Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Don’t Say Its Name (2021)

Don’t Say Its Name (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Rueben Martell

Cast: Madison Walsh, Sera-Lys McArthur, Julian Black-Antelope, Sheena Kaine, Carla Fox, Samuel Marty

When a young passionate activist of an indigenous community is killed unexpectedly, a string of mysterious murders suddenly show up with no murderers in sight but with witnesses who don’t see anyone present. As local peace officer Mary and Park Ranger Stacey join together to investigate, they realize that it is related to the mining company WEC who has been approved to drill on their tribal lands and that something of a supernatural form could be protecting against it.

Don’t Say Its Name is a 2021 Canadian horror thriller. Set in a snowy indigenous First Nations community, the film also features a mainly female cast also mostly with indigenous backgrounds. There are not nearly enough films in any genre with First Nations voices and this one having this one is a pretty impressive one. The story itself is prime folk horror essence as the different opinions towards the change in the use the lands become a big factor to what is happening in the story. The snowscape and the community is a big factor in what makes this stand out. It highlights some of the isolated elements in the snowscape but also its lack of resources to have a more extensive investigation. The values of community is a big part of what is created here and the struggles that the community as a whole has. However, these little details are hidden in its script and dialogues but adds so much to the setting itself.

The cast is also pretty decent here. Mary, played by Madison Walsh as the local peace officer is really great in her role as she moves through each of the scenes trying to figure out what is going on. Her character is nice as she carries multiple hats while trying to do what she can with the investigation but also trying to care for her nephew and the little everyday bickering which accentuates another element. As she seeks for help, she finds Park Ranger Stacey, played by Sera-Lys McArthur who has her own set of issues including recovering from her time in the army but also her mixed race elements that shuns her a little from the community itself. The characters don’t go incredibly deep but they do build them enough to make them ones that are compelling to watch on screen.

In terms of pacing which is rather important in thrillers, the film kickstarts its investigation almost immediately and sets up the mystery right away. There are a lot of unknowns when it first starts leaving room for intrigue. The mysterious killings are also executed rather well as it uses its surroundings well enough. The special effects are also good. The film itself is a thrilling experience in the second half as the general suspicions are being investigated with the supernatural element becoming more prominent. It all comes barreling to a tense ending as everything unveils itself. While there does seem to be some elements that feel a little underexplained by the end, it does wrap up the whole situation fairly well.

Overall, Don’t Say Its Name is a rather unique horror film. Its snowy setting in a First Nations community is definitely the standout element but the whole thriller and mystery elements are also well-executed. This one is a pretty decent treat as it blends elements of folk horror with supernatural.

As a final thought, maybe I might be overthinking this a little, the plot premise also leaves room to contemplate a little more on what started the whole situation of whether protecting the land is more important than grabbing opportunities for its people (among some other points about community and this society that this film made me think about.)

*Don’t Say Its Name had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 18th. There is an encore virtual screening on August 20th at 9am. More info HERE.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Baby Money (2021)

Baby Money (2021)

Directors: Mikhael Bassilli & Luc Walpoth

Cast: Danay Garcia, Michael Drayer, Joey Kern, Taja V. Simpson, Jean St. James, Robert Mammana

When a home invasion turns into a bloody shoot-out, a pair of ragtag fugitives take refuge in the house of a single mother as they wait on their fiery (and very pregnant) getaway driver to hatch an escape plan in time for a major payday. – IMDB

Baby Money is a 2021 crime thriller using the angle of a very pregnant girl Minny (Danay Garcia) who gets looped into helping her boyfriend Gil (Michael Drayer) with a break-in for some money to kickstart their life with a baby. Of course, things go awry and suddenly, she is caught in a situation where she is the only one to help get the situation settled when Gil and another guy doing the break-in Dom (Joey Kern) takes refuge at a single mother (Taja V. Simpson) and her son’s (Jean St. James) home. Baby Money is a pretty simple thriller set-up. Simple does fit this thriller pretty well as it has constant elements that change the situation right down to the end. Its not exactly unfamiliar in terms of plot points but the characters are rather interesting as each have their roles and reaction when facing this desperate situation.

