FNC 2021: Compartment no.6 (2021)

Compartment No.6 (2021)

Director (and writer): Juho Kuosmanen

Cast: Yuriy Borisov, Seidi Haarla, Dinara Drukarova, Galina Petrova

As a train weaves its way up to the arctic circle, two strangers share a journey that will change their perspective on life. – IMDB

Compartment no. 6 is one of those films where its about an encounter with a stranger which brings on some new realization. Coincidentally, it is one of the type of film premise that I am very drawn to. The film is primarily in Russian but also has some Finnish as well. Its main setting is during a train ride from Moscow to Murmansk as Finnish student Laura and Russian labourer Ljoha have the same trip to make and is assigned to the same compartment. What starts off as unbearable for Laura specifically ends up taking a turn when she starts to know Ljoha more.

These two characters are absolute opposites at first glance. Ljoha starts off as a loud vodka drinking straightforward Russian guy while Laura is sulking in her emotions from doing this trip alone without her girlfriend Irina but also calmly looking forward to seeing the rock paintings to round out her studies. There is an eagerness for Ljoha to know Laura better at first evem if he essentially feels baffled by her desire to go to the middle of nowhere to see these rock paintings. As they do this trip, the changes between the characters together and individually are executes really well. While it feels a lot more on the surface, there is this subtle feeling that connects these two characters together and to the audience. While this train ride seems unbearable at the beginning, the time they spend together end up being rather entertaining. Thinking back, its hard to really specify one single moment that stands out but yet, its the little moments where Laura observes Ljoha or the conversations they have or the friendly gestures extended that gradually makes them into friends. There are undertones of romantic connections here and yet the film leaves that open-ended.

The charm of these sorts of films is mostly character driven and in this sense, Compartment No.6 delivers very well. It does feel at times a little more on the surface but its sufficient to connect with them and their motives. At the same time, the Russian setting and its train ride also has its charm as its not only a tight space but also its many stops reveals a variety of adventures especially since it is in a cold and snowy time. When she goes for a car ride with him to meet an old lady or when Laura invites a Finnish guitar player to their compartment, there is a different dynamic that comes in. The first being one where Laura learns more about Ljoha and the views on life in general between two women while the latter almost feels like an intrusion into their dynamic in the compartment. Much like the train ride also gives the supporting character of the train attendant her own spotlight as she starts off fairly rude but proceeds to being rather nice at the end as well.

Overall, Compartment No. 6 is a really nice film. A good part of it is thanks to a great script that builds up two really good characters and their time together on the train and slightly after. It also is credits to the actor Yuriy Borisov and actress Seidi Haarla that play Ljoha and Laura respectively who captures their roles and delivers their connection and chemistry really well. At the same time, the setting itself its pretty nice. It is fairly isolated the further they go but it emphasizes the contrast between the cold barren outside versus the crowded and tight space inside the train. As a final note, a lot of people seem to compare this to Before Sunrise, which is a film that I haven’t seen yet (but will soon) however, I wouldn’t mind seeing a follow-up on these characters years after just to see what happens to them.

*Watched as part of Festival du Nouveau Cinema coverage – The virtual platform is available until October 31st. You can find the film selections HERE*

TADFF 2021: The Free Fall (2021)

The Free Fall (2021)

Director: Adam Stilwell

Cast: Andrea Londo, Shawn Ashmore, Jane Badler, Michael Berry Jr., Elizabeth Cappuccino, Dominic Hoffman

After attempting to take her own life, a young woman must wrestle with an overbearing husband. – IMDB

The big finale for my coverage of Toronto After Dark Film Festival is also the high point of the entire festival with this clever, thrilling and tense psychological horror film. There is so much to love about it and yet, what really pulls it together is its fantastic twist that gives this movie such a unique concept that pulls together the whole film in a way that hasn’t been done before (at least in my film experience). I don’t want to dive into the details as that will definitely ruin what makes this so cleverly structured and written. With any film which relies heavily on the ending being able to pull all its pieces together in a rewarding way for its audience, it also comes with a lot of mysteries and questions built out throughout that will definitely be very mindboggling and confusing. However, trust me on this one, if you stick it out, the ending is well worth it.

Moving away from the element that I can’t talk about, there’s a lot of other things that make this film pretty well-executed. The first has to be its one setting. One setting films are really quite fun as it works well to use its space efficiently, having spaces left to be explored and in this case, with a main character suffering from amnesia also brings in going into spaces that may or may not bring in new memories and create different atmospheres.

