Browsed by
Author: Matthew David Surridge

Fantasia 2021, Part XV: Brain Freeze

Fantasia 2021, Part XV: Brain Freeze

The official opening film of Fantasia 2021 was Brain Freeze, a Québecois zombie movie which played at Montreal’s Cinéma Impérial, a classic movie palace dating back to 1913. For a variety of reasons I wasn’t able to attend, but the film streamed on Fantasia’s servers on August 9, and that showing I decided to check out.

Bundled with the feature was a short, “No Title.” The 9-minute animated film’s written and directed by Alexandra Myotte, and it’s about a UFO chaser in 1990 who goes to a small town in Québec following reports of an alien abduction. He finds a blind sculptress, and an unexpected story. This is an extremely well-made movie, with a sharply written and performed voice-over from the always-faceless UFOlogist (Jean-Sébastien Hamel, also the sound designer), and excellent 2D animation that finds very strong images and brings out some of the cosmic implications of the tale. It’s also got some very down-to-earth themes, about art and love, and a killer line about revenge at the end. Add to that, it ties into some actual local history in the town of Saint-Amable, and nicely evokes the pre-internet feel of 30 years ago. It’s a very good piece, clever, distinctive, and funny.

Then came Brain Freeze, directed by Julien Knafo, who co-wrote with Jean Barbe. Near a major Québec city there’s a small island suburb where the ultra-rich are scheming to use chemicals to grow grass in the middle of the winter so they can play golf year-round. The good news for them is that they’re about to succeed. The bad news is that there will be side effects, in the form of zombies.

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part XIV: We’re All Going To The World’s Fair

Fantasia 2021, Part XIV: We’re All Going To The World’s Fair

My last film of the fourth day of the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival was We’re All Going To The World’s Fair, written and directed by Jane Schoenbrun. It’s not technically a genre story, unless you give it a highly determined reading, but it is a story about genre. It’s also a coming-of-age story, a story about a girl trying to find herself and work out her own story from the inspiration of genre tales she loves — even if dangers may come with it.

The movie begins with a long take introducing us to Casey (Anna Cobb), a young teen girl sitting before her webcam. She enacts a simple ritual that begins a — game? spell? We’re not sure at first what to make of what she’s doing; then she tells us of the World’s Fair Challenge, where people perform the ritual we’ve seen and, over time, change mentally. And they upload videos as they do, documenting their progression as they change from what they were into something else entirely. We see some of these videos interspersed among Casey’s own recordings, which she puts up on the web documenting her changes, and her hopes, and her reflections. And then we see an older man, JLB (Michael J Rogers), reach out to her claiming to have secret knowledge about the World’s Fair Challenge, and we doubt his good intentions, and we start to worry even more about Casey and where this challenge will take her.

For a large part of the movie we’re not really sure what’s happening. Almost everything we see is mediated one way or another, something recorded by someone for their own reasons — Casey’s video diaries, or JLB’s weird distorted messages, or other World’s Fair videos. What do we take as reality? Is Casey, who talked about how neat it would be to live in a horror story, going mad? Is there a supernatural force involved? Is she telling a story?

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part XIII: King Knight

Fantasia 2021, Part XIII: King Knight

“M*therfucker” (asterisk in the official title, so far as I can tell) is a 13-minute short written by Adam Peterson, who co-directed with Adam Long. The entire thing takes place in a bar, where Brian (Nick Burr) is meeting his old friend Tony (Tyson Sullivan). Tony’s got a secret, which will turn Brian’s life upside down. Indeed, it already has, several times over. This is a science-fiction story in the form of two guys talking, the dialogue quick and snappy and well-handled by the actors. The performances are in fact the highlight of the film, which is worth watching for them alone. The science-fictional idea at the core isn’t handled clearly enough to really bring out the themes effectively — Brian’s faced with a decision to make, but the nature of the choice isn’t established well. There’s something in here about the way in which trying to fix things can make things worse, but I couldn’t see why the relatively amoral character with the power to fix things is bothering to do so. There’s some clever bits of dialogue, and entertaining acting, but the movie’s ultimately incoherent.

The feature that the Fantasia Film Festival bundled with the short was King Knight. It’s a comedy written and directed by Richard Bates, Jr., and concerns a Wiccan coven in California. I was a little worried going in that it’d spend time mocking the religion, but that didn’t really happen to my eye. Instead, the movie presents a very gentle character-based humour based around themes of community and conforming, and learning not to care about fitting in if it means suppressing one’s individuality.

There’s a fairy-tale–style voice-over intro that introduces us to the coven, and in particular its leaders, the life partners Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Willow (Angela Sarafyan). They’re good mentors and counsellors for the group, and we see them provide wise words to the couples who make up their coven. But then a secret from Thorn’s past comes to light: far from an outcast in high school, he was in fact the class president and voted Most Likely to Succeed. And now his 20-year high school reunion’s coming up.

