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Best Films of Fantasia Film Festival 2018 Best Films of Fantasia Film Festival 2018

Fantasia Film Festival

The Best Films of Fantasia Film Festival 2018

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The 2018 Fantasia Film Festival has wrapped its three-week run in Montreal, and after extensive coverage and much deliberation, we have finally put together a list of our favourite films that screened this year. Our staff managed to see 65 films in total, which might seem like a lot — except that the festival screened of over 125 features during those twenty-two days. Needless to say, we were careful to choose what we believed were the films that showed the most promise, and apart from the last-minute addition of Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords of Chaos, we pretty much saw everything we really wanted to see. Without further ado, here are our favourite films:

Editor’s Note: This list is in alphabetical order. 

****

Cam

Cam

It’s a rare thing to see a true psychological or existential horror movie these days, especially one that resists the urge to introduce an element of physical danger, but Cam more or less sticks to its guns, weaving a horror movie that plays almost entirely in the psychological sandbox. The terror here is existential in nature, as the film uses the internet angle to present a horrifying danger that very rarely makes the cross over into the threat of bodily harm. No, the situation our star finds herself in is far deeper and more sinister than a monster or psycho with a knife.

Following an adult webcam performer who becomes replaced online by a perfect doppelganger, Cam balances the classic “evil twin” scenario, updated for the online age, with a searing commentary on incidences of online violence and trauma. Helpless to watch as her channel is hijacked by a double who both surpasses the original in popularity and breaks all of her personal rules, protagonist Lola finds her predicament all but ignored by those in authority. It’s an extremely timely film, to put it mildly, given the recent focus on online harassment and violence.

Director Daniel Goldhaber and writer Isa Mazzei have crafted a smart, urgent, and terrifying horror film, one that deftly uses the medium to comment on real-world issues, as so many great horror films do. Add in a star-making performance by Madeline Brewer, and you’ve got a future horror classic on your hands. (Thomas O’Connor)

Read the full review. 

Luz

Luz

Luz feels like a throwback to arthouse cinema of the 1970s and early sci-fi thrillers of the 1980’s but only because the movie itself takes place in the early 80’s and features an eerie electronic score courtesy of Simon Waskow  (not to mention it was also shot in widescreen 16mm stock, a format barely used in present day). Come to think of it, as I write this I can’t help but think of early David Cronenberg, and not just because Luz offers moments of sexual body horror but because of the way the characters interact with each other (their body language, chemistry, and delivery of dialogue, for example). There’s something truly hypnotic about the way the film unravels – it’s a horror film of unusual substance and vision, and despite all this name dropping, Luz looks, sounds and feels like a movie made decades ago, as opposed to a movie made by a filmmaker imitating the films he watched growing up. (Ricky D)

Read the full review.

microhabitat

Microhabitat

Adulthood often means having to make the choice between survival and happiness, and we’ve largely been conditioned to accept that as plain old reality rather than the byproduct of an imperfect system. All too often it’s drilled into our heads that personal comfort and financial security are things that one can’t have at the same time. Want to get rich, or at least financially stable enough to not worry where your next meal comes from? Well, you’re gonna need to give up on your dreams. Want to hold on to your personal pleasures and aspirations? Well, you’ll need to live a spartan lifestyle for that. Jeon Go-Woon’s dramedy takes aim at this mindset, condemning the choice many adults find themselves in and — crucially — not condemning its cast for the choice they made.

Miso, a young woman in South Korea, loves nothing more than smokes, whiskey, and her boyfriend. But the price of cigarettes sharply rises, forcing her to re-balance her budget if she wants to hold on to her pleasures. Taking to the streets, she starts couch-surfing, with brief stays at the homes of her former bandmates. Said bandmates have all achieved financial stability, but at the cost of personal happiness and fulfillment, putting them in stark contrast to their friend.

While Microhabitat could have easily vilified or deified its characters for choosing one side of the coin or the other, the film instead places its sights on the system that put them in this mess. Rather than sellouts or sainted poor, its players are portrayed as people who made a choice that they really shouldn’t have had to make.

One of the tragically rare female voices in the South Korean film industry, Go-Woon cements herself as a talent to watch with Microhabitat, an impassioned cry for economic justice in an age where everything has a cost. (Thomas O’Connor)

Read the full review.

