It is that wonderful time of year again for genre fans, Fantasia is here! Again we have an exceptional line-up, but here are just a few of our top picks. Be it World Premieres, International Features, live-action or animation or wonderful short films. There will be something for everyone in 2023.
A Disturbance in the Force
Investigating the infamous The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978) with the behind-the-scenes story of how it got made.
Anyone who calls themselves a fan of the Original Trilogy of Star Wars has seen that Holiday Special (despite all of George Lucas’ subsequent efforts to erase it). But what we do not fully know is why on Earth it was made in the first place. A sci-fi variety show was never going to work, and thanks to Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak, we have as much information as we are probably going to get about that shambles.
When a mysterious technological blackout plunges Ireland into anarchy and chaos, a group of failed washed up clowns are forced to traverse the country for one last shot at their dreams.
An Irish comedy about clowns travelling in a post-apocalyptic Ireland, hoping that the blackout will give rise to their talents, is a nailed-on must-watch for me. Without a doubt, there will be laughs and most likely some tears too.
Since losing her husband, Sophie has struggled to manage grief, a full-time job, and parenting her devastated daughter, but when a former physicist reveals a secret time-bending machine, Sophie will be faced with an impossible choice.
Grief makes you do the craziest of things sometimes, and when Judy Greer plays a character who has gone through it, she can devastate you. With an intriguing take on mourning, Jared Moshe has me very much interested.
Beauty and the Beast (1978)
For this richly perverse retelling of the original fairy tale, Slovakian director Juraj Herz puts his own inimitable Gothic stamp on Beauty and the Beast, combining bold, visceral horror and understated eroticism with more traditional elements. An unlikely romantic relationship develops when Julie (Zdena Studenková) tries to save her misguided father’s life by sacrificing herself at a monstrous being’s isolated lair.
This 1978 Czech adaptation is a take that genre fans will automatically gravitate to. If you have not seen or heard of Juraj Herz’s film before, then you are in store for a wonderfully Gothic viewing experience.
The First Slam Dunk
Follows Ryota Miyagi, a 17 years boy who, after to lose his elder brother Sota when he was a kid, struggles to accomplish Sota’s dream to be a basketball star.
The buzz around The First Slam Dunk has already been massive, and you won’t need me to tell you to catch this if you can at Fantasia. This is an adaptation worth the long wait.
It’s Raining Frogs Outside (Short)
The world is about to end. Maya is forced to go home to the province of Zambales. There, she confronts her childhood house that terrorizes her as frogs rain outside.
Most definitely a short film for those who do not mind fever dream style films, this is a memorable, visceral short film.
Jacques is a quirky tale in which a neglected stray pup, finds refuge in the arms of an eccentric young woman whom he grows extremely attached to — so much so, that he will do anything to keep her all to himself.
Usually, dog-centred short films are surefire winners with me, and when they cross into a bit of comedy, then you know a fun time will be had.
Late Night with the Devil
It’s Halloween evening in 1977 and late-night talk show icon Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) has a live broadcast planned that’s going to be unlike anything anyone’s ever experienced. He downright needs it to be, as he faces declining viewership. And tonight, Delroy’s going to deliver. On levels, his worst nightmares can’t imagine.
Colin and Cameron Cairnes’s Satanic panic feature looks to continue their excellent work as filmmakers delve into the world of possession and found footage and a little bit of everything else in between. Dastmalchian rarely disappoints, and he burns the house down when he is given the chance to lead. For a fun, tension-filled ride, look no further.
Lovely, Dark and Deep
Lennon, a new back-country ranger, travels alone through the dangerous wilderness, hoping to uncover the origins of a tragedy that has haunted her since she was a child.
Teresa Sutherland doesn’t miss as a writer; seeing her move to her first feature as a director is an exciting prospect. A horror that looks to be going down a psychological folk route is sure to pique the interest of many.
Murder Camp (Short)
Two slasher serial killers make the shameful error of serial killing at the same summer camp on the same night, challenging the very fabric of their friendship… and identities.
When browsing the programme to see what I should recommend, this short crossed my path, and by God, if the synopsis did not practically sing to me. For fans of slashers, this is simply bound to be a fun-as-hell watch.
Nezumikozo Jirokichi (Short)
Constables, crooks, common people — everyone’s on the lookout for Nezumikozo Jirokichi, the infamous Rat, sharp-witted, fleet-footed folk hero of olden-day Edo (imagine Robin Hood in a yukata).
The return of RinTaro as a director should be a big deal for fans of anime, so this silent short film should be a must-watch in the Circo Animato strand of the festival.
Prague, 2041. The world is on the cusp of crossing a threshold into a new era of human existence because death has been eliminated. Those who die can be resurrected, and the population consistently signs in and uploads their memories to a corporate cloud. On the eve of the corporation going public, one of its founding members is brutally murdered with his wife, and restoration is impossible. Now, a detective with an axe to grind (Andrea Mohylová) must infiltrate the extremist group The River of Life, luddites who believe that death is sacred, and uncover the corporate scandals and dirty secrets that lay at the centre of restoration.
An intriguing science fiction thriller from the synopsis alone, it appears to be a film that will happily keep you guessing while also throwing in a fair few home truths about our current corrupt life.
Enter stage right into the long-established Fujiya Inn in Kibune, a wintry valley town in the northern mountains of Kyoto. One of the establishment’s waitresses, Mikoto, goes about her work day. Called downstairs by her boss, Mikoto stares momentarily into the river nearby. A blink. A lifetime. Suddenly, something is off — the sake won’t get warm, the rice placed in the pot never dries out, and the bathwater never stops flowing.
