Fantasia 2014 | Report #1

filmfest fantasia_75You might say the Japanese anticipated the current craze for dystopian YA literature, but made their dystopias much more extreme than anything the American market would bear.




filmfest let-us-prey

If you’re into genre films and aren’t satisfied by the few that make it into the local theaters, you should know about the Fantasia International Film Festival. Held annually in Montreal since 1996, it began as a showcase for Asian films (hence the original name Fant-Asia), but today shows the best in genre from all countries. Of course, Japan and Hong Kong are well represented, but so are 30 other countries, including (just to select a few at random) Brunei Darusallem, India, Russia, and Venezuela. The genres covered run (alphabetically) from animation through western, including musicals and documentaries as well as old standbys like horror and anime. There are also a few Blaxploitation films in the mix (Darktown Strutters, Bamboo Gods and Iron Men) and the Quebec premiere of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.

In 2014, Fantasia runs from July 17 through August 5. Unfortunately, due to work responsibilities, I was only able to get here on July 25, but I’m still planning to pack a year’s worth of genre goodness into my brain during those two weeks. I got off to a good start yesterday with one really banging and surprisingly philosophical horror film, and a more conventional but still worthwhile horror/action film set in the most deadly of locations: a Japanese high school.

Let Us Prey, directed by Brian O’Malley, is an effective version of an oft-told tale: A mysterious stranger comes to a small town and upsets the balance of power, in the process revealing secrets that would otherwise have remained in the shadows. The stranger is played with appropriate menace by Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth on Game of Thrones), who meets his match in a rookie policeman on her first day on the job (Pollyanna Macintosh). The action takes place over a single night, and if the storytelling is a bit loose, it’s more than made up for by the splendid cinematography of Piers McGrail and O’Malley’s knowing exploitation of horror tropes. Another plus for this film is a strong sense of location (it was shot in Ireland and Scotland, and received funding from both countries) and excellent use of humor to create breathing space and increase the effectiveness of the horror elements.

filmfest puzzle-300Puzzle, based on the popular novel by Yusuke Yamada, is also a variation on a familiar tale. A gang of bullies creates terror in a Japanese school, with consequences that are both horrifying (don’t see this one if you can’t take the sight of blood or the depiction of wanton cruelty) and bizarrely humorous. You might say the Japanese anticipated the current craze for dystopian YA literature, but made their dystopias much more extreme than anything the American market would bear. Director Eisuke Naito has a good feel for the genre, the cast is excellent, including Kaho and Shuhei Nomura, and the film is creative visually (it’s partly a satire on game culture), but the story is presented in a fragmented series of flashbacks, which dissipates much of its narrative punch.

Here’s another reason to attend Fantasia: It’s in Montreal! Most of the films are shown at a few centrally located theaters in a district also known for the availability of inexpensive and delicious ethnic food and cheap housing; I’m staying in a dorm at Concordia University, within a few blocks of several festival theaters, but there are also nearby youth hostels if you’re fond of communal living. The weather here is cooler and drier than St. Louis at this time of year, the city is beautiful, and people are pleasant and helpful. And here’s an important practical tip: Although Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city in the world (after Paris), over half the population is bilingual and a substantial number are primarily English speakers, so it’s not a problem finding your way around if you’re a monolingual American—or your second language is something other than French. | Sarah Boslaugh

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