The Fall film festival season is just around the corner, with Oscar contenders quickly piling into the Toronto, Venice, and New York. However, my Fall Festival season has started with explorations of the bloody, weird and fun films that will allow you to feel like you’re discovering movies for the first time. Fantasia Festival 2021 kicks off this week, both virtually and in-person. While I could not sneak up to the great country of Canada for a sprint through some truly wild films, there’s plenty for both sets of audiences to check out. The 25th anniversary of Fantasia Festival begins on Wednesday night with a screening of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, and closes on August 25th with The Great Yokai War – Guardians from Daisenso Gardianzu. If that’s not range, I don’t know what you’re looking for. Below are my picks, first for those streaming from home over the next two weeks, and then for those going in-person.
Check out the full list of films here! Also look at selected screenings below!
5. The Last Thing Mary Saw
Directed by Edoardo Vitaletti
August 15th — 6:30p – 3 hour rental window
August 17th — 9a — 24 Hour rental window
“Southold, New York, 1843: Young Mary (Stefanie Scott), blood trickling from behind the blindfold tied around her eyes, is interrogated about the events surrounding her grandmother’s death. As the story jumps back in time, we witness Mary, raised in a repressively religious household, finding fleeting happiness in the arms of Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman), the home’s maid. Her family, who believe they are seeing, speaking, and acting on God’s behalf, view the girls’ relationship as an abomination, to be dealt with as severely as possible. The couple attempt to carry on in secret, but someone is always watching, or listening, and the wages of perceived sin threaten to become death, with the tension only heightened by the arrival of an enigmatic stranger (Rory Culkin) and the revelation of forces other than the Lord at work.”
4. The Spine of Night
Directed by Morgan Galen King & Philip Gelatt
August 14th at 9p — 3-Hour Window
August 16th at 9a – 24-Hour Window
Far and high amid icy wastes, a swamp witch from the lowlands makes her way to the mouth of a skull-shaped cave. Within lies a luminous blue flower… and the masked swordsman tasked with guarding it. On this one night, though, no blood will be spilled. Instead, it is tales that shall flow, each another link in a chain across the centuries, a cycle of greed, corruption, and treachery, of madness, massacre, and malignant magic. Time and time again, the thirst for knowledge and the power it brings is quenched by blood and fire…
3. Alien on Stage
Directed by Kier-La Janisse
August 5th – 25th – Until Cap is Reached
In the great tradition of pantomimes, a form of participatory community theatre, a merry bunch of bus drivers are working on a homemade stage play adaptation of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN. As DYI as it gets, with costumes from charity shops and cardboard decor, we follow the ups and downs of the most delightful, down-to-earth and charming people you’ll ever get to meet, in Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer’s debut feature.
2. Woodlands Dark and Days Betwitched: A History of Folk Horror
Directed by Kier-La Janisse
August 5th – 25th – Until Cap is Reached
“Strange things found in fields, lights flickering in dark woods… […] The Devil having a cup of tea with you.” Folk horror is a riveting genre that keeps on reinventing itself, and has yet to be properly dissected. Starting with the “unholy trilogy” – WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968), BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1971), and THE WICKER MAN (1973) – then travelling to all continents and beyond, finally ending up in our era with Ari Aster and co., no stones are left unturned in the most extensive folk-horror documentary to date.
Winner of a Midnighter Audience Award at SXSW, WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED navigates through 200 films and 50 interviewees, including Robert Eggers (THE VVITCH), Alice Lowe (PREVENGE) and Piers Haggard (BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW), to name a few.