The atmosphere is also built up pretty well especially when it comes to the imagery and visuals. The house itself having a lot to do with how some shots are set up in an appealing way. The atmosphere also changes with the fluctuation of the main character Sara as she struggles with what she is seeing in reality or her imagination. It brings in a lot of darker and sinister moments that create the horror lurking in the background whether its through reflections or dark spaces. At the same time, there’s a nice control of how to use some of the scenes repeatedly but also expanding on them to add more to the story as it progresses.

A lot of credit does have to go to the cast here. Andrea Londo as Sara does a great job right from the start as she experiences the trauma that drags her into this situation where she struggles with recovering from amnesia and dealing with all the odd and suspicious things that seems to be happening in her home. Andrea Londo has a good control over her role which is ever so important here as it makes sure there isn’t any overacting. Much like Shawn Ashmore who also delivers a good performance as the husband Nick. Nick’s character is suspicious right at the beginning and in some ways, its meant to have that feeling especially when amnesia and suspicious husband roles come into play as they are estranged characters that haven’t been introduced until that moment. His character develops and changes over the course of the film especially in its character’s intensity and calmness that delivers a different layer.

Overall, The Free Fall is an outstanding psychological horror film. Thrillers are so hard to do great and this one manages to make the ending so rewarding and gives such a unique angle to the horror subgenre that its tackling. The writer Kent Harper deserves a lot of credit. The cast, the cinematography, the writing are all really well-executed, making this film well worth a watch.

TADFF 2021: Ditched (2021)

Ditched (2021)

Director (and writer): Christopher Donaldson

Cast: Marika Silas, Mackenzie Gray, Kris Loranger, Declan O’Reilly, Lara Taillon, Shawna Pliva McGill, Reamonn Joshee, Lee Lopez, Michelle Molineux, J. Lindsay Robinson

After a routine prison transfer crashes in the forest, young Inuit paramedic Melina finds herself surrounded by murderers with a mere 100 feet to climb out of a ditch to escape. When they are attacked by an unseen force in the forest, Melina’s short journey to safety becomes the ultimate contest of wills. – IMDB

Ditched is a 2021 Canadian survival horror film where it almost feelings like Panic Room but in an isolated country road but instead of an actual panic room, its the insides of an overturned ambulance. As the people involved in the accident both in the police car and the ambulance wakes up, they start to realize that there is a group of brutal killers outside waiting to kill each one of them one by one.

The isolated ditch in the middle of nowhere at night is a wonderful horror/thriller setting. It brings in the helplessness and the fear even more as the unknowns lie in the dark. The mystery also comes from why this group has targeted them specifically: Is it for the prisoners that are being transferred or is it just for the hunt itself? The questions that build up do get answered gradually towards the middle which does feel like the reveal is a little bit early at times as this leads into this long face-off period which loses steam as the final confrontation is also drawn out as it faces down to almost monologue moment that also feels a little tedious. This is definitely a pacing issue with the script itself as perhaps the entire plot was structured a little straightforward in the beginning that there isn’t as many angles to play with in execution.

With that said, the tension that is built in the first act is done really well and does trail into a good portion of the second act. A lot of it also comes down to some well-structured kills as they go through them one by one while they try to survive in their own way. Its a rather psychological battle for the most part as well as a battle of the wits in the final act. While there are quite a few characters in these interactions, the main few do focus around Melina the paramedic, the strapped down manipulative prisoner as well some other paramedics that make it out. As they use the resources in their tight ambulance space to survive, it does make for some nice fight back moments.

The main element with Ditched is that where it works and doesn’t work is in its plot. Where is doesn’t work is in how it seems to get to the reveal point of what the goal is as mentioned before. However, it also works in the plot as it creates this more conflicted view towards people in general where it makes the audience think about whether the killers are actually bad and the survivors are actually good. In more simple terms, the gray area gets explored here in human nature and probably how some people aren’t exactly what meets the eye completely while also leaving some room at the end for a little further contemplation about whether what is done as the big finale is actually justified.

Overall, Ditched is a decent horror thriller. It does show a lot of low budget elements. It also does feel like it has a lot of influences in terms how certain moments are treated. The director’s message at the beginning does talk about his intentions of creating something that feels like it been the missing 80s film that no one ever saw before but finally get a 4K release and in many moments, it definitely feels like an 80s film whether in dialogue or the effects or how certain scenes are structured.

