What to watch at Fantasia this week

Reviews of Mali Elfman’s feature debut, an absurdist comedy set in a bathroom and a sprawling dystopian sci-fi epic.

The Fantasia Film Festival began on Thursday and continues till Aug. 3, bringing three weeks of genre cinema to Montreal cinemas at Concordia University’s downtown campus. Here is our second review round-up (to read the first, please click here).

Next Exit

Next Exit, directed by Mali Elfman review reviews Fantasia Film Festival Montreal
Next Exit, directed by Mali Elfman

Next Exit, the feature directing debut of Mali Elfman (daughter of regular Tim Burton composer Danny Elfman), begins with a boy in his bedroom playing cards with an apparition — his dead father. This moment sets the scene for an introductory video hosted by scientist Dr. Stevenson (Karen Gillan), in which she promotes new technology that enables communication with the deceased. This discovery has transformed how death is perceived in society and has led to a rash of suicides. Against this backdrop, we meet Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli), two lost souls who decided to make the trip to San Francisco to volunteer as research subjects at Stevenson’s Life Beyond Institute. Both are burdened with unhappy memories from childhood, and see a medically supervised trip to the afterlife as a way out. Inevitably, they meet, sharing a rented car across America. Along the way, they have a series of encounters that force them to change course.

Part road movie, part rom-com with melancholy overtones, Next Exit turns out milder than you might expect, with its spooky opening and rather dystopian world-building. You could imagine it being a Sundance favourite with bigger stars, as Rose and Teddy’s bantering interactions tend to crowd out the story’s darker elements. Elfman has a delicate balancing act on her hands with this kind of hybrid, and I’m not sure that she doesn’t end up soft-pedalling the macabre dimensions of the story. However, Parker and Kohli play together with conviction, particularly in the final scenes. You might find yourself drawn in emotionally, even if the concoction is somewhat tepid. (MC)

Next Exit screens at Concordia University’s Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Monday, July 18, 6:35 p.m.


Glorious film review Fantasia 2022
Glorious, directed by Rebekah McKendry

One of the reasons that Fantasia has such diehard fans is because of its transgressive programming. While the proliferation of online streaming services has made many of these films more accessible, nothing compares to the big screen experience in a room jam-packed with like-minded genre fans. It could not be more fitting that the horrific Lovecraftian absurdist comedy Glorious will have its world premiere at the festival. While Glorious premieres on Shudder on Aug. 18, a home viewing won’t hold a candle to seeing this one with a Fantasia audience. So, grab your snacks, unless you’ve got a weak stomach (at which point you should seriously reconsider your viewing choice) and settle in to spend the better part of 79 minutes trapped in an ill-maintained rest stop bathroom with broken-hearted Wes (Ryan Kwanten) and the demigod Ghat (J.K. Simmons) as they strive to save the universe. (KF)

Glorious screens at Concordia University’s Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Thursday, July 21, 9:30 p.m.


Vesper Fantasia Film festival review film 2022
Vesper, directed by Kristina Buožyte & Bruno Samper

Vesper is a sprawling dystopian sci-fi epic whose world-building special effects and acting are on par with the best of Hollywood but whose heart is much more subversive. The conceit is this: bioengineering failed to save humanity from itself and further exacerbated the ecological crisis to the point that oligarchies thrive in citadels. At the same time, the masses struggle to survive a world of murderous, inedible vegetation and crops bioengineered to be annual (they only grow one season). If that’s not bleak enough for you, jugs (unintelligent human clones?) are citadel drones, and the only apparent currency is children’s blood.

The film immediately drops you into Vesper’s (Raffiella Chapman) world, where she and her bedridden father (Richard Brake), who communicates via a drone (all thanks to his service in the citadel’s army), are barely eking out an existence. At the same time, she hones her immense bioengineering skills. Her mother has long since left to become a pilgrim – hauntingly mute, veiled black-clad figures who are perpetually gathering debris and carting it away to seemingly nowhere. While they can lean on his brother Jonas (Eddie Marsan) for support, a deal with the devil might be preferable.

As such, the film has you struggling to catch up from the opening sequence, but that’s the beauty of it. This bleak future, painted largely in browns, blacks, blues and greys, is so rich in exposition that you’ll find yourself overwhelmed and in awe of its accomplishments. It’s indubitably post-Soviet, but its social commentary is vaster. It delves into agricultural and human bioengineering, the ethics of which are integrally intertwined in the film and social stratification. This experience will leave the viewer with more questions and fodder for analytical discussion than critical answers.

If you’re a fan of dystopias, sci-fi, or films with apt social commentary, do not miss this one on the big screen. It will leave you wishing that it was simply the first film in a trilogy, as its value far exceeds the price of admission. (KF)

Next Exit screens at Concordia University’s Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Sunday, July 24, 7:05 p.m.

For the complete Fantasia 2022 program, please visit the festival’s website.

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