The key to the genre-heavy Fantasia Festival is discovery. After all, this is the festival that made waves by debuting director Kyle Edward Ball’s “Skinamarink” last year, which ended up with a place on Variety‘s top films of the year so far list, as well as the top slot on Variety‘s best horror movies of the year so far.
Just as “Skinamarink” gained heat during the festival as an unlikely low-budget nightmare, there are plenty of wild or unconventional entries into this year’s Montreal-based festival. Many of the titles alone promise you’ll be in for a hell of a time: “Apocalypse Clown,” “Booger,” “Hundreds of Beavers,” “Marry My Dead Body,” just to name a few.
Read Variety‘s breakdown of some of our favorite films from the fest so far.
Director Joe Lynch (“Mayhem,” “Point Blank”) takes on an H. P. Lovecraft adaptation in a midnight movie that takes countless twists and turns into madness. Heather Graham and Judah Lewis play a psychiatrist and patient who keep getting invaded by a body-hopping spirit hell-bent on survival by any means necessary. A throwback to ’80s gore and horniness, there are some unforgettable moments in “Flesh” that perfectly walk the line of excess, humor and queasiness.
Sympathy for the Devil
Although the plot may be thin, the contained mystery “Sympathy for the Devil” has one critical special effect: Nicolas Cage at his most outrageous. He plays a maniac who kidnaps expectant father Joel Kinnaman at gunpoint and forces him to drive around instead of heading to the hospital with his wife, as a past between the duo is slowly revealed. “Devil” may not reinvent the wheel, but this stylish-looking pulp is a must for those engaged in the Cult of Cage.
Talk to Me
This Sundance hit from YouTube-famous filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou is a brash directorial debut set in a near future in which, by touching a mummified hand, bored teens can get possessed by local spirits for a short amount of time, while their friends film it and laugh. But Mia (Sophie Wilde) starts pushing boundaries in the hope of contacting her dead mother, and dark forces start reaching out to her and her friends even when they’re not touching the hand. Full of freaky set-pieces and admirable gore, there’s no surprise it was a hit when it had a strong opening at the box office this weekend.
Satan Wants You
A documentary that’s as chilling as any narrative fiction this year, “Satan Wants You” examines the true story of Michelle Smith and Larry Pazder, a woman who recalled abduction and assault by a cult of devil worshippers and the psychiatrist that conjured the story out of her. While the film documents the reality behind the subsequent book “Michelle Remembers” — which lead to a media tour, broken marriages and serious questions about pop psychology — it also examines the deeply insidious aftereffects. The damaging Satanic Panic of the ’80s was fueled by the types of claims made in the book, and the aftershocks reverberate to modern conspiracy theories like PizzaGate. In “Satan Wants You,” the only things scarier than accusations of devil worship are the real damage people can do when stories get out of control.
It Lives Inside
A smart meditation on cultural assimilation, Bishal Dutta’s full length directorial debut examines the effect on a small town when a demonic Indian force called a pishach is unleashed. Sam (Megan Suri) is trying to navigate fitting in with her American friends at school while juggling the cultural traditions her mother is keen to follow at home, but is forced to think fast when she accidentally frees the pishach, which can hop between hosts when it’s not trapped, as it is in a glass jar in the movie’s first act. Although the smart script, written by Dutta from a story by Ashish Mehta, has plenty of interesting things to say about the difficulty of being a teen living between two cultures, there are plenty of old fashioned scares and practical monster VFX to create a fast-moving, yet thought-provoking, good time.
Late Night With the Devil
One of the year’s most ambitious projects, this mostly-real time “rescued tape” of a demonic possession gone wrong on a late night show uses its ’70s setting and commitment to duplicating the era’s details to create a truly freaky experience. David Dastmalchian — best known as the scene-stealing supporting character in countless blockbusters such as “The Dark Knight,” “Ant-Man,” “Blade Runner 2049” and “The Suicide Squad” — takes center stage as charismatic and increasingly desperate host Jack Delroy, who is hoping to win a ratings race with a shocking Halloween special. But as a troubled young girl shows off her ability to be possessed in front of a live audience, things go to hell quickly.
Molli And Max In The Future
A charmingly low-key riff on a rom-com, this chatty sci-fi feature stars “Girls” alum Zosia Mamet and recent “Saturday Night Live” cast member Aristotle Athari as two average people falling in love over the span of a few chance meetings over the years. Although the story is set so far in the future that intergalactic life is nearly unrecognizable, and Molli and Max are a magical witch and fighting robot operator, respectively, their obsessions with the minutiae of relationships and fear of rejection are all too relatable. Director and writer Michael Lukk Litwak keeps thing grounded with super-realistic dialogue, and Alex Winkler’s jazzy score adds an ease to the proceedings, resulting in a clever, quirky take on the future.
Laura Moss’ feature debut, co-written with frequent collaborator Brendan J. O’Brien, is a dark riff on a “Frankenstein” tale in which a doctor (Marin Ireland), who believes she has found the cure for death, steals the corpse of a young girl (A.J. Lister) and continues her experimentation with the help of the grieving mother (Judy Reyes). A mixture of dark humor, gothic twists, a unique score and an offbeat central performance from Ireland makes up for a lack of scares with a nerve-wracking tale.
In My Mother’s Skin
This fantastical period piece, set in the Philippines in 1945, focuses on a rich family near the end of WWII whose patriarch may be hoarding stolen gold belonging to the occupying Japanese. As he leaves to keep his family out of harm’s way, his wife (Beauty Gonzalez) becomes violently ill, leaving the young Tala (Felicity Kyle Napuli) to take care of her mother — and even younger brother — as food becomes scarce. She turns to a beautiful fairy (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) for help, but the help, of course, comes at a price. Although it borrows liberally from possession features and films like “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Skin” is gorgeously shot and anchored by an unmissable performance from Gonzalez, whose quick descent into monstrosity is witnessed through the eyes of her observant daughter. It’s a chilling role, made even better with creative creature makeup.
Another great addition to the Canadian werewolf coming-of-age canon, this spiritual successor to “Ginger Snaps” follows Heather (a mesmerizing Bobbi Salvör Menuez), an outsider because of lycanthropic tendencies, as they fall in love with Jonny (Amandla Stenberg) and are met with scorn and derision in their small town. Yet many of the film’s most impactful moments take place between Heather’s supportive father, who is also a werewolf, and cruel, alcoholic mother. While the film is light on gore, it’s dripping with atmosphere, bathed in inky night, harsh red tones and washed over with an ’80s-inspired soundtrack prime for big emotions.
Eddie Alcazar’s surreal black and white sci-fi feature is a bold vision of a world where immortality is literally bottled up and sold. The cast — a delightfully random group of performers that includes Stephen Dorff, Karrueche Tran, Bella Thorne and Scott Bakula — is game to follow bizarre inspiration in this selection from Sundance’s NEXT lineup. It’s a dark story in every way that could conceivably draw in adventurous cinephiles.
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