TADFF 2021: Nightshooters (2018)

Nightshooters (2018)

Director (and writer): Marc Price

Cast: Adam McNab, Nicky Evans, Rosanna Hoult, Jean-Paul Ly, Richard Sandling, Kaitlyn Riordan, Mica Proctor, Nicholas Aaron, Ben Shafik, Doug Allen

An action thriller about a group of filmmakers who find themselves on the run from a violent horde of criminals after witnessing a brutal gangland execution. Unable to flee the derelict building they have been shooting in, the hapless film crew must use their technical skill and cinematic knowledge to defend themselves. The stunt man is a martial arts master, the special effects guru disregards safety and sets lethal traps, and the sound department strategically lay radio mics to detect when the hoodlums are on their way. Cue lots of thrills in a cat and mouse game of survival. – IMDB

For fans of The Raid and Snatch, there’s a lot to love about Nightshooters, a low budget action thriller that takes place in one location, a soon-to-be demolished building which almost feels like some kind of the real situation being reflected in a more fictional setting but similar as the story also features a group of filmmakers making a low budget film in a soon to be demolished building with a few hours countdown. This right away sets up this urgency that this will come into play as the two groups goes up against each other. While there is not actual counter, its a little detail that really does bring the setting as a constant reminder.

When the crew ends up witnessing a crime execution in the other side of the way and the criminals goes after them in this building, its all a great set-up in the first act which sets the tone especially in terms of the dark comedy and the characters involved and their basic characters and abilities. Much like how it naturally flows into some fantastic action sequences and choreography when it gets into the criminals against filmmakers running and hiding through this building which is both dangerous as it already has all its demolishment explosives in place which could easily be triggered but also the criminals being rather a wide group of characters and lethal in their own ways as well.

Talking about the characters, there’s so much to love about them as well especially when it comes to the film crew themselves. This group is definitely the characters which are meant for the audience to connect to a lot more. Their different roles and their abilities and know-how come into play as they try to survive the chase from the other criminals. With a lot of the action sequences powered by a fantastic action choreography and sequences with Donnie played by Jean-Paul Ly (also, could the name be a nod to Donnie Yen?), there’s some exceptional moments here through these fight scenes.

However, not only their more professional fight sequences are great to watch but also a moment where the more amateur fight moments like one with the character Kim (Mica Proctor) which was a lot of fun but the other character encounters also leading to some creative death sequences as they defeated the criminals one by one. There are some really cool effects executed there. The stand-out characters has to be the three girls of the film crew as they are very resourceful especially Ellie (Rosanna Hoult) who has some foreshadowing in what she will use at the beginning but also a lot of other know-hows that effectively come into play. Of course, for much more personal reasons, Kim is a character I rooted for (considering I’m also a Kim and she kind of reminded me of myself).

Overall, Nightshooters is a really entertaining low budget action thriller. Its effective in what it achieves as the setting and the tone is used really well. There are definitely nods to other films throughout that are rather apparent but also fit incredibly well and adds to the film itself. There’s a cast of characters that have their own value and personality which adds contrast and makes them all stand-out and fun to watch. Nightshooters has a very straightforward plot which works well with what they are trying to do.

*Nightshooters is available on Toronto After Dark Film Festival from October 13th to 17th on their virtual platform. You check it out HERE*

TADFF 2021: Post Mortem (2020)

Post Mortem (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Peter Bergendy

Cast: Viktor Klem, Fruzsina Hais, Judit Schell, Andrea Ladanyi, Zsolt Anger

A post mortem photographer and a little girl confront ghosts in a haunted village after the First World War. – IMDB

This year’s Toronto After Dark is definitely new experiences coming one after another. Post Mortem is a Hungary horror film. Being someone who hasn’t seen a Hungary film before, this is a completely new territory to explore. Horror movies especially revolving ghosts and hauntings are the creepiest types of horror in my personal opinion so this one was right up my alley.

Port Mortem is set during the times of World War I and after that and the Spanish Flu and centred around a photographer Tomas (Viktor Klem) that has survived a near death experience during the war to come out afterwards selling his craft as a post mortem photography. A little girl Anna (Fruzsina Hais) shows up one day from a neighboring village and asks him to help with her own town’s hauntings. Packed with part skepticism and curiosity, he goes to the town as weird things start happening as he helps the recently deceased and their families with their post mortem photographs.

The story overall is pretty good. The whole investigation and a stranger going into a small village brings in a lot of suspense as he is discovering what’s going on along with the audience. Plus, ghost stories are rather appealing overall especially when it involves hauntings where this one is executed rather well in terms of plot. The film does almost reach 2 hours in length so in the middle it does seem to drag out a little. The setting and time period adds a certain level of atmosphere which makes almost like a gray filter over the screen and adds a very gloomy feeling.

The idea of post mortem photographs in itself is a pretty creepy thing in general. A lot of the unsettling horror moments do involve the actual post mortem photography as Tomas sets up his shots and works with the different bodies. A lot of unexplained things happen creating some great scary and unsettling moments. There are also other rather mysterious and sinister things that happen creating a good part of the horror and bringing in the ghost element a little bit more as Tomas and Anna try to find out why this is happening and what it wants. Some other horror elements include some possession going on which has a rather scary sequence with a little boy involved at one point while in contrast, there’s a part in the final act which sees a lot of people being pulled up levitating in the air that feels a little overdone.

