Tomorrow marks the start of the 23rd Fantasia International Film Festival, Montreal’s genre movie bonanza that runs for nearly a month. This will be my second time at the festival, having had the time of my life last year, and so I’m eager to return not just to the wild assortment of films, but the general atmosphere—it’s the kind of festival in which viewers meow once the lights go down, and then hoot and holler for a ramen commercial that plays religiously before each feature. And as the main film ensues, the audience cheers for nearly every gross, outrageous, surprising moment, creating a welcoming environment of people who just want to love what they’re watching. In a larger sense, Fantasia is also the kind of place that gives you a sense of where horror, sci-fi, and whole other strands of non-categorizable bric-a-brac are going to take filmmaking—it’s not uncommon to see a movie that goes on to launch a franchise (as “Unfriended” did years ago) or a foreign-language project that is primed for a Hollywood remake.
But most of all, and the reason I am most excited to return, it’s the kind of festival that can only deepen your appreciation for watching and talking about genre films. As a Fantasia veteran, I swear to myself to mix in the heavily anticipated with a left field choice; if a certain Fantasia movie sounds too strange for me (as the unforgettable “Crisis Jung” seemed last year), that probably means I should see it.
And be warned, poutine havens and public pianos: I’m coming for you.
Let’s start with a few movies that we’ve been able to previously cover, and recommend that viewers catch at the fest. Fantasia will also host the international premiere of “Into the Dark: Culture Shock,” the July installment from Hulu’s holiday-themed horror movie series. Brian Tallerico called it “the best ‘Into the Dark’” installment yet, and when I caught the film at Chicago’s Cinepocalypse last month, I wrote that co-writer/director Gigi Saul Guerrero’s horror/sci-fi hybrid about the American Nightmare “has an anger, mystery, and unflinching perspective that makes it stand out.”
I can wholeheartedly recommend “The Lodge,” especially for anyone looking to see a horror film that people will be talking about for weeks after. I still haven’t been able to get the final scene (or hymn) out of my head when it comes to this creepy, audacious story of two kids and their dad’s girlfriend, and I suspect that the movie will play extremely well with Fantasia audiences.
Canadian viewers who love the “Ip Man” movies will be treated to the latest installment in the series, the spin-off titled “Master Z: Ip Man Legacy.” Our own Simon Abrams awarded the film three-and-a-half stars, and called it “dazzling and righteous.”
Fans of director Zhang Yimou will get to see his latest film, the wuxia-influenced historical action film “Shadow” on the big screen. Our own Matt Zoller Seitz gave the film three-and-a-half stars, writing that “fans of palace intrigue and metaphorically ripe violence will find plenty to like.”
The festival will also be having a wealth of retro screenings throughout the month (for their “Fantasia Retro” program), including Ringo Lam’s “Full Contact,” Alex Proyas’ “The Crow,” John Waters’ “Polyester,” Sisworo Gautama Putra’s “Satan’s Slave,” two Ted Kotcheff films (“First Blood” and “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz”) and more.
Now, let’s look at some of the dozens and dozens films playing Fantasia that myself and others at RogerEbert.com haven’t seen, especially the world premieres. Here are just a few titles that we’re excited to check out in the coming days, with plenty of surprises in store:
- Fantasia 2019 starts out in a big way with the North American premiere of “Sadako,” the latest from “Ringu” director Hideo Nakata. The film promises to take us back into the world of the “Ringu” saga (which was so good that it inspired those “The Ring” movies), including the terrifying and iconic character that Nakata first introduced back in 1998.
- That same night, there’s a lot of anticipation behind the “DIY supernatural thriller” “The Deeper You Dig,” which is having its world premiere at Fantasia. Written and directed by John Adams, Toby Poser and their daughter Zelda Adams, the film is playing as part of the festival’s “Fantasia Underground” section. Check back for our festival review of what’s one of my most curious titles of the fest.
- Friday night will include the world premiere of “Phantom of Winnipeg,” a documentary about the ravenous fanbase behind Brian De Palma’s “Phantom of the Paradise” in the Canadian city. It sounds like a great fit for the environment of the festival, and one hell of a way to get Fantasia attendees excited for what’s coming the following night—a special screening of “Phantom of the Paradise,” with actor/composer Paul Williams and producer Edward R. Pressman in attendance.
- In the department of “movies already getting a remake” there’s Lee Byeong-heon’s action-comedy “Extreme Job,” a box office hit in South Korea. Kevin Hart was recently announced to be behind a Hollywood remake, and its premise of cops running a chicken shack has my interests piqued.
- Also on Saturday, I’m thrilled to have the honor of attending a world premiere screening of a “Critters” movie, as “Critters Attack!” will make its debut. The franchise has previously seen life with the Shudder series “Critters: A New Binge,” but now has its fifth film installment (and first in 27 years) from “The Master Cleanse” director Bobby Miller. If this experience is anything like when “Tales from the Hood 2” first showed its face to the world via Fantasia last year, I’m in for a great time.
- One of the more out-there (even in Fantasia terms) films I’m curious to hit is “SHE,” a “stop-motion fairy tale” composed of “almost 60,000 photographs” by Chinese director Zhou Shengwei. Glossing over the program’s synopsis, the project seems to be about … shoes? Gender? I’m eager to find out from the film itself.
- In the spirit of its punk rock ways, Fantasia runs for a whole month, which means that there’s many films I won’t get to see while in Montreal. Still, I’m curious about a whole bunch of movies playing at later dates, including “XX” director Jovanka Vuckovic’s feature debut “Riot Girls,” the world premiere of the latest film from rising crime director Malik Bader (“Killerman,” starring Liam Hemsworth and Emory Cohen), Larry Fessenden’s already acclaimed Frankenstein movie “Depraved,” and a special preview of “Ready or Not.”
The 23rd edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 11 through August 1. For more information regarding showtimes and selected titles, click here.