My August 2021 Adventures!

August is about to wrap up! I can’t believe how fast 2021 has been going by. I can’t say its overall very exciting for the most part but August itself was pretty fun, much like last year’s as its Fantasia Festival month. Well, it’s three weeks but it feels like a month for press coverage. I’ll talk more about that later on in this post! August was also a mega heat wave month which means a shift in workouts. With that said, a few thing did also fall behind and I’ll give a general update at the end as I slowly catch up with everything that I set aside this past month.

Staying Active Update

August 1 4.49km 52mins
August 7 1.47km 19mins
August 8 4.68km 51mins & Pool Workout
August 10 Pool Workout
August 11 Pool Workout
August 13 Pool Workout
August 14 Pool Workout & 4.03km 44mins
August 15 1.60 km 20 mins
August 21 Pool Workout
August 22 Pool Workout
….there’s probably more after this but I can’t remember…

In comparison, staying active probably was a little less focused on the cardio and then by the end of August, it just completely fell apart as Fantasia became a big rush to get things done quicker before it ended. With that said, I still think I did pretty well and kept up with what I generally wanted to do by increasing a little more pool workouts to make up for it. The hot weather was a big factor.

September is cooling down a little now so I am hoping to get back to taking longer walks and maybe get back to some running, maybe even get back to some cycling and weights. Hopefully when I do the update next time, things will be back on track in terms of staying active..maybe even get a few hikes in.

Fantasia Film Festival Recap

Fantasia Festival this year was wild. Probably one of the best selections since I started covering the festival as there were so many films on my list but obviously a lot of it wasn’t available so I worked with what I had access. Even that was a little crazy as I might have beat my own record in Fantasia movie watching with 24 features and 16 short films (includes a short film program). Usually, I pick my top 5 or 10 from the festival but this year, its really hard to do since there was really only 2 films that I felt more lukewarm towards, even those that I ranked a little more average was more on flaws I saw but were still pretty enjoyable and they also had their unique angle.

For now, here’s a Top 10:

  1. Hand Rolled Cigarettes
  2. Hello! Tapir
  3. Martyrs Lane
  4. Seobok
  5. Midnight
  6. Glasshouse
  7. Dreams On Fire
  8. #Blue_Whale
  9. All The Moons
  10. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes

With that said, I am thinking of getting a Fantasia Festival recap on podcast within the next few days. More than thinking, I’m actually already working on it so should be out by the end of this week.

Restaurant: Ogane

While I’m still completely out of my shell with the whole deconfinement, a new Korean restaurant opened so after having some fried chicken takeout prior before, we decided to grab some dine-in dinner considering when we got there, there was no one…yet. Ogane is pretty good actually. I don’t eat Korean food a ton but for the seafood pancake and the Jap-chae, the flavors are really good. Plus, the seafood pancake as a lot of seafood in it. That’s always a plus. I’m usually not a big fan of Jap-chae but this one is very delicious. I’ve actually been thinking about these two for a little while and probably will order it again soon. As for the fried chicken, its decent as well. I’m impartial to fried chicken in general. This one also still feels a little more dry than other ones but its still alright.

Tranquil Dreams Podcast Update

So…Tranquil Dreams Podcast had a little bit of a hiatus and now, I’m not exactly how to go back to cover all of the 6 past weeks of the What’s Up. Don’t get me wrong that I would definitely fall behind with the podcast during coverage month but I just never realized how unprepared I was for this. The hurdles of the beginning of podcasting, right? However, I’m always up for a challenge so I might do a quick recap of the past few weeks separated in 2 to 3 podcasts stockpiled to release. The first will definitely be the one mentioned above with Fantasia Festival coverage being its own show as its still quite a bit to go through. I’m going to get that done sooner rather than later.

At least that’s the plan now! Hopefully things will get back on track! Since I am thinking about adding more content to the podcast gradually and getting the original plans for the podcast started. I’m just always caught on how to structure the podcasts and probably overthinking it.

