georges Méliès, and German expressionism. The resulting freakish spawn might not always swim gracefully, but neither did the rubber suit in The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and both turn out to be quite a bit of fun.

A makeshift plot about a sea-captainy fellow seeking revenge upon the titular beast who killed his father doesn’t hold much water, and those wanting more of a sincere love letter to the kind of cheesy drive-in movies that serve as inspiration might be a tad disappointed at the overt zaniness. Still, it’s hard not to smile at the film’s overall good nature as it zips merrily along, showcasing feverish dream sequences, a pirate painter, a haunted ferry, a magical underwater journey, sneaky tentacle attacks, and a large, spotted egg that may or may not be an abomination of nature. These are all fantastically imagined, and cheap has rarely looked so good; each successive edit holds the promise for something dazzling to appear on screen next, something the film delivers more often than not.

Add a likable cast (even if they come off a bit stilted at time) whose humor is sometimes surprisingly effective to the sheer amount of sensational images that the makers have managed to cram in, and Lake Michigan Monster becomes sunken treasure — a rollicking fish story jam-packed with old-fashioned cinematic goodies. Movie lovers should seek this goofy gem out wherever they can. (Patrick Murphy)

Read the full review.

Shadow


Shadow

Working less as a Shakespearean political drama and more as a small-scale, fantastical period piece, Shadow is decked out in luscious trappings and painterly compositions, bolstered by passionate performances and balletic battles with umbrellas made of blades. The result is both shallow and rich, but remains a look at ancient intrigue that always manages to entertain one way or another.

The story revolves around a body double who has taken the place of the legendary but critically-wounded Commander of the kingdom amid an effort to recapture an ancient city from an uneasy ally. Typical court figures make an appearance, such as a deceitful king, a fiery princess, a sniveling courtier, and a loyal general. They each have Machiavellian schemes of their, spinning webs that will eventually become entangled with one another’s, and those who casually wander into this inter-kingdom squabble will no doubt soon become as lost in the plot as these ancient civilizations themselves.

The real reason to watch Shadow is for the sumptuous look of every frame. Working with a relatively small canvas, director Zhang Yimou has carefully composed grandiose images filled with nuanced staging, deliberate movement, and indelibly rich texture. His choices give otherwise modest engagements an epic feel, and not just in moments where swords are flashed. He is aided greatly by a magnetic cast, whose faces display just the right amount of expression for each conversational duel. They are eminently watchable, completely up to the task of holding down the fort even when besieged by layers of backstabbing that would require a more talented contortionist than the script is capable of.

That’s Shadow itself; from one-on-one political maneuvers to an entertainingly inventive battle involving hundreds, there is almost always something splendid to soak in, even if it makes your head spin. (Patrick Murphy)

Read the full review.

The Father’s Shadow


The Father’s Shadow

Written and directed by Gabriela Amaral Almeida, The Father’s Shadow is the sort of film that only comes around once in a while — the perfect marriage between genre ghoulishness, mystery, and genuinely earned drama, ripe with characters that the viewer deeply desires to see happy by the film’s end. So often ghost and monster movies feature characters that might be funny, might be somewhat engaging, but generally adhere to age-old personality tropes that tick off the boxes needed to make a ‘horror film.’ Then there are more rare breeds like The Father’s Shadow, a movie that strives for something more. Not implicitly better, for that would imply that general horror movie fair is to be snubbed (why would we enjoy Fantasia so much were that the case?), yet aiming for something that makes a horror movie that much more whole, and that much more dramatically satisfying.  (Edgar Chaput)

Read the full review.

Extreme Job


Extreme Job

There is a lot to discover at Fantasia; make no mistake about it. Yes, there are provocative pieces of artistic expression that use genre filmmaking as their platform, and the festival is all the better for offering those filmmakers a venue in which to share their work. Then, there is the other type of movie that the event features: the populist, undeniably charming winner. This is Extreme Job. Leaving the theatre after this movie is like leaving a great restaurant with friends. The stomach is comfortably full, the gang has shared a barrel of laughs, the service was great, and the taste buds are still giddy. Three-star Michelin, it may not be, but damned if it wasn’t an awesome place for a mid-afternoon lunch. (Edgar Chaput)

Read the full review.

