It’s always a fun challenge to try to pin down the movie-gathering identity of Montreal's Fantasia Festival. For starters, it’s fascinated with genre, especially in the way that horror and sci-fi flourish when they don't play it safe. It’s as much in love with celebrated veterans (this year’s include Dario Argento, Mickey Reece, and Neil LaBute) as it is the budding mad scientists you don't yet know but will love. Fantasia is a great place to find new monsters, the ones that film lovers cherish and keep alive with word of mouth for years to come.
Needless to say, I am thrilled to be joining Montreal’s film geek population in-person this year for my first time since 2019, having covered it remotely in 2020 and 2021 because of you-know-what. The line-up for their 26th year promises to continue the Fantasia euphoria, an experience that begins with audiences meowing once the lights go down (yes, it's true), and then feasting on the latest piece of cinematic weird in front of them.
Running this year from July 14 to August 3, the festival's packed schedule includes other highlights worth mentioning.
John Woo will be present for an Artist Talk on July 16, in which he will receive the 2022 Fantasia Career Achievement award in-person. To mark the occasion, the festival will also includes special screenings of his face-shredding masterworks “Hard Boiled” and “Face/Off.”
I personally recommend that the unfamiliar check out the trippy hippy horror “Blue Sunshine,” a newly restored 1977 movie about a drug side effect that is rife for a remake and rediscovery. It’s a fitting pick for a festival that is too about the feeling of intoxication, and the kind of experiences that stick with you long after the first time.
Alexandre O. Philippe's cinematic essay “Lynch/Oz” has received raves from our critics, including our own Peter Sobczynski.
Those hunting for a highly entertaining and thoughtful documentary should check out “The Pez Outlaw,” making its Quebec premiere. I was a big fan of it.
Kier-La Janisse’s invaluable horror book House of Psychotic Women will be given a special celebration for its 10th anniversary. Janisse will receive the festival’s Canadian Trailblazer Award on July 22, and participate in an Artist Talk.
Andrew Semans’ ruthless “Resurrection,” one of those “I’ll see whatever THAT guy does next” discoveries, is ready to further creep out audiences.
The same can be said, albeit in a different way, for Lena Dunham’s “Sharp Stick."
Below is an alphabetical list of 10 movies that we can’t wait to see throughout the festival. Synopses are courtesy of the Fantasia Festival program.
"Country Gold" - It’s 1994 and two country-music legends meet in Nashville. Troyal (Mickey Reece), an up-and-comer from Oklahoma who likes his steaks well done, and the washed-up, viper-tongued George Jones (Ben Hall), who has decided that he wants to have himself cryogenically frozen. The prolific Mickey Reece is back at Fantasia with his latest, COUNTRY GOLD, a darkly comedic sojourn into country music's dark, dirty, and strange world. Brimming with stories within stories, flashbacks, musical sequences, and even an incredible animated sequence, Reece packs COUNTRY GOLD with delirious and delicious action. As it blends wilful American naivety with the ever-present threat of violence, the film has you at the edge of your seat, offering the promise of great laughs and catastrophic confrontations.
"Dark Glasses" - For high-end sex worker Diana (Ilenia Pastorelli, THEY CALL ME JEEG), being blinded in a car accident is just the beginning of her trauma. The white-van-driving psychopath who caused the crash, and has already murdered another call girl, is out to finish the job, relentlessly stalking Diana through Rome and its outskirts. And because she’s been harboring Chin (Xinyu Zhang), a young boy whose parents were also victims of that accident, Diana can’t go to the cops, who suspect her of kidnapping the child. So she and Chin have only each other to depend on as they flee through the night, trying to stay one step ahead of the maniac and facing other perils along the way.
"Dark Nature" - Joy (Hannah Emily Anderson, JIGSAW, X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX) is a survivor. After leaving an abusive relationship, she needs to regroup. Stricken with flashbacks of her volatile ex six months later, her best friend Carmen (Madison Walsh, DON’T SAY ITS NAME) encourages her to go on a retreat to heal. It’s no ordinary retreat—they’re hiking into the Rocky Mountains to face traumas holding them back. Led by Dr. Dunnley (Kyra Harper, ORPHAN BLACK), a specialist in helping trauma survivors face their demons, and joined by two other women, Tara (Helen Belay) and Shaina (Roseanne Supernault, THE NORTHLANDER), they all have to deal with a past. The trek into the wilderness might be the thing to help them move towards a better future, but Joy isn’t at ease and thinks her ex-boyfriend is following them. The women also find discarded items of past hikers on the path, and hear strange noises. Soon, vivid flashbacks and nightmares afflict Tara and Joy, and when Tara goes missing, Joy is convinced there’s something darker afoot, and the trauma they strive to leave behind is only the beginning.