Movies and Tea Podcast

As for a much more productive podcast update, during the past month, Movies and Tea Podcast has kicked off its Season 6 for Kickass Female Directors. Its really just the first of many of these seasons to come so you can also head over on the blog to share other female directors you think deserve a mention. Check out our episodes on most podcast platforms and see all our archives on the blog HERE.

That’s it for this Adventures!
August was pretty busy but nothing too exciting happened.
September will be bunch of catch up and for those who aren’t here for movies, other posts will go up.
Plus, its prep time for October’s horror marathon this month! 🙂

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.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Hand Rolled Cigarette (2020)

Hand Rolled Cigarettes (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Kin Long Chan

Cast: Ka Tung Lam, Bipin Karma, Michael Ning, Ben Yuen, Tai Bo, Siu-Ho Chin, Tony Ho, Pak-Hong Chu, Aaron Chow, Bitto Singh Hartihan, Yin-Gor To

Hand-Rolled Cigarette is a 2020 Hong Kong drama filmed entirely during the pandemic and tells the story of a retired British-Chinese soldier Kwan Chiu and an East Indian local Mani that gets caught up in misfortunes with the same triad society, Boss Tai. Both caught in their own difficulties, the story is about those forgotten and abandoned from the Hong Kong society on both a historical level during the 1997 Handover but also the modern day where they need to find their own means to survive. Kwan Chiu (Ka Tung Lam) resorting to being a middleman between triad societies and striking side deals to skim some more money while Mani (Bipin Karma) helping his cousin Kapil (Bitto Singh Hartihan) out dealing drugs to help support his little brother.

This directorial feature debut for Kin Long Chan is a fascinating and meaningful film experience. He dives into the backdrop using a slice of history in Hong Kong for army veterans who have contributed a lot to the country between the handover but was essentially forgotten with no passports being stuck neither here or there. While diving into strong messages of racism present in the society in the current day of 2019, contrasting the past with the present with black and white palette and color respectively. He also utilizes a lot of far shots pulling the camera and audience to a third person perspective and ending with a final brawl that features an impressive long shot watching the fight move from one room to the next using the doorways and windows to add additional depth.

Triad society stories and crime thrillers are very common especially in Hong Kong cinema and yet, Hand Rolled Cigarette takes a different angle, injecting it with themes that are not as frequently discussed like racism exists everywhere but rarely discussed in Asian films. Much like how it uses certain locations in Hong Kong which are more known but with a different perspective like Chungking Mansions, which is a fantastic choice considering the low budget businesses and the dense population that inhabits its building. The set locations aren’t too many but they do make the most out of these locations whether its Kwan Chiu’s apartment where Mani is allowed to hideout or Boss Tai’s headquarters where all the brutal and violent interrogations take place in search for where his stolen drugs have gone. Its easily comparable to Johnnie To’s Election which also featured a lot of violence, if anything this one takes it a step further in many cases usually leaving the brutality to the audience’s imagination leaving things going on behind doors or cut away from the set up of certain situations.

As much as its a thriller, the story is focused on these two people who essentially are trying to just get through life and has no choice but to do what they are doing. Kwan Chiu dealing with being left to their own devices during the 1997 Handover but also a mysterious fallout with his army buddies but having to handle these dangerous dealings between the triad societies while smoking his hand rolled cigarettes. Much like Mani, who crashes into his life to hideout which he offers for compensation but ends up being something of an anchor for this young man who really just wants his brother to have a better life and a future instead of the life he has to face. Ka Tung Lam delivers a fine performance here as its much more than just a crime thriller but adds some depth to his character which doesn’t exactly say a lot but as the little things get exposed, Kwan Chiu is such a righteous and loyal man. However, Bipin Karma’s debut as Mani is also outstanding as he fits well into the role capturing the character really well, creating a sort of contrast with the character of Kwan Chiu. Mani has this innocence and panic that makes him feel very realistic like a lost boy caught up in something much more than he can handle. The friendship between these two characters are absolutely the highlight for Hand Rolled Cigarette.