Perhaps the better way to put it is that the characters all are unbalanced in their own way. Each of their unknown factor that could suddenly switch the trajectory or create change whether its Minny being able to get a car and bring the phone in time for the deal to work out so that the entire night hasn’t gone to waste and the obvious situation that she is pregnant or Gil’s ability to control the situation and get out of this whole mess or even Dom’s unstable personality which creates the danger that he might just shoot everyone in panic. The same goes for their hostages who is a mother trying to protect her son with cerebral palsy who could have seizures at any minute and not be in a life-threatening situation more than they already are. Everyone has something to lose and the characters all have their own end goal.

Baby Money is executed rather well. While there isn’t some wild ending that boggles the mind, the story stays relatively grounded. The build-up in tension with the whole break-in gone wrong is a pretty engaging watch. The basic elements are all work together well enough especially as the “what’s in the box” is brought up but never really addressed, making that part also something of a mystery that passes by quickly. If there was anything to nitpick about the film would be the whole turning point in the relationship of Gil and Minny that seems a little silly en lieu of what’s going on but then its a common plot point to use to give these characters a more dramatic turn of events. That of course is more of a script point than the cast issues as the cast does a pretty good job.

Overall, Baby Money is a fun thriller. Its nothing too deep but doesn’t exactly need to be as it still manages to stay relatively engaging, focusing less on the twists but more on the characters and their behavior and reaction. It is rather refreshing to see a simple thriller. Its a good premise and angle for sure and yet, it does feel like the whole baby element and pregnancy seems to almost be put in the background which has its pros and cons in the big picture.

*Baby Money had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 10th*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: The Righteous (2021)

The Righteous (2021)

Director (and writer): Mark O’Brien

Cast: Henry Czerny, Mark O’Brien, Mimi Kuzyk, Mayka Nguyen, Kate Corbett, Nigel Bennett

A burdened man feels the wrath of a vengeful God after he and his wife are visited by a mysterious stranger. – IMDB

The Righteous is a 2021 Canadian occult horror film which films in Newfoundland and uses a black and white cinematography in this full-length feature film from Mark O’Brien where he also writes the script and assumes one of the leading roles as well. The film takes place in a single setting and crafts a horror thriller that looks at a couple who is dealing with their grief after they lose their daughter but also the father who is an ex-priest struggling with his faith while having to dealing with a young stranger that brings on its own conflicts.

The Righteous keeps itself dialed down to its basics as it keeps the setting and other factors fairly simple but focuses on creating a small cast of three well-crafted characters to discover. Nothing is quite twisted and horror-filled than a mysterious individual with unknown intentions busting into someone’s life. While the stranger’s background revolves around a few  obvious possibilities and even the little tricks to get himself where he needs to be seems easily deductible, there is still more than meets the eye. Mark O’Brien delivers a great performance as the stranger Aaron who comes back with a solid plan. The character is also conflicted, cryptic and even a tad sad as his story unfolds. While Aaron is a little odd right from the start, as his motive becomes clear for his appearance in this specific location, his character is the most straight-forward. Aaron also is rather unsettling as there is a certain imbalance to his character especially as he requests something unthinkable of Frederick.

The main character is Frederick, played by Henry Czerny, who is an ex-priest after leaving the church to have a family and has suffered this loss. His character is the main one as both of the other 2 or 3 revolve around his as he is the one that goes through this grief and most importantly, the questioning of faith as he reflects on this all due to his own past sins catching up to him. Henry Czerny portrays this character really well, making Frederick rather engaging to watch as his life gets further conflicted. The script gives his character a decent back story from his connection to his wife Ethel to a look at his past which builds up this character in full. Much like Ethel, played by Mimi Kuzyk who might not have as strong a role in general but as a supporting character, she does a great job.

Overall, The Righteous is a well-structured and well-scripted horror thriller that builds its mystery very well and paces the film decently building the tension gradually. The Righteous is its best with the basic elements so that the focus of the film is on these well-developed characters. While black and white cinematography does work exceptionally well here, the film also has some visually appealing moments from the dream sequences that are done really well and adds to either the story or the mystery. The layers of the story and characters in The Righteous make this one well worth a watch.

