By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Reconceived as a digital event for its 24th edition, North America’s greatest genre fest has added a slew of exciting new movies–including new ones from the directors of THE STRANGERS, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING and ANTISOCIAL–to this year’s lineup.
This year’s Fantasia International Film Festival takes place on-line August 20-September 2, accessible to fans across Canada. Joining the features previously announced here are:
- Writer/director Bryan Bertino (THE STRANGERS) takes rural terror up another notch in the incredibly scary shocker THE DARK AND THE WICKED (pictured above), previously slated to launch at the Tribeca Film Festival. On a secluded farm in a nondescript rural town, a man is slowly dying. His family gathers to mourn, and soon a darkness grows, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over the household. THE DARK AND THE WICKED stars Marin Ireland (SNEAKY PETE), Michael Abbott Jr. and an uber-creepy Xander Berkeley (CANDYMAN, THE WALKING DEAD). International Premiere.
- The storage facility for giant cartoon robot Mazinger Z is among the most recognized sites in anime; impressive, yet impossible…or is it? In 2003, a quirky crew at the Japanese engineering firm Maeda Corporation decided to draft blueprints for the iconic hangar as it would exist in the real world. Funny, fascinating, and frankly inspiring, Tsutomu Hanabusa’s PROJECT DREAMS–HOW TO BUILD MAZINGER Z’S HANGAR tells their tale and takes it to the next stage of (im)possibility! International Premiere.
- A cold-blooded killer stalks a fleeing widow through the wilderness in ALONE, a blistering remake of the acclaimed 2012 Swedish thriller GONE. Starring OZARK’s Marc Menchaca and BLOODLINE‘s Jules Wilcox, the thriller–from UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING director John Hyams–transports the story to the Pacific Northwest, amplifying it with riveting performances and an inspired use of locations to create an air of realistic suspense that pushes the viewer to nearly unbearable extremes. International Premiere.
- Following his animation hit JACK AND THE CUCKOO-CLOCK HEART, French music superstar Mathias Malzieu brings his extraordinary and heartwarming world to life in his live-action musical debut A MERMAID IN PARIS (UNE SIRÈNE À PARIS). One of France’s most anticipated cinematic events of the year, released in its homeland by Sony Pictures, this visually dazzling fantastical love story stars Nicolas Duvauchelle (SPELLBOUND), Marilyn Lima (BANG GANG), Rossy de Palma (WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN) and Tchéky Karyo (NIKITA). North American Premiere.
- Martial artist Tak Sakaguchi (VERSUS, WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL, YAKUZA WEAPON) is back in the spotlight with CRAZY SAMURAI MUSASHI–a long-in-the-making, unique take on swordsman Musashi Miyamoto’s most fabled battle, shot here as a single 77-minute action sequence by director Yûji Shimomura (DEATH TRANCE, RE:BORN). It’s Tak, 588 foes, and no room for error! Canadian Premiere.
- A mysterious force lurks off the coast of Block Island, curiously influencing the surrounding town and wildlife in the chilling new creation from Fantasia favourites Kevin and Matthew McManus (AMERICAN VANDAL, FUNERAL KINGS). A frightening, character-driven work of horror steeped in atmosphere and dread, THE BLOCK ISLAND SOUND features a remarkable cast that includes Michaela McManus (THE VILLAGE), Chris Sheffield (THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT), Jim Cummings (THUNDER ROAD) and Jeremy Holm (THE RANGER, MR. ROBOT). World Premiere.
- A police detective investigating a tragedy in a small town wakes up one morning to find he’s no longer who he thought he was–or so the locals lead him to believe. Is it epic gaslighting, genuine madness or a supernatural twist? After decades in front of the camera, actor Jung Jin-young (THE KING AND THE CLOWN and many more) steps behind it for his directorial debut ME AND ME, a unique and distinctive blend of suspense, anxious intrigue and existential mystery! North American Premiere.