Mandy Horror Film

Mandy

Closing out this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, Pantos Cosmatos’ Mandy is, in my opinion, the best film that screened at the festival this summer. The Canadian filmmaker’s second feature (after his criminally overlooked Beyond the Black Rainbow) is not especially easy viewing, and unquestionably is not for all tastes, but Mandy is an extraordinary film no less — one touched with moments of crazed inspiration and imagery that reaches beyond language to something primal and original. While I can’t guarantee you will like it, Mandy will no doubt blow your mind, kick your ass, and burn in your subconscious long after the credits roll.

The revenge film is a well-worn genre, but Mandy is in a class of its own; it’s safe to say no one’s ever made a revenge film that looks or feels quite like it. This is experimental genre filmmaking at its very best. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and should be approached with caution — but if you don’t mind the copious amounts of bloodshed, you’re in for one hell of a ride. Expertly directed and superbly conceived, Mandy is an astonishing achievement that packs an unexpectedly powerful emotional punch. Only two films into his career, Cosmatos is poised to become one of the boldest filmmaking talents of his generation.

Read the full review

Number 37Number 37

Although this is the first time I’ve experienced the films at Fantasia, in theory it’s a perfect fit. I love genre films, and I’m also looking for them to break up the long blocks of more traditional dramas and comedies that I review. Unfortunately, what I look for in genre films isn’t necessarily what other fans crave. I crave the same subtlety in a horror film or a gangster movie that I would want in a film by Hong Sang-soo or Paul Thomas Anderson, the same invention that I would expect from Jean-Luc Godard or Steven Soderbergh. That an understated element is often missing from genre films is an unfortunate characteristic that is mostly due to the financial realities of making genre films — they can be made cheap, and even with little advertising can still make a profit. In the rush to put out these films, sometimes quality control goes out the window.

Not so with Number 37, the best film I saw from Fantasia. Written and directed by South African filmmaker Nosipho Dumisa, it’s a modern adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). In this version, the peeper is an aspiring drug dealer who has been paralyzed from the waist down after he failed to pay off a loan for a botched deal. With no job and no way to leave his apartment (the building has no elevators), he takes up spying on his neighbors with a pair of binoculars. It’s a pleasant diversion until he witnesses some rival thugs murder a corrupt cop. The gears start turning, and he tries to blackmail them to pay off his debts, with disastrous results.

Dumisa’s screenplay is indebted to the original classic, but not overly reverent. Her vision is unique to South Africa, and sensitively explores the lives and dignity of those living in the shadow of crime. Despite most viewers being able to guess the basic structure of the film, Dumisa manages to keep the suspense elevated. It’s an exciting debut from a filmmaker to watch. (Brian Marks)

Read the full review.

PledgePledge

It’s not hard to make a scary film about fraternities, as even documentaries and straightforward dramas can drift toward horror when detailing the hazing and abuses of Greek life. What’s impressive about Daniel Robbins’ Pledge is how well it handles the aspects that most horror films fail at. It’s a well-written a well-acted scary movie, an outlier in the genre.

The action centers on three freshmen navigating their new campus. They fall into various archetypes: the chatty one who talks to calm himself, the perceptive nerdy one, and the chubby yet sensitive one who serves as their moral compass. After striking out with parties and girls (they get kicked out of frat parties for being too weird, and their fellow students tell them to arrive for day drinking after everyone has already left), when they’re finally invited to a frat party it seems too good to be true. And of course, it is! The WASPish leaders of the fraternity turn out to have rather dastardly plans for the pledges. Their hazing, at first extreme, turns violent, then deadly.

This simple story succeeds primarily because of the film’s strong dialogue and an excellent cast. Zach Weiner’s screenplay is deficient in some aspects (there’s absolutely no backstory or character development), but he has a way with language that sounds unusually natural for a horror film. Despite the actors all being too old, we mostly buy them as suggestible freshmen, thanks to his words. The cast is particularly strong, with none of the leaden acting one might expect. In particular, Zachery Byrd shines as the pledge who is first to realize that something horrible is going on.