*The Righteous had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 15th and will have an encore virtual screening on August 18th at 9pm. More info HERE.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Baby, Don’t Cry (2021)

Baby, Don’t Cry (2021)

Director: Jesse Dvorak

Cast: Zita Bai, Vas Provatakis, Boni Mata, Troy Musil, Helen Sun

Baby, A withdrawn and sensitive 17-year-old Chinese immigrant from a troubled home, is living in the outskirts of Seattle. One day, she meets a 20-year-old delinquent named Fox. Together they embark on a twisted journey to escape their hopeless fate. – IMDB

Baby, Don’t Cry is a 2021 coming of age romance and family drama that takes a look at both a cultural element for the main character but also a coming of age for Baby (Zita Bai), a simple and troubled seventeen year old with a filmmaker dream who ends up meeting a bad boy Fox (Vas Provatakis) and has a whirlwind relationship with him. As much as it is a visceral romance, it also embodies a lot of happy moments. The film uses not only the third person film angle to capture but also has a second camera which is that of footage filmed from Baby’s perspective to see what she sees. The family element is also presented here as Baby’s life is further emphasized by her troubled family situation mostly due to her mother’s unstable situation which creates a roller coaster of emotions having both good and bad days in their relationship.

Baby, Don’t Cry isn’t the normal film and has a rather unique voice. It takes a different angle on the Chinese immigrant as a teenager and the struggles to fit in and thrive while not exactly being from a wealthy or immensely, controlled family although it still grounds itself on a more closed parent who talks about bringing shame. However, Baby tries to fit into society despite some of the stereotypes that gets thrown her way. Plus, the film also lacks some groundedness as it floats between past memories, fantasy and the present reality. Much like how Zita Bai flips the characters around bringing in the sexual fox spirit in Chinese folklore which is usually a feminine character and reverses it into a male character and directly names the male lead Fox. Something that I have to admit escaped me until I saw the Q&A session after its screening.

The whole tone and pacing is a little odd at times and even the moments of adding in the fantasy and real elements sometimes even feel a little abrupt however its hard to not be wrapped up by the happy and sweet romance between the two struggling youths that seem absolutely improbable that would have crossed paths other than perhaps destiny and fate bringing them together but also seeing a little bit of power struggle between the two. They do have some fantastic chemistry that in parts of montage moments via Baby’s camera sees all the happiness between the two as they do all kinds of things together but also can switch incredibly quickly to this darker, tense and rather toxic feeling between the two that just can’t seem to find a balance whether its Fox wanting to walk away from the relationship or Baby reacting in her own way. Its this push and pull between Baby and Fox that makes their relationship intriguing to watch especially as it does open up the withdrawn Baby that we see at the beginning of the film.

Baby Don’t Cry is a rather odd film overall and it probably has to do with the main character Baby portrayed by the film’s writer Zita Bai in such a way who has a lot of rather quiet moments but manages to still be an interesting character to discover as she goes on this unique coming of age story. Its not the typical coming of age and yet it wraps up a lot of elements that might or might not be too abstract to be noticed by its audience. Whether if its a relationship between the mother and daughter highlighting some elements of the Chinese family structure albeit the more broken one presented here or the romance between Fox and Baby, it works for myself as I do love hearing other Chinese voices presented in film.

*Baby, Don’t Cry has its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 11th*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Hellbender (2021)

Hellbender (2021)

Directors (and writers): John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser

Cast: Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, Lulu Adams, John Adams, Rinzin Thonden

A lonely teen discovers her family’s ties to witchcraft. – IMDB

Suitably after watching a folk horror documentary, Hellbender is the next movie on the Fantasia Festival rundown. Hellbender is a 2021 horror coming of age film following Izzy, a lonely and isolated teenager who lives with her mother in the mountains where they have a two person band H6llb6nd6r and keep to themselves as Izzy is said to have an illness where she can’t be around others since the age of five. However, Izzy wanders out and meets a new friend that introduces her to others and as she breaks from norms, it awakens something in her.

Following 2019’s The Deeper You Dig (which I unfortunately missed), Hellbender is the second film by the Adams Family. This is not a pure horror as it isn’t exactly the typical sort of scary but rather its imagery is can be fairly eerie and unsettling as the witchcraft and occult elements of the film slowly appear. This is a rather fresh take of witchcraft in horror as it takes the angle of a mother trying to protect her daughter and yet, it quickly becomes apparent that things are absolutely not what it seems. The setting itself also adds to the feeling of isolation and loneliness albeit its beautiful scenery in the mountainous area that they reside. It further emphasizes on the whole concept they keep mentioning about the cycle of seasons. Whether in terms of imagery or sound design, Hellbender has a lot of elements that give it a haunting feeling.