Blood On Her Name


Blood On Her Name

Blood on Her Name is a gift from the formidable duo of Matthew Pope and Don M. Thompson, who expertly bathe their film in a realistic southern state atmosphere so authentic that one can practically feel the heat waves from off the screen. There is little question that they understand the ebbs of flows of noir, that most difficult to define of film movements (not a genre, as many a cinephile would quickly retort). Many of its beautifully twisted tropes resonate loudly throughout the film, with the filmmakers adding some modern flavours to the fold, in addition to the aforementioned southern personality, which, to be perfectly honest, brilliantly adds another layer of toughness to the story. There is something to be said about how certain people of the region have a habit of handling their issues with a particular forcefulness or bluntness that makes them unique in the United States. That rugged attitude serves film noir especially well, with Blood on Her Name serving as a prime example of the wonderfully and dangerously charming aura southern USA carries itself with.  (Edgar Chaput)

Read the full review.

Why Don’t you Just Die!


Why Don’t you Just Die

Making a room full of dead bodies funny isn’t nearly as easy as you might think. Black comedy, especially the pitch-black kind that involves things like murder and dismemberment, is probably the hardest kind of comedy to get right. Get something wrong and you just come across as mean-spirited — or worse yet, you fail to be funny entirely. But when one gets the formula right, the result is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser (especially if your crowd is at Fantasia). A fairly simple narrative that takes place mostly in one cramped apartment, Why Don’t You Just Die! is the kind of film guaranteed to have its audience caught in a constant stream of “ohhhhs” as characters careen headlong through walls, or have CRT TVs collide with their faces at unhealthy speeds. Like a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon, the film is a cavalcade of brutal violence and dry wit, but with gory consequences to the former. Crude, messy, and over-the-top in all the right ways, it might just go down as this year’s best Fantasia crowd-pleaser. (Thomas O’Connor)

Read the full review.

1BR


1BR

For the most part, we all want a place to belong — a community that loves us and accepts us and pushes us to be the best versions of ourselves. 1BR takes this need and poses the question of what we’d be willing to endure to obtain that. Would we be willing to undergo the brutal events that befall poor Sarah? To potentially surrender a significant portion of our agency in order to find such a group? It seems like an easy question, but Marmour and his cast throw doubt into the mix — seemingly for Sarah, and in all likelihood, for much of the audience as well. Community and belonging are intoxicating things, and sometimes come at a high cost. But how high is too high? After seeing the film, you may not be so sure anymore. (Thomas O’Connor)

Read the full review.

The Purity of Vengeance


The Purity of Vengeance

The fourth installment of the popular Department Q series, adapted from the novels by Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen, has all the elements of a great thriller. A gloriously macabre crime scene is discovered, seemingly ripped from the pages of an EC Horror comic, that includes three mummified corpses seated around a set table in a walled-off room. Two hard-bitten detectives take the case, but what begins as a simple murder investigation soon leads to a sinister conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of government. There are explosions, chases, a shootout or two, and the airing out of some very dirty laundry from Denmark’s past. While lacking a degree of cinematic flair, The Purity of Vengeance is a cracker of a movie, with an engaging cast and an unflinching desire to bringing the injustices of the past into the light. (Thomas O’Connor)

Read the full review.

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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Fantasia Film Festival

‘Harpoon’ — A Nasty Thriller that Mostly Hits the Target

Fantasia 2019

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Harpoon is best described as Dead Calm meets Alive. It follows Jonah (Munro Chambers), Sasha (Emily Tyra), and Richard (Christopher Gray)— a trio of unlikable friends with some serious issues who do horrible things to one another for roughly eighty-two minutes.