Overall, Hand Rolled Cigarette is a fantastic debut. Whether talking about the cinematography, the storytelling and the character development, there is a lot to love. The story packs together some Hong Kong history but also talks about the topics that aren’t frequently discussed in Hong Kong films. It also brings in another community and nationality which to be honest does form a part of the Hong Kong population. It balances the drama and crime thriller elements incredibly well and doesn’t shy away from going to the extremities in violence. It also brings a positive themes of friendship, loyalty and comradery. With that said, I’m definitely looking forward to see what Kin Long Chan’s does next.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: The Story of Southern Islet (2020)

The Story of Southern Islet (2020)

Director (and writer): Keat Aun Chong

Cast: Jojo Goh, Season Chee, Hong Herr Wong, Wei Hern Teoh, Ling Tang, Pearlly Chua, Mei-Sim Hoon

Cheong, a Chinese man, falls sick after a row with his neighbour. His wife Yan is desperately looking for a remedy to cure her husband. Throughout the journey, Yan endures strange encounters and unearthly experiences. Finally, Yan is convinced that she should seek help from the village shaman. Mysteries, legends and shamanism surround Yan with unknowns yet to be solved. – IMDB

The Story of Southern Islet is a 2020 fantasy drama with folk elements to it based on an autobiographical childhood experience from the director Keat Aun Chong. Not to mention this film is also his directorial debut. When talking about deities, it also stems into belief and faith and with this, a man who may or may not be cursed. Malaysia history or geography is a blind spot in my knowledge however, the setting here depicts a sensitive location set in the mid 1980s near Mount Keriang where the crossover of spirituality converges not only in Hinduism, Buddhism and Islamism but also shamanistic cultures.

As much as the film is about the people, its really a stepping stone to the introduction of these deities who each have their purpose even if it feels rather odd. The whole world isn’t exactly filled with danger and yet brings to life certain “superstitions” and their consequence. Each laying the different purpose confirming the belief in gods that bless different things really do exist much like the paddy rice field deity. It is the most enchanting to watch as Yan unknowingly encounters these different ones as the different stories come forward, the most notable at the shrine in the mountain cave about Princess Keriang.

The cinematography in this sequence is especially compelling. Much like the rest of the film which almost always has this off-centered frame for its shot which sometimes highlights what’s off screen but also for some, it also creates this symmetry or has this division of what can be seen and not seen by the characters. Not to mention that all this is held together by the beautiful area that it is set in.

The small town setting is perfect for this tale as it spans over the farmlands, rice paddies, mountains and caves. There is this emptiness and isolation in its setting. That does carry to the wife who is dealing with this as she encounters different people in a religions that she doesn’t quite believe, each performing their rituals or telling her what to do next. Whether its the shamans or other religious leaders, it leads her further down into this other spiritual world as the medical doctors can’t seem help her husband who gets worse day by day.

Overall, The Story of Southern Islet is a unique film. It dives into a world that is not commonly explored in films (and if they are, not on an international level, at least to my knowledge). Not completely unexplored as coughing nails was also used as a curse in an indie video game Home Sweet Home a few years back. However, the different stories of these deities are quite interesting. The film isn’t about its living characters so much as its about the different deities that get shown on screen, perhaps making the final reveal of what is cursing her husband so much more intriguing. Its a beautiful film with both a subtle haunting feeling and a fairy tale/mythical setting but growing with in an Asian culture, there are many unbelievable beliefs that seems ridiculous to some as it can’t exactly be explained but doesn’t deny the fact that its an experience unique to them, whether you believe it or not as the reality.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: All The Moons (2021)

All The Moons (Todas Las Lunas, 2021)

Director (and co-writer): Igor Legarreta

Cast: Haizea Carneros, Josean Bengoetxea, Itziar Ituno

All The Moons is a 2021 Spanish fantasy drama that tells the story of a little orphan girl who gets saved during the 3rd Carlist War in 1876 by a woman that see believes is an angel. The woman takes her in and tells her that she cannot be in daylight and at night, they must follow the orange light in the distance. Shortly after, when they get attacked and are separated, the little girl has to learn to survive with all of the unknowns in her life.

