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Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘Night God’ is Pleasing to Look at but Won’t Convert Many Into Believers

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What is light? What is dark? What is fear? What is the purpose of our existence when faced with indelible oppression in the shape of stifling, man-made apparatus? Or more ethereal forces we don’t fully comprehend? Since the dawn of art as a form of human expression, these questions and many more have been at the forefront of what concerns authors, poets, painters, photographers, sculptors, and of course, filmmakers. In the case of cinema, how does one go about encapsulating and expressing such deeply personal interpretations of subjects that are communicated through highly personal experiences? Kazak auteur Adilkhan Yerzhanov, whose films have played at such prestigious festivals as Cannes, takes it upon himself to put his cinematic stamp on themes of oppression and hopelessness with his latest feature, Night God.

Yerzhanov’s picture is a difficult one to describe, even more so for someone who had never had the opportunity to take in any of the filmmaker’s previous projects. Ostensibly, the movie follows the trials and tribulations of a man who returns to the town he once lived in, along with his teenage daughter and wife. The surroundings are glum and cold, with only bonfires, candles, and neon signs fueled by intermittent electrical power shedding any light on the streets. Not long before the trio settles in what the viewer assumes is their home, the father is called upon by state representatives — possible police — to partake in a state-mandated game show. From there begins the man’s journey into the absurdly grim nature of this apocalyptic, wintry, violent country ruled with an iron fist. In the back of several characters minds, however, is a greater looming force: a god of sorts who — if rumours are to be believed — occasionally plops down from the sky, and anyone who dares stare at it spontaneously combusts. 

Night God Movie Review

The above plot synopsis barely does the film any justice, but then again, Night God is not the sort of movie for which one need necessarily invest much time and effort in relating the plot machinations. The protagonist, if he may be described as such, simply has things happen to him, then gets told where to go and what to do in order to survive state-sanctioned repercussions. From being an extra on a game show to having a live bomb removed (it’s never explained how the device was actually strapped onto him), to proving that he is not a religious extremist, to…well, one assumes the reader gets the point. Writer-director Yerzhanov evidently has much on his mind, and some cursory research on the web suggests that the sort of plot and themes that percolate in Night God make up his ‘jam.’ General knowledge of Kazakhstan supports the notion that this is a filmmaker fascinated by his country’s 20th-century history, as well as the effects that may still be felt to this day. It was after all a Soviet satellite state, a region where so-called enemies of the state where sent for imprisonment, as well as being a favoured spot for nuclear bomb testing; by most accounts, the past one hundred years have been rough for Kazakhstan. 

More than anything, the aspect willing viewers will gravitate towards is the project’s aesthetic pleasures. Yerzhanov deliberately had the entire film shot on a sound stage, and while that may not sound terribly impressive, the point to make here is that he never really shies away from making it obvious that everything was made in an unnatural environment. This affords the director the ability to manipulate sights and sounds however he sees fit under any circumstances, and Yerzhanov embraces the challenge to the fullest. There is an old criticism aimed at certain movies when it is deemed that they have a cheap, ‘studio’ look. Well, that’s exactly the point here in Night God. Out of this emerges a beautiful artificiality, where light and shadow are perfectly calibrated to whatever fits a given scene. Everything definitely looks fake, yet in the best way possible.

Night God Movie Review

Night God earns the dubious reputation of being a film that is both incredibly fascinating and incredibly boring all at once.

Furthermore, the cinematography and editing are extraordinarily deliberate as well. Make no mistake — this is by no means a film that sprints along at a mile-per-minute. Nay, time is taken to observe and indulge in the sets and costumes, with little-to-no dialogue interrupting the constant sound of the wind, burning fire, and water dripping from ceilings and running down walls into puddles. The longer takes render the sequences stifling after a while — though given the subject matter, that’s arguably the point. 

Considering all of the above, one might come to the conclusion that Night God is in fact a must-see motion picture masterpiece, a film to put immediately at the top of one’s watch list. That might be true for a very select portion of people that ascribe themselves as movie fans, but to borrow a tired expression, this movie is not for everyone. For all of its visually unique renderings and occasional moments that surprise, the fact of the matter is that Yerzhanov keeps everything move along at a snail’s pace. It is one of those movies about which more than one person will walk away arguing that ‘nothing happened,’ and to be honest, they wouldn’t be far off in that assessment. Pretentiousness is another adjective that comes to mind — in particular when the protagonist, who occasionally shares his inner thoughts via narration, hammers home the point one time too many how God is ‘the senselessness’ or ‘the darkness.’ At the risk of coming off as blunt, Night God can be a bit of a snooze fest. 

Night God Movie Review

Walking out the theatre as the film ended, a particular thought struck the author, one that encapsulates the type of movie Night God is and its place in the cinematic landscape. At the National Arts Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, there is usually a room sequestered from the more open space galleries in which cinematic art projects are projected. One may walk in and out as they please, taking a few minutes to makes heads or tails of supremely art house movies that play on loop. Night God is the kind of movie that would play in that room. It looks really nice, has some deep themes that it wants to get off its chest, and will come across as terribly artsy-fartsy for 90% of the movie-going public. 

Night God earns the dubious reputation of being a film that is both incredibly fascinating and incredibly boring all at once. It is the best of both worlds insofar as the director and his team have clearly crafted something with a very specific, with an appealing aesthetic (to a degree), whilst unleashing a movie that ultimately isn’t very engaging. It’s a moving painting, which is both a good and bad thing in this case. The most perplexing question is why it was chosen to play not once but twice at the Fantasia Film Festival. Fantasia crowds don’t sit through 110 minutes of ultra-slow burns suited for the die-hard art house crowd. It’s not without quality, but ultimately, very few will be praying to Night God

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

A native of Montréal, Québec, Edgar has been writing about film since 2008. At first relegated to a personal blog back when those things were all the rage, he eventually became a Sound on Sight staff member in late 2011, a site managed by non-other than Ricky D himself. Theatrical reviews, festival coverage, film noir and martial arts flicks columns, he even co-hosted a podcast for a couple of years from 2012 to 2014 with Ricky and Simon Howell. His true cinematic love however, his unshakable obsession, is the 007 franchise. In late 2017, together with another 00 agent stationed in Montreal, he helped create The James Bond Complex podcast (alas, not part of the Goombastomp network) in which they discuss the James Bond phenomenon, from Fleming to the films and everything in between. After all, nobody does it better.

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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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Anime

‘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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