- During a raging snowstorm, a drifter (BREAKING BAD’s RJ Mitte) returns home to the blue-collar bar located in the remote Canadian town where he was born. When he offers to settle an old debt with a grizzled bartender by telling him a story, the night’s events quickly spin into a dark tale of mistaken identities, double-crosses and shocking violence. Atmospheric and gripping, THE OAK ROOM is the fourth feature from Canadian filmmaker Cody Calahan (ANTISOCIAL, LET HER OUT), and produced by BITE director Chad Archibald’s maverick Black Fawn team. Also features Peter Outerbridge (ORPHAN BLACK), Nicholas Campbell (NAKED LUNCH) and Ari Millen (RUPTURE). World Premiere.
- In 1962, Taiwan is in the grip of Martial Law, a period known as the “White Terror.” Fang, a high schooler, falls in love with Zhang, a counseling teacher who introduces her to the books banned by the regime. However, when he disappears, she finds the school gradually slipping into a terrifying realm of ghosts and spirits… Adapted from the popular video game of the same name, John Hsu’s feature film debut, DETENTION, is a powerful, allegorical film about the horrors of repression and authoritarianism. A hit on the festival circuit (Busan, Rotterdam, Fantasporto), the film was nominated for 12 prizes at the 56th Golden Horse Awards, where it won five, including Best New Director. Canadian Premiere.
- Fueled by the desire to surpass his father’s legacy, a reclusive Indian-American neuroscientist becomes physically entangled in his own radical experiments, resulting in his consciousness inexplicably becoming fragmented into 10 separate and conflicting forces. Now he must face off against the darker sides of his psyche to solve an enigma that lies buried within his subconscious–before it’s too late. The striking feature debut from Eric Schultz, co-producer on such works as JAMES WHITE and KATIE SAYS GOODBYE, MINOR PREMISE is a brilliantly constructed science-fiction drama that confronts ideas of the self in a pensive and emotionally thrilling cinematic puzzle. World Premiere.
- Columnist and author Femke Boot (WESTWORLD’s Katja Herbers) is endlessly taunted with abusive posts and death threats via social media. Becoming obsessed by these hateful messages from strangers, she spends every moment checking her Twitter feed…until one day, she steps back from her keyboard to take brutal, in-the-flesh action. A savage, horrific black comedy for our times by Dutch filmmaker Ivo van Aart (AMUSE), THE COLUMNIST tackles the toxicity of cyberbullying with ferocity and wit. North American Premiere.
- With THE GRAND HEIST (2012), South Korean writer/director Kim Joo-ho proved his knack for Joseon-era comedy-thrillers, chock full of mechanical ingenuity complicated enough to match his devilishly clever plots. He does the deed again this year with JESTERS: THE GAME CHANGERS, following the fortunes of a crew of traveling street entertainers who double as rumor-spreaders for hire–“fake news” of the finest vintage. But now the tyrannical King Sejo wants his murderous reputation rehabilitated…and this game is no longer in jest! North American Premiere.
- A possessed pair of jeans comes to life and terrorizes the staff of a trendy, vapid clothing boutique in SLAXX, the third feature from Montreal filmmaker Elza Kephart (GRAVEYARD ALIVE, GO IN THE UNIVERSE). Shipped to the company’s flagship store, Slaxx proceeds to wreak havoc on the staff, locked in overnight to set up the new collection. The horror-comedy boasts an impressive cast, including Romane Denis (SLUT IN A GOOD WAY), Sehar Bhojani (THE HANDMAID’S TALE), Brett Donahue (RADIUS) and Kenny Wong (TRANSPLANT). World Premiere.
- An innocent nurse, a tortured maniac and a suspicious hostage face off against a wave of violent intruders on Halloween night in the Canadian nail-biter FOR THE SAKE OF VICIOUS, starring Lora Burke (LIFECHANGER), Colin Paradine (KINGDOM COME) and Nick Smyth (COVENANT). Filmmakers Gabriel Carrer (THE DEMOLISHER) and Reese Eveneshen (DEFECTIVE) have combined their directorial prowess to create this blissfully brutal powerhouse, shot in only 15 days, loaded with practical FX and featuring rousing stunts performed by the actors themselves. World Premiere.