Hellbender isn’t completely a horror film though. It has many elements of a coming-of-age as Izzy slowly breaks out of lonely and isolate routine and learns about the witchcraft that runs in her family from her mother. As she discovers more about her own powers and possibly emphasizing why her mother decided to keep her away from others to protect her daughter but also everyone else, the growth of Izzy’s character is a fascinating one as all comes crashing into a fantastic ending that isn’t just visually atmospheric but also incredibly exhilarating to watch. Coming-of-age comes with its own tensions and in terms of the mother-daughter relationship, there is a sense of change throughout.

Hellbender is a rather unique horror film revolving around the occult and witchcraft. The story blends different elements together that makes it both a visually atmospheric film but also a decently fun watch. There are some slight pacing issues mostly with its middle act which seems to a drag a little bit however, the film starts and ends in an absolutely engaging way. Aside from the sound design mentioned above, Hellbender also has a great soundtrack. A lot of it comes from the band movies between the mother and daughter but the music does play throughout which adds to the film experience as well.

*Hellbender had its world premiere on August 14th at Fantasia Film Festival. It has an encore virtual screening on August 16th at 9:00am EST. Check out more info HERE.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021)

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (2021)

Director: Kier-La Janisse

WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED explores the folk horror phenomenon from its beginnings in a trilogy of films – Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968), Piers Haggard’s Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) – through its proliferation on British television in the 1970s and its culturally specific manifestations in American, Asian, Australian and European horror, to the genre’s revival over the last decade.  – IMDB

Running at over 3 hours, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a documentary that talks about the history of folk horror in an extensive format. The documentary breaks down into six chapters going through about 200 films that contribute to the folk horror genre from its start as what is known as the unholy trinity in British folk horror to American folk horror to folk horror around the world concluding with a look at the future of folk horror. In reality, folk horror feels very much like an unexplored territory. With film offerings that possibly aren’t vey often however this documentary brings to light is the diversity of the subject on hand much like how it concludes with specifying that its possibly not so much a horror subgenre but more of a mode revolving around certain key points whether in history regarding society, beliefs and the shift from old to new creating resistance to change.

For someone like me that is still very much learning about the horror genre especially when it comes to the horror films of the 60s to 80s, this film features a lot of unexplored territory. The folk horror genre while having some interesting offerings in the past few years (and some of them even being presented at past Fantasia Film Festival), it is still one that has the impression of having not such a long history that could be worthy of 3 hours at first, however as the subject as discussed more and the history starts being explored through over 50 interviewees throughout the documentary and as it expands from different countries and how it differs in approach, the documentary doesn’t lose its appeal at all. In fact, its presented in an intriguing and educational way presenting not only an extensive list of movies to better dive into the subject but also even showing many books that also have covered this subject.

As much as the documentary focuses on the past, its main takeaway is that folk horror isn’t quite as expected that its based on folklore but rather that its a much wider look at the society and beliefs. It links itself to resistance to change through society whether its in history when its about a shift in belief with the church facing modernization of society or the Indigenous people or other populations towards white settlers in their lands or even how the symbol of witchcraft and the witch is actually a bigger look at fear of society towards women in power, which is actually a rather surprising discovery overall. Of course, as it expands around the world, the folklore is based much more on more spiritual figures and their own countries issues and beliefs. What makes folk horror stand out is the basic conclusion that this style of film and the stories it tells is very much rooted in a pessimism in society much like how in recent years, there is a slight rise of folk horror being created contributing a lot to how history is cycling through its own dark times yet again.

Overall, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a very thorough look at the history of folk horror. There is a great amount of information here whether its about its movies spanning many countries but also a lot of interesting point of views about the subject. Folk horror is a fascinating subject whether its considered as a subgenre, a mode or simply a film style or storytelling method. It embodies so many different elements in films whether its witchcraft, Indigenous people, folklore, history, religion, society, feminism, good and evil, psychogeography and environment etc. Its no wonder that the documentary needs over 3 hours to cover all the material. It might be lengthy but it only gets more interesting as folk horror is explored further into each chapter. The execution and breakdown is done incredibly well. Definitely worth a watch!

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Dreams On Fire (2021)

Dreams On Fire (2021)

Director (and writer): Philippe McKie

Cast: Bambi Naka, Masahiro Takashima, Akaji Maro, Saki Okuda, Shizuku Yamashita, Medusa Lee

A vibrant and intoxicating look into Japanese dance and subculture communities. – IMDB

Dreams On Fire is a 2021 drama about the journey of a young dancer Yume who moves from her small-town against her grandfather and mother’s wishes to Tokyo to make it big in dancing however along the way, she meets a few good and bad people that assist and hinder her journey.