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part XII: Little Vampire

Fantasia 2021, Part XII: Little Vampire

I opened the fourth day of Fantasia 2021 with a bundle of two animated films. The shorter was “Bye-Bye Elida,” a 35-minute piece written and directed by Titouan Bordeau. It takes place in a strange desert, where various people and creatures wander about and connect up. There is no dialogue, and I felt the piece might have benefitted from more explanation — or from more detailed visual storytelling, one of the two. The general idea here is clear; the different characters the film presents, cutting between them at odd points, are all players in an overall ecology. It’s a little like Larry Marder’s Tales of the Beanworld (a most peculiar comic book experience), a similarity enhanced by the whimsical designs, the 2D linework, and the restrained colours. But I didn’t find myself engaged in the same way; the individual sections had too rudimentary a narrative, and at least at one viewing the conclusion didn’t tie enough together for me. It’s an interesting experiment, but not to my mind entirely successful.

The feature film was Little Vampire, directed by Joann Sfar from his own graphic novels, with the adaptation co-scripted by Sandrina Jardel. It opens with Pandora (Camille Cottin), the young and beautiful mother of a ten-year-old boy (Louise Lacoste) being chased with her child by an aristocrat obsessed with her; she calls on the spirits of the dead; they answer; the woman and boy become a vampire, and flee with the skeletal captain of a flying ship — the Flying Dutchman (Jean-Paul Rouve). Three hundred years later, they’ve built a sanctuary from the twisted monster the cruel nobleman has become, a thing called the Gibbus (Alex Lutz). Pandora and the Flying Dutchman have ensured that their boy, known only as Little Vampire, doesn’t remember any of the long pursuit. Instead they all live (well, as it were) in a sprawling crumbling mansion on a hill, where Little Vampire and his monster friends watch horror movies every night.

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part XI: Tombs of the Blind Dead

Fantasia 2021, Part XI: Tombs of the Blind Dead

Written and directed by David Mataró, “Tongue With Capers” (“Llengua amb tàperes”) is a 15-minute Catalan-language short involving the walking dead. Months after a zombie apocalypse, a man (Toni De los Ángeles) holed up in a bar rescues his neighbour (Aina Cortès), who has a strange plan to communicate with the zombies. The film plays as a huis clos, two actors in a single location, with quick dialogue and a twist at the end. Like most zombie movies, it’s about human beings and how they behave to each other; in this case there’s something to say about how well we knw each other and maybe what it’s like to be in community with each other. It’s a nice piece, with a fair bit of nastiness but little gore.

Bundled with the short was the classic 1972 Spanish-Portuguese feature Tombs of the Blind Dead (La noche del terror ciego, also known in English as The Blind Dead, Tombs of the Evil Dead, Legend of the Blind Dead, Mark of the Devil Part 4: Tombs of the Blind Dead, Mark of the Devil Part V: Night of the Blind Terror, and, in a recut form with a tacked-on prologue, Revenge From Planet Ape). Written and directed by Amando de Ossorio, Synapse Films spent over a year creating a painstaking high-definition restoration of the movie. Tombs was quite successful on its initial release, spawning three sequels (while inspiring many other films and at least one comic) and helping to start a boom in Spanish horror cinema. I was pleased to see how well it holds up, especially in the lovely Synapse restoration.

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part X: Tin Can

Fantasia 2021, Part X: Tin Can

The Fantasia International Film Festival does a good job matching genres when they bundle a short together with a feature. So Tin Can, a feature-length claustrophobic near-future science-fiction film, came with “Death Valley,” an 11-minute tale of a future of environmental devastation; both about isolation and both featuring protagonists isolated from the world. THe short, written and directed by Grace Sloan, follows a woman in the future living in space who is determined to travel to Death Valley on a barren Earth in order to practise yoga as the sun sets, and then go back into space to attend her friend’s New Year’s Eve party. Things do not go as planned. There’s a nice retro feel to the movie, which looks like it was shot on film, and the effects have the bargain-basement feel of an analog era without feeling cheap for the sake of being cheap — rather, they feel cheap for the sake of an aesthetic, which is perfectly fine. The film’s a little opaque, narratively, but at least provides scope for contemplation; I take it as a piece about the clash between a promised future and the never-quite-dying past.

Then came Tin Can, a Canadian science-fiction movie with strong horror overtones. Directed by Seth A. Smith and written by Smith with Darcy Spidle, it takes place in the near future as a pandemic named Coral ravages eastern Canada. One researcher, Fret (Anna Hopkins) thinks she may have a cure, but then she’s kidnapped and finds herself waking up in a suspended animation pod. The movie’s about her slow struggle to get out of the oversized tin can and learn the truth of what’s happened to her; we as viewers slowly find out as she does.

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part IX: Frank & Zed

Fantasia 2021, Part IX: Frank & Zed

“A Puff Before Dying,” a 10-minute short written and directed by the team of Mike Pinkney and Michael Reich, is a public-service advertisement performed with marionettes. It’s a little like Team America: World Police, I suppose, with a similar sense of irony. There’s a teenage girl (Annie Mebane) who smokes marijuana; her father (James Kirkland) is a cop who hates pot because he’s seen too many people die in car crashes where the driver was stoned; the girl goes for a drive with pothead friends; and the PSA plays out as you might expect. I was not immediately impressed by the humour of the short, but the fact it was actually paid for and approved by The National Road Safety Foundation brings the irony of the piece to another level — it’s so intensely ironic, it’s wrapped back around to being sincere. You can judge the thing for yourself, as the NRSF has it available on their website (scroll down, or search in page for ‘puff’).