One of the best films of 2021 was Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, and no one can tell me otherwise. Junta Yamaguchi returns with another time loop feature, and joyfully for us, River features most of the same cast. This is a film that looks like it will expand the ideas in his first feature and blow us all away.
Satan Wants You
In the ’80s and ’90s, an immediate fear swept North America. Satan was everywhere, sullying everything from music to movies and the daycare around the corner. Satanic ritual abuse was frequently reported — parents, clergy, and political officials rang the alarm every chance they could. But where did this Satanic Panic start?
Documentaries that dive into such periods of time are always going to be a great watch and Satan Wants You looks no exception. Recalling a period of time when misinformation was rife and people took up the pitchforks a touch too easily for comfort, we could have a film that hits home a bit too hard for modern audiences. As the old saying goes, everything works in cycles…
The Scream That Wouldn’t End (Short)
One shriek has haunted movies since the fifties, and will still be heard by our descendants.
Do I even need to say what scream this short documentary is on about? You know, I know, let’s see what Eric Lavoie has made here.
At first glance, Leyla (Mala Emde) and Tristan (Jonas Dassler) seem like a happy young couple. But when they travel to a mysterious, remote island, a game of identities begins, which changes everything – their perception, their sexuality, their whole “self”. As a result, their relationship is in jeopardy, and they may never be who they once were again.
Skin Deep is a film that has been moving through the festivals for quite a while (having reviewed it at Venice 22), so it is wonderful to see it pop up again here for Fantasia as it is a compelling, intimate gender identity drama, Alex Schaad’s feature directorial debut offers a fascinating look at relationships. With complex pitch-perfect performances, Skin Deep is a profound viewing.
Katya (Liza Zaitseva), a volunteer from Kyiv, is fighting against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While using a laptop donated to the resistance, she comes into contact with the original owner’s superhero-obsessed son, who is looking for his lost parents. In an effort to make a positive change in this boy’s life and pull herself out of a destructive cycle, Katya risks all that she holds dear to locate his parents.
A film utilising screenlife to its fullest, Stay Online looks like an immersive and important viewing. From the trailer alone, it feels as if Eva Strelnikova wants to have your heart rate up to bursting point with tension as we get a glimpse into life not only on the frontline but for those in the not-so-safe cities.
Dr. Elizabeth Derby (Heather Graham), a well-respected psychiatrist working out of Miskatonic University, has written a book on out-of-body experiences. After a young patient, Asa Waite (Judah Lewis), shows up at her office seeking help, Elizabeth becomes obsessed with his case and the young man himself. Unbeknownst to her, this visit leads to the murder of Asa and a downward spiral of sex, possession, and death as she tries to piece together the mystery of the beast she has become involved with.
From reports, director Joe Lynch has made a glorious flashback of a horror film that brushes upon Lovecraft, humour and everything in between. A film that should hit the right note for most audiences a good time should be had. Not to mention having Heather Graham and Barbara Crampton on screen together is a win for everyone.
Talk to Me
Wracked with grief over her mother’s death and unable to handle watching her father languish in depression, 17-year-old Mia (Sophie Wilde) begins to stay at her best friend’s house. A Snapchat video of a demonic possession goes viral in their school, capturing the fascination of everyone in Mia’s orbit, leading them to explore conjurings around an embalmed ceramic hand made from the severed arm of a psychic.
A hit since Sundance, this could be a film to carry the hype all the way through. This looks like a terrifying piece of cinema that, when out for general release, will be the next big horror. Get in first and be the one recommending it to everyone and anyone you see.
The Taster (Short)
In a near-future Romania, young Ozana (Silvana Mihai) is chosen to work as a food taster for the leader of forces occupying her country. The sole rule for her to follow is that she must never look this man in the eye.
An atmospheric thriller Sophia Bierend had me sold from the perfectly executed trailer alone. Some people forget how good short films can be, make sure this is one you do not skip in the Born of Woman 2023 strand.
We Are Zombies
In a society where zombies (known as “living-impaired”) roam among us, with no cannibalistic tendencies, the imposing shadow of the Coleman Corporation looms over a city. They offer a retirement plan for the living-impaired, promising to conduct research about them by collecting decomposing family members from their homes. Through these collections, a trio of friends infiltrate Coleman’s network to recover the zombies and sell them on their own.
Hands up in honesty, I was sold on the two images on the Fantasia website for this film. THEN I read the synopsis, and I clapped with glee. Who doesn’t love a fresh take on zombies François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell appear to have given us that. This looks like an utter blast.
Where the Devil Roams
Maggie, Seven and Eve (Toby Poser, John Adams, Zelda Adams) are a travelling family of performers, driving town-to-town through the tough, dying carnival circuit of Depression-era America. It’s a time of desperation in a climate steeped in superstition and distrust. And engulfed, for better or worse, in actual occult magic. The family’s creative collaborations bond them in special ways. As do their crimes and the mounting bodies left in their wake.
The Adams family return after the success of 2021’s Hellbender, and with them, they go far bigger than they ever have before. One thing is for sure, Where the Devil Roams will be interesting, will it back the same punch as their previous films? Well, you will just have to watch it to find out.
That’s it for the preview this year. As mentioned, I always feel it is important to mention the short film strands as sometimes they are ignored on such lists. Trust me on this, though, always watch the Fantasia short films, they are always excellent. No matter what, though, our little genre heads are in for another treat. Happy watching!