All The Moons is a vampire film unlike others as it hooks onto the fantasy and drama elements and not a horror element. In fact, it never even uses the term of a vampire at any time, perhaps because its set in an ancient time before anyone has coined the term as what she is seems foreign to those that she crosses path with when they notice her differences to them. However, the journey is more of a character-driven one as the girl remains nameless for the a good part of the film going through many moons on her own. While moons usually refer to werewolves, this one is about the nights as vampires are nocturnal until she actually learns to live with sunlight, the process probably one of the most memorable scenes in the film.

All The Moons is pretty much held up with a fantastic performance by young actress Haizea Carneros who truly delivers. Paired with an outstanding script, the journey of her life is all about fear and loneliness at the start. A fear of not having lived long enough to slowly realize that life is more than walking the earth but also in the process of feeling pain and death. The immortality element that makes her life “lifeless”, a term she uses at the end. While surrounded by a few other characters, father figure, church and society, a friend, her journey is pretty subtle overall but the injustices or the bitterness builds up over time to make the final act very impactful.

Set in a beautiful backdrop with rolling hills and beautiful landscape, All The Moons also has a charming soundtrack. All the Moon is a drama so a little more slow in terms of pacing but it is very much about the meaningful script and the message behind what the girl learns through this unexpected and unknown she gets given as a gift which turns out to be more like a curse. The journey that she goes through is very thought provoking as it navigates through strong themes of life and death, loneliness and love carried by a fantastic performance going through something like 60 years in the past Spain as it overlaps two wars. All The Moons is a lot more than more than the common vampire films and is a hidden gem in this festival.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Martyrs Lane (2021)

Martyrs Lane (2021)

Director (and writer): Ruth Platt

Cast: Kiera Thompson, Sienna Sayer, Denise Gough, Steven Cree, Hannah Rae

Leah, 10, lives in a large vicarage, full of lost souls and the needy. In the day the house is bustling with people; at night it is dark, empty, a space for Leah’s nightmares to creep into. A small, nightly visitor brings Leah comfort, but soon she will realise that her little visitor offers knowledge that might be very, very dangerous. – IMDB

Adapted from her own 2019 short of the same name, Martyr’s Lane is Ruth Platt’s third feature film. This film is a British horror drama which balances the two incredibly well. While on the surface, the motions of a horror film is very apparent, the execution is in both its setting, sound design as well as the multilayered story that gets peeled back like an onion layer after layer to its heartbreaking fairy tale-esque supernatural ghost story.

Martyr’s Lane carried a wonderful script and premise. Nothing screams horror film as effectively as using children as their center, this one takes on two. The first is Leah (Kiera Thompson), the main protagonist living on this vicarage with her parents and her sister who right away realize that her relationship with them as a distance. Whether its the sibling rivalry between her and her older sister or the most loving teaching from her father or the quiet and distanced relationship to her mother, leaving her feeling lonely. Until she takes something from her mother that causes a lot of unexplained distress and she ends up losing it right when a little girl wearing wings (Sienna Sayer) comes to her window claiming that she’s an angel in the making and gives her nightly tasks to find what she has lost. These two little girls are the heart of the film. As young as they are, they are very smooth in their roles carrying the naivety that they should have but also being able to build their characters one visit after the next as these tasks start to reveal a more dangerous motive.