There’s nothing revolutionary going on in Pledge. It’s merely some excellent filmmaking applied to a simple premise, but that’s all it takes. (Brian Marks)

Read the full review.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Akin to last year’s The Florida Project, Tigers Are Not Afraid centers around youth trapped in an inhospitable environment. They are always on the run, always keeping an eye over their shoulder, and always barely making it through the day. Of course, a lot of this is because children are generally naive, but in Issa Lopez’s film, the children are acutely aware of how risky life is. The kids in Tigers Are Not Afraid are without parents, and thus put into a precarious situation of trying to live alone, but also with demons constantly knocking at their door. Tigers Are Not Afraid counters hope with hopelessness, leaving the film a morbid look at youth. It’s a perspective that defines it as one of the best coming-of-age films, and a harrowing take on the effects of the drug war on the youth of Mexico. (Christopher Cross)

Read the full review.

Tokyo Vampire Hotel

Tokyo Vampire Hotel

Released originally as a ten-episode series for Amazon, Tokyo Vampire Hotel is the kind of film that could only have come from the mind of Sion Sono. While channeling the absurdity of Takashi Miike’s weirder efforts, Sono has always been a messier director, and perhaps even more ambitious because of it. What makes all of his films worthy of weirdness is that they always come together by the end. He also comments on many social and political topics — usually, Japanese-centric, though occasionally more universally applicable. Tokyo Vampire Hotel is no exception, and is exactly what to expect, par for the course for its director. Even with its bold attempt to condense ten episodes into a single film, the issues that arise don’t feel like something that are present because of trying to pare down Sono’s insanity — they’re just small kinks in one of his greatest films to date. (Christopher Cross)

Read the full review. 

Fantasia Film Festival

‘Ready or Not‘ Derives a Fair Amount of Mileage out of its Simple Premise

A rich family hunt the bride in a very bloody game of Hide And Seek

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Making its World Premiere at the Montreal genre festival, Ready or Not is a blood-spattered, tongue-in-cheek horror comedy that features plenty of gore and a sense of humour as dark as the terror on display.

Anyone who has seen the trailer is already familiar with the simple premise. What is best described as a cross between The Most Dangerous Game and Clue, Ready or Not stars Samara Weaving as Grace, a young bride who marries into the wealthy but strange Le Domas family that made their fortune in the board game industry. When it comes time to consummate the union, the bride is told that the marriage won’t be complete until she participates in an unusual family ritual: before the strike of midnight, the newlywed bride must draw a card from a mysterious box which will dictate which game they play into the night. Grace pulls the one-and-only cursed card that reads “Hide and Seek.” But this isn’t the traditional children’s game we are familiar with; in this deadly version, she is hunted by her soon-to-be-revealed psychotic in-laws wielding heavy weaponry like crossbows and shotguns.

A surreal cat-and-mouse chase ensues, with Alex ostensibly trying to help his bride survive while the rest of the La Domas clan remains dead-set on sacrificing her through the mysterious ritual. Their motive is simple: the La Domas believe that they must kill her before dawn as part of a satanic pact agreed upon years ago, otherwise they will have to repay their debt with their own lives. As to whether or not there actually is a satanic pact is unknown; as far as Grace is concerned, these rich folks are batshit crazy and out of their goddamned minds.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who are collectively credited as Radio Silence (V/H/S, Southbound), Ready or Not has a lot to offer in wit, style, and entertainment. It feels tailor-made for a midnight audience, as the bloodthirsty relatives arm themselves to the teeth in a wedding night filled with crossbows, shotguns, decapitations, a car chase, and a level of gore I didn’t expect given the marketing. The climax is especially memorable — an all-out gore extravaganza that left the audience laughing hysterically.

There’s a lot to like here, from the score by composer Brian Tyler to the cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz, but the reason this film works so well is because of the talented cast they’ve assembled, most notably Alex’s alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), who serves as the family’s moral core. And of course there’s also Samara Weaving, (Mayhem, The Babysitter) who pretty much sacrifices her body in blood-soaked scenes of action and terror. The actress is fully dedicated in her role, turning into her own version of Ripley while tearing apart the upper-class society, their ridiculous traditions, and their silly superstitions.

I don’t want to oversell Ready or Not; it’s a great B-movie (albeit a big studio B-Movie, but a B-movie nonetheless). The quick pace, simple concept, and terrific performances are what carry it through the 95-minute run time. Ready or Not is simply put, a lot of fun — a horror-comedy that offers a ton of laughs, delivers the action, and cements the star power of Samara Weaving. The best compliment I can give is that I’m ready to see it again. It’s the perfect movie to watch with a group of friends on a stormy night, and a late-summer surprise for genre fans everywhere.

