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Fantasia Fest 2021: 12 Movies We Can’t Wait to See

The Fall Festival Season is right around the corner with the tentative relaunches of TIFF, Telluride, and Venice into a world where movie-going has been more than a little uneasy. However, genre fans will tell you that the true start to the season comes when Montreal opens its doors to waves of films from around the world with a unique sensibility. Horror, action, anime, and much more descend on the beautiful Quebec city, which will host some film goers this year while also maintaining a strong virtual presence. We will be covering the festival remotely (with Fantasia vet Nick Allen) and wanted to give you a look at what appears, at least on paper, to be the most exciting titles. However, one of the true joys of Fantasia Fest is the unexpected, the movie that sneaks up out of nowhere to wallop viewers with its ingenuity and ambition. These may be the 12 we can’t wait to see, but it’s the ones that aren’t on this list that could prove the most exciting.

Note: There are also a number of fun films at Fantasia from other fests, including “Prisoners of the Ghostland,” “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,” and “The Night House,” along with a screening of James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad.” For this preview, we stuck with films we haven’t seen.

“Agnes”

Paul Verhoeven’s “Benedetta” may have gotten the buzz out of Cannes, but it’s not the only nun movie this year. Mickey Reece (“Climate of the Hunter”) directs this story of two men (Jake Horowitz, Ben Hall) sent to a convent to investigate a potential case of demonic possession. As the convent tests their faith, a nun named Agnes (Hayley McFarland) takes center stage. According to the official program, “Agnes” is “An over-the-top and delicious experience that drips with blood and holy water in equal measures.” Sign us up. On Demand Premiere. Get your ticket here.

“The Deep House”

Aren’t we overdue for another major found footage movie? Maybe it’s this offering, a story of two daredevil YouTubers (Camille Rowe, James Jagger) who venture into an unnamed forest and to a lake, where they find a mysterious house…underwater. Wait. It’s a diving, haunted movie, and it’s found footage? This could just be crazy enough to work. Did we mention it’s directed by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury, the pair behind the truly insane “Inside”? Strap in. Premieres 8/22. Get your ticket here.

“Giving Birth to a Butterfly”

They can’t all be action flicks and ghost stories. Some of the most exciting films of Fantasia’s legacy have been experimental and surreal. It looks like the debut from Theodore Schaefer could fit that bill. First, it’s shot on 16mm (sweet). Second, the opening lines of the program describe it as “strange, melodic and haunting.” We’re in. In that same excellent description, RogerEbert.com contributor Justine Smith describes this as “truly one of the most beautiful films of the year.” Premieres 8/9. Get your ticket here.

“Glasshouse”

This South African film is compared to “The Beguiled” and “Teorema” in its program description, and that should be all you need to know. A woman lives with her three daughters in a glass building that has been sealed off from a toxin that is destroying the air called The Shred. One day, one of the girls lets an injured stranger into their world, changing everything. Premieres 8/16. Get your ticket here.

“The Great Yokai War – Guardians”

It wouldn’t be Fantasia Fest without a Takashi Miike film (or two or three). His 2006 fantasy “The Great Yokai War” premiered at Fantasia back in 2006, and he returns with a follow-up 15 years later. This is the story of Kei, a boy who is visited by a strange creature, one that opens a portal to the world of Yokai, a land of unforgettable demons. When his journey results in his brother’s disappearance, Kei has to be a true hero. Miike is always must-see, and this sounds like one his most ambitious projects of the last few years. Premieres 8/25. Get your ticket here.

“Junk Head”

A passion project of adult stop-motion animation, this Japanese work by Takahide Hori has been legendary in the right circles for years. It started life as a short film in 2013 before a screening in 2017 of a theatrical version that then basically disappeared. Hori went back and recut and tightened and improved on that version, which will premiere this year before a wider release. A thoroughly original vision of the future, Guillermo del Toro has called this film “A one-man band work of deranged brilliance!” On Demand Premiere. Get your ticket here.

“King Knight”

Richard Bates Jr. has been an interesting voice in genre cinema for years now with his films “Excision,” “Trash Fire,” and “Tone-Dead.” He brings one of the more high-profile projects to Fantasia this year with this dissection of counter-culture that’s being described as a “Pagan comedy” that includes a hell of a cast. Matthew Gray Gubler (“Criminal Minds”) and Angela Sarafyan (“Westworld”) anchor the piece but a great supporting cast has also come to play with Bates, including Barbara Crampton, Ray Wise, Kate Comer, Emily Chang, and the voices of Aubrey Plaza and AnnaLynne McCord. Premieres 8/8. Get your ticket here.

“Martyrs Lane”

Give us a good creepy kid movie any day. British filmmaker Ruth Platt directs this ghost story about a young girl (Kiera Thompson) who lives in a vicarage with her deeply traumatized mother. One night, the girl sees a child outside her window, a ghostly figure with wings, and the pair form a friendship. As the ghost gives the child a new task every night, secrets are unearthed. This one sounds like it could be atmospheric and effective. Premieres 8/19. Get your ticket here.

“The Sadness”

This is the line on the top of the program for this Taiwanese slice of insanity: “Fantasia rarely gives trigger warnings, but this film warrants all of them. Proceed with caution.” You bet we well. Already gathering buzz as a breakthrough for the zombie genre, this is the story of a rapidly spreading pandemic (current!) that basically turns people into feral creatures. The director, Rob Jabbaz, cites a screening of “Ebola Syndrome” at Fantasia as his inspiration, speaking about the literal danger he felt in the theater. Premieres 8/21. Get your ticket here.

“Stanleyville”

This debut from Maxwell McCabe-Lokos was just picked up by Oscilloscope, a company with some pretty good taste. It stars Susanne Wuest (“Goodnight Mommy”) as a woman with an unsatisfactory office job and boring life. She enters a contest to win a car that results in her being locked in a room with four strangers and forced to participate in a series of challenges led by a host played by the great Julian Richings (“Cube”). Sounds twisted. Premieres 8/15. Get your ticket here.

“What Josiah Saw”

The program for Fantasia Fest suggests that this film could be this year’s “The Dark and the Wicked,” arguably the stand-out from 2020. Vincent Grashaw, a producer on the insane “Bellflower,” has made a film about intense trauma that weaves its way through one family. A strong cast of familiar faces anchor the story, including Nick Stahl, Scott Haze, Kelli Garner, and the legendary Robert Patrick, who plays the patriarch of a haunted farm. Premieres 8/13. Get your ticket here.

“Yakuza Princess”

A film with a title like that one better be badass. Masumi plays Akemi, a Japanese woman raised in Brazil and trained in martial arts. That’s a good start. When violence enters her world outside of her training, she ends up connected to a mysterious amnesiac man (Johnathan Rhys-Meyers) across town with no idea who he is. We’re in. Based on the graphic novel Shiro by Danilo Beyruth, this feels like a project that could break out of the Fantasia scene when Magnet releases it down the road. Premieres 8/18. Get your ticket here.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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