In terms of characters, its main focus is on Tomas and Anna who are really good characters overall. They do have their own little stories through conversations which shed some light on the village itself. At the same time, there is a deeper meaning to Tomas for agreeing to do this for an unknown little girl which also builds up on their dynamic as they investigate together. The older character and the younger girl does have this protective element to it especially putting in contrast their reactions to the scary events happening. I’d like to say that Anna, played by Fruzsina Hais is absolutely fantastic. She is such a charming character despite her age.

Overall, Post Mortem is a pretty effective ghost haunting horror film. There are some moments which feel a little stretched out and some horror elements feel a tad overused losing its effect and actually having an oddly comedic feeling to it. However, its core element of photography and recording technology in that time and era is incorporated well, much like using the post mortem photography as an effective horror element. Its definitely one worth checking out!\

*Post Mortem is currently available from October 13th to 17th on Toronto After Dark Film Festival’s virtual platform. You can find all the info HERE!*

TADFF 2021: Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020)

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Yernar Nurgaliyev

Cast: Daniar Alshinov, Asel Kaliyeva, Azamat Marklenov, Yerlan Primbetov, Dulyga Akmolda, Almat Sakatov, Rustem Zhaniyamanov, Yerkebulan Daiyrov, Bekaris Akhetov

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is a 2020 Kazakhstan horror comedy that tells the story of Dastan (Daniar Alshinov), a husband awaiting the birth of his child. As his wife Zhanna (Asel Kaliyeva) hounds him over the name for their first child, he suddenly decides to take a day trip to escape with his two friends, Arman (Azamat Marklenov) and Murat (Yerlan Primbetov) to go fishing on the countryside. As they start their fishing, they end up seeing something that they shouldn’t have and from then on, their fishing trip takes a dangerous turn as they need to run for their lives to not get caught and get out of this predicament alive.

First off, let’s go on the record that this is definitely the first Kazakhstan film that I’ve ever seen. Being completely new to country’s offerings, this was a really great first film experience. The film starts off setting the tone pretty well with a lot of comedy between the couple quarrelling over their newborn baby and the name that they should give it. From the reactions to the facial expressions to the whole interaction, it gives a good idea of the main character Dastan right away and also sets up the comedy tone right away. The film is not about this couple though because shortly after, Dastan runs off for a fishing trip with his two buddies. During the car ride, it reveals a lot about these three guys and the ridiculousness and in turn, the hilarity that will ensue especially when the truck is full of sex dolls that ends up being turned into a makeshift raft when these three going on a fishing trip and know nothing about fishing.

At the same time, the film also focuses on a group of mobs/psychopaths living in the area that is bringing their hostage to settle some issues with them when they end up angering a killer in the vicinity who goes after them one by one. As this group crosses with Dastan’s group and they witness something that they shouldn’t, the mob ends up chasing their group as the one-eyed killer goes after them and then all three get tangled with each other. Thing is, the film’s horror comes from the one-eyed killer hunting down them and the different ways that he kills them right up to the end. At the same time, it mixes in these hilariously ridiculous moments that are so over the top that its hard to not find it funny even if some of it is so silly and absurd. And yet, somehow it works so well and creates a fantastic balance between the comedy and the “horror”.

The film does have really good pacing. Its executed really well as it does pick up as it moves along especially when these guys are all chasing after one and another. Right down to some pretty well-choreographed action sequence in the final act as they all reconvene in a tight space trying to get out of this. There are some other moments where this feels very apparent with their action sequences. It almost feels a little comedic like one moment where one of the friends flies through the window and then ends up coming back through the other window on the other side almost feeling like a cartoon.

Overall, Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is this fun little slice of life horror comedy especially for these friends as they experience this whole predicament which feels too ridiculous to believe. As usual, comedy is a rather subjective thing so perhaps this feel might feel dumb to some people but I’m a big fan of over the top absurdities and this film is a absolute trip, an awesome one at that!

*Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is available to stream across Canada on Toronto After Dark Film Festival’s virtual platform throughout the festival from October 13th to 17th. You can check it out HERE along with the rest of the schedule.*

TADFF 2021: Canadian Shorts After Dark

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2021 goes completely virtual this year as it kicks off its 15th annual edition milestone filling five days of horror, sci-fi and action films from October 13th to 17th. If you are in Canada, film festival access is nationwide so you probably don’t want to miss out! You can find the schedule line-up HERE.