Leah’s nightly tasks takes her on an adventure as she moves around the vicarage grounds and discovers hidden little pieces. Some places being more hidden than the other. As she keeps looking, she starts finding little trinkets which start to piece together who used to be. These little clues are key to the story and each one increasing in danger as the simple game of 2 truths and one lie starts making these two little girls’ friendships grow. Much like her little tasks makes the vicarage grounds and her home a prominent setting to be in. There are horrors in the background unknown to Leah but the audience sees the fleeting figure in the distance that seems to be observing from a distance. While this sounds like most horror tropes, Ruth Platt executes them really well by building up the atmosphere to be increasingly unsettling and pairing it with some great sound design.

Ghost stories at this point are a dime a dozen nowadays. Its such an overused tropey category for the most part but Martyr’s Lane is different. Similar to a lot of other films at this edition of Fantasia, it breathes new life to a familiar horror subgenre by creating a thoughtful balance between horror and drama and adds in a hint of mystery and hidden secrets to put it all together. There are so many little elements worth discussing in Martyr’s Lane and yet, the film’s gradual reveal is one that is well worth discovering so less talk to keep this completely spoiler-free. While I haven’t watched Ruth Platt’s previous two features (but will definitely catch up sooner rather than later), her storytelling abilities and directorial finesse is one to absolutely look out for in the future.

*Martyrs Lane has its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 19th. It also will be landing on Shudder on September 9th.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: #Blue_Whale (2021)

#Blue_Whale (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Anna Zaytseva

Cast: Anna Potebnya, Yekaterina Stulova, Polina Vataga, Timofey Yeletsky

After the mysterious suicide of her sister Yulya, Dana discovers something odd in her sister’s laptop which leads to discovering the inexplicable suicides of many teens in the town. As she digs deeper, she discovers that it all links back to a lethal game called blue whale game. In a scheme to trace down who is responsible for group, she joins the game and participates in the tasks as one by one, each task is more dangerous than the previous one breaking her from society both physically and mentally. As the game becomes not only dangerous for her but also her loved ones, she needs to risk everything in order to find out the mastermind behind this cruel online game.

#Blue_Whale is a 2021 Russian Screenlife horror thriller through and through. For those unfamiliar with what Screenlife is, its basically a term that defines found footage genre but with modern technology screens like phone and computer screens. These two being the main ones used in this film. Co-produced by the pioneer of the screenlife genre Timur Bekmanbetov, this film is a directorial feature film debut for Anna Zaytseva who also co-writes the script. Screenlife is a subgenre that has been on my radar since Unfriended (originally titled Cybernatural when it world premiered in Fantasia a few years ago) which has lead to a lot of great film concepts including a high point with Searching. While Russian films aren’t exactly knowledgeable on my end other than the one or two films from before, the premise is one that sounded like it had great potential especially since it is based on actual cybercrimes in Eastern Europe. The online world is a scary place sometimes especially for these hidden communities and worlds and in the recent years, its really showing how horrible it all can be: manipulative, dangerous, and so on. The story here does portray that element incredibly well.

The execution of the film is pretty good. One of it has to do with the fact that while its a Russian film, the whole communication online is written in English and English articles and whatnot. I personally don’t have any Russian friends so I’m not sure if they communicate in English and not in Russian normally, which is something that I’d really love to know. Or if that is just for the purpose of the film being more accessible to the international audience. However, if there was something to nitpick, the idea that I’m reading in English on screen is more convenient which is a plus, the spoken language is in Russian so it took a little bit of time to get used to not only reading the screen but also not forgetting to catch the subtitles (although, that might be just my own problem), however to be fair, a lot of the dialogue can be mostly deducted from what is going on on the screen itself.

The screenlife element is almost pretty well integrated because it leaves a certain level of unknown. Anything happening off-screen becomes unexpected. For example, there’s one task where she needs to cross the highway and all you hear is the rushing cars and the reactions on screen but never really know how bad the surrounding is making it feel like anything that can happen. Most horror films let the audience see the danger element before the main character does but the thrilling point of screenlife is exactly the opposite, the unknown danger lingering around.