- Seo-Young (Chun Woo-hee of HAN GONG-JU and THE WAILING) has climbed high up the company ladder, but her life is more precarious than it seems and her anxieties begin manifesting as intense vertigo. Her exact opposite, working-class window-cleaner Kwon-woo, literally dangles into her life. From writer/director Jeon Gye-soo (2012’s LOVE FICTION), VERTIGO is a romantic melodrama posing sharp questions about class and gender in South Korean corporate culture. Canadian Premiere.
- Marcos is a night shift nurse at a palliative care ward in the Argentinian psychological thriller LA DOSIS. Stationed at the doors of life and death, Marcos is the self-appointed gatekeeper, and euthanasia is his preferred practice. While the newly arrived nurse Gabriel threatens to uncover his deadly routine, he may also be hiding sinister motives of his own. Filmmaker Martin Kraut focuses his debut feature on a complex, fascinating duo that you won’t soon forget. North American Premiere.
- Two OCD lovebirds, both obsessed with perpetual cleanliness, experience the trials of first love and the harsh reality of leaving their safety bubbles in I WEIRDO, a quirky rom-com from first time Taiwanese director Liao Ming-Yi. Winner of two awards at the 2020 Udine Far East Film Festival and filmed entirely on an iPhone XS, you’ll want to prepare your mask, HazMat suit and hand sanitizers for this one. Canadian Premiere.
- A family of French settlers must abandon their Missouri home and flee back to Paris when the American Civil War breaks out in David Perrault’s potent feminist Western SAVAGE STATE (L’ÉTAT SAUVAGE), an official selection at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam. A stylish co-production between France, Canada and Belgium, the film stars Alice Isaaz (ELLE), Déborah François (POPULAIRE), Kevin Janssens (REVENGE), Constance Dollé (LES REVENANTS) and Kate Moran (KNIFE + HEART). North American Premiere.
- In a society as obsessed with physical appearance as modern South Korea, ugliness is a fate worse than death. For overweight, unsightly Yaeji, though, a fast but suspicious solution to her woes may soon make her wish she were dead. Director Cho Kyung-hun’s animated shocker BEAUTY WATER puts a very high price on prettiness. North American Premiere.
- The lives of female escorts intersect as they wait for calls from their customers. Kana Yamada’s LIFE: UNTITLED–adapted from her own stage play–is a remarkable debut, starring Sairi Ito (ASAKO I & II, THE NAKED DIRECTOR). At once raw, tragic and lightly comedic, it unfolds as a closed-room drama about the hardships and resilience of a group of young Japanese women whose lives remain to be written. Following in the legacy of the Japanese brothel film–be it Mizoguchi’s STREET OF SHAME or Suzuki’s GATE OF FLESH–Yamada updates the genre for a new generation and from a fresh perspective. Canadian Premiere.
- In MY PUNCH-DRUNK BOXER, a former professional boxer (Um Tae-goo, I SAW THE DEVIL) receives a devastating diagnosis. However, when Min-ji (breakout star Lee Hye-ri, MONSTRUM) enters the gym, he picks up what made him famous in the first place: a unique style known as “Pansori Boxing”–utilizing the flow and rhythms of traditional Korean drumming! A delightful hybrid of boxing drama and quirky rom-com, Jung Hyuk-ki’s film will surprise with its innovative take on “pansori”! North American Premiere.
- Evelyn, a young Filipina nurse (Aina Dumlao), lives on a remote estate while taking care of the aging matriarch of a Texas family. As the latter slips deeper into dementia and the relationship of care turns abusive, Evelyn begins to sense something ominous lurking behind the house’s walls. Is she imagining or projecting something? A chilling tale of the American Gothic–as much about death and unspeakable familial secrets as it is about displaced workers and inequality–Xia Magnus’ striking debut SANZARU is a tense, resonant and elegantly directed piece of horror filmmaking. International Premiere.
- Since her iconic bloody short film UNDRESS ME, screened as part of Fantasia’s Born of Woman showcase, Amelia Moses has been a Montreal talent to watch. With her visceral feature debut, BLEED WITH ME, we’re taken on an intimate cabin trip where boundaries and relationships collapse and double over. A slow-burn thriller with arresting visuals, Moses emerges as a horror filmmaker to be reckoned with! World Premiere.