Kicking off the festival on Day 1 to start off in a little bit of a unique way and probably the way I’m used to previously covering TADFF is with its short films selections. Nothing like some Canadian Shorts to kick things off with 9 short films in the Canadian Shorts After Dark showcase. There’s a few that I have seen before in film festivals but the majority are first time watches.

Morbus (2020)

Director: Kerim Banka
Cast: Nicole Hrgetic, Benjamin Liddell, Konstantina Mantelos

Morbus is a second watch and one that I remembered fairly well except I can’t remember from which festival I first saw it and then didn’t end up reviewing. However, better late than never as Morbus does have a rather intriguing premise.

Morbus tells the story of a young couple that is halted on an isolated country road by blocked cars in their path. When they get out to investigate, the woman notices something in the distance and they follow in pursuit to find a woman in the woods who has some weird growths and attacks them.

There’s so much to love about this. The isolated road is a fantastic setting. There’s a lot of mystery with this type of body horror-esque phenomenon where its not certain what is going on but yet, it shows the signs of humanity of the woman’s infection causes the man to react in his own ways. As much as its horrific and a tad disgusting in terms of the whole body changing, there’s also a human element at play that gives the story a little more depth. Its only a short and yet, there’s so many things to explore with this one.

Le Reflet (The Reflection) (2018)

Director: Louis-David Jutras
Cast: Laurence Anais Belleville

Alone in her apartment, Anais realizes that something is wrong with her reflection. Trapped, she tries to escape this entity that manifests itself only through reflection. – IMDB

Reflections and mirrors are such a great tool when it comes to horror films. Le Reflet does a great job and using its sound design, a lot of quiet moments and the different reflective surfaces to play with this reflection premise. While some of the scares are rather predictable, it all depends on the timing and anticipation that it manages to ramp up before executing the scare that makes it rather effective. Plus, it creates this unknown of why this is happening.

I’m a big fan of films with this sort of horror style which is much more subtle and atmospheric. For myself, this short was absolutely outstanding. Plus, it leaves such a mystery that it feels like the premise could be expanded into a full film and potentially be a rather fun horror experience.

Maybe You Should Be Careful (2021)

Director (and writer): Megan Robinson
Cast: Dan Beirne, Brittany Rae Robinson, Kelly McNamee

Maybe You Should Be Careful is about a young couple trying to reignite their passion and intimacy when the boyfriend finds a post about a female killer in the neighborhood that is shockingly similar to his girlfriend and starts building paranoia and fear towards her in his mind.

Paranoia and fear is such a great pair to use when doing a horror film that it adds this whole psychological element to it that works incredibly well especially in this case. This is a quirky little short. There’s a weird dynamic between the couple but then the suspicions start to form, its quite fun to see how it progresses. In many ways, its simply a miscommunication between the two and a different type of focus during the entire encounter that drives to a finale that is fairly expected once it happens but does leave a lot of space during the entire short of whether the girlfriend is or is not the killer preying on the men in their neighborhood.

Family (2020)

Director (and writer): Mark Pariselli
Cast: Neil Paterson, Tarick Glancy, Peter Campbell, Tracy Woods

An accident on the way to the cottage has horrifying consequences for an interracial gay couple contemplating parenthood. – IMDB

The elements of the road trip are pretty well set up at the beginning from the relationship between the two and their many stops which fit this season especially with pumpkin stalls and corn mazes. Plus, for those familiar with the dark country roads, there’s really nothing quite as spooky as its only lit up by the car headlights making what’s ahead a complete mystery. The mood is set up really great with the isolation and quiet rural area while adding in this dire accident which needs to be taken care of. It takes quite the alarming twist as the film progresses which is a pretty neat turning point. For gamers like myself, it might actually feel very familiar giving hints of Resident Evil 7 especially with a dialogue. I’m not sure whether that is deliberate or just a coincidence but its pretty fun.

Kweskowsiu (She Whistles) (2021)

Director (and writer): Thirza Cuthand
Cast: Sera-Lys McArthur, Aiden Devine, Sebastian Bertrand, Eileen Li

On the way to her girlfriend’s place, an Indigenous woman is assaulted by her cab driver. Amidst the struggle, she discovers a deadly supernatural power that may help solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. – IMDB

There’s a lot to love about this short. For one, it dives into Native American beliefs and/or myths about the Northern Lights specifically regarding what happens when you whistle at it. Using this as not only a faux-pas in conversation but also afterwards, using it to the main girl’s advantage. Second is the familiar face of Sera-Lys McArthur who is really good here especially after seeing a good performance of hers earlier this year in Don’t Say Its Name (review). The conversation between the cab driver and her character during the taxi ride is actually rather unnerving especially awakening some fear about how much privacy is being pried but also touching on the prejudices towards Native Americans in the community as well.

