Polystyrene I Am a Cliché

Fantasia Festival reviews: Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, #BLUE_WHALE

A documentary about a punk pioneer, a mind-bending Japanese sci-fi thriller and a Russian Screenlife horror film.

Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival began Aug. 5 and continues till Aug. 25, offering both online and in-person screenings. See our program highlights here, read our first review round-up here and our second one here. The following films are streaming this week or throughout the festival.

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché

Polystyrene I Am a Cliché fantasia festival reviews 2021
Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché (Fantasia Festival 2021 reviews)

Music documentaries are such an integral part of British culture and British television that they’ve sort of become a cliché in themselves. Nearly every marginally important figure of British music has had at least a half-hour devoted to them, and the general attitude of these being to depict their subject in a generally positive and culturally relevant light means they kind of always look and feel the same. Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché is indeed a made-for-TV feature length documentary about a British musician, but the personal slant (it’s co-directed by Styrene’s daughter) and the particulars of Styrene’s life and career allow it to stand alone.

Born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, Poly Styrene was a pretty singular sight on the London punk scene: a bi-racial frontwoman to a punk band whose sound was defined by honking saxophone lines, she was only 19 when X-Ray Spex hit. Where everyone else in the scene wore safety pins and ripped-up jeans, Poly Styrene had braces, wore neon-coloured outfits and wailed like no one else. X-Ray Spex had a pretty short life — one album and a few singles — but their relative success left Styrene a recognizable figure in the scene, which eventually led to mental health problems. She spent much of the ’80s and ’90s out of the limelight, living in a Hare Krishna community, before coming back to music in the mid 2000s. Her comeback would be short-lived, however — she died of cancer in 2011.

The film is narrated by Elliott-Said’s daughter Celeste, who provides a particularly nuanced point of view on a complex figure that was difficult to reduce to the symbols and rallying cries that surrounded her and her image. X-Ray Spex was ultimately just a few years in her life, but those years loomed large in subsequent years. Nuanced and poignant, Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché is amongst the better documentaries about punk musicians to be made in recent years.

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché is available via streaming for the duration of the festival.

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, directed by

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes fantasia festival reviews 2021
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Fantasia Festival 2021 reviews)

It’s inevitable that every genre festival will have a smattering of selections that are an easy sell based entirely on their conceptual appeal — movies that can be described as “X meets Y” and immediately pique curiosity. These, generally speaking, do not tend to deliver on their promises, something that’s as much the promise’s fault as the film’s. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes proposes an extremely risky conceit: a time-loop / time-travel movie in which the loops are two minutes long, which means the film loops back onto itself every two minutes at most. It’s a truly dizzying prospect both on paper and in reality, but the great surprise is that the film (which was written, directed and stars members of the theatre troupe Europe Kikaku) is actually fully in control of its own risky premise.

Depressed café owner Kato (Kazunori Tosa) hears a voice coming from the computer that turns out to be himself from two minutes in the future, effectively locking him and his friends into a locked groove of time. Two minutes isn’t very long — not long enough to truly benefit from the luxury of knowing the future, at least — but Kato and friends manage to get themselves stuck in complex shenanigans that they only have two minutes to wiggle their way out of each time. Though simple in its premise (there are essentially two locations), the film unfolds as one continuous tracking shot with obvious Rope-like cheats, a trick that manages to further smooth out the nesting-doll structure of the story. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is both easy to follow and insanely complex in a way that makes high-minded temporal fuckery like Tenet seem frankly dull.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is available via streaming for the duration of the festival.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, directed by Junta Yamaguchi


#BLUE_WHALE fantasia festival reviews 2021
#BLUE_WHALE (Fantasia Festival 2021 reviews)

The Screenlife storytelling method (in which the entire film takes place on computer screens or phone screens, whether through chat boxes, emails or video calls) is certainly one that’s bound to become more popular as more of our stories take place online. So far, Screenlife has mainly served genre films, its particular methods of exposition being ideally suited to both unfolding a mystery and integrating found-footage horror conventions into the story. There hasn’t really been a classic Screenlife movie yet, but it’s certainly not Anna Zaytseva’s painfully adolescent and try-hard #BLUE_WHALE that’ll buck that trend.

Teenagers in rural Russia appear to be killing themselves out of devotion to a mysterious cult; seemingly happy and normal kids walk in front of trains to everyone’s general surprise. When her sister dies in these circumstances, teenager Dana (Anna Potebnya) begins investigating and discovers an online community of teens wholly devoted to a mysterious game run by a shadowy figure known as Ana Morte. Dana decides to participate in the game herself in order to find the culprit and put an end to the deaths.

Equal parts juvenile creepypasta from the depths of Tumblr and pearl-clutching “do you know where your children are?” nonsense, #BLUE_WHALE has the breakneck pacing and immersive storytelling of all Screenlife movies but puts it to work at telling a frankly uninteresting and increasingly far-fetched story. As dynamic as the filmmaking is, it pretty much only serves to deliver a story that would possibly be best served in a bite-sized format in a horror anthology. The more #BLUE_WHALE goes on, the sillier it becomes.

#BLUE_WHALE is streaming for a 24-hour period starting Aug. 19 at 9 a.m.

#BLUE_WHALE, directed by Anna Zaytseva

For the complete 2021 Fantasia program, to buy tickets for in-person, on-demand and streaming screenings, please visit the festival website.

For more film and TV coverage, please visit our Film & TV section.