The films you should see at Fantasia

Our highlights of the annual genre -film extravaganza.

Adam Wingard’s You’re Next

Montreal’s wildest film festival roars through town today, Thursday July 18 and winds down on Aug. 7. Since it’s also the festival with the absolute most programming—and seeing as head programmer Mitch Davis and his crew tend to be equally hyberbolic about each and every one of the 120 features and 200 shorts screening (and we love them for it)—allow us to offer some of our personal picks for best Fantasia bets.

Takashi Miike’s Shield of Straw

The fest opens tonight with the North American premiere of Shield of Straw. The twisted legal thriller is the latest from Takashi Miike, the Japanese director whose insanely prolific output makes his work a perennial presence at Fantasia. (As is often the case, Miike also has another film, black comedy Lesson of the Evil, gracing the fest.)

Adam Wingard, the “mumblecore horror” auteur and actor who was treated to a career retrospective a couple of Fantasias ago, returns with V/H/S/2, the sequel to last year’s manic compendium horror film V/H/S (he directed the framing story and helms this film’s opening segment, too), as well as his own feature, You’re Next. That film’s star, Joe Swanberg, also brings his latest directorial effort, 24 Exposures, to the fest; he’ll be in town to present both films. Meanwhile, Don Mancini will present Curse of Chucky, the welcome return of his epic psychotic-doll series.

Other fest highlights from notable names in the field include L’autre monde (The Otherworld), a whimsical documentary from genre legend Richard Stanley (Hardware); Bad Film, the resurrected early work from Japanese experimentalist Sion Sono; and Drug War from Hong Kong action kingpin Johnnie To. And Bobcat Goldthwait will be in town to present his latest, found- footage horror flick Willow Creek.

Sherilyn Fenn and Zoë Bell in Raze

Magic Magic, a psychological thriller with Michael Cera and Juno Temple, screens hot on the heels of Sundance and Cannes, while Raze is a women-in-prison film with Zoë Bell (Death Proof) and Twin PeaksSherilyn Fenn. Zero Charisma, meanwhile, is an American indie comedy set in the treacherous milieu of Dungeons & Dragons gaming. Lloyd Kaufman, the mastermind of longstanding trash cinema pioneers Troma Films, returns to the fest with the intriguingly, or intimidatingly, titled sequel Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1.

Fantasia is well known for its boundary-pushing horror and genre films. But for those lacking the taste for gore, the fest also typically premieres a lot of under-the-radar international arthouse fare, and this year is no exception. Standouts include Nobuo Mizuta’s The Apology King, a comedy on the Japanese practice of dogeza, or elaborate apology; Sean Ellis’s Metro Manila, a Filipino crime drama that won the audience award at Sundance; Taiwanese rom-com When a Wolf Falls in Love With a Sheep and 1981-set Japanese coming-of-age comedy See You Tomorrow, Everyone! The latter has the distinction of being packaged with an opening short, The Decelerators, written and directed by man-about-town and old pal of the Cult MTL crew Mark Slutsky, making its Montreal premiere.

The Demon’s Rook

This year’s program continues Fantasia’s longstanding support of Quebec and Canadian film with a number of selections. One of the biggest, and most surprising, local names on the bill is Robert Morin, the veteran indie experimentalist who turns to post-apocalyptic sci-fi with his latest, Les 4 soldats. Canadian industry types as well as genre film geeks will be keeping a curious eye on The Demon’s Rook, a low-budget monster movie directed by and starring the very American James Sizemore, but executive-produced by Colin Geddes and Katarina Gligorijevic, the longtime Toronto programmers taking a crack at the other side of the film game.

Documentaries to watch out for include I Am Divine (on the late, great drag superstar from John Waters’ transgressive early films), rock doc Mistaken for Strangers (about the complicated sibling relationship at the heart of indie-rock stars the National) and Rewind This!, a history of the video cassette told by its still-obsessive fans.

Baranowska’s poster for Żuławski’s Possession

As if the dizzying series of titles wasn’t enough, Fantasia also branches out into other media, presenting the theatrical spectacle of Clive Barker’s The History of the Devil (see our story about that in our newspaper, hitting the streets today) and an exhibit of Polish film-poster artist Barbara “Basia” Baranowska‘s works. The exhibit is co-presented by tireless horror writer/programmer Kier-La Janisse and mounted in conjunction with the fest’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Polish psychological horrormeister Andrzej Żuławski, who’ll be in town for screenings of his L’amour braque and Szamanka.

The three-week whirlwind nears conclusion on Aug. 6 with  The World’s End, an apocalyptic comedy that reunites director Edgar Wright with his Shaun of the Dead stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. This only scratches the surface of Fantasia’s programming, so keep it locked on for our regular reviews and updates. And Fantasia’s website is the place to keep up to date on which films have sold out (many do). ■

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