1. Don’t Say It’s Name
Directed by Rueben Martell
August 18h at 7:30p — 3-Hour Window
August 20th at 9a – 24-Hour Window
The small, snow-covered Indigenous community is about to see an upturn. Mining company WEC has just made an agreement for drilling on this tribal land, and it’s looking like everyone will benefit – except the land itself. Local activist Kharis Redwater is one of those protesting the deal when her voice is silenced in a hit-and-run that remains unsolved. So as WEC begins their assault on the land, the land itself retaliates against WEC and all those who support it. But for local peace officer Mary Stonechild (Madison Walsh) and Park Ranger Stacey Cole (Sera-Lys McArthur), the answer to this mystery lies in the traditions of their people and the vengeance-filled spirits that have haunted the land for generations, about which the people know one rule: don’t say its name.
5. Dreams On Fire
Directed by Philippe McKie
In-Person — August 8th at 9:00p
Virtual — August 10th at 9a (24 Hour Screening Window)
Yume has only one dream – to break into the dance world in Japan. She leaves her small town, against her parents’ wishes, to move to Tokyo and make her mark in her discipline. She navigates between street dance competitions, hip-hop classes, life in her tiny flat, and the many encounters with colourful characters. All alone in this big city, she also has to take a job as a hostess to help her survive. Far from her initial ambitions, this job may help her to assert herself and gain self-confidence, unless it leads her into a toxic spiral instead.
4. Tokyo Revengers
Directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa
In-Person — August 8th at 7:30p
A naked, tattooed yakuza is bloodied and terrorized by a new breed of sharp-dressed gangsters in a luxury car. The Tokyo Manji Gang is flexing its muscle, and a furious conflict within the underworld is in motion. It even affects the life of Takemichi Hanagaki, a slovenly, cowardly loser in his mid-twenties, when he hears the news that his high-school sweetheart and her brother have been killed. Then Takemichi himself is attacked, pushed onto the subway tracks as the train barrels down on him. At the last second, however, Takemichi is transported 10 years into the past, becoming his tough, cocky teenage self again. He’s right back where the madness all started. He may just have a chance to change the future – if he can survive his own past!
3. Prisoners Of The Ghostland
Directed by Sion Sono
In-Person — August 20th at 9:45p
Virtual — August 23st at 7:00p (3-Hour Screening Window)
Two American men, Hero (Nicolas Cage) and Psycho (Nick Cassavettes), walk into a Japanese bank in Samurai Town toting guns and screaming “Banzai!”. A small boy offers them gumballs. It does not end well. In another part of town, Bernice (Sofia Boutella), granddaughter of the town’s tyrannical ruler, The Governor (Bill Moseley), attempts to escape. It does not end well. Bernice is now trapped in a lawless locale known as The Ghostland, that The Governor deems too dangerous, and he wants her back. For this mission, he plucks Hero out of prison with an offer of freedom if he can find Bernice and bring her back, alive and “unsoiled”, in three days. It will not end well, if it ever ends at all.
2. All The Moons (Todas las Lunas)
Directed by Igor Legarreta
In-Person — August 19th at 9:30p
Virtual — August 21st at 9a (24 Hour Screening Window)
As war rages through 1876 Spain, an orphanage is bombed and a young girl (Haizea Carneros) is gravely injured. She is rescued by a woman (Itziar Ituño) whom she perceives to be an angel, and who heals her wounds, while telling the girl she must now avoid the daylight. She also promises the girl that she will see many more full moons, and when more soldiers attack, they are forced to flee into the wilderness. The two become separated, and the girl is forced to take shelter, facing an uncertain future – and one that will last far beyond that of ordinary human beings.
1. The Deep House
Directed by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury
In-Person — August 22nd at 9:00p
Tina (Camille Rowe) and her boyfriend Ben (James Jagger) are two daredevil YouTubers with a passion for “urbex” – the exploration of hard-to-find, abandoned urban edifices and buildings. Through a forest with no name (all good for now), and that isn’t on any maps (what could go wrong here?), and beyond a “danger – do not enter” sign (okay, now this is definitely a horror film), they find their way to what could be their newest and greatest adventure. While live on social media, they film themselves as they take a literal deep dive into the bottom of an artificial lake, where lies a mysterious house with a sinister past… a haunted house… of course.
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