Whether its the thriller element or the other messages portrayed in this short film, its a very intriguing one overall and one that opens up unfamiliar myths which adds to the intrigue and at least for myself, lead me to do a little more research.

Sang Jaune (Yellow Blood) (2019)

Director: Julie Roy
Cast: Catherine-Audrey Lachapelle

Sang Jaune crafts a story of Jenny whose life is relatively routine as it revolves around work and collecting sports cars. One day, she wakes up in a yellow field in the middle of nowhere when she starts realizing that her belly is growing abnormally and things start getting weirder after that.

Sang Jaune is a second watch for myself. I believe that I had seen it in Fantasia 2020 but never got around to reviewing it. There are some great ideas here which center around some kind of unknown creature or alien as a subcontext. It revolves around one character. The area and the premise is rather intriguing overall and leaves a lot of space to connect the dots. However, it is one that feels a little abstract at times.

The Silent Lay Steady (2020)

Director (and writer): Travis Laidlaw
Cast: Katrina Elmsley, Spencer Hanson, Justin Hay

A woman finds herself alone with the body after a funeral in her 1860’s farmhouse. – IMDB

The Silent Lay Steady is definitely one of the standout shorts in this programming. The premise and the story is very multilayer as it plays around with this starting point that loops back at the end. Its a rather fun play on the supernatural element and some shots actually remind me a little of The Haunting on Hill House (review). There’s a lot of different horror elements executed really well where there’s a bit focus on sound design to create the atmosphere.

The most outstanding element has to be its cinematography. Each shot is framed very uniquely that creates this different feeling, leaving some things hidden behind the walls. Whether the camera is following the character or its framed on one spot while the character moves in and out of rooms or keeping sounds and lighting coming from off screen, there’s a lot of really great visuals that make the whole short film even more engaging.

10-33

Director (and writer): Alexander Maxim Seltzer
Cast: Alison Louder, Andrew Chown

Ava’s quiet date night out at the cinema turns into a nightmare when she’s trapped in a toilet stall during an active shooting attack. With only a thin door separating her from the gunman, she is forced to confront him and try to find a way to survive. – 10-33 Website

Shootings anywhere is always a scary scenario to imagine. The films crafts it in one location when Ava is hiding into the toilet stall after hearing the other girls in the washroom being shot. As she tries to stay quiet, unnoticed and stay calm, things don’t go exactly as plan. The interaction between her and the gunman is through the stall door. Its a rather normal sort of conversation but reveals quite a bit about both Ava and the gunman which also works to build up the tension.

To be fair, the film premise and execution is overall very engaging. Ava’s fear and the gunman being an unknown factor other than his voice makes it all the more nervewrecking to watch. Whether its to show an aggression or frustration or to highlight the type of person the gunman is, the dialogue has a lot of f-bombs. At one point, it felt necessary but over time, it felt a little annoying as pushing something too much feels like an overuse. Its just a little observation for myself and very much nitpicking at the details since 10-33 really did standout a lot.

Crawl Space (2021)

Director (and writer): Andrew Ellinas
Cast: Andrew Ellinas

A man battles a giant spider in his garage. – IMDB

Wrapping up the Canadian Shorts After Dark is this creature feature which centers around this man finding this crawl space and digs through the spider webs to find a giant spider living in it and it ends up battling it. There’s a definite budget at play here that makes the spider a little funny-looking but spiders are really unnerving in general especially then its a big one. Its uses the things in the garage at hand for the fight and it is pretty fun overall in a silly sort of way.

Not exactly one that I’m especially impressed with but spiders as creature features seem to be wildly underused. I definitely appreciate that this one plays on that creature but also adds a little twist in the end.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Glasshouse (2021)

Glasshouse (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Kelsey Egan

Cast: Jessica Alexander, Kitty Harris, Anja Taljaard, Adrienne Pearce, Hilton Pelser, Brent Vermeulen

Confined to their glasshouse, a family survives The Shred, a toxin that erases memory. Until the sisters are seduced by a Stranger who shatters their peace and stirs a past best left buried. – IMDB

Glasshouse is a 2021 South African science-fiction thriller set in a dystopian future when the world has now settled into a permanent confinement due to an airborne dementia-inducing toxin. Living in a glasshouse for many years, a family led by a mother with her three daughters and a son under a set of strict rules to avoid strangers coming in to break the balance. However, when the eldest daughter Bee ends up doing that when she brings home an injured man, the man starts breaking down the family dynamics one by one.