After Richard, the son of a mob boss suspects his best friend Jonah and long-time girlfriend Sasha are having an affair, it sends him into an uncontrollable rage that leaves Jonah a bruised and bloody mess. Only it seems Richard is wrong (or so they say), and after convincing Richard the allegations are false, Richard invites them on his family’s yacht to celebrate his birthday. It was meant to be a fun day trip in order to win back their trust but as tensions boil and the yacht’s engine fails, Richard’s anger management issues kick in and his birthday present (a speargun mistaken for a harpoon) becomes a threat. Stranded without food, drinking water, and other supplies, their only hope of survival is to set aside their differences and work together. But as secrets continue to be revealed and accusations are made, it seems this fuc*ed-up trio has little to no hope of ever reaching land alive.

Harpoon Movie Review

At its core, Harpoon is really a film about friendship, albeit a toxic friendship between three young adults who have drifted apart but somehow remain bound only by the amount of time they’ve known each other. When the trio are left stranded in the middle of the ocean, both their friendships and their lives are tested in excruciating ways. Rob Grant and co-screenwriter Mike Kovac’s script features an unseen narrator (Brett Gelman) who offers insight into the interpersonal background of the trio along with a clever and amusing history lesson about sailors and their superstitions. It seems the uncontrollable nature of the sea has given way to many a nautical lore, each one as curious as the next and Harpoon dives deep into these myths and legends feeding us snippets of info during a swift montage. As the plot twists, and turns (of which it does plenty), the trio realizes they’ve jinxed themselves in a barrage of ways. As they wait in hopes that someone will come to their rescue, they pass the time looking for ways to survive while discussing stories such as Edgar Allan Poe’s novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and the true tale of Richard Parker, whose life at sea unbelievably mirrored the plot of Poe‘s writing which was released 50 years earlier.

Harpoon Movie Review

For what is essentially a horror film shot on a single location, director Rob Grant does a superb job in delivering a nasty little thriller. In spite of the short running time and limited claustrophobic setting, Grant keeps the film interesting with his camera choices and clever editing. As the film progresses the camerawork slowly draws in ever tighter on the three leads heightening the suspense at key moments while also further adding to the claustrophobic feel. It really is impressive how much mileage the filmmakers get when working with so little.

Held together by three impressive performances, Harpoon deftly plays with our emotions as we become less and less sympathetic to the trio, no matter what horrible things they may be experiencing. What makes Harpoon different than your average survival thriller is how it continuously encourages the audience to laugh at the series of unfortunate events. No matter how deceitful, violent and psychotic these three friends are, Harpoon somehow manages to remain darkly funny.

I must once again stress how annoying these characters are and because of this, Harpoon is a film I admire more than I enjoyed. Often the trio’s bickering is exhausting to sit through and despite a running commentary on toxic masculinity and male insecurity, Harpoon eventually runs out of steam— or rather, is left with no more wind in its sails. In the end, these terrible human beings couldn’t be any more deserving of each other but I can’t say I enjoyed their company.

  • Ricky D

Editor’s Note. The review was originally published on August 7, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Fantasia Film Festival. Harpoon is now streaming on Showtime and available on Sho Extreme & on-demand.

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Fantasia Film Festival

‘The Divine Fury’ is a Cool Horror-Action Hybrid that Offers Something for Fans of Both Genres

Fantasia 2019

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Divine Fury Movie Review

The Divine Fury has a premise you could only find in a film that would premiere at a genre film festival like Fantasia. Yong-hoo Park, champion MMA fighter, develops a bleeding wound on the palm of his hand, and medical science cannot help him. Further assailed by voices and terrifying visions, Yong-hoo turns to a medium, who directs him to Father Ahn. Ahn is a sanctioned exorcist, and one of many Vatican agents on the trail of the sinister Black Bishop, an occult practitioner who has amassed demonic powers. Father Ahn informs Yong-hoo that his wound is a stigmata, a powerful tool in the battle against evil. This comes as something of a surprise to Yong-hoo, a devout atheist since the death of his father. With his new mentor, Yong-hoo becomes a force for good — a demon-punching holy avenger who uses his physical and spiritual gifts to battle the Black Bishop.