From the director of short film Breaker previously shown at Fantasia Festival, Philippe McKie has the North American premiere of his directorial feature film debut with Dreams On Fire that casts dancer Bambi Naka in her first leading role in the role of Yume. Yume’s journey through Tokyo isn’t exactly an unexpected one however, it is unique to the Tokyo landscape as it leads her from one place to the next that exceeds the hostess club that she lands her first job at to a lot of underground bars and clubs from fetish to cosplay and so on. Through the process she learns about the hurdles of becoming of a dancer on all fronts both from the people she meets to the things that happen to her, something like building a social media following having its importance and the importance of image, making her simple dream of being a dancer much more complicated than it seems. Much like most dance films, it all dials down to a big dance battle that almost rounds out as the movie also starts off in a dance battle.

With the different locations, the music style and dance styles all vary and change making the movie every more so colorful both literally and metaphorically. Along the way, Yume also breaks out of her shy shell and really openly expresses herself more and more. The film shifts through these locations mostly showing different dance scenes, dance studio, the hostess club where she works and anchoring itself in her little rental room which is an empty little box with a table and computer and nothing else, truly highlighting the starving artist part of her journey. The part of the charm of the film is the underground settings, each with their own distinctive elements starting with the gold and chandelier almost tacky cosplay hostess club that Yume’s starting working at where the people there are mostly horrible as expected to the darker settings from S&M club and her introduction into different music like heavy metal and folk. The film really dives deep into the diversity of Tokyo’s underground scene.

A good part of Yume’s journey is in the people that she meets along the ways. As much as she meets bad people like the hostess club boss who threatens her often to keep coming to work and has a lack of respect in general, she also meets a lot of good people along the way who appreciate her talents and while doesn’t quite understand her journey, refers to other dance-related gigs and jobs however, perhaps its the people the she meets on her own paths that are the most charming. Of course, that’s not to say that Bambi Naka as Yume isn’t great because she does a great job and it helps that her dancing abilities are really outstanding and the growth throughout the film moving from one dance choreography to the next is embodied so well. The one that definitely stands out is her dance studio teacher played by Genta Yamaguchi who is a colorful person in general. Every scene is so fun and light-hearted and absolutely bubbly. Much like later on when she meets ChoCho (Medusa Lee), a Chinese fashion school graduate that moved to Tokyo to be in what she believes is the no.1 fashion location and ends up teaming up with Yume with her costumes. Not to mention that, I strongly believe that the jacket she wears in final battle is the one that is in Breaker (not sure if anyone can confirm this or not?).

Dreams On Fire is an absolutely journey that keeps to familiar outline of a dance movie and yet also breaks out of it by highlighting its locations and stepping up the diversity of music and dance as it moves through so much variety on the artistic level. The movie is a trip, not only for Yume but the viewer. At times, the cinematography is also a trip from rotating camera angles to aerial shots to long neon-lit alleys or distorted dreamy sequences used blurs and bright colors. Overall, Dreams On Fire is an absolute treat.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: King Knight (2021)

King Knight (2021)

Director (and writer): Richard Bates Jr.

Cast: Matthew Gray Gubler, Angela Sarafyan, Andy Milonakis, Kate Comer, Nelson Franklin, Emily Chang, Johnny Pemberton, Josh Fadem, Barbara Crampton, Ray Wise, Aubrey Plaza (voice), AnnaLynne McCord (voice)

The High Priest of a modern-day coven finds his life thrown into turmoil and ventures out on a journey of self-discovery. – IMDB

King Knight is a 2021 comedy about a man living in a coven who confesses his past truth about his high school days to his coven family when he receives an invitation to a high school reunion that brings him to his self-discovery about being true to himself.

Comedy is a tricky thing. King Knight delivers this through a quirky humor and using a serious dramatic tones and reactions to some ridiculous bits that make the humor land because of this. The film is odd right from the start when the coven is introduced right down to its cast portraying a variety of different characters each with their own charm. The witch coven are filled with a group of people who have their everyday issues and they look towards their leader Thorn to help them solve it. As they go through different rituals, the coven becomes a little more clear that as much as witches usually are portrayed as scary, these modern-day witches are anything but. They live in their own little world with their own rules and rituals alongside this coven family who promotes honesty, acceptance and positivity in general.

