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Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 Preview: 15 Films to Look Forward To

July 28, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
The Sadness

Fantasia International Film Festival is one of the meccas of the festival circuit for genre film lovers. The Montreal-based festival is in its 25th year this year, and will take place both in-person and digitally from August 5th through August 25th. Many independent favorites have screened at Fantasia over the years, from Perfect Blue and V/H/S to Shaun of the Dead, Ringu, Inglourious Basterds, and many others. Fantasia has provided a place not only for new voices and international features to break ground, but also for big-name horror to find its first audiences and it’s recognized as one of the most important genre festivals in North America.

2021 is a big year for Fantasia, and they’ve programmed accordingly. The biggest film screening this year is no less than The Suicide Squad, which will have its in-person screening at Fantasia on August 4th which is just a day and some change before it arrives in theaters worldwide and on HBO Max. There will also be in-person screenings of Nicolas Cage’s new action-horror film Prisoners Of The Ghostland, David Bruckner’s psychelogical horro film The Night House and the zombie horror-comedy Brain Freeze. For those who can’t make the trip this year for the variety of reasons one can’t go to Montreal in 2021, there will be several options to view online and you can find out more here. I’ll be providing coverage of Fantasia this year and we’re kicking things off with a preview of the top 15 films for you to look forward to out of the festival.

Honorable Mentions

King Knight
When I Consume You
Junk Head
Martyrs Lane

#15: Operation Luchador

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  - Operation Luchador

Those of us who are wrestling fans know that often, the truth can be far stranger than fiction. All it takes is a glance at the Dark Side of the Ring series to be made painfully aware of that. Wrestling is a crazy industry across the globe, and that includes south of the border where lucha libre is a storied tradition. Luchadors have gone to improbable heights, so is it any wonder that they’re tailor-made for a mockumentary about fighting Nazis? Operation Luchador tells the story of the Golden Angel, a luchador who was recruited to infiltrate the Nazis and stop their expansion into South America. Director Alain Vézina crafts a mockumentary here that is filled with wild plot points like nefarious schemes regarding a “Sun Cannon” aimed at the US and a Nazi Yeti. The preview even promises that “You will discover what may have happened in the Führer’s bunker on 30 April 1945, and more importantly, what may have happened to Hitler’s brain after his supposed suicide.” This feature film follows up on Vézina’s 2018 short Terreur Au Campus, featuring The Golden Angel. With Vézina’s documentary background and the crazy set-up, this has the potential to be an absolute blast.

#14: Tokyo Revengers

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  - Tokyo Revengers

I’m generally trying to focus on feature films that will be available digitally, but this is one of the in-person screenings I had to include. If you loved Back to the Future but thought it didn’t contain enough Japanese street gang violence, Tokyo Revengers may just be the film for you. Ken Wakui’s 2017 manga has previously been adapted into an anime series, and now has a live-action take from director Tsutomu Hanabusa. The film follows Takemichi, a loser in his mid-20s whose brother and ex-girlfriend from high school are killed as the byproduct in a gang war. When he gets pushed into the way of an oncoming subway train, he is sent 10 years into the past and gets a chance to save both. Hanabusa’s film looks to be an ass-kicking good time that combines time travel sci-fi (a common theme at Fantasia 2021), action-thrillers, and romantic comedy. While that sounds like a strange trio of styles to mix together, it seems like something Tokyo Revengers might just be able to pull off.

#13: Agnes

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  - Agnes

If there’s one standby of the horror genre that never gets old, it’s possession films. Sure, not all of them are good, but this is a theme that never seems tired or played out the way others have. And even with the bar impossibly raised by The Exorcist, movies about demons taking root in people’s souls generally seem to have a greater chance to stand on their own. Agnes certainly sounds familiar, with a priest and a newbie investigating rumors of possession at a convent, but the trailer suggests a creeping dread, an excessive style, and a bit of humor that has every potential to set this one apart. The cast is impressive including Castle standout Molly C. Quinn, Ben Hall, and The Conjuring alumna Hayley McFarland as the titular nun. If it can hit the notes the talent is capable of, this could be a formidable entry in the catalogue of demonic horror.

#12: Alien On Stage

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview - Alien On Stage

A couple of years ago, a stage production of Alien at a high school in New Jersey went viral and snagged the attention of Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver, among others. Alien On Stage is not about that production; rather, it centers on an even less likely collection of performers in a group of bus drivers from the UK who decided to bring the horror classic to the stage for their latest community theatre production. It seems like a ridiculous idea at first, trying to bring the incredible aesthetic and dripping mood of the 1979 film to life with amateur performers and a shoestring budget. But as Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer follow, the troupe not only did so but took it to London’s famous West End for a one-night staging. So often genre filmmaking is relies strongly on dread and tension; it’s relatively rare that we get to see an uplifting underdog story, particularly a true one. With some great critical buzz and a DIY feel, Alien On Stage looks to be exactly the kind of film that can, at least for an hour and a half, cure the 2021 blues.