From that description, you couldn’t be blamed for imagining something like that one scene from Peter Jackson’s Braindead, or maybe Ninja 3: The Domination, if you’re a fan of 80s Cannon Group cheese. Even worse, you might be imagining some kind of hokey, low-rent religious superhero movie, like a South Korean Bibleman. But you’re in for a surprise; while it could easily have set its sights on camp and gunned the engine, The Divine Fury instead goes a different route, playing its bonkers premise almost entirely straight. From the outset, Joo-hwan Kim’s film remains utterly sincere about itself, mixing horror and action with some deft direction and a stellar cast to create a dark, engaging, and fun hybrid.

Painting a dark and stylish portrait of modern Seoul, Kim’s direction comes off almost from the first frame as slick and confident. Smooth, elegant camera movements glide through the dimly-lit streets, where shadows lurk and fear reigns. The film often surprises with some wonderful imagery, and walks a fine line between stylish and efficient. When things start hitting the fan and demons emerge to menace our heroes, the film also busts out some serious effects wizardry, with top-notch makeup and creature effects bolstered by clever and dynamic camera work. There are flashes of terrific art direction, with brief tantalizing glimpses of a beautifully realized world of demonic forces, and even real-world locations like the Black Bishop’s luridly-lit nightclub make for interesting and unique backdrops.

As Yong-hoo and Father Anh grow closer, it becomes apparent that their chemistry and onscreen charm is one of the cornerstones the film rests on. Even when they’re just sharing a meal, the two leads are terrific to watch together, with an easy and natural chemistry that makes them eminently believable as friends, despite their vast differences in outlook. Of course, Father Ahn’s platitudes and homilies often come across as stock and predictable, and the film’s attempts at a theological discourse are pretty shallow. But when it can’t muster a convincing theological argument, the film defaults to much more universal fare in its message: defend the defenseless, oppose evil. Who can argue with that?

The Divine Fury will make you wait before it delivers the goods, but when the time is right, it delivers them in spades. 

The confident direction and charming leads do help make up for one crucial shortcoming, though: the film may have a lot of the divine, but it’s a tad short on fury. After a tantalizing fight scene early in the film teases some great action, no punches fly until the film’s showstopper of an ending. For those expecting a rock ‘em-sock ‘em actionfest, much of The Divine Fury’s middle section — the vast majority of the film — may leave them cold. But be patient. Enjoy the atmosphere and the more horror-oriented segments, because that patience will be rewarded. When the film reaches its final sequence and Yong-hoo finally unleashes his holy fisticuffs, the result is, well, divine. The climactic action sequence in The Divine Fury is one worth waiting for, a slick and deftly delivered pair of fight scenes that will have action fans cheering in the aisles. The camera maintains a perfect distance, allowing the physical performances of the actors to take center stage, and never obscures the action with jittery movement or rapid-fire editing. The presentation is dynamic, but never overwhelms or distracts from the solid physical performances by star Park Seo-joon and the stunt team. The Divine Fury will make you wait before it delivers the goods, but when the time is right, it delivers them in spades. 


The Divine Fury is a fun, surprising and just plain cool horror-action hybrid that offers something for fans of both genres. Kept aloft by two engaging and charismatic leads and some top-notch direction, it pulls you into its ridiculous world of exorcisms and action with gusto. While it does make you wait before it fully unleashes its premise, which can and has strained the patience of some viewers and critics, its final action sequences are worth waiting for.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 2, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Fantasia Film Festival.

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‘Promare’ Feels Like the Younger Brother of ‘Gurren Lagann’

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Gurren Lagann is a cult classic directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and written by Kazuki Nakashima. It has over-the-top action, constant bravado, quotable lines, and non-stop escalation into madness. Subtly is not a common word used in Imaishi and Nakashima’s vocabulary, and luckily, fans of their work will not be disappointed with their newest animated movie, Promare. Hot-headedness (literal and metaphorical) and grandiose speeches are rampant when Promare kicks logic to the curb and goes beyond the impossible in its own unique way. What it lacks in a cohesive story, it makes up for in elaborate visuals, eye-popping action, and charismatic characters.


