5 Fantasia Movies That Are Well Worth Seeking Out
Described by Quentin Tarantino as “the most important and prestigious genre film festival on this continent,” the Fantasia International Film Festival has been highlighting the world’s most bizarre, unclassifiable cinema since 1996. However, that’s not all this festival has to offer.
For the three weeks that Fantasia runs in Montreal every summer, there’s always a relatively wide variety of movies to choose from, including some that are likely to emerge from obscurity and enjoy acclaim and/or notoriety in the months ahead.
In our brief visit to the festival last week, we got an intriguing snapshot of this year’s selection, including these five highlights that are well worth seeking out.
78/52 bills itself as a feature length documentary about a single scene—the shower scene from Psycho—but that’s not entirely accurate. In order to offer context, director Alexandre Philippe (The People vs. George Lucas) explores other aspects of the film, its influence, and the career of Alfred Hitchcock.
Nonetheless, the unusually narrow focus of this documentary and its talking heads (including Peter Bogdanovich, Jamie Lee Curtis, Guillermo del Toro, and Elijah Wood) results in specificity where some film docs might settle for generalities.
Due to the wealth of past Psycho analysis, some of the perspectives are unavoidably familiar, but there’s more than enough worthwhile material to make this essential viewing for Hitchcock fans. (For his next film, Philippe plans to give the same treatment to another iconic screen death: the chestburster scene in Alien.)
One of the most pleasant surprises of Fantasia 2017, Sequence Break stars Chase Williamson as Oz, a loner arcade employee and amateur game developer who strikes up a romance with the likeminded Tess (Fabianne Therese). Unfortunately, as their relationship blossoms, Oz becomes consumed by a game that seems to be taking over his body and mind. Williamson and Therese previously co-starred in Don Conscarelli’s Joe Dies at the End and this familiarity shows in their lively onscreen chemistry.
In his sophomore effort as a writer-director, actor Graham Skipper (best known for films like The Mind’s Eye and Beyond the Gates) delivers a vivid, affectionate tribute to all kinds of ’80s pop culture, including lo-fi video games, synthesizer film scores, and the technological body horror of Videodrome. However, Sequence Break is at its best in scenes of mutated reality and nightmares that recall earlier decades, creating psychedelic sights and sounds so vivid you may find yourself reaching for the rewind button.
Most Beautiful Island
Part kitchen sink drama, part unnerving horror movie, Most Beautiful Island was inspired by the first-hand ordeal of writer-director-star Ana Asensio. She plays Luciana, a Spanish immigrant struggling to make ends meet in New York City. Desperate for income of any kind, she happily accepts a gig that involves little more than dressing up and attending a cocktail party. When Luciana arrives at the shady location (a well-guarded Chinatown basement), she quickly realizes that something far more insidious is happening. Placed alongside several other women, she waits for her turn to be lead into a room where an unspecified—but clearly terrifying—ritual is being carried out.
While this SXSW Grand Jury Award winner gets off to a slow, somewhat uninspired start, Asensio eventually demonstrates a rare command of suspense, forcing us to experience events from her character’s blinkered (and very vulnerable) perspective. The result is a shocking immersion in the day-to-day realities of immigrant life in the USA.
Super Dark Times
An incredibly assured directorial debut by Kevin Phillips, Super Dark Times follows a trio of high school friends in the days after they accidentally kill one of their classmates. In a scenario that bears some resemblance to Mean Creek or 2013’s Night Moves, the guilty parties are plagued by guilt, confusion, and erratic behaviour, eventually culminating in an unexpectedly violent finale.
A triumph of great moments more than overall consistency—there are dull patches and aimless digressions throughout—Super Dark Times is primarily a showcase for Phillips’ confidence as a visual filmmaker. While he relies a little too heavily on the aesthetic of Donnie Darko, his inventive staging keeps you engaged throughout, giving particular impact to the film’s more volatile developments. To realize his full potential, Phillips will need a more nuanced script, but Super Dark Times is a big step in the right direction.
While Larry Cohen may not be a household name among casual film buffs, he’s a legend in cult movie circles. Before screening King Cohen, Fantasia presented the prolific writer-director with the festival’s lifetime achievement award, but this career-spanning documentary is quick to acknowledge both the highs and lows of his storied career. Fortunately, there’s one thing Cohen’s classics (It’s Alive, God Told Me To, Q: The Winged Serpent, The Stuff) and disasters (I, the Jury, Deadly Illusion, Wicked Stepmother) have in common: hilarious production anecdotes.
In order to keep costs down, Cohen broke every rule in the book, endangering his collaborators, himself, and the general public. In recounting these tales, Cohen strikes the perfect balance of passion and self-effacement, making him a uniquely appealing screen presence.
Critics may be slow to show their respect, but the presence of directors like J.J. Abrams, Joe Dante, John Landis, and Martin Scorsese proves that Cohen has something far more valuable: the respect of his peers.