Suffice to say that Glasshouse is the type of thrillers with lot of twists and turns. In fact, it actually does build both the dystopian world incredibly well while giving this family dynamic a whole other system to discover that presents surprise right down to the very end. Its a very clever thriller and well thought out while bringing in a more sensual and suspenseful sort of plotline keyed around survival. Using the Stranger as a threat plus the family structure gives it a very strong The Beguiled feeling right from the start and that extends to the careful choice of costume design to the soundtrack and especially the Stranger’s situation and how his character progresses but Glasshouse still creates its unique view as like mentioned before, the world building specificially the world outside the Glasshouse infected with this toxin Shred becomes an influential factor of how much these characters are willing to risk it knowing its effects.

Much like the characters in the story which also have been well-developed throughout giving them their own spot as they all differ in personality making their choices also differ. Romantic eldest daughter Bee, responsible Evie, the youngest is carefree Daisy which in tow is Shred -affected brother Gabe who all starts off living in harmony with their own rituals and harvesting or tending while singing together, really finding their own balance. As the plot unfurls, each has their own secrets. It brings up memories from before that has been hidden away and eventually pulls them apart as feelings and plans all come into play. With that said, the talented cast here does a fine job and making these characters come to life.

There’s a lot to experience in Glasshouse that is best profited with as little knowledge of the film as possible to not have anything ruined. As Kelsey Egan’s directorial feature debut, this film is really well done. A lot of it has to do with the world-building and the glasshouse. The single location of the glasshouse is one that has its own character as it holds its own secrets and each area having their own function. The schemes, the secrets and the Stranger all create a haunting thriller..

*Glasshouse had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival 2021 on August 16th.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Hello! Tapir (2020)

Hello! Tapir (2020)

Director (and writer): Kethsvin Chee

Cast: Run-Yin Bai, Lee-zen Lee, Hsueh Feng Lu, Charlie Yeung

8-year-old Ah Keat sets off in search of the mythical nightmare-eating creature in the forest, hoping it will bring his father back to life. – IMDB

Hello! Tapir is a 2020 Taiwanese fantasy drama that also happens to be Taiwan’s first live action animated film. Films that tackle young children tackling family trauma or grief and loss with their imagination is a wonderful premise. It reminded of another Taiwanese film adaptation called Starry Starry Night but if above anything, this film actually draws a lot of parallels to My Neighbor Totoro both in premise and even some of the shots are set up. Tapirs are actual animals that exist however, the fact that they use this in a story that spans from a father’s childhood encounter with the magical tapir living deep in their town’s forest that extends to a promise between a child and their father as the little boy Ah Keat waits for his father to come home while the adults, mostly his mother and his grandmother also have their own side of dealing with this family loss while trying to keep it a secret from Ah Keat without realizing that he actually is dealing with it in his own way.

The execution of the film overall is really great as the structure of the film is presented as a fragmented storyline or perhaps more as a parallel. The present is shown moving forward in time starting from the day that the father was lost at sea and the night before in his last few conversations with his family. The whole structure builds up the father’s character and his relationship with those around him but most importantly, also builds up Ah Keat’s character and why he insists on finding the Tapir. With that said, the cast does a great job. Ah Keat is played by Run-Yin Bai who captures the childhood innocence for a little boy really well but also giving those dramatic parts very good as well, carrying through the loss and confusion that he is feeling as well towards the situation. Playing his mother who comes to help from Taipei after the situation is Charlie Yeung, a rather famous Hong Kong actress who captures her role as she deals with this whole thing while trying to draw a little closer to her son, much like the distance between her and her ex-mother-in-law is very obvious as well while still hiding the loss of her ex-husband and has hit her hard as well as she stays strong for the family. The grandmother and father role, played respectively by Hsueh Feng Lu and Lee-zen Lee also are great performances. A part of it is that they are a great cast but also that these characters are scripted really well. All their dialogue contributes in the every detail to make them draw closer together or build them up.

This magical Tapir is also well-designed as its exterior is fantasy-like in itself as it has the body of a pig, ears of a horse, the trunk of an elephant and feet like rhinoceros. Anywhere with the Tapir, there is no danger and it wanders the streets of the town after everyone has fallen asleep to eat their nightmares. Its essentially a protector of the town. One that protects people from their bad thoughts. The interaction with the Tapir and Ah Keat is truly cute and heartwarming. The childhood innocence in Ah Keat and the motions of this magical world with illuminated bubbles floating around filled with all sorts of nightmares which also link to the characters in the film like Ah Keat’s best friends who follow his suit to think up silly ways to create enough glowing light to attract the tapir together. Plus, there’s a big Tapir and a baby Tapir which is almost a little reflection of the parent and child relationship focused in this story.