No matter how many times Spider-Man or Superman saves someone from a burning building, the real heroes are the firefighters; they are the ones on the ground, first on the scene. In the world of Promare, firefighters are not just stopping regular old fires; they are tasked with extinguishing supernatural infernos caused by the Burnish — humans mutated to become pyrokinetics. Called the Burning Rescue, they heroically save any and every civilian threatened by these eternal flames, doing so with advanced gear, amped-up water cannons, and hand to hand combat. In addition, they have high-tech equipment that includes drones, an armory of ice and water-powered firearms, and numerous models of mech suits.

These heroes are tasked to stop the flaming terrorists and the havoc they wreak, and in the first act of Promare, a Burning Rescue team led by a young man named Galo take on one of the most feared Burnish terrorists. They use their pyrokinesis to give themselves black, spiky armour and motorcycles that would make Ghost Rider jealous, and after a rousing success with eleventh-hour powers, Galo floats in his victory. Soon, the more militaristic, anti-Burnish organization called Freeze Force barges in and detains the Burnish, taking some of the credit and diminishing Burning Rescue’s efforts. This testosterone-driven act kindles a small spark in the back of Galo’s head, later pushing him to discover a conspiracy that suggests not all is as it appears to be.

Galo is essentially a carbon copy of Kamina from Gurren Lagann. He’s a shirtless, blue-haired, brash young man who jumps in head first to save everyone, and makes sure he looks cool doing it every time. His peers and rivals mock his intelligence and audacity, but in a rare twist, Galo immediately proves that his not simply all bark; he is also a talented rescuer, and is able to stop multiple Burnish solo. Eventually, he develops a rival with Lio, a blonde-haired, light-eyed, somewhat effeminate villain with his own code of honour. He also runs across Kray Foresight, the governor, who is appreciative of Burning Rescue and all their work. However, though Burning Rescue is comprised of many equally talented members, they are mostly pushed to the background outside of being given a few moments to shine.  

Promare takes advantage of new animation styles, and combines both hand-drawn and computer-animated designs. The vapourwave art style is bombastic and chaotic, while the angular designs of the Burnish’s powers add a little edge to the action scenes, guaranteeing that there is no wasted space on screen. The movie runs from inferno-hot to sub-zero cold with no in-between; one would expect nothing less from Imaishi and Nakashima.

Walking into this film and expecting some kind of subtly, even when it comes to the most mundane of actions, is expecting far too much. In classic fashion, the filmmakers keep making every scene more grandiose and epic. Fight scenes aren’t simply adding an extra bad guy or giving the hero a handicap; everything grows to an exponential scale. The moment you expect that Promare has reached its limit, suddenly everything goes to the extreme. But this does has its disadvantages, as subtly and clear explanations of events go by the wayside. The plot moves fast and glosses over the details of the world, history, and lore. Instead of questioning “why is this weird thing happening,” it’s better to accept that it’s happening simply “just because” — far better to just watch the bonker visuals and series of events. This pacing also makes it difficult for character growth, where relationships are created and destroyed on a whim, yet could have benefited more with extra content. It’s like the difference between the Gurren Lagann series and the movies. Sure, the movies cover a lot of ground, but they are very much more loud, operatic spectacles rather than the growing confidence of a young shy boy into a full-fledged legend.

Promare is certainly a movie that stimulates the lizard-brain neurons. It’s flashy, over the top, and outright ridiculous. The heroes and villains are operatic, and there is no nuance stored anywhere in the character’s development. But that’s why the movie is wonderful; the creators are able to depict these extreme levels of silliness, then lampoon and expand on it. There are even moments where the characters themselves have to acknowledge that this level of weirdness is actually happening. But that’s why this movie is spectacular — it’s loud, it’s big, but it’s 100% unfiltered fun.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 4, 2019 as part of our Fantasia Film Festival coverage. 

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