  • Ricky D

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 25, 2019, as part of our coverage of the  Fantasia Film Festival.

 

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Fantasia Film Festival

Beautiful ‘Shadow’ Stands Out

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As a sort of somber Shakespearean political melodrama, Zhang Yimou’s Shadow sometimes feels a bit too overplotted, with enough self restraint and looks of longing to make it feel claustrophobic, and so many schemes and betrayals that the script almost gets dazed among them. However, as a fantastical period piece — decked out in luscious trappings and painterly compositions, and bolstered by passionate performances and balletic battles with umbrellas made of blades — the experience fares better, resulting in a look at ancient intrigue that always manages to entertain one way or another.

A brief bit of opening text sets the stage for a precarious peace between two lands — the kingdom of Pei, and the kingdom of Yang, the latter of which currently occupies the city of Jing, much to Pei’s dismay. When the renowned Commander of Pei strikes a deal with Yang’s unbeatable warrior king to compete in a one-on-one duel for the fate of the city, he is rebuked by his own ruler, and stripped of his title, demoted to a mere commoner. However, it is secretly revealed that the man acting as the Commander is actually a lookalike named Jingzhou, captured in his youth and bound to serve as ‘shadow’ to the true Commander — who is still recovering from near-mortal wounds from a previous encounter — in case of threats to his life.

This sickly Commander confines himself to an underground cavern beneath the city, and relentlessly trains Jingzhou in order to uphold the subterfuge, even going so far as to give him similar scars. All the while, he plots to retake Jing and assume Pei’s throne, promising to free Jingzhou from his duty upon victory. Of course, this being a royal court, there are any number of Machiavellian conspirators, each setting wheels in motions that surely will collide. This includes a weaselly king, a fiery princess, a sniveling courtier, and the Commander’s wife, Xiao Ai, who plays along with her husband’s maneuvers, but may be falling for his more honorable ‘shadow.’

Those who casually wander into this inter-kingdom squabble will no doubt soon become as lost as these ancient civilizations themselves, but despite the gravity with which the various players detail their plans, the importance of what they’re saying is mostly smoke and mirrors; sure, the duplicity stacked upon duplicity is mildly diverting, but it’s also shallow and devoid of meaningful motivation; so do the myriad of machinations in Shadow really matter? Not when there are plenty of other things to hold one’s interest.

Chiefly among those elements is the sumptuous look of every frame. Working with a relatively small canvas, director Zhang Yimou has carefully composed grandiose images filled with nuanced staging, deliberate movement, and indelibly rich texture. His choices give otherwise modest engagements an epic feel, and not just in moments where swords are flashed. Conversations become mini-wars in themselves, as he zeroes his camera in on the meticulous exchanges between the main players of his power game, their precisely worded responses and subtle facial expressions acting out aggressive thrusts and parries in word form, often cutting just as deep as any knife. 

One need not understand the spoken particulars to get the general idea, and Shadow actually communicates better through the clarity of its visuals. Each guarded step or confident tilt of the head feels deliberately choreographed, as if part of deadly dance. And instead of overloading the screen with period detail, sets are clean, populated only with objects of significance. This laser focus allows for minute aspects that otherwise may have been overlooked in clutter to factor prominently, especially when Zhang Yimou holds his shots so patiently.

And it must have easy for him to do so with a cast as magnetic as this. Deng Chao does double duty as the Commander and Jingzhou, but creates characters so disparate that you’d be forgiven for thinking they bear no resemblance whatsoever. He manages bitter and reptilian just as easy as dutiful and courageous, showing how life has affected these two men, tied together by a facade, in vastly different ways. Sun Li as Xiao Ai nobly hides her torn affections behind expressive eyes that should reveal more than they do; everyone is playing the game. Zheng Kai and Guan Xiaotong round things out nicely as the deceitful king and his more straightforward, honest sister, who challenges any threats to honor.

Shadow 2019 Film Review

They are eminently watchable, completely up to the task of holding down the fort even when besieged by layers of backstabbing that would require a more talented contortionist than the script is capable of. That’s Shadow itself; from one-on-one political maneuvers to an entertainingly inventive battle involving hundreds, there is almost always something splendid to soak in, even if it makes your head spin.

Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on July 25th as part of our Fantasia Film Festival coverage. Shadow is now available in Canada on Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray.

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Fantasia 2019: ‘Harpoon’ is ‘Dead Calm’ meets ‘Alive’

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Harpoon is best described as Dead Calm meets Alive. It follows Jonah (Munro Chambers), Sasha (Emily Tyra), and Richard (Christopher Gray)— a trio of unlikable friends with some serious issues who do horrible things to one another for roughly eighty-two minutes.

After Richard, the son of a mob boss suspects his best friend Jonah and long-time girlfriend Sasha are having an affair, it sends him into an uncontrollable rage that leaves Jonah a bruised and bloody mess. Only it seems Richard is wrong (or so they say), and after convincing Richard the allegations are false, Richard invites them on his family’s yacht to celebrate his birthday. It was meant to be a fun day trip in order to win back their trust but as tensions boil and the yacht’s engine fails, Richard’s anger management issues kick in and his birthday present (a speargun mistaken for a harpoon) becomes a threat. Stranded without food, drinking water, and other supplies, their only hope of survival is to set aside their differences and work together. But as secrets continue to be revealed and accusations are made, it seems this fuc*ed-up trio has little to no hope of ever reaching land alive.

Harpoon Movie Review

At its core, Harpoon is really a film about friendship, albeit a toxic friendship between three young adults who have drifted apart but somehow remain bound only by the amount of time they’ve known each other. When the trio are left stranded in the middle of the ocean, both their friendships and their lives are tested in excruciating ways. Rob Grant and co-screenwriter Mike Kovac’s script features an unseen narrator (Brett Gelman) who offers insight into the interpersonal background of the trio along with a clever and amusing history lesson about sailors and their superstitions. It seems the uncontrollable nature of the sea has given way to many a nautical lore, each one as curious as the next and Harpoon dives deep into these myths and legends feeding us snippets of info during a swift montage. As the plot twists, and turns (of which it does plenty), the trio realizes they’ve jinxed themselves in a barrage of ways. As they wait in hopes that someone will come to their rescue, they pass the time looking for ways to survive while discussing stories such as Edgar Allan Poe’s novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and the true tale of Richard Parker, whose life at sea unbelievably mirrored the plot of Poe‘s writing which was released 50 years earlier.

Harpoon Movie Review

For what is essentially a horror film shot on a single location, director Rob Grant does a superb job in delivering a nasty little thriller. In spite of the short running time and limited claustrophobic setting, Grant keeps the film interesting with his camera choices and clever editing. As the film progresses the camerawork slowly draws in ever tighter on the three leads heightening the suspense at key moments while also further adding to the claustrophobic feel. It really is impressive how much mileage the filmmakers get when working with so little.

Held together by three impressive performances, Harpoon deftly plays with our emotions as we become less and less sympathetic to the trio, no matter what horrible things they may be experiencing. What makes Harpoon different than your average survival thriller is how it continuously encourages the audience to laugh at the series of unfortunate events. No matter how deceitful, violent and psychotic these three friends are, Harpoon somehow manages to remain darkly funny.

I must once again stress how annoying these characters are and because of this, Harpoon is a film I admire more than I enjoyed. Often the trio’s bickering is exhausting to sit through and despite a running commentary on toxic masculinity and male insecurity, Harpoon eventually runs out of steam— or rather, is left with no more wind in its sails. In the end, these terrible human beings couldn’t be any more deserving of each other but I can’t say I enjoyed their company.

  • Ricky D

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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Fantasia 2019: ‘Depraved’ Puts a Fresh Spin on Frankenstein

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Larry Fessenden’s latest is part of a series of films that re-interpret classic monsters in a contemporary setting. The inspiration this time: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

There have been hundreds of big-screen adaptations of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein, but the latest, Depraved, resurrects Shelley’s 19th-century masterpiece with a 21st-century twist.

Depraved marks Larry Fessenden’s first feature-length film in six years, one in which he wrote, produced, directed, and edited. Known as the godfather of New York small-budget horror movies, Fessenden is no stranger to bringing Frankenstein-like stories to life on the big screen. Traces of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece can be found in many of the movies his studio (Glass Eye Pix) has produced over the past three decades, but Depraved may be his most ambitious, reconfiguring the classic story into something that’s truly his own.

