By Michael-Oliver Harding | Indiewire August 9, 2013 at 3:08PM
Montreal’s sprawling Fantasia Festival wrapped up a stellar 17th edition this week. With over 120 madcap features and a slew of special events, the festival once described by Quentin Tarantino as "the most important and prestigious genre film festival on this continent" didn’t disappoint fans of macabre live theatre, martial arts musicals, and other unruly selections. Highlights included a lifetime achievement award presented to subversive Polish master Andrzej Zulawski ("Possession") and an artist talk with "X-Men: Days of Future Past" director Bryan Singer, who's currently shooting his anticipated mutant sequel in Montreal. Indiewire waded through an impressive crop of apocalyptic, slapsticky or boundary-busting premiere titles to elect our 10 festival favorites.
Obnoxious hipster "Dirty Fred" (Justin Rice) and his abrasive, eco-conscious buddy Bruho ("Kids" and "Bully" alum Leo Fitzpatrick) cherish their vagabond grind: they break into strangers’ affluent abodes, steal food and alcohol until the owners return and then repeat their outlaw cycle ad infinitum. Shot in drawn-out takes, this intelligent, irreverent and truly idiosyncratic debut by former film critic Eddie Mullins features two singular slackers in an age of doomed globalization, convinced that our petroleum-dependent world is about to self-destruct. How Mullins’ oft-irascible characters manage to grow on you is a testament to this black comedy’s nuanced script and assured performances.
Les 4 Soldats
Fantasia’s most anticipated Canadian premiere follows four orphaned youths and fellow soldiers who develop tight-knit bonds in a province beleaguered by an unidentified civil war. Morin, one of Quebec’s most brazen cinematic iconoclasts, adapts a book by Hubert Mingarelli into an eloquent and slow-burning meditation on friendship in dire times. Narrator Dominique, alpha male Matéo, child-at-heart Big Max and dreadlocked loner Kevin, all orphaned as a result of the war, build a makeshift family and relish in the most mundane, routine activities. For Morin, whose long takes wisely refrain from ever depicting an "enemy," war is but the pretext to explore our primal need for human connection.
OXV: The Manual
Pegged as "the world’s first scientific philosophical romance," this wildly original, cerebral sci-fi treat is set in a parallel universe wherein humans emit precise frequencies that determine the courses of their lives (namely, career aspirations and opportunities for romance). Those with high frequencies, like child prodigy Marie-Curie, can expect good fortune and low empathy, while Isaac-Newton’s low frequency condemns him to a lifetime of calamities. Although they "repel like two high-powered magnets," Isaac moves heaven and earth to get closer to Marie, his lifelong crush, by chemically tweaking their frequencies – an experiment with dire consequences. Brilliant storytelling that questions the notion of free will while championing human imagination.
L’Autre Monde (The Otherworld)
The highlight of the festival’s Documentaries From The Edge section, "L’Autre Monde" finds cult director Richard Stanley ("Hardware") training his lens on a slew of supernatural phenomena occurring in an area in the south of France dubbed "The Zone." Given that thousands of tourists flock annually to the occult-minded villages around Montségur, Stanley explores this intangible realm of vortexes, orbs and ghostly apparitions with a hodgepodge of sorcerers, physicists and lunatics. His documentary's compelling anthropological insights remind us that our culture is sometimes ill-equipped to understand mysticism – and that, alien vessel claims notwithstanding, there is probably more than meets the eye.
Korea’s profoundly grim – and riveting – recipient of the 2012 Venice Queer Lion took its long overdue North American bow at Fantasia. Plunging into an abyss of human misery, "The Weight" tells the story of Yung, a hunchbacked mortician, who literally wears the weight of Seoul's downtrodden on his shoulders. A man of few words, who diligently polishes corpses and helps his oppressed brother pay for a sex change operation, Yung lives in a morally bankrupt city where depravity is the common currency, and necrophilia is just the tip of the iceberg. Kyu-hwan's subversive and at times surreal portrayal of social pariahs and their open-wound vulnerability is truly heartbreaking.
This haunting, darkly humorous and visually stunning adaptation of a Japanese novel tells the story of Ian (Robert de Hoog), a withdrawn man permanently scarred by his many brushes with death. After stumbling upon his father’s lifeless body and discovering a young girl hanging from a tree, Ian spends years anguishing in his bedroom. He eventually finds solace in helping women take their own lives…and bringing their corpses back home for some company. Muldowney hits all the right marks – gloomy, deadpan and endearing – with this complex tale of a man who finds reason to live (and love) after flirting with death one too many times.
Number 10 Blues/Goodbye Saigon
An intriguing piece of B-movie history, shot near the end of the Vietnam War, and recently unearthed and edited by Japan’s National Film Centre, this artifact of Asian exploitation cinema explores racial tensions against the backdrop of war-torn Vietnam. The movie depicts an affluent, Japanese businessman who goes into hiding after accidentally killing a Vietnamese. He tries to stay alive by embarking on a perilous journey across the country with his stunning songstress sweetheart.Osada’s long-shelved directorial debut (which premiered in Rotterdam earlier this year) brings to light a vibrant, insider’s perspective on the Vietnam War – nearly 40 years after it was filmed.
The mumblecore maven’s playful erotic thriller centers on a self-indulgent fetish photographer (Adam Wingard), whose elaborate staging of scantily clad women as bruised and bloodied corpses begins to mirror (and seal?) his models’ real-life fates. A minor work in Swanberg’s DIY filmography, but refreshingly, one that never takes itself very seriously, "24 Exposures" is a pulpy exploration of libidinous relationship demons. Frequent Swanberg collaborator Simon Barrett plays a dejected cop tasked with investigating the murders, in a self-aware turn that only enhances the "meta" value of the narrative – further muddying the waters as to whether Swanberg is showing us real or fetishized crime scenes.
Curse of Chucky
Having penned all previous films in the "Child’s Play" franchise (and directing "Seed of Chucky"), Don Mancini takes the reins for this sixth installment of the killer doll’s gruesome antics, which shrewdly reintroduces the late eighties/early nineties horror icon to a whole new generation. Playing down the laughs in order to crank up the reign of terror, this installment finds the raunchy doll shipped off to a spooky house, where wheelchair-bound Nica (played by Fiona Dourif, real-life daughter to the homicidal doll’s voice actor, Brad Dourif) becomes the unlikely heroine in a rapidly unfolding, knife-assisted bloodbath. A fitting way to celebrate the franchise’s 25th anniversary.
Return to Nuke ‘Em High Vol. One
Troma Entertainment's latest achievement in sci-fi schlock, a sequel/remake of 1986's "Class of Nuke ’Em High," will mostly appeal to the generation weaned on its trademark exploitation cinema – foul sex, fart gags and discount gore. This latest pop culture-laden satire features the same 1980s aesthetic, slapsticky mutants and frequently naked, college-aged babes and bros trying to avoid cranial explosions caused by slime-stuffed, cafeteria tacos (cue the overblown sound and visual effects). Some of the humour falls flat, and Tarantino’s suggestion to break up the movie into two parts is questionable at best, but it’s still hard to slam Troma-grade schlock.