The feature that the Fantasia Film Festival bundled with the short was Frank & Zed, a gory puppet movie filled to the brim with felted carnage. Written and directed by Jesse Blanchard, it took six years to make with no studio backing — a Kickstarter-funded DIY project driven by Blanchard’s determination and optimism (on display in a question-and-answer session on Fantasia’s YouTube page). Does the 90-minute result justify the time and effort?

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part VIII: Broadcast Signal Intrusion

Fantasia 2021, Part VIII: Broadcast Signal Intrusion


I ended my second day of Fantasia 2021 with another feature-and-short bundle. The short film was “The Machine,” a 12-minute piece about a man, newly hired for an office job, who’s given the task of figuring out the purpose of a mysterious machine in the basement. The film was shot on an obvious budget, and though the actors give it their best efforts, the material doesn’t really work. In particular, there’s a shot right at the end whose placement suggests it’s delivering a piece of information crucial to the story — but if it is, I couldn’t figure out what the information was supposed to be. There’s an interesting Kafkaesque idea somewhere in here, but unfortunately it isn’t brought out very well.

The feature was Broadcast Signal Intrusion. It’s written by Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall, and directed by Jacob Gentry, who also directed 2015’s Synchronicity. Like that film, Broadcast Signal Intrusion is dark and moody, following a man whose reality becomes radically destabilised. In this case, it’s a computer guy named James (Harry Shum Jr) in Chicago in 1999. He’s archiving old TV broadcasts, and becomes obsessed with a couple of weird incidents when pirates briefly took over the airwaves for a couple of minutes: broadcast signal intrusions. Driven to figure out the meaning behind them, he goes further and further down a dark path.

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part VII: Bull

Fantasia 2021, Part VII: Bull

“A Piglet’s Tale” is a 12-minute dialogue-free animated short film written and directed by Fabrizio Gammardella. A co-production of the UK, France, and Italy, it starts out looking like a traditional heartwarming family cartoon, with lovely 2D artwork — flowing lines and watercolour backgrounds — and a story about a couple who struggle to have a child. They’re gifted with a birth, and find the child has a rare characteristic. And just as you think you have an idea of what kind of film this is and where it’s going, it takes an incredibly dark swerve, almost as baffling as it is disturbing. Title cards at the end explain: this is a film with a specific polemic purpose.

It’s a purpose I broadly agree with, but I wonder if the film succeeds in supporting its cause. There’s no doubt about the craft involved; the story’s told not only well but in exactly the kid’s-movie style that needs to be caught in order for the short to be effective. In particular, hints at foreshadowing turn out to be feints, an effective touch. But at the same time this means there’s a randomness to events at the end, which risks coming from too far out of nowhere. Ultimately I think the film succeeds, as the randomness can be seen to reflect the experience of (not to be too specific) those whom the film is about in the real world. It’s certainly powerful; the stunned feeling I was left with certainly wasn’t entirely bafflement. It’s a strong movie, and despite early appearances, not for kids.

Bundled with “A Piglet’s Tale” was the feature film Bull, written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams. Ten years ago, Bull (Neil Maskell) was a legbreaker for Norm (David Hayman), the head of a criminal family in a small English town. Then he vanished, betrayed by Norm’s gang. Now he’s back, looking for his ex-wife Gemma (Lois Brabin-Platt), Norm’s daughter. Bound up with that quest is revenge for what happened ten years ago. The movie tells its story along two tracks, one in the present and one in flashbacks showing what led to Bull’s betrayal, and it all builds to a climax where we see and understand his vengeance — and are left with a final harrowing twist.

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part VI: Ultrasound

Fantasia 2021, Part VI: Ultrasound

I started the second day of Fantasia with another feature and short film bundled together. The 14-minute short was the Catalan-language “Solution For Sadness” (“Solució per a la tristesa”), a collaboration between the husband-and wife-team of co-directors Marc Martínez Jordán (also the writer) and Tuixén Benet (also the star). Benet plays a woman who lives alone and battles intense depression; one day a box arrives that promises a cure in the form of a gorilla mask. But is it really a solution, or is it a cruel trick? The short has a lot to say about masks and what people are prepared to see, and the narration makes the storytelling work — it moves quickly, and there’s a dry yet heartfelt tone that’s quite affecting. The conclusion’s surprisingly empathic, and I found an ending that might have felt simple instead stuck with me after the film ended.

The feature was Ultrasound. It was directed by Rob Schroeder, with a script by Conor Stechschulte adapting his own four-volume indie comic Generous Bosom (the fourth volume arrives later this year). It is the sort of movie which gains when a viewer doesn’t know much about the plot going in, and the story’s difficult to briefly summarise anyway. But I think I can say a few things about the film nevertheless.

Read More Read More