Eschewing the classic gothic setting for Brooklyn, New York, Fessenden stitches together the usual motifs of hubristic science, loneliness, and fatherhood with modern anxieties about the dangers of profit-driven pharmaceutical companies, the trauma of PTSD, and the social decline of modern times.

Depraved

David Call plays Henry, a grieving wartime field surgeon whose time in the Middle East has left him with severe PTSD. Alex Breaux plays Adam, a young man who is attacked one night on his way home, left to die on the sidewalk. As fate would have it, Henry stumbles upon Adam’s lifeless corpse, and drags it back to his nearby laboratory. With the help of his business partner and old college friend, Polidori (Joshua Leonard), Henry assembles various body parts, then transplants David’s brain into a new, stitched-together carcass. And so, Adam is reborn, thanks to a mysterious drug and the mangled collage of different corpses Henry has collected. Proud of his creation, Henry is eager to teach Adam how to speak, solve puzzles, regain motor control, play table tennis, and well, be human again. Unfortunately for Henry and Adam, Polidori has other plans.

Unlike the majority of Frankenstein adaptations, Depraved places a heavy focus on the father/son relationship between Doctor and Creation. Those looking for a Frankenhooker or Re-Animator style of film may be disappointed, since Depraved is first and foremost a character-driven film. Stripping the story to its bare essentials, we spend the majority of the running time watching Henry struggle with the moral and ethical dilemma of tampering with mother nature. For roughly the first half-hour, Depraved shows Adam’s death, rebirth, and healing process. The second part is a twisted coming-of-age tale that sees the two men slowly form a bond. The third and final act sees the all-too-greedy Polidori introduce Adam to the darker side of the city life. Things quickly spiral out of control as Adam starts to regain memories of his past life, and the gifted doctor instantly regrets bringing him back from the dead.

Depraved Movie Review

Depraved is best when it’s exploring the very unstable relationship of these two men, and it helps that David Call and Alex Breaux both do some incredible work here. Unlike most Frankenstein adaptations, Depraved is almost entirely seen through Adam’s eyes, and Alex Breaux’s mechanical performance strangely helps bring the film to life. He’s great at using his entire body to express emotions and imply what Adam is thinking and feeling, with little-to-no dialogue. Meanwhile, David Call does a marvelous job as the disillusioned doctor with something of a God complex. His performance takes the viewer on an emotional journey, and despite his poor decisions and questionable actions, he winds up sympathetic as we watch his spirit being crushed by the world around him. Unfortunately, the same sort of praise can’t be bestowed upon Joshua Leonard playing the greedy corporate benefactor behind Henry’s research. Perhaps the film’s one and only bad scene sees Polidori deliver a tiresome monologue about human nature while strolling through a museum. Of course, part of the blame should be credited to the screenwriter, but Leonard spends the majority of his screen time playing his character to the point of camp, which clashes with the performances of the rest of the cast.

Shot on the 200th anniversary of Shelley’s novel, Depraved is reportedly one of Larry Fessenden’s least expensive films, but you wouldn’t know by looking at it. Fessenden has always had a gift in producing excellent indie films on a shoe-string budget, and Depraved is no exception. From the opening scene set to the folk song “More Than Enough” by Elizabeth & The Catapult to the sepia-toned climax, Depraved looks stunning and sounds great for a DIY indie thriller. I especially love the psychedelic imagery of the second act, as well as the lo-fi lighting, filters, and color gels used when trying to convey what is going on inside Adam’s head. Even the stylish credits are fun to look at!

Depraved Movie Review

If every great story has already been told, the trick is to find new ways to tell it. You’d think that there would be nothing left to say about Frankenstein, but thanks to Larry Fessenden’s unique perspective, he proves that even centuries-old stories can be torn apart and stitched back together in new ways.

I don’t want to oversell this movie. Depraved is good but not great. I’m not willing to call it his best work, but it is just one more accomplishment to add to his already crowded resume. Like any movie, Depraved has its fair share of flaws, but it’s also an extremely well-made, emotionally devastating, character-driven journey. By the end, Adam is just another lost soul wandering New York City — and like many others, he’s searching for answers, a purpose, and in his case, a soul.

