hundreds of beavers review

Hundreds of Beavers

Fantasia Reviews: Hundreds of Beavers, The Moon, Sky and You, Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls, Satan Wants You, New Life, Skin Deep

A wild slapstick farce, a dreamlike student film from Hong Kong, a YouTube & TikTok star’s occult comedy, a satanic documentary and more.

The Fantasia Film Festival continues till Aug. 9, bringing genre cinema to Montreal theatres at Concordia University’s downtown campus.

Hundreds of Beavers

Hundreds of Beavers

Hundreds of Beavers is a truly unique piece of work. Like Guy Maddin’s movies, it plays like a vintage B&W artifact from the pop culture of an alternate universe. Where Maddin’s films dredge up sinister undercurrents from the archaic flotsam and jetsam, director Mike Cheslik is more committed to making us laugh. 

Set in a wintry pastoral setting, roughly a hundred or so years ago, in somewhere like Wisconsin (or Canada), the hero, Apple Jack, is celebrated in song as a provider of beer to the region in the film’s wildly delirious opening sequence. The number culminates in an accident involving Jack’s massive beer kegs and the eponymous animals. Left stranded in the frozen wilderness, Jack fights for survival, and the movie charts his increasingly elaborate (and mostly unsuccessful) attempts to hunt for food. Equal parts Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote, Jack is rechristened Jack Kayak, Trapper. His attempts to trap his prey find him pitted against rabbits, dogs, wolves and, of course, beavers, all portrayed by human performers in animal costumes, which yields some really first-rate sight gags. 

Hundreds of Beavers is side-splittingly funny for much of its running time, never more than when Jack tries for an excruciatingly extended period to make fire. A lot of credit for the film’s success should go to the superbly named Ryland Brickson Cole Tews as Jack. Often the sole (unmasked) human on screen, and mostly silent, expressing his dismay and triumph alike with groans, moans and yelps, Tews is every bit as credible as he needs to be. The movie does start to seem like too much of a good thing in its latter stages, as Jack proceeds to war with the beaver empire. It’s a credit to the filmmakers how long they manage to sustain the jokes before exhaustion inevitably sets in. Whatever its flaws, Hundreds of Beavers is something to see. (Katie Ferrar and Mark Carpenter)

The Moon, Sky and You

The Moon, The Sky and You

The Moon, Sky and You. Hei Yau Lin’s debut 60-minute feature film, a student project for The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, transcends the boundaries of a typical student film, captivating the audience with a mesmerizing journey through the captivating streets of Hong Kong. Youngsters roam alongside a resilient goldfish, amidst splashes of blood and a handmade carousel. From the very start, the film defies conventions, sweeping us into a transcendent exploration of youth angst, love, and violence.

The film’s non-linear narrative skillfully weaves a tapestry of emotions, immersing us in a rich and dreamlike world. With each jump in time, we delve deeper into the characters’ souls, desires, and struggles, piecing together a captivating puzzle of profound connections.

Throughout the story, a goldfish witnesses their experiences, from the mundane to the heart-wrenching. Masterful editing adds an intriguing rhythm to the film’s non-linear narrative, while the incredible soundtrack and sound design heighten the emotional impact.

The handmade carousel emerges as a central symbol of ephemeral beauty, encapsulating the essence of youth and love. The Moon, Sky and You is undoubtedly a cinematic revelation, bursting with ambition and experimentation, defying student film expectations.

Shot in a breathtaking combination of black-and-white and dreamy colour, the visuals echo the works of early Wong Kar-Wai, enhanced by creative split screens and dynamic camera movements.

Director Hei Yau Lin’s undeniable talent shines through every frame, transcending the boundaries of traditional storytelling. Emotions and relationships are laid bare through suggestion, elevating the experience to profound heights.

