Alien Crystal Palace

Alien Crystal Palace

Must-see movies at Fantasia 2019

Montreal’s most exciting film fest runs from July 11 to Aug. 1.

There are so many kinds of films that play at the Fantasia Film Festival (which runs from July 11 to Aug. 1) and so many unpredictable factors — world premieres, debut films, the rowdiness of the crowd — that it can be daunting to know where to even begin with the program. The fact is that you can’t make a truly terrible decision, but we’ve tried to isolate some highlights from the program. 

Returning favourites

Sadako is the latest installment in the Ringu trilogy and the first to be directed by original helmer Hideo Nakata since 1999’s Ringu 2. Emma Roberts, Milla Jovovich and Awkwafina star in Alice Waddington’s feature debut Paradise Hills, set in a dystopian reform school for women of aberrant behaviour. Waddington’s short film Disco Inferno was a standout of the Born of Woman short-film showcase a few years back, and she co-wrote the script with Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal, Timecrimes). Genre stalwart Pollyanna McIntosh (The Woman, The Walking Dead) makes her directorial debut with Darlin’, a coming-of-age tale that also serves as a direct sequel to Lucky McKee’s The Woman.

Liam Hemsworth in Killerman

Triple-threat weirdo Onur Tukel’s Summer of Blood premiered at Fantasia in 2014; he returns here with Black Magic for White Boys, a retooled version of a project he first presented as a four-part series. Malik Bader made quite a splash with his brutal debut Cash Only in 2015; he returns with Killerman, a gritty cop drama starring Liam Hemsworth. Writers Grady Hendrix and Ted Geoghegan (both Fantasia regulars) wrote Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic together; the film stars Rebecca Romjin as a wealthy Satanist. I may be mistaken but I think every single one of Richard Bates Jr.’s films has played Fantasia; his latest horror-satire, Tone-Deaf, is no different. Amanda Crew and Robert Patrick star in this home-invasion thriller that riffs on the current American political situation.

Award winners and avowed masters

If you missed Zhang Yimou’s Shadow during its lightning-quick release earlier this year, here’s your chance to rectify that. The Chinese master returns to the genre of wuxia with a film that took four awards (including Best Director) at Taiwan’s Golden Horse awards. Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel’s Jessica Forever was one of the most divisive festival films of the past year. It’s a strange fetishtic sci-fi film with influences as disparate as Claire Denis and Metal Gear Solid. Low-budget maverick Larry Fessenden takes on the Frankenstein myth with Depraved, a riff on the classic Mary Shelley story starring Blair Witch Project’s Joshua Leonard. 

American stars ’n’ bars

Riley Stearns returns to Fantasia five years after his debut Faults with The Art of Self-Defense, a black comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg as a meek accountant and Alessandro Nivola as the toxic, psychopathic sensei who takes him under his wing. Eisenberg also stars alongside Imogen Poots (who is also in The Art of Self-Defense!) in Vivarium, a dark sci-fi tale about a couple who quite literally become trapped in nightmarish suburbs. Lupita Nyong’o and Alexander England star as a couple of chaperones on a kid’s field trip that soon turns into a zombie outbreak in Abe Forsythe’s horror-comedy Little Monsters. Dave Bautista and Michelle Yeoh star in Master Z: Ip Man Legacy, an umpteenth film about the mythical martial arts master, this time under the direction of legendary choreographer Yuen Woo-ping. 

Elijah Wood in Come to Daddy

Elijah Wood has now more or less dedicated his career to genre films; he stars in prolific producer and Fantasia regular Ant Timpson’s directorial debut Come to Daddy, a gonzo black comedy that also stars Stephen McHattie. Irish comic Maeve Higgins stars alongside Will Forte in the supernatural comedy Extraordinary, in which Higgins plays a driving instructor with a flair for the supernatural.

Shock docs

Brian De Palma’s 1974 musical Phantom of the Paradise was more or less ignored by all upon release — everywhere but in Winnipeg, where college students became so enamored with the film they built up a cult to it that lasts to this day. Sean Stanley and Malcolm Ingram’s Phantom of Winnipeg traces that unusual path. (The original film will also screen with songwriter and star Paul Williams in attendance!) Homegrown doc L’inquiétante absence explores why the Quebec film landscape has so few horror films; director Amir Belkaim and Félix Brassard have assembled a veritable who’s-who of local luminaries, many of whom (it stands to reason) will be in attendance. Italian photojournalist Letizia Battaglia is the subject of Shooting the Mafia, a documentary that follows her career capturing most facets of the Sicilian Mafia’s decades-long reign.

Homegrown horrors

Prolific Canadian director Bruce McDonald returns to the genre world with Bruce McDonald’s Dreamland, a bizarre gangster fable starring Stephen McHattie (in a dual role!) and Henry Rollins. Montreal-based filmmakers Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer make their feature-length debut with Dead Dicks, a dark comedy about a woman forced to dispose of multiple corpses that look just like her fuck-up brother Richie. Emile Hirsch and Bruce Dern star in Freaks, an oddball Canadian sci-fi thriller that won awards at several festivals. Renaud Gauthier (Discopathe) returns with another stylish riff on classic genre films with Aquaslash, a gory water park-set ’80s slasher.

Unidentifiable filmic objects

Christian Louboutin (!), Asia Agento and Jean-Pierre Léaud star in Arielle Dombasle’s frankly impossible-to-describe Alien Crystal Palace, a film whose mere description on the Fantasia website makes my brain hurt. Mia Wasikowska stars in Mirrah Foulkes’s Judy and Punch, a strange, slapstick black comedy that takes the idea of the classic punching-puppets concept to the real world (!). The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea is a Greek crime film that’s described as being part of the same cinematic wave as Yorgos Lanthimos’s films, which should be the only selling point necessary.

Angeliki Papoulia as Elisabeth in the Miracle of the Sargasso Sea
Angeliki Papoulia as Elisabeth in the Miracle of the Sargasso Sea

Apologies to the majority of the continent of Asia (!), the films from which I was mostly unfamiliar with this year. That having been said, the programming at Fantasia is particularly strong in this regard, and you basically can’t fuck up by seeing a Korean cop movie. ■