This year's Fantasia International Film Festival kicked off this weekend, starting the 25th edition. For American press, it will be a virtual experience, physically removed from the electric Montreal screenings that can anoint new genre favorites in just 90 minutes or even less. But our excitement for the festival is just the same this year as any, starting with these 12 movies we're excited to see. We'll be covering Fantasia throughout its month-long run, so be sure to check back here throughout these next three weeks.
Time travel movies have a history of bringing out some of the most inspired low-fi filmmaking, and “Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes” is the latest example. It’s one of the most clever time travel movies in years, and it was created with an iPhone, a spare cast, a handful of Apple TVs, and a slick editing strategy that makes it all look like it takes place in one shot. It’s so wild, and very telling of this movie's brilliance, that there’s so much intricate blocking and camera movement from debut director Junta Yamaguchi, and yet you’re still caught up in the narrative momentum more than anything else.
The inventive script by Makoto Ueda presents its idea of time travel with a thick air of amazement, and curiosity. At the peak of its 71-minute runtime, it establishes how a TV inside Kato’s apartment can see two minutes into the future. He can talk to himself, and his future self is able to tell him where his guitar pick is. Then Kato (Kazunari Tosa) goes down to the cafe below his apartment, and sees the interaction with his self from two minutes in the past, and tells past Kato about the guitar pick. The script builds from this idea with timelines inside timelines, as new characters are brought into the fold. They are amazed by the idea of being able to talk to themselves two minutes in the past, but are also not wanting to break what their future selves did. Yamaguchi’s film gets trippy in a special lo-fi way when one of Kato’s friends, Ozawa, has the idea of getting the TVs to mirror each other, which creates reflections of two, four, six, and many more minutes in the future.
“Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes” faces the challenges of any high-concept movie, and the dialogue can be full of puzzles that its confident storytelling helps make sense of, like “I got a message from the future’s future’s future’s future!” That’s where the non-demanding tone of the movie seems to pay off, as it then incorporates ideas of predestination, free will, and whether you'd want to know what will happen next. The script doesn’t get too emotional with these ideas, but it’s successful at eventually raising the danger of it all, especially when knife-wielding wannabe gangsters enter the cafe, unaware about the paradox they are stepping into. Yamaguchi keeps the precise nature playful, and the excitement of this amazing discovery, and learning about its rules, carries the film—I imagine it would be equally effective in a second viewing, as well.
The movie is so endlessly clever that it can make you forget that it’s unfolding in extra long takes that have been spliced together by cinematographer/editor/director Yamaguchi. And yet it’s hard to imagine the movie with different form, given how much immediacy is added with its fluid visual storytelling that doesn't leave a lot of time to think about anything else. Yamaguchi’s film is a marvel in ways that are obvious, and also in ways it doesn't draw your attention to. Yet while his storytelling lets the craft speak for itself, it’s undoubtedly the work of a filmmaker you’ll immediately want to see more from.
Coming from the Russian Federation is the daffy and gross-out “Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It,” a horror-comedy gem accurately described by the festival as something like “The Hangover” meets “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” It’s very smart in creating very dumb moments that can be alternately unsettling or funny, like a tense scene where one character tries to hide from his slasher killer, but can't keep in his farts. Another character seems written into the script so that he can vomit or faint whenever he witnesses a gross-out moment. He’s a fitting audience surrogate, but more importantly, the film earns every time that causes him to pass out or blows chunks, and its bizarre fun seems to escalate each time that he does.
Director Ernar Nurgaliev works with fruitful basics: a doomed road trip, starring a couple of very dopey brotherhoods who converge out in the countryside. One group is lead by a father-to-be named Dastan (Daniar Alshinov), who leaves behind his very pregnant wife Zhanna (Asel Kaliyeva) to go on a fishing trip. From his beginning of being introduced reading Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, the guy is clueless about what to do in his roles as an adult man (though Zhanna, in a one-dimensional, nagging role, doesn’t let him forget). His two buddies are no less hopeless, as their chariot to this very poorly timed fishing trip is filled with blow-up dolls.
Dastan and his friends intertwine with a group of equally quirky gangsters (including our fainting hero), lead by a prophecy-spouting man named Kooka. While floating down a lazy, shallow river, Dastan and his buddies unwittingly watch Kooka and his clumsy men shoot someone in the face; like many punchy moments, the coincidence is bizarrely hilarious, and delivered with excellent dry comic timing, only to explode into more frantic action. But this story is a skillful juggling act of hunts, really, of Dastan and his friends being chased by the mob, while the mob themselves are being hunted by a ruthless, wordless killer who seems to echo Michael Berryman’s lead monster in Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes.” Nurgaliev mixes many different horror tones, sometimes with freaky and funny sharing the same exact shot; the cinematography has a gripping starkness throughout, further suggesting an exciting high-brow approach to inspired low-brow thrills.
Co-written by Nurgaliev and Daniyar Soltanbayev, the movie hits multiple notes about the ridiculousness of “man up,” and the importance of loyalty to your bros, even when a killer has trapped them. Those themes don’t all fully come together, however sarcastic they are, but the story has enough juice from its unpredictable plotting. "Sweetie, You Won't Believe It" boasts some amazing silliness from start to finish, including its frantic character work, very funny bro banter, and immaculately timed beheadings.
Richard Bates’ “King Knight,” which had its world premiere last night at Fantasia, is an example of a character work that’s then crowded with other ideas to fill up fill time; everyone's efforts are weakened by it, even the stuff that does work. Its initial premise—a California witch confronts his hideous past, and reveals to his coven he used to be, gasp, prom king—is funny, and there’s a dedication from the performances that helps sell it. Matthew Gray Gubler plays the focal character Thorn, who has created a full witchy life with his wife Willow (Angela Sarafyan). They have their spells, their candles, their dark arts, and their coven, and they play all of it with whispery solemnity. The news of Thorn's popularity threatens to destroy it all. Sarafyan has some particularly funny moments when she interrogates him after she finds out about this past: “Did you … play … SPORTS?!”
But “King Knight” doesn’t have a lot of ideas about what to do wth the concept, and it puts Gubler on a flat journey that involves ambling around a park and later seeing a hallucination of the wizard Merlin (Ray Wise), while ultimately finding his way to a 20-year high school reunion in Las Vegas. Back home, Willow and Thorn’s coven mill about with sitcom-like aplomb. Their eye-rolling banter initially feels like the script's witch focus is more for potshots at superficial California culture, until other passages of the script solidify Bates’ sincerity to the subculture he is giving a rare close-up to. But too much of "King Knight" feels slight, and its poignant humor runs dry beyond the funny notion of popularity being framed as a so-called freak show.