Ultimately, The Moon, Sky and You stands out as a mesmerizing discovery and a testament to Hei Yau Lin’s potential as a visionary filmmaker. This audacious creation leaves an indelible mark on our hearts and minds, a cinematic gem that captivates and pleases lovers of abstract, sensorial films. With daring storytelling, breathtaking visuals, and an evocative soundtrack, this film invites us to immerse ourselves in a world where emotions and imagination collide. Hei Yau Lin’s debut is a true celebration of artistic expression, destined to linger in our memories long after the credits roll.  (Chico Peres Smith)

Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls

Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls

Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls mesmerizes audiences with its audacious blend of horror, comedy, and emotional self-discovery. Director Andrew Bowser, who also stars as the quirky occultist Marcus J. Trillbury, breathes life into his internet viral character ‘Onyx the Fortuitous,’ elevating him from YouTube and TikTok fame to a full-fledged cinematic adventure.

In this darkly delightful adventure, Onyx’s life takes an unexpected turn with an exclusive invitation to the enigmatic Bartok the Great’s dark mansion. Entrusted with a mystical quest for self-renewal from the ancient god demon Abaddon, Onyx and his new found friends face chilling rituals and sinister motives, plunging them into a perilous battle against demons, sacrificial daggers, and eerie cobwebs.

Bowser’s directorial expertise crafts a captivating narrative, seamlessly blending elements of horror, comedy, and sci-fi with a supporting cast of endearing oddballs that complement Onyx’s journey of self-discovery, with horror legends Barbara Crampton (From Beyond, Re-Animator), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator trilogy, From Beyond), and Terrence ‘T.C.’ Carson (the powerful voice of Kratos from the video game series God of War) adding nostalgic charm to the film.

Practical effects from the KreatureKid team bring nightmarish creatures to life, evoking an eerie yet cartoonish Gothic atmosphere, paying homage to horror favorites. The film’s meticulous attention to detail enriches every frame, captivating genre enthusiasts.

Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls seamlessly combines black magic with comedic charm and the dynamic interplay between practical and digital effects creates a unique believable cartoonish world, visually stunning and emotionally engaging.

The sound design and score heighten the film, from eerie ritualistic chants to heart-pounding musical accompaniments. The unsettling soundscape immerses audiences in the films’ atmosphere, intensifying the experience and adding to the cohesive worldbuilding.

Despite its indie roots, the film boasts impressive production values, creatively utilizing its humble $1,700,000 budget where Bowser’s passion and creativity shines through, elevating Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls beyond a typical low-budget horror flick.

This cinematic revelation invites audiences to celebrate quirkiness and friendship in the eccentric silly world of Onyx and his macabre adventures with a masterful blending of horror and comedy creates an unforgettable gem, infused with heart, soul, and ghoulish comedy.  (Chico Peres Smith)

Satan Wants You

Satan Wants You

Do you remember the Satanic Panic that gripped North American popular culture in the 80’s and early 90’s? Satan Wants You is a new documentary that seeks to enlighten viewers about the phenomenon, particularly its Canadian origins and the lessons startingly relevant today.

Satan Wants You outlines how the source of the hysteria was, in fact, a Canadian book called Michelle Remembers. It purported to reveal a woman’s childhood abuse at the hands of a satanic cult, as told through “retrieved memories.” The doc shows that the book was the product of exhaustive taped sessions that Victoria B.C housewife, Michelle Smith, did with her psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder. Using dramatic recreations, archival footage, new interviews, and the original audiotapes, all set to ominous, horror-movie scoring, the film charts how the book inspired an international wave of remembered satanic ritual abuse, and its corrosive effects on the culture at large.

Above all, the doc is a fascinating examination of how mass hysteria develops. Some will wish it contained more detailed examples of the other cases, a handful of which resulted in the jailing of innocent people, but it does an excellent job of communicating the sheer, mind-boggling number of like stories that permeated the media at the time. Like all good documentaries, it leaves you with as many questions as it answers. It’s easy to imagine a version of the doc the length of a miniseries given all the potential tributaries emerging from this subject, branching off not only into individual cases but into just how law enforcement came to accept the notion of widespread satanic ritual abuse and potentially millions of missing children as facts.  What particularly resonates, however, is the hard truth the movie shows:  if you tell a lie repeatedly with confidence and conviction, not altering your story, then people will believe you whether you have any real evidence or not.