There’s honestly a lot to love about Hello! Tapir. The script is fantastic and builds such wonderful characters to a beautifully crafted magical beast. The whole idea feels almost healing to watch. Despite its heartstrings tugging moments where certain details get unveiled as the story unfolds whether its promises seemingly unfulfilled between father and son or the family structure or even facing this grief and loss together and learning to let it go and live with it, there is a lot of positivity that the concept of a magical creature like the Tapir brings. It brings forth the many worries in the world from the news headlines that are narrated as the dream bubbles float right down to the little adventures and simple hope that kids believe in. Not to mention the little fantasy-like score/song that plays when the Tapir shows up that makes it all the more magical. Sure, the story is about family, grief and loss but it also balances the fantasy and adventure plus childhood innocence so well that the ending makes it all the more heartwarming.

Being a fan of live-action animation films and stories like My Neighbor Totoro, this film was like a homage but at the same time also created a beautiful little fantasy tale also that was both emotional and heartwarming. Everything was done with such detail in its script to how the beautiful shots are framed to the very fun little conversations that all call back to each other from the past to the present in context that its really hard to not praise the cinematography, the script and the overall direction of Hello! Tapir!

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Midnight (2021)

Midnight (2021)

Director (and writer): Kwon Oh-seung

Cast: Wi Ha-Jun, Jin Ki-Joo, Park Hoon, Kil Hae-yeon, Kim Hye-yoon

Midnight is a 2021 South Korean thriller about a deaf woman Kyung-Mi who becomes the target of a psychopath serial killer Do-Sik when she interferes his murderous plan for another woman So-Jung in the neighborhood. In a night of constant changes, the killer makes a sudden change in his target from Kyung-Mi’s mother to So-Jung which leads to a night of a heart-pounding fast-paced cat and mouse chase between him and Kyung-Mi as a mother and daughter tries to escape the killer while So-Jung’s brother tries to find his sister and get tangled into the whole situation.

South Korean thrillers are really quite something. This directorial feature debut for Kwon Oh-Seung which absolutely grabs from start to finish is no exception. It lives up to the standards of a great thriller. The pacing, execution, location and the sound design all comes together very well to create a thrilling experience. The pacing and execution pretty much goes hand to hand as it doesn’t give the story a lot of time to breath but also have those quieter moments to really build up the tension mostly because of how the cat and mouse elements along with the deaf elements are put into play. With that, the sound design becomes very important. As the balance between when the silence and the heart pounding score has to achieve a balance to make it feel natural as it shifts between the deaf main character and the chase sequence to build up the tension. While the deaf element is a pretty big part, in reality the biggest contribution to this film might be its setting mostly in this neighborhood full of dark alleys which it becomes this web of paths that the characters can navigate through. The whole cinematography becomes a huge focus on camera work on it follows through the chases from different perspectives to make it flow well. All these elements are done really well put together.

If there was anything to criticize for Midnight, it probably would be related to the script itself. It falls into its own trap of making these characters feel a little too naive and lacking in common sense at time when it comes to being aware of surroundings and the dangers lurking around them or having a sense of self-protection might be the better way to warn. The most obvious being its opening sequence that introduces this serial killer who preys on a woman walking alone at night and sets up a scene to lure here which seems a little too obvious that most people, especially women would probably just call the police based on their suspicions and not approach it. Of course, during the flow of the main plot, these moments to occur where it becomes a tad frustrating to watch but at times, it does add this sarcastic humor element (at least to myself) which brings up the incompetent police or the insensitivity and lack of knowledge towards the deaf community as well as a general miscommunication or perhaps even going further (and I might be overthinking this), a sense of unawareness to the general surroundings because of our technology aka our cellphone.

Putting that point, the plot itself is very straight-forward. Its a pure thriller which is adrenaline pumping and pulls of some great moments that push its tension and edge of the seat moments. Its truly and amazing feeling to experience. The great part of this one is that it pulls from the basics. It sets up the brother and sister relationship from the start and then sets up the mother and daughter relationship and then introduces the killer in a very quick format. They don’t need to be deep characters but its their relationship between them that makes them matter more than their story. It makes these people very human with a pure sense to survive and protect their loved ones. Much the killer is very simple and yet, his character shifts in tone so much like a chameleon that it makes him have an unpredictable element right down to the ending where it takes a very interesting turn in the final act. All the characters pull of their roles very well. The killer played by Wi Ha-Jun really does deserve a special mention because his role does have a lot of change and he grasps its so well.

Overall, Midnight is a fantastic thriller. Its well-executed and straightforward. Sometimes filmmakers forget that the most basic things carry forward the best and in this case, this is achieved with so much balance. While the script might be a little lacking in some parts, everything else really does make up for it with engaging characters and fast-paced well designed, smoothly flowing cinematography. Being a directorial feature debut, this film is fine job.