"The Elderly" - Elderly Manuel’s world falls apart when Rosa, his wife of decades, suddenly commits suicide. The shock and grief are so consuming that it triggers an onset of dementia. Unable to live with checking him into an institution, his son, Mario, takes him home to live with his young family. This despite Manuel’s newfound inclinations towards sudden outbursts of violence and inexplicable behaviour that puts everyone in danger. Unbeknownst to the family, already struggling to cope with this disturbing new living situation, Manuel has also taken to cutting himself. Among… other things. An unspeakable series of paranormal happenings begin to unfold.
"Give Me Pity!" - Sissy St. Claire has one dream: Making It! And she has finally arrived… on stage, that is, for an evening full of laughter, introspection, gossip, glamour, song and dance… with the occasional flight of vanity, anger and disillusionment piercing through an increasingly uncertain act. Standing before us, “the living proof that television is in a golden age”, she addresses the audience with confidence and glee. Yet something is slightly off. Uneasy. Honest. As she tries to reconcile the multiple characters she must perform on stage, the veneer cracks. Worse, a hooded man is seen lurking in the wings, threatening to shut it all down—her dream, and all there is.
"Glorious" - When you gotta go, you gotta go. Exactly where you're going is another matter. That's definitely the case for the heartbroken Wes (Ryan Kwanten), who has pulled over at a roadside rest stop to figure out his next move in life. A night of solo drunken revelry leaves Wes with a massive hangover and a serious need to puke, so into the scuzzy restroom he goes before he hits the road. But whoever's in the next stall (J.K. Simmons!) has a few questions for Wes. And very few answers. But what they do tell Wes is that he's about to become someone very important, but he can't leave this bathroom and he's going to have to make a big, big sacrifice. Glorious? Maybe not.
"Polaris" (Opening Night Film) - Sumi (Viva Lee, DEADLY CLASS) and her polar-bear mother live in a snow-laden, post-apocalyptic world. Guiding them is the north star Polaris as they travel to where it shines the brightest, but their journey is interrupted by roving bands of warrior women. Captured and separated from her mother, Sumi uses her wits and magical powers to attack and stage a bloody escape. Once free, she’s scared and ready to defend herself in the wilds of this wintery land, but finds the kindness of a solitary woman, and she’ll discover an otherworldly companion in the Frozen Girl (Khamisa Wilsher, THE HOLLOW, CHARMED) who changes her destiny. The small but fierce Sumi will learn about trust and friendship as she makes her way to the north star.
"Rani Rani Rani" - Rural villager Rani makes her meagre pay as the custodian of an abandoned factory, while contending with her hapless, unhealthy husband and conniving in-laws. She arrives at her workplace one day to discover a pair of ambitious tech-sector entrepreneurs and an impatient potential client, who’ve driven out to this isolated site for a demonstration of a somewhat dubious time-travel machine. They need a test subject, though, and talk Rani into taking the risk. The trial activation doesn’t send her very far, mere metres and minutes into the past, but it’s enough to create complications when Rani finds herself... well, finding herself.
"Swallowed" - Set in a remote township on the border of Maine and Canada, Benjamin (Cooper Koch) and his Dom (Jose Colon) are headed for the lights and promises of the city of angels, with the dream of Ben becoming a professional porn performer. Though Dom proclaims he is straight, their friendship is delicately intertwined with sexual tension and a deep emotional bond. Attempting to earn some quick cash, they meet up with Alice (Jena Malone). Smuggling drugs across the borders is no easy task. One does not become a mule overnight… though our two friends are “persuaded” by Alice to swallow up those little bags, and boy, that’s only the beginning of their troubles.
"We Might as Well Be Dead" - Two parents and their young child are seen crossing the German countryside—bog-eyed, weapons in hand, sweaty yet dressed to the nines. They move fast towards the high-rise that sticks out of the edge of the landscape like a godsend. If the interview goes well, the apartment will be theirs. Few know this feeling better than Anna (Ioana Iacob), the complex’s security officer (as well as tour guide and daily weather report dispatcher). She is a useful, beloved member of this “curated” utilitarian community but she soon finds herself in the midst of an imbroglio. Her daughter grows convinced she harbours an ancient evil—and refuses to leave the bathroom. Worse yet, a dog's disappearance creates a panic that spreads across the building like wildfire.