#11: Ultrasound

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  - Ultrasound

Ultrasound is a film I’ve been hearing a lot about since it had its world premiere at Tribeca in April. Rob Schroeder’s feature directorial debut has been drawing strong positive reactions that have put it high on my list of anticipated sci-fi films. Written by Conor Stechschulte based on his own graphic novel Generous Bosom, Ultrasound stars Vincent Kartheiser of Mad Men and Buffy fame (and the upcoming third season of Titans) as a man who, per the synopsis, “spends one hell of an odd night with a married couple, setting into motion a chain of events that alter their lives plus those of several random strangers.” What happens after that is generally been described as “a mystery box” that is slow to play its hand but stays compelling. I’m always down to have my reality warped for a bit and this seems to be a great way to pull that off.

#10: The Spine of Night

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  - The Spine of Night

Hard fantasy is an ambitious gamble of cinema in the best of situations. For every Lord of the Rings, there’s an Eragon. For every Game of Thrones, there’s a Game of Thrones season eight. But part of the appeal is that even when it’s a swing and a miss, it’s rarely boring. The Spine of Night seems anything but boring. Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King’s rotoscoped feature conjures to mind images of Heavy Metal and the Bakshi or Rankin/Bass adaptations of Tolkein’s work. That’s a great reference point to build from, and when you add in a voice cast that includes Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Joe Manganiello, and Larry Fessenden — well, as the Tarantino film meme says, “You had my attention; now you have my interest.” The synopsis promises “ultra-violent, epic fantasy” and as a D&D fanatic, that’s the kind of thing I am absolutely here for.

#9: The Last Thing Mary Saw

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  - The Last Thing Mary Saw

Look, when you put queer horror on the menu, I’m gonna be first in the dinner line. The Last Thing Mary Saw features a couple of actresses who broke out in horror (Orphan’s Isabelle Fuhrman and Insidious: Chapter 3’s Stefanie Scott) playing two women in 1840s New York who find comfort in each other while living amongst Mary’s (Scott) oppressive religious family. When Mary finds her grandmother dead, she is detained and her past interrogated. This is being teased as a highly atmospheric film, with director Edoardo Vitaletti relying on stifling silence and careful nuances to build the horror and tension of his debut feature. The cast also includes Rory Culkin (Scream 4) and Judith Roberts (Orange Is the New Black) for a horror film that should appeal to those who (like me) have reaped benefits from the recent rise of A24-style slow-burn horror.

#8: All the Moons

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  - All the Moons

It’s tough to do a vampire film these days. It’s perhaps the horror genre that is, outside of zombie films, most commonly accused of being played out. And for good reason, too. It often seems like vampires have been done every way that it’s humanly possible and used for just about every theme or allegory. But when it’s done well, it doesn’t have to be a ridiculously convoluted new take. All The Moons offers the promise of exactly that: a vampire story that may feel familiar, but finds its footing by just being excellently done. Set in 1876 Spain, Igor Legarreta’s film focuses on a young girl(Haizea Carneros) who is rescued from a bombed orphanage by a woman (Itziar Ituño) who turns her to save her. When they get separated, the girl must learn how to survive on her own. Period horror doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s among the best in the genre and this could very well go that route.

#7: Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  - Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes

Of all the time travel films that have been coming out as of late, this looks the most intriguing. You can have your Tenet, guys; I’ll take this low-budget Japanese film about a computer screen that provides a look two minutes into the future, and all the strangeness that can come out of that. The first film from director Junta Yamaguchi, this little movie that could centers on Kato (an also first-timer in Kazunori Tosa) whose cafe TV links to his home computer in a two-minute time loop. What can you do in two minutes? It seems like, if you’re ingenuitive, a lot. This film looks like it’s having a lot of fun with the concept and is done in a supposed single take, which just makes me more interested to see how they pull it off. Sci-fi comedy can often be an even harder mix to pull off than horror comedy, but this one has all the potential in the world.

#6: The Sadness

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  - The Sadness

If you’re just looking at the title of The Sadness, it would be easy to pass it by. In a genre like horror where titles often promise big, wild things, that title might suggest a quiet, meditative piece about grief. The Sadness is not one of those films, a fact made evident by the way Fantasia says on the Taiwanese movie’s schedule page:

“Fantasia rarely gives trigger warnings, but this film warrants all of them. Proceed with caution.”