The film culminates with disheartened journalists and investigators reflecting on our failure to learn from the Satanic Panic era, and how we have repeated many of the same mistakes – albeit on a smaller scale – today in the era of “fake news”; they see it happening all over again with Qanon, Pizzagate, and the whole rotten mess of the social media age. Satan Wants You will stay with you because these patterns will reverberate in your mind while playing like a scare picture. It leads you to realize that the perceived decline in critical thinking in our current time is not simply a result of Facebook, 4Chan, Reddit, and so on; it clearly shows just how fragile our understanding of reality has always been. We may not be as far removed from the Salem witch trials as we’d like to think. (Mark Carpenter and Katie Ferrar)

New Life

New Life

Just when it seemed that the zombie film had played itself out, along comes New Life; an atypical zombie virus horror film. It finds some new wrinkles in the genre, and its scares come out of the post-pandemic world. Its depiction of a society where dodging responsibility is more important than suppressing a global outbreak of an apocalyptic virus has a cruel plausibility. 

New Life stars the very capable Sonya Walger (For All Mankind) as Elsa Gray, a fixer working for a shadowy organization. She has been contracted to find a young woman on the run, an asymptomatic carrier for this new virus, that was never meant to see the light of day. The irony of this task becomes apparent when, despite her logical protests given the gravity of the situation, she is given minimal information and even fewer resources to complete her mission due to the covert nature of the operation. Meanwhile, Elsa must accomplish all of this with the physical limitations accompanying her newly-diagnosed ALS.  This allows for a parallel narrative about quality of life and how one comes to grips with such a life-altering diagnosis.  Her handler is aware of her condition, indicating that she was selected for the job because it’s logical to send the person with nothing to lose to the brink of the apocalypse.

First-time director John Rosman manages the semi-familiar narrative with great efficiency. The forward momentum is sustained at an intense slow burn, which becomes increasingly engaging as it progresses. It also allows space for character building; we get short sketches of the people the carrier encounters on the journey, which gives each one their due without detracting from the hunt at the centre of the narrative. The result is an almost spartan exercise in tension. The movie proves to be a model example of resourceful, indie genre filmmaking. It gets the job done while being open-ended enough to leave you with unsettling questions. New Life is the disquieting epidemic thriller you didn’t know you needed. (Mark Carpenter and Katie Ferrar)

Skin Deep

Skin Deep

The strength of a relationship, the nature of attraction (both physical & emotional), and the fluidity of sexuality are at the forefront of the new German film Skin Deep in which its characters swap bodies for new experiences. Within a North American context, the film raises a host of issues that have rapidly become flashpoints in current culture. Within the film, however, they are approached with the same naive hesitation of a teen exploring their sexuality for the first time.  

The film’s rhythms are lulling and a bit narcotic at first, keeping with the island resort setting. The two main characters, Leyla and Tristan, are there, along with other visitors, to partake in a quasi-magical process that allows them to literally swap bodies. It’s revealed that Leyla’s battle with depression is what’s led them to the island, but her eagerness ebbs as the moment approaches. On the other hand, Tristan wants to return to happier days and is clearly only doing this for Leyla. The couple’s failure to get on the same page is the conflict on which the movie pivots. 

Skin Deep is a slow-burning meditation on love and attraction and how our problems will follow us, no matter what physical form we adopt. It’s very much a concept-driven film; it’s sci-fi in the purest sense and asks many questions. It will also prompt you to consider how much mental health is strictly physical – a matter of the body’s functioning.

As the characters explore myriad options when their relationships begin to flounder or stagnate, the movie expands its focus and tightens its grip. The compelling performances help you along, and the script has Just enough detail to engage you, without overwhelming you with world-building. It dares to raise big questions about how much of romantic love is physical, emotional, and intellectual, as well as how that can change over time. If you truly love someone, does their physical form really matter? (Katie Ferrar and Mark Carpenter)

For the complete Fantasia 2023 program, please visit the festival’s website.

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