King Knight does feel like a simple film about self-discovery and yet this one is very focused on its different characters. Matthew Gray Gubler carries the film rather well as the leading role Thorn. From his reluctance to face his past including his mother to his opening up to his high school past and facing up to its consequences in the first part to his journey to the reunion which leads him to many funny moments like hallucinating conversations with talking pine cones and rocks and his encounter with Merlin (yes, the powerful wizard). His role is colorful and adventurous even if it all sounds a little weird. Playing his companion is Willow played by Angela Sarafyan who is absolutely fantastic and perhaps in her seriousness of how she faces these rather silly revelations about Thorn, her interpretation is so animated that it carries a lot of humor especially with her reaction to his high school popularity that many titles of being prom king and playing lacrosse which puts her in an overreaction that is completely out of proportions and yet is amazingly entertaining to watch.

Much like the other supporting characters who also bring in different people of the society that all group up to be this coven family that promotes their diversity and acceptance to anyone. They each have their own little revelations throughout that come into play as they also need to embrace their world with and without their leader as they discuss a topic of being hypocrites, in some ways. The with coven creates this endearing ragtag family that sticks together as they start to accept Thorn. Much like the other side of the spectrum shows a smaller role for indie horror film favorite Barbara Crampton who pulls a small but stellar role as Thorn’s mother who emphasizes on her disapproval of his life choices as she mocks him a little when he finally reaches out to her.

King Knight also brings in some pop culture into its script. In some ways, it uses these different clever dialogues and metaphors to talk about the reality of people and society. As it all comes to a very fun little ending where Thorn finally embraces being true to himself which is reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine to some extent. Sure, the film has some oddities to it and the pacing sometimes feels a little funky but when you think back to it, the clever scripts and some of the performances by this cast does work out for the better. It might not all feel like its balanced very well and maybe some might feel this journey a little too weird to be fun but comedy doesn’t land the same for everyone. What does make King Knight unique and worth watching is the different outlook on how witches are normally portrayed on film and for the most part, this one promotes a wonderful message of positive vibes and acceptance.

*King Knight had its world premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival on August 8th, 2021.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Seobok (2021)

Seobok (2021)

Director (and writer): Lee Yong-ju

Cast: Gong Yoo, Park Bo-Gum, Jo Woo-Jin, Park Byung-eun, Jang Young-nam

Ex intelligence agent Ki Heon is tasked with safely transporting Seo Bok, the first ever human clone, who holds the secret of eternal life. Several forces try to take control of Seo Bok to serve their own agendas. – IMDB

Seobok is a 2021 South Korean sci-fi action thriller which tells the story of an ex-intelligence agent Ki-hun who is asked to take on the task of safely transporting the first ever human clone Seobok who has been genetically engineered to not only have eternal life but also carries the possibility of eternal life and cures for all kinds of diseases. As Ki-hun tackles with his own illness that tortures him and isn’t expected to live long, he is offered the chance to be a part of the clinical trial in return for successfully completing the task. As the plan incurs different changes due to other parties trying to take Seobok for their own plans and goals whether out of fear or greed, Ki-hun and Seobok start to bond as they escape from one situation to the next.

Seobok is a fairly straight-forward science fiction action thriller. In terms of the science fiction and the human clone, the story itself along with its supporting characters have a fairly predictable trajectory. Immortality and eternal life is something that feels almost too good to be true and that brings on its own plans from different organizations and people involved and that is expected in a plot like this. However, Seobok stands out because it spends a lot of time building up the relationship and chemistry between the two main characters, Ki-hun and Seobok played respectively by Gong Yoo and Park Bo-gum.

Gong Yoo is probably most known for his role in Train to Busan where he takes on a rather different role. This role takes on a more rough and angry sort of character which is frustrated with a lot of things happening to him and around him and in turn, this tense character is faced with Seobok, a human clone who has never seen the outside world and is fascinated with everything that he sees. As the plot unfolds, the two grow through Seobok’s fascination but also the constant straight-forward conversations about his human clone, his abilities and immortality down to human nature giving it some fun fish out of water moments that help break through the intense action scenes. The conversations build up these two characters a lot giving them both sufficient back story to make them both truly connect to its audience. The two carry on almost like a father-son and mentor-student sort of relationship which becomes rather endearing as Ki-hun starts changing his mind about Seobok and understanding his pain. While also struggling with Seobok’s telekinesis powers which increasingly grow out of control as he starts facing more dangerous situations and making some questionable judgments.

