From Montreal, Quebec emerges Canada’s finest genre festival. Whether by virtual or in person access, we’ll enjoy a global perspective of vanguard pictures of a certain variety and perspective. Some are horror movies. Some are quirky outliers you might not have another shot at in theaters. It’s always a darn good time. Fellow Editor Stephen and I will be reporting from our pocket of the internet. Here are just ten of the films that pique our interests in the festival’s offerings.
The fervent animated works of Masaaki Yuasa remain must see material. I already saw Inu-Oh at this year’s SIFF, it’s as utterly delightful and quirky in its animation as you can possibly expect. Bodies move a bit differently in Yuasa’s imagination. Limbs contort and flail wildly and longly, expanding into the sky, and stretching around musical instruments. There is a wild precision in the animated auteur’s approach. This is a very good rock opera sort of anime, quintessentially composed of familiar stylization that matches prior efforts like the astonishing The Night is Short, Walk on Girl (2017), Devilman Crybaby (2018), and one of my favorite recent animations to recommend, Ride Your Wave (2019). A clear-cut recommendation ahead of the festival. You know it’s gonna be good.
Alexandre O. Philippe is a solid cataloguer of director interests. In The People vs. George Lucas (2010) and Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on the Exorcist (2019), he has effectively probed two of the most essential pop culture conversations: the culture of fans vs. creators inherent in popular science fiction and how horror is so often an examination of a director’s theological questions and concerns. In Lynch/Oz, Philippe covers a hallowed ground in two directions. Victor Fleming’s masterpiece The Wizard of Oz (1939) has remained at the center of David Lynch’s visionary imagination. So much of his imagery and technique owes a great debt to the exceptional imagination of this early cinematic fantasy and the film seeks to draw parallel lines between some of the strongest work ever put to cinema. You can imagine some of the images and themes that inspired Lynch but experiencing a deep dive comparing these materials sounds utterly fascinating, and ultimately, like a worthwhile, well-drawn project.
Bodies Bodies Bodies
I’M SMART, I’M STRONG, I’M READY FOR WHAT COMES ALONG. I’VE GOT GOOD FRIENDS, WE’LL STICK TOGETHER TILL THE END
We love the current wave of women-centered horror films, directed by women, acted by ensembles of women, and Bodies Bodies Bodies is the premier one of those this year. Like last year’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, the film involves a group of young folks playing a socially viral game. Watch the energetic trailer and see what’s cooking, as a tight-knit circle of friends unravel in an increasingly deadly gamified horror project that seems to be conversant in online nomenclature. It’s the proper closing night send-off that all good festivals require and we’re putting our chips on Halina Reijn being an important genre director to watch for the foreseeable future.
Something new is brewing at The Twin Geeks. We’re hard at work on a new podcast series, beginning this week, which will explore, in great depth, the entirety of the Ring franchise, from its humble origins as genre fiction to the wild range of books and films that followed. Stay tuned this Friday for our first ever episode of The Fright Files, and we’ll cover all the fascinating reasons that Ring lead to the booming international popularity of J-Horror and why the franchise is so trenchantly fixated on modern social concerns. These are still going because that’s just how universal, accessible, and self-evident the need for this brand of folk horror can be. Meanwhile, the film franchise keeps growing. As is the nature of the story, when you make copies of a viral tape that spreads like a disease, an endless series of copies will follow. It’s an unstoppable beast of a franchise and this Fantasia is home to the latest character spin-off for Sadako.
It’s been a while. Lena Dunham has been relatively quiet for a while. Makes sense after some of the troubling revelations she shared about herself in her autobiography. Makes more sense when so much of her work was also autobiographical and the audience may not have the presence of mind to be forgiving just yet. So, now Dunham is making her next movie, Sharp Stick, and perhaps as a matter of installed curiosity, don’t you just want to know what it has to say for itself? It deals with a phase of late-20s sexual exploration in a young woman’s life. This could go over any number of ways and most of them point to this being worth at least passing consideration.
Da-eum-so-hee (Next Sohee)
Ready for a slow burn from South Korea? (The correct answer is always yes). The sophomore feature for July Jung, Next Sohee received rave notices from Cannes that ought to continue into Fantasia. Early reviews described a peculiar sense of quietude, a film swept up in oft-soundless portraits of social despair, lead by two strong performances by Kim Si-eun (see: 2016’s The Handmaiden) and Doona Bae (see: Cloud Atlas (2012)), credible actors with the right credentials. When a worker dies by suicide, a detective with a connection to her life and her place of work investigates what has happened. A film examining issues of abusive workplace culture wrapped up in a modern South Korean mystery, it’s all enough to put it firmly on anyone’s watchlist.
The 37th entry in the Ultraman mega-franchise has been delayed and delayed and delayed. Now it arrives, like Shin Godzilla (2016) before it, with the considerable vision of Hideaki Anno, progenitor of a certain class of modern kaiju picture, best detailed in the much beloved Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise. Essentially the work began right after his effort with Godzilla but has been pushed out this far, now with Gainax co-conspirator and Shin Godzilla co-director Shinji Higuchi taking the helm, following a script by Anno that was intended to sell a whole trilogy. Any Toho genre movie would be a festival must, but this is about the biggest kaiju thing we know about that everyone has to see. Follow us at Ranking the Monsters for future considerations and discussions on all things kaiju.
What to Do With the Dead Kaiju?
You know us. This is what we’re here for. As with the above description, our station as podcasters of kaiju affairs, means that these films are always central to our interests, and must be ranked through a scientific process of close study and careful determination. So many kaiju movies are about the moment of attack. The action is on: a kaiju is rampaging through the city. What about what comes next? What about the movie after the movie? What to Do With the Dead Kaiju proposes a clear inversion: when the monster is taken care of, what about the monster of bureaucracy that follows in the wake of all that destruction? Will the people in charge suddenly find some will to take care of the populace or will their politics continue undaunted, the threat vanquished, and relative safety restored? There is always a place for kaiju stories outside the realm of their usual storytelling. This could be great — or terrible — sometimes, when picking movies, you just need to roll the dice.
Already accumulating early accolades for its action acumen, The Roundup feels like the essential contemporary action film of this year’s selection. Starring Ma Dong-seok (notable for Train to Busan, 2016) and as notable as anyone gets to be in Eternals (2021), the actor takes center stage with his broad physical presence and sense for stunts leading the way in this presumably tantalizing new film by perpetually curious South Korean phenom Lee Sang-yong (see: 2009’s Thirst). We expect nothing less than brazen over the top action and to revel in what’s already being admired as an exceptional new work of stunt-filled filmmaking.
John Woo Retrospective
The best thing you can watch at Fantasia, or maybe any other time, are John Woo movies. At this year’s festival, the maverick action director is being celebrated with a career achievement award, and a couple of his most popular works are being shown at the festival. The films of the gala are Hard Boiled (1992) and Face/Off (1997). If you haven’t seen them, you will want to see them, and if you have seen them, you will know why: they are premier cuts of the action genre — and ’90s filmmaking — at their best. It’s also a grand time watching these tributes and seeing much beloved filmmakers being rewarded for their great contributions to the craft. Outside the festival, our evergreen recommendation is Bullet in the Head from 1990, an action film with more on its mind: a world of politics and seedy characters intersecting for one of the boldest filmic statements from the genre that shows the full capacity of what these movies can be at their best. John Woo remains active and is currently working on a film called Silent Night, not to be confused with all the other films called that, and we’re just glad he’s still an active purveyor of the genre he best embodies. We’re living in a time where these prestige directors have space for their final acts and we anticipate that Woo has more to say in the last arc of his career, before it’s all said and done.