  • Ricky D

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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Anime

Fantasia 2019: ‘Promare’ Feels Like the Younger Brother of ‘Gurren Lagann’

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Gurren Lagann is a cult classic directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and written by Kazuki Nakashima. It has over-the-top action, constant bravado, quotable lines, and non-stop escalation into madness. Subtly is not a common word used in Imaishi and Nakashima’s vocabulary, and luckily, fans of their work will not be disappointed with their newest animated movie, Promare. Hot-headedness (literal and metaphorical) and grandiose speeches are rampant when Promare kicks logic to the curb and goes beyond the impossible in its own unique way. What it lacks in a cohesive story, it makes up for in elaborate visuals, eye-popping action, and charismatic characters.


No matter how many times Spider-Man or Superman saves someone from a burning building, the real heroes are the firefighters; they are the ones on the ground, first on the scene. In the world of Promare, firefighters are not just stopping regular old fires; they are tasked with extinguishing supernatural infernos caused by the Burnish — humans mutated to become pyrokinetics. Called the Burning Rescue, they heroically save any and every civilian threatened by these eternal flames, doing so with advanced gear, amped-up water cannons, and hand to hand combat. In addition, they have high-tech equipment that includes drones, an armory of ice and water-powered firearms, and numerous models of mech suits.

These heroes are tasked to stop the flaming terrorists and the havoc they wreak, and in the first act of Promare, a Burning Rescue team led by a young man named Galo take on one of the most feared Burnish terrorists. They use their pyrokinesis to give themselves black, spiky armour and motorcycles that would make Ghost Rider jealous, and after a rousing success with eleventh-hour powers, Galo floats in his victory. Soon, the more militaristic, anti-Burnish organization called Freeze Force barges in and detains the Burnish, taking some of the credit and diminishing Burning Rescue’s efforts. This testosterone-driven act kindles a small spark in the back of Galo’s head, later pushing him to discover a conspiracy that suggests not all is as it appears to be.

Galo is essentially a carbon copy of Kamina from Gurren Lagann. He’s a shirtless, blue-haired, brash young man who jumps in head first to save everyone, and makes sure he looks cool doing it every time. His peers and rivals mock his intelligence and audacity, but in a rare twist, Galo immediately proves that his not simply all bark; he is also a talented rescuer, and is able to stop multiple Burnish solo. Eventually, he develops a rival with Lio, a blonde-haired, light-eyed, somewhat effeminate villain with his own code of honour. He also runs across Kray Foresight, the governor, who is appreciative of Burning Rescue and all their work. However, though Burning Rescue is comprised of many equally talented members, they are mostly pushed to the background outside of being given a few moments to shine.  

Promare takes advantage of new animation styles, and combines both hand-drawn and computer-animated designs. The vapourwave art style is bombastic and chaotic, while the angular designs of the Burnish’s powers add a little edge to the action scenes, guaranteeing that there is no wasted space on screen. The movie runs from inferno-hot to sub-zero cold with no in-between; one would expect nothing less from Imaishi and Nakashima.

Walking into this film and expecting some kind of subtly, even when it comes to the most mundane of actions, is expecting far too much. In classic fashion, the filmmakers keep making every scene more grandiose and epic. Fight scenes aren’t simply adding an extra bad guy or giving the hero a handicap; everything grows to an exponential scale. The moment you expect that Promare has reached its limit, suddenly everything goes to the extreme. But this does has its disadvantages, as subtly and clear explanations of events go by the wayside. The plot moves fast and glosses over the details of the world, history, and lore. Instead of questioning “why is this weird thing happening,” it’s better to accept that it’s happening simply “just because” — far better to just watch the bonker visuals and series of events. This pacing also makes it difficult for character growth, where relationships are created and destroyed on a whim, yet could have benefited more with extra content. It’s like the difference between the Gurren Lagann series and the movies. Sure, the movies cover a lot of ground, but they are very much more loud, operatic spectacles rather than the growing confidence of a young shy boy into a full-fledged legend.

Promare is certainly a movie that stimulates the lizard-brain neurons. It’s flashy, over the top, and outright ridiculous. The heroes and villains are operatic, and there is no nuance stored anywhere in the character’s development. But that’s why the movie is wonderful; the creators are able to depict these extreme levels of silliness, then lampoon and expand on it. There are even moments where the characters themselves have to acknowledge that this level of weirdness is actually happening. But that’s why this movie is spectacular — it’s loud, it’s big, but it’s 100% unfiltered fun.

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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Freelance Film Writers

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.

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