The Fantasia International Film Festival is back for its 27th annual edition, running July 20 through August 9, and it’s bringing one of Hollywood’s biggest stars––in spirit now; he’s officially canceled so as to not cross the picket line of the current SAG-AFTRA strike––to Montreal with a world premiere and career recognition. Nicolas Cage, his new film Sympathy for the Devil, and his Cheval Noir Career Achievement Award aren’t the only draw for this three-week event, though.

You’ve got a spotlight on Korean cinema to celebrate sixty years of diplomatic relations between Canada and the Republic of Korea. There’s the honor of bestowing underground filmmaker Larry Kent with the 2023 Canadian Trailblazer Award alongside a screening of a rare 35mm print of his 1981 film Yesterday. And a slew of world premieres from horror’s best and brightest––a list spanning Larry Fessenden (Blackout), Jenn Wexler (The Sacrifice Game), and the Adams Family (Where the Devil Roams).

Opening the fest is Pascal Plante’s Red Rooms in its North American premiere. Closing things out is the world premiere of the RKSS collective’s (François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell) latest We Are Zombies. In between rests a laundry list of genre goodies from IFC/Shudder (the aforementioned Sympathy for the Devil and The Sacrifice Game as well as Birth/Rebirth, Perpetrator, and Suitable Flesh); Teresa Sutherland’s debut Lovely, Dark and Deep; Victor Ginzburg banned Russian blockbuster Empire V; Xavier Gens’ Mayhem!; Junta Yamaguchi’s River; Zach Clark’s The Becomers; and Jared Moshe’s Aporia.

Here are some thoughts from the Film Stage team on 6 highlights:

Divinity (Eddie Alcazar) – July 22

Divinity can best be described as a “brain trip,” a film that acts as an upgraded ’80s B-movie. Eddie Alcazar’s futuristic, violent drama follows two brothers as they hold a scientist, the man who helped invent an everlasting-life drug called Divinity, hostage in his mansion. At times it’s beautiful to watch, shot in a shadow-focused black-and-white and set amongst a deserted landscape recalling Mad Max. Other times it’s grotesque, highlighting the disgusting physical and financial greed of a drug that’s been flooded across the world. Always, Acalazar’s film is inventive and singular. – Michael Frank (review)

Perpetrator (Jennifer Reeder) – August 1

There’s a mystery involving five missing young girls, and a particular vogue for plastic surgery amongst the adults we meet in the story, which creates a key antagonistic counterforce to Jonny’s abilities and helps explain the peculiar absence of her mother in her family life. Reeder boldly conceives of the patriarchy as an extractive force, not just harming female solidarity and individuality, but using it as a resource to grotesquely mine from. This “snap” moment towards the end, where Perpetrator’s plot arc, thematics, and visuals are all coherently brought together, make up for when it feels more generic, unconvincing, and distracted. – David Katz (review)

Raging Grace (Paris Zarcilla) – July 23 & August 1

Not unlike the rage sparked within Bong Joon Ho’s now-classic Parasite, Paris Zarcilla’s Raging Grace explores a perverse relationship between a wealthy estate owner and their laborer. Rather than comment on class systems and populist rage, the writer-director frames this conversation in the context of immigration and colonization, which is on its face scarier than any slasher movie could ever be. Striking an often playful and darkly comic tone, the SXSW Jury Prize winner captivates as it delves deeper into psychological horror. – John Fink (review)

Skin Deep (Alex Schaad) – August 3 & 9

Alex Schaad’s Skin Deep seeks to elucidate. By wielding a science fiction conceit wherein two people can consensually transfer their essences into the other’s body, his co-writer and brother Dimitrij and he can begin tearing down walls of gender, sexuality, psychology, and identity itself. Because while our purest self is that essence, all the other pieces that make up who we are impact its formation, evolution, and, inevitably, disintegration. Leyla isn’t mired in a “rough patch” like Tristan tells himself as a coping mechanism to deal with her obvious shift in personality from active lover of life to depressive hermit devoid of spark. Her body and brain—her very existence—have become a prison. And where the only escape had been death, this alternative promises rejuvenation. – Jared Mobarak (review)

Sometimes I Think About Dying (Rachel Lambert) – August 6

While she says her banal, nondescript, spreadsheet-crafting office job is the only thing she loves in life––besides cottage cheese––one wouldn’t guess it from the way Fran Larsen (Daisy Ridley) carries out her dreary 9-to-5 routine. Spending the labored minutes staring at leakage in the ceiling tiles, gazing at her computer screen, and barely speaking a word to her overenthusiastic colleagues, Larsen has something more existential eating away at her soul: she’s preoccupied with dying. Whether it’s being washed up on a beach, hanging from a crane outside her window, being consumed by the forest, or a violent car crash, she has recurring visions of what could be an escape from her lonely life of isolation. Although not feeling fully formed with its emotionally rushed finale, Rachel Lambert’s Sometimes I Think About Dying is a humorously droll, narratively restrained look at the feigned personalities of workplace office culture and the social anxieties of being forced into such spaces. – Jordan Raup (review)

Talk to Me (Danny and Michael Philippou) – July 23

Featuring a great premise from which to build a franchise, YouTube creators Danny and Michael Philippou’s directorial debut Talk To Me is a refreshing retread, imagining tantalizing “micro-possessions” that get stronger the more you use them. The premise is simple enough: a possessed hand that seems to have been passed down for generations opens a supernatural portal to the unknown, which can offer a brief moment of clarity before it inflicts unthinkable violence. As far as the violence goes, the film checks all the boxes with a murder/suicide opening sequence at an out-of-control house party, setting the affair in motion without giving away what’s to come. – John Fink (review)

We’ll be sharing more reviews of Fantasia premieres over the next few weeks, so please check back. For full schedule and information, visit their website.

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