- Sex takes center stage in director Ben Hozie’s transgressive, kinky and comedic crime romance, PVT CHAT. Jack (Peter Vack from 2017 Fantasia favorite ASSHOLES) spends his days gambling on-line and talking with a San Francisco camgirl, Scarlet (a magnetic Julia Fox in one of her first major roles post-UNCUT GEMS). After seeing Scarlet on a rainy street in New York’s Chinatown, Jack becomes obsessed with meeting her. In a world of hyper-connectivity with few real connections, PVT CHAT captures the loneliness of contemporary life with vulnerability and eroticism. International Premiere.
- An allegorical road movie teeming with character and introspection, Jason Neulander’s FUGITIVE DREAMS plunges into the very depth of the American soul. In this darkly funny adventure, two homeless people go on a strange and bewildering journey across middle America, meeting bizarre characters as they search for compassion, love and healing. Shot in stark black and white, the film features breakthrough performances from its leads April Matthis and Robbie Tann, as well as a colorful supporting cast, including Scott Shepherd (TRUE DETECTIVE), O-Lan Jones (EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) and David Patrick Kelly (THE WARRIORS, THE CROW). World Premiere.
- In a world on the precipice of change, THE FIVE RULES OF SUCCESS, Orson Oblowitz’s third feature, is an urgent response to a broken justice system and a corrupted social landscape. With the odds stacked against him, an enterprising ex-con (a magnetic Santiago Segura from MTV’s SCREAM) sets to rebuild his life against insurmountable odds. Written, shot and directed by Oblowitz (THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD) and inspired by Sion Sono’s HAZARD, THE FIVE RULES OF SUCCESS is a brightly saturated phantasmagorical journey into the depths of Los Angeles’ underbelly. World Premiere.
- Wine, Jell-O and vamps! Oh my! With CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER, legendary underground filmmaker Mickey Reece (STRIKE, DEAR MISTRESS AND CURE HIS HEART) pits two sisters (the unforgettable Mary Buss and Ginger Gilmartin) against each other as they vie for the affections of a man who may or not be a bloodsucking vampire! A film teeming with oddball characters, star swipes and horrifically appealing Jell-O platters that will leave your mouth watering and your stomach churning. Quebec Premiere.
- Also featured in the Underground section is Kaye Adelaide and Mariel Sharp’s playful, hilarious queer horror-comedy short, DON’T TEXT BACK, about a young woman seeking assistance from a deadpan energy healer in order to rid herself of a cursed necklace she got from a toxic Tinder date.
- During its 1980s and 1990s heyday, New Jersey’s Action Park was known as the world’s most dangerous amusement park. It was a lawless land, ruled by drunk teenage employees, with rides that ignored basic notions of physics, common sense and safety. Stranger (and crazier) than fiction, CLASS ACTION PARK is the first-ever feature documentary to explore a place that has long since entered the realm of myth. Directed by Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III, the film peels away the trappings of nostalgia to reveal the shocking truth behind the park and its brilliant-but-mad founder–including a criminal conspiracy and cover-up that allowed a death trap to survive and thrive, even as its body count grew. International Premiere.
- “Be carefool wiz whatt yoo say, everyssing iz reecordead,” controversial cult leader Raël discretely says in a mischievous French accent to the ear of a giggling woman. Dressed in white, the innocent-looking 60-something-year-old-man proudly sits on a rock, honoring us with a magisterial meditation. With THE PROPHET AND THE SPACE ALIENS, award-winning Israeli documentarian Yoav Shamir (DEFAMATION, CHECKPOINT) reflects on the meaning of “sect” and the very essence of religion, while the self-proclaimed “Only prophet on Earth” plays petanque, dances on a beach and talks to aliens. North American Premiere.
There will also be Q&As, panels, workshops and other live events. The full lineup of titles will be revealed August 6, with ticket sales beginning shortly after that. For further info, head over to Fantasia’s official website.