Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival began on Aug. 20 and continues till Sept. 2, bringing genre cinema right into your home thanks to their pandemic-friendly online-only edition. Here is our latest round-up:
The Block Island Sound
Dead fish litters the beaches. Fields are covered with dead birds. Electronic equipment is going awry on the lake. What is happening in Block Island? No one seems to know, but Harry Lynch (Chris Sheffleld) doesn’t care. He’s stuck minding his ailing father (Neville Archambault). The old man has lapses in consciousness, a faulty memory and goes off sailing on his own in the middle of the night. Soon, Harry’s sister Audry (Michaela McManus) comes back to town to investigate the local wildlife deaths and things get strained in the Lynch household. But when the family patriarch dies on his boat after yet another episode, each sibling investigates the mysteries of Block Island, not expecting their connections or how it’ll change their lives.
The McManus brothers build a strong sense of place and ambiance. Within minutes, the placid waters and the bleak maritime town create a scope that is both immense while remaining intimate. Sound editing adds an otherworldly malaise, like there’s always *something* watching the Lynch family from the horizon.
Block Island Sound is the grown-up, bummed-out version of an Amblin Entertainment tale. Strained family life is still interrupted by supernatural happenings, but instead of precocious children discovering the outside world, it’s resentful adults trapped by their circumstances and lashing out at others. The funny nerd friend who *knows* about the mysterious happenings is great when he’s a kid, but here, he’s an adult conspiracy maven always bumming off rides from his friends.
Like an Amblin movie, Block Island Sound culminates into an otherworldly event, but unlike the Spielberg movies of the ’80s, it’s hard to know whether it’ll lead to better things for it’s heroes. (Yannick Belzil)
Block Island Sound screens on Friday, Aug. 28, 7 p.m. and Tuesday, Sept. 1, 11:10 p.m.
Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku
Apart from a brief dalliance with Dragonball Z as a kid, I’ve never really been one to fall for the nerdier side of Japanese pop culture (I suppose if you count moustache jazz from the ’70s, then you can out me as a liar and a con artist). Perhaps that makes me an unlikely audience for Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku, an aggressively kawaii rom-com adapted from a popular manga and subsequent anime series. But based on a cursory bit of research, it seems that most otaku and Wotakoi fans actually hated this adaptation, which loops in elements of La La Land and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in its loud, kaleidoscopic vision.
Narumi (Mitsuki Takahaka) is a diehard otaku who hides her true identity at her new job, fearing that it may cause her to be taken less seriously by her coworkers. Alas, one of those coworkers is her old friend Hirotaka (Kento Yamazaki), himself a game otaku; Hirotaka is pretty confident in his own standing as an otaku and seems better suited to hiding it, which Narumi finds rather impressive – doubly so when they fall in love. Hirotaka, however, finds it difficult to navigate Narumi’s pervasive otaku fandom because, as the title so astutely points out, love is hard for otaku.
Everything about Wotakoi is massively corny, from the pink-wigged musical sequences that actually feature “lololololol” as a lyric to Takahaka’s extremely expressive and cartoonish performance, but with a title and premise like that, it’s hard to expect otherwise. The elaborate musical sequences are way too long and repetitive, the central conflict is pretty difficult to relate to unless you yourself are an undateable otaku and yet… I found myself somewhat charmed by the go-for-broke energy of the thing and its unabashed cartoonishness. To be perfectly honest, it’s not like I seek out candy-colored Japanese rom-coms to begin with, but if this is considered a bad one… (Alex Rose)
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku screens on Friday, Aug. 28, 7:15 p.m.
Half-way through Sanzaru, its protagonist Evelyn (Aina Dumlao) peers through the crack of a locked door. What does she see that disturbs her? A pile of old VHS tapes spilling out of a box. The haunting of analog technology figures front and centre in Xia Magnus’ début feature. One moment the phone lines will shut off completely, and the next the intercoms will relay high frequency sounds and voices from one of the rooms in the large house. Yet, this possessed technology is only a piece of the puzzle, one which leaves a few too many empty spaces to feel complete. Set on a Texan estate, this gothic tale tells the story of Evelyn, a filipino nurse hired to take care of the matriarch of the Regan family. As her dementia gets worse, the line between recalled trauma and paranoia begins to blur.
What that trauma is is hinted at throughout the film, but not fully enough for the eventual reveal to feel satisfying. Converging American gothic horror with the supernaturalism of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s work, Sanzaru effectively delivers a cultural mélange that doesn’t feel forced or tokenizing. Yet, the film can’t seem to decide whether it wants to rely more on atmosphere and subtle hints in order to lead the viewer forward, or if spelling out conflict through dialogue and externalized performance is the best means. This apparent indecision creates a sense of there being two films existing concurrently. Only neither film is great enough to pull the other’s weight. Despite being uneven, there are some truly inspired moments that hint at Xia Magnus’ promise. (Sarah Foulkes)
Sanzaru screens on Saturday, Aug. 29, 7:30 p.m.
One of the great things about a festival like Fantasia is that you’re often walking into a film completely blind, or discovering a movie or genre from parts of the world that you might not be as familiar with. That was the case for me with Kriya, the first horror film from New Delhi director Sidharth Srinivasan, an intriguing tale of a religious family living in a dilapidated mansion.
It opens in a club, where DJ Neel (Noble Luke) sets his eyes on the gorgeous Sitara (Navjot Randhawa) amid blaring beats and colourful strobe lights. When they start hooking up in his car, she suggests they move it somewhere else and proceeds to guide him to her home, which turns out to be an old, giant, creepy manor. No red flags here, mate. When the two walk in on Sitara’s mother and sister performing religious rites around the dying body of Sitara’s father with the help of a spiritual man simply referred to as Panditji, Neel somehow decides to stick around, getting pulled in deeper into whatever is going on with this weird clan.
Srinivasan weaves a lot of interesting ideas together, especially playing with the idea of Hindu funeral rites as being morbid and dark, flashing between the performance of these rites and the image of a bloody corpse traipsing through the house. He also toys with the role of women in these rites, especially with Sitara’s sexuality on full display, sometimes jarringly so. The film’s main flaw revolves around the performance of its lead actor, Noble Luke. His sometimes overly dramatic reactions to certain situations made me chuckle, which I don’t think was the desired effect. The repetition of some visual tricks (like the previously-mentioned corpse constantly popping up) also loses its spooky edge after awhile. Still, it’s been awhile since a horror movie actually surprises me. The original blend of religion, cultural commentary, and horror creates an interestingly nightmarish tale that’ll keep you wondering where this is going until the film’s very haunting conclusion. (Roxane Hudon)
Kriya screens Saturday, Aug. 29, 11:15 p.m.
To see the complete Fantasia Festival program and more details about tickets and streaming, please visit their website.
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