Today at Fantasia

Reviews of a Danish crime drama, American true-crime doc and New Zealand director Taika Waititi’s follow-up to What We Do in the Shadows.

A Conspiracy of Faith

A Conspiracy of Faith

The following films are screening as part of the Fantasia Film Festival, which runs through Aug. 3.

A Conspiracy of Faith

While films dealing with religion and the abuse/murder of children constitute a somewhat tired subgenre in parts of Europe, A Conspiracy of Faith, the third film in the Department Q series based on the best-selling novels by Jussi Adler-Olsen, is anything but exhausted. It’s a riveting Danish crime drama that touches on the cyclical nature of intergenerational abuse and the complex relationship between faith, the lack thereof, and religion. It excels in weaving a fragmented narrative, while commenting on the roots of violence and faith, and touching, for good measure, on undercurrents of racial tension in Danish society. It does all this while delivering a solid, taut thriller that rivals, if not surpasses anything out of Hollywood.

The story begins unfolding with the discovery of a bloodstained message in a bottle that finds its way to investigative team Assad and Carl. From there it is tied to the Lord’s Disciples, a sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a series of unreported missing children and personal crises of faith. The setting vacillates between slate grey coastline and rich golden fields, all punctuated by the mechanical drone of windmills.

The richness of the storyline and character development can, no doubt, be traced back to the novel; its success on screen is an altogether different matter. The central team of Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Carl) and Fares Fares (Assad) provide a solid ballast for the film. The conflict between Carl’s brooding atheism and Assad’s Muslim faith never feels pasted-on, forced or descends to the level of mere banter. The film’s gloomy tone is sustained with a pulse-pounding tempo, which is augmented by the very fine Pal Sverre Hagen as one of the most diabolical villains in recent memory. (Mark Carpenter and Katie Ferrar)

A Conspiracy of Faith screens in J.A. de Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) today, Sunday, July 17, 10 p.m.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

It’s true that, on paper, Taika Waititi’s follow-up to his excellent What We Do in the Shadows seems a little familiar, if not bland; its teenaged protagonist and plot straight out of a Canadian young adult novel from the 1970s suggests something crowd-pleasing and edgeless, but leave it to Waititi to surprise an audience. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an adaptation of a novel by famed New Zealand outdoorsman / novelist Barry Crump, but there’s Waititi trademark style and tonal hairpin turns all over this thing.

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is an unruly city boy who’s sent to live deep in the hills of New Zealand with his adoptive auntie (Rima Te Wiata) and her gruff husband Hec (Sam Neill). Although originally reticent (and determined to flee; he makes a feeble attempt at escape every single day), Ricky begins to appreciate life with his new family — until his auntie suddenly dies of a heart attack. Faced with the dim prospect of spending the rest of his life with the monosyllabic Hec, Ricky takes to the hills, followed closely by Hec. A few days out in the wild, they discover that the world at large thinks Hec has abducted Ricky, and they’re coming to save him.

Of course, there’s a lot of the mordant deadpan humour that one associates with Waititi, but what most impresses about Hunt for the Wilderpeople is how Waititi manages to subvert and twist what ultimately comes through as a pretty formulaic movie. Waititi moves freely between dramatic scenes and silly comedic set pieces; the relationship between Hec and Ricky is also entertainingly thorny in a way that we don’t usually expect from the mismatched-buddies-in-the-wild genre. Waititi was the first to admit that this is the kind of story we’ve seen before (my interview with him will appear on the site later this week), but he truly excels at telling it his way. (Alex Rose)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople screens at the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W) today, Sunday, July 17, 2:15 p.m. and hits theatres on Friday, July 22.  

Beware the Slenderman

beware the slenderman

In 2014, two 12-year-old girls from Wisconsin, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, stabbed one of their best friends to impress the so-called Slender Man, a tall, faceless man who preys on children and is a complete fabrication of the online horror fan-fiction community known as Creepypasta.

Through heart-felt interviews with the girls’ families, and an exploration of the web phenomenon that is Slender Man, director Irene Taylor Brodsky attempts to explain the lead-up and consequences of the stabbing. While Brodsky can’t interview or film the girls since they’re currently incarcerated and awaiting trial, she does show extensive footage of them being questioned by the police after the stabbing. She also uses childhood photos and home videos to draw an approximate portrait of the accused.

The documentary checks off the usual qualities of a true crime documentary and the bizarre attraction we have with murders and whodunits, including dramatic courtroom revelations, questionable interview tactics and end-of-film reveals. Usually, I’m all for that — I binged Serial and Making a Murderer like the rest of you and name-drop Scandinavian detectives as if they’re my best friends, but this is different. It seems to be marketed using the creepy novelty of the Slender Man character, but in the end, it’s about two girls who didn’t have many friends, spent too much time on the Internet and ended up stabbing another young girl.

There are no doubts about the corruption of the justice system or the innocence of the accused here, only troubling revelations of mental illnesses and questions about how much time “our kids” are spending online. The main courtroom drama revolves around whether Weier and Geyser should be tried as kids or adults and a short clip has us witnessing a detective admitting he should have probably had Geyser’s parents around. Brodsky spends more time trying to depict Weier and Geyser as just two normal gals than trying to explain why they would stab a pal in the name of an Internet persona. It makes for quite anti-climactic viewing, no matter how many creepy images of the Slender Man are thrown into the mix. (Roxane Hudon)

Beware the Slenderman screens at the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W) today, Sunday, July 17, 4:35 p.m.

Fantasia tickets can be purchased at Concordia’s Hall building (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) for $11 each, or online ($12 each), here.