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.
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)