The Fight Machine Fantasia Film Festival review

What to watch at the Fantasia Film Festival this week

A nightmarish West Island odyssey, a Canadian boxing movie, Canadian folk-horror, Korean slow cinema and more.

​​The Fantasia Film Festival began on July 14 and continues till Aug. 3, bringing a wide variety of genre cinema to Montreal theatres at Concordia University’s downtown campus. Here is our third review round-up (to read the first and second, please click here and here).


Chorokbam, directed by Yoon Seo-jin Fantasia Festival Montreal review
Chorokbam, directed by Yoon Seo-jin

Chorokbam, which translates as “Green Night,” is the directorial debut of South Korea’s Yoon Seo-jin. It starts with an elderly security guard on his nightly rounds discovering the hanging corpse of a cat. Thus begins the story of a family on the inevitable road to tragedy. The guard and his wife are increasingly disenchanted with the world and each other’s company. At the same time, their son, a social worker, has money problems and finds himself increasingly disaffected. The wife’s father dies, and a spate of bad luck continues from there. 

Chorokbam is a highly promising first film. It is amusing how “slow cinema” has become a genre unto itself. Still, this contemplative work transcends that label and also deserves a place in the canon with Asian masters of the form like Tsai Ming-Liang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. The film is marked by hypnotic attention to detail and superlative art direction, with oversaturated colours filling the frame at key moments when the characters’ depression is overwhelming. Yoon elicits strong performances from the cast, particularly Kang Gil-Woo and the late Min-Kyung Kim as the parents. He knows to punctuate the overarching feeling of ennui with moments like a knockdown family squabble during the grandfather’s funeral or the apparition of a dog in the forest. It’s the kind of movie where some might be tempted to say nothing happens, but Yoon’s attentiveness ensures we see the inhabitants of his world. If you’re on this film’s wavelength, a rapturously lonely shot of the apartment building at dusk can be a capsule image of what the movies can achieve. (MC)

Chorokbam screens at Concordia’s Salle J.A. de Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Tuesday, July 26, 6:45 p.m

The Diabetic

The Diabetic, directed by Mitchell Stafiej

The Diabetic, the latest film by Montreal’s Mitchell Stafiej, is a grainy look at one despairing night in the life of Alek (James Watts), a struggling filmmaker stranded on the shores of his 30s with Type 1 diabetes.  After an evening with his parents back at their West Island home, he tries to organize a boozy outing with old high school friends, only to find that most of them are either gone or very married. He ends up going out with an acquaintance, the unprepossessing Matt (Travis Cannon). Gradually, the night deteriorates as Alek gets drunker and drunker and more irrational, all the while concealing his condition from Matt. He tags along seemingly out of boredom and to keep Alek out of trouble. Bit by bit, Alek’s hostility and aggression emerge, along with the potential for violence.

Stafiej’s work here is marked by a distinctively rough-hewn aesthetic owing something to the Safdie brothers’ urban odyssey, but if anything, The Diabetic is more phantasmagoric and nightmarish. The camera focuses relentlessly on the characters, none more than Watts, whose affable bearlike visage gets more wild-eyed and desperate with every belligerent encounter. Potential autobiographical tendencies aside (with Stafiej’s mother and father playing his parents), the movie should resonate especially well with Montreal audiences, particularly denizens of the West Island. Pointe-Claire and Beaconsfield are depicted not inaccurately as a maze of overpasses, with houses and businesses seen as isolated in seas of inky blackness. Not easy viewing, but maybe an essential. (MC)

The Diabetic screens at Concordia’s Salle J.A. de Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Wednesday, July 27, 4 p.m.

The Fight Machine

The Fight Machine, directed by Andrew Thomas Hunt Fantasia Festival Montreal review
The Fight Machine, directed by Andrew Thomas Hunt

Based on the novel The Fighter by Craig Davidson, The Fight Machine was co-written by Davidson with the director, Canadian genre specialist Andrew Thomas Hunt (Spare Parts). The story is split between two main characters: spoiled rich kid Paul and Rob, a working-class teenager from a long line of boxers. Paul is first seen coked up in a club, provoking a stranger into a fight. Rob, by contrast, first appears to get up early for another day at the boxing gym. His hangdog manner marks him as what he is, the reluctant scion of the family business. The film follows their diverging paths. It has the diagrammatic structure of an old-time boxing movie. Still, it takes some unorthodox turns, most noticeably its frequent lurches into animated and FX sequences depicting the characters’ dreams and fears of pain. It deviates from genre expectations in more subtle ways as well, most interestingly and subtly in the evolution of Paul into a nihilistic pain addict. His descent marks him as less the hissable antagonist and more a Schraderesque antihero.

Some truly startling moments, like a drug hallucination out of nowhere, jostle for your attention with some flagrant overwriting and rather uneven performances and scenes that remind you you’re watching an exploitation movie (notably a softcore encounter with a nude escort in the boxing ring). One of the key elements pulling the picture together is the presence of Canadian B-movie stalwart Michael Ironside as Paul’s trainer. His craggy professionalism gives the film a groundedness that anchors the flightier passages. The Fight Machine is an uneven experience but not an unrewarding one. (MC & KF)

The Fight Machine screens at Concordia’s Salle J.A. de Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Wednesday, July 27, 6:45 p.m. and again on Friday, July 29 at 1 p.m. 

The Protector

The Protector, directed by Lenin Sivam Fantasia Festival review Montreal
The Protector, directed by Lenin Sivam

The Protector is a near-run-of-the-mill Canadian horror film. Every scene in its 94-minute running time is carefully calibrated to make the entire thing feel artificial. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but it is when making a modern-ish folk horror film.

The film begins with tween Evelyn (Chelsea Clark) stabbing her abusive stepfather to death in his sleep. Fast forward a decade and Evelyn is out on parole under the careful supervision of her juvenile detention centre psychiatrist (Rebecca Jenkins). Meanwhile, her hometown of Wilfrid hasn’t experienced a crime for a decade and there are numerous tributes to God’s protection around town. After receiving a bizarre gift, a book about an Indian god named Kavhala (Pras Lingham), who slaughters all who embrace evil to bring peace to the area where he resides (convenient), she starts suffering from visions. Soon, Evelyn finds herself at odds with those who want to preserve the peace in Wilfrid regardless of what must be sacrificed.

The film is quintessentially Canadian, with South Asian influences, and presents an interesting folk horror premise but fails to realize its potential.  Instead of becoming increasingly tense, culminating in a harrowing climax, it meanders to a predictable end. Fans of Canadian horror may want to check The Protector out because of its minor additions to the genre; folk horror fans may enjoy the enmeshing of the Indian protector god narrative with allusions to more traditional North American folklore (Bigfoot). (KF)

The Protector screens at Concordia’s Salle J.A. de Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Thursday, July 28, 6:40 p.m and again on Monday, Aug. 1, 12:30 p.m.. 

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

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