What makes Seobok stand out other than the chemistry is absolutely the role of the concept of immortality and the character of Seobok, fittingly so as the movie is titled after him. Seobok is played incredibly well by Park Bo-Gum who carries the blank expressions and calmness as he faces all the crazy situations happening around him to the point of disregard when everyone seems to be threatening but also asking all the right questions and giving off the image of how clear-minded he is right down to the powerful ending when the revelation that he understands the entire situation and actually just wants something very human and simple but the fact that he was created to fulfill a purpose and the discussion of whether a human clone is considered a person. The human elements of Seobok grounds this film and that is the charm of South Korean films when they are executed well to be able to carry out these moments. The moral and ethics of human clones and how they should be treated is what essentially what makes this film really hit hard making the ending pack such a huge punch and makes the audience think about this whole immortality, eternal life, playing God and the right and wrong of the situation and whether the whole thing could have been resolved in another way.

Overall, Seobok is an incredibly well-executed film. The two main characters have such a powerful presence in the film. The story is a lot more profound than the basic science fiction film but actually focuses itself on the morals and ethics of the whole situation which packs a bigger punch because Seobok is portrayed so well. A big part of the film is also in how well-written and focusing on the conversation dialogues more than the action. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its own share of action-packed sequences which all increases in intensity as Seobok’s power comes into play. Seobok is an absolute gem: well-crafted, well-executed and poses some excellent questions that will linger far after the film is finished.

*Seobok is playing on demand on Fantasia Film Festival virtual platform from August 5th to 25th. You can find more info HERE.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Agnes (2021)

Agnes (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Mickey Reece

Cast: Molly C. Quinn, Hayley McFarland, Rachel True, Zandy Hartig, Ben Hall, Jake Horowitz, Chris Browning, Sean Gunn

Rumors of demonic possession at a religious convent prompts a church investigation into the strange goings-on among its nuns. A disaffected priest and his neophyte are confronted with temptation, bloodshed and a crisis of faith. – IMDB

Agnes is a horror drama and it really does separate itself in film structure and plot point exactly like that. The first part is set in the nun convent and focuses on a nun who seems to be possessed by a demon and the church sends a priest and his neophyte to perform an exorcism. When things don’t go exactly as planned, one of the young nuns end up leaving the convent and this starts the second part of the film which is rooted more in drama as she tries to start her life outside of the convent while struggling with her faith. The setting change also creates an atmosphere and tone change between the first and second part of the film.

The first part of Agnes takes place in a nun convent as one of the young nuns called Agnes goes into a rage suspected to be a demon possession. The nun convent setting works really well to build up the horror atmosphere. There’s a gloomy darkness to the whole set-up. The nuns themselves also have a contrast to this as they are fairly solemn but also have an air of this odd comedy as they talk about the priests coming in to help with the exorcism, an exception to their usual life which usually is without presence of any men living in the same quarters. Whether its the interaction between the nuns and the priests and the tension between the them versus the situation at hand which seems to be resolved as planned, the whole situation does get fairly out of hand. The situation itself sparks a lot of questions in terms of questioning the rumors surrounding this priest as well as the faith and belief in the whole idea of exorcism and demon possession as a whole, leading up to how the situation towards Agnes is done which leads to another young nun Mary leaving the convent.

The second part focuses on Mary after she leaves the convent. The transition is rather abrupt however the contrast also changes the tone to be more along the lines of a drama as the reasons of why she decides to leave is revealed as well as a bit of her back story that is relevant as she starts to have signs of being possessed as well. It all dials down to this part really bringing up the key points of the plot itself regarding faith and religion while also touching on dealing with trauma to a certain extent. This second part also bringing in cameo role with Sean Gunn as a comedian who thinks he is more funny than he actually is.

Agnes is both a slow-placed and odd movie and yet, the whole focus on nuns and the convent really is a unique sort of setting and probably less used (at least from my own experience) making this refreshing. The plot itself questions the existence of possession which is also an interesting direction to take the horror premise creating perhaps a more psychological angle to it. While its a little abstract and between the lines for some of its messages, the film does approach this in an interesting style both from some imagery inserts in between scenes as well as a unique sense of humor especially between the nun and priests and the possible hint towards some sort of temptation and resistance.

*Agnes is screening on demand throughout Fantasia Film Festival on its virtual platform from August 5th to 25th. You can find more info HERE.*