And just like that, I’m in. Not that I wouldn’t have been down with a mood-infused film about loneliness, but a transgressive as hell horror take on zombies where instead of shambling corpses, a pandemic turns people into id-fueled monsters acting out their darkest impulses? That’s the kind of thing you have to see. Rob Jabbaz’s film centers on a couple attempting to make their way through a violence-shattered city in Taiwan to get to each other, adding the requisite human element amidst what promises to be some ultra-violence that would make Alex DeLarge and his droogs run screaming. Obviously this film will not be for everyone, but if you can handle a film that crosses a lot of lines and has a fair amount of social commentary to boot, this film may be just for you.

#5: What Josiah Saw

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  - What Josiah Saw

While The Sadness promises a journey into over the top violence, What Josiah Saw looks to be a more unsettling film. It’s already being likened to last year’s The Dark & The Wicked, a film I absolutely adored. Similar to that paragon of quiet terror, What Josiah Saw looks at a family’s disintegration — this time due to secrets perhaps best left unsaid. Director Vincent Grashaw has assembled a strong cast including Robert Patrick (Terminator 2, Walking Dead), Nick Stahl, Kelli Garner and Ben Hall, who as previously mentioned is also appearing at Fantasia 2021 in Agnes as well as the promising-looking Ida Red. What Josiah Saw fills the rural horror niche that is such a significant part of the genre, and I am 100% here for it.

#4: Midnight

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  - Midnight

South Korean thrillers are usually top-shelf entries in the genre, which has me deeply looking forward to Midnight. There’s been an increasing number of hearing-impared heroines in genre films lately between Regan in A Quiet Place, Maddie in Hush and others, and director Kwon Oh-seung introduces another to stand beside them in Jin Ki-joo’s Kyung-mi. Kyung-mi is a sign language counselor at a call center who witnesses a stabbing and becomes the next targer of Do-sik (Wi Ha-joon), which begins a cat and mouse game of survival. The film is garnering a lot of praise for its sound design and ability to get under the viewers’ skin, while playing with some unexpected plot directions. A good thriller can send me to the moon, and this looks to be well above “good.”

#3: Don’t Say Its Name

Don’t Say Its Name is an Indigenous horror film from Canada that is coming at a very timely moment, as the neighbors to the north of the US are being forced to reckon with their government’s treatment of Indigenous people over the past couple of centuries. Rueben Martell’s snowcapped chiller doesn’t go directly into that, but it is set against the landscape of conflict between land developers and those who call the tribal lands of Canada home. When a local activist is killed in a hit-and-run while protesting a drilling deal, the land itself retaliates as do the spirits who are seeking vengeance. Don’t Say Its Name is a film with plenty of Indigenous talent on both sides of the gamer, and that is said to have paid dividends for how the film plays out. Add in the snow setting which is always a gloomy delight for horror and this is a ghost-like thriller that has every chance to soar.

#2: The Deep House

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  -  Deep House

There simply aren’t enough haunted house movies. I know, there are a decent number of them, but that’s still not enough. I love a good house haunting, and often times even the bad ones have their charms. The Deep House looks to be good by any measure, though. Take a house and put it underwater, and you have perhaps the creepiest possible way to depict a haunting. The film follows Tina (Camille Rowe) and her partner Ben (James Jagger) as YouTubers who, in seeking new content for a video, find an artificial lake with a house at the bottom. Of course, that house is haunted and you can imagine where it’s going to to from there. If that doesn’t intrigue you enough, the film is directed by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury, who burst onto the scene with the New French Extremity Inside in 2007. With that kind of pedigree, you can be sure this isn’t going to be a chill experience and the amount of time this one apparently spends in the water attests to that. This is sadly one of the in-person screenings, but it’s one I’m looking forward to so much I had to include it.

#1: Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror

Fantasia International Film Festival Preview  - Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched

Listen, I love documentaries about horror. Crystal Lake Memories? I watch that regularly. In Search of Darkness? Hell yes. I love films that discuss and educate about horror, I love talking about the craft, I love talking about the genre’s history. And that makes Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched right up my alley. Folk horror has seen a major, major resurgence of late thanks to people like Ari Aster and Rogert Eggers, and at the same time it may have one of the longest, deepest histories of all horror genres. Director Kier-La Janisse has put together an epic-length three hour-plus discussion of the genre’s history from The Witch and The Wicker Man to Witchfinder General and many more. This looks to be the horror documentary I’ve been waiting for without knowing I was waiting for it, and I can’t imagine being more excited for it.

And there’s my top 15 films to look forward to! That’s just a smattering of what’s available at Fantasia Fest 2021 though. If you’re interested, you can check out the program here. I’m looking forward to covering it and discussing the films set to come out of it in the next few weeks.