With that said, I can praise screenlife as much as I want but as well as the execution is, the main character is a big part of what makes this film engaging as you spend literally the entire film in their perspective or seeing their face on the multiple screens. Dana, played by Anna Potebnya is absolutely fantastic. Her character is crafted really well. The other characters are a little more shallow in comparison but her character really builds right from the start with her family, the mother-daughter relationship right down to the blue whale game bringing out the isolated elements of how she feels about the world but yet still not being brought down by the negative impacts the game is meant to bring to the teens involved.

Overall, #Blue_Whale might be one of the more straight-forward horror experiences at this year’s Fantasia (from the ones that I’ve seen). Its a horror thriller in its purest form right down to its core. It has a little bit of drama and some lessons to learn from the story itself as it does reflect the current online landscape pretty well. The pacing actually doesn’t give you a lot of time to think or to breathe as its pretty packed and always moving. There’s a really good soundtrack to complement the whole film experience as well. I mean, the ending could probably be better and is a little easy to figure out what the endgame is as it lays out those clues and suspicions pretty well and it is in the details but, it doesn’t take away from the overall experience being yet another well-structured, quick paced and well-scripted screenlife film.

*#Blue_Whale has its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 17th.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: When I Consume You (2021)

When I Consume You (2021)

Director (and writer): Perry Blackshear

Cast: Libby Ewing, Evan Dumouchel, MacLeod Andrews, Margaret Ying Drake, Claire Siebers

A woman and her brother seek revenge against a mysterious stalker. – IMDB

When I Consume You is a 2021 American horror thriller which revolves around siblings trying to make it together in the world until one day Wilson finds Daphne dead in her apartment. While the police claim its drug-related, he knows it isn’t and goes to follow what he knows to discover that her sister might be caught up with something supernatural which has now turned its attention to him. While he has relied on his sister in the past, he needs to find his own courage to face it. There’s a lot to love about When I Consume You. Whether its the plot, the characters and the cinematography plus of course, the horror element.

The plot is well-written and executed well. The focus on the siblings is a good one where they have hard lives and issues which are shown right at the beginning, outlining the two siblings contrast in personality and their bond. As the film layers out the whole situation and the threat that Daphne is protecting Wilson from, the film takes a rather more violent turn. The story also adds in elements of beliefs bringing in a symbol and the heart sutra. Having learned the heart sutra before, this was something rather interesting to see appear in the film. Its a little more than a horror film in that side as Wilson’s character finds an inner strength that he didn’t have anymore. The essence is in character building and bond that the siblings have that are very convincing which makes them all the more worth cheering for in the face of evil. A lot of credit does go to Libby Ewing and Evan Dumouchel who is great in their respective roles as Daphne and Wilson.

The horror element comes from this threat: a lingering figure in the closer with glowing yellow eyes which constantly appears throughout the film and remains unknown as to what it is until the end. To be fair, the effects for this has an unsettling feeling that builds. At the beginning, the effects actually made it a bit funny as it does feel a tad unreal and not too fitting with the tone of the film. However, as this mysterious stalker character starts being built up, it starts having a much more unsettling feeling overall.

The cinematography is definitely a standout here despite this odd shift occasionally to the first person perspective bringing some found footage wobbly camera elements on screen, which was a little less enjoyable as it felt like it pulled away from the film itself. However, on the overall element the cinematography does help create the tension and unsettling elements plus some scenes are crafted incredibly catchy. It packs in both horror and mystery which makes it all the more intriguing. There’s one part where its completely dark except for some neon pink lights on the background and phone screen and the sound effects with just a hand sneaking in to touch the phone screen which was an awesome stylistic scene. There are a lot of these moments which work very well.

Overall, When I Consume You is a wonderful horror drama/thriller with a great supernatural horror element and touching on the occult as well. It was both intriguing on its thriller elements but also managed to bring some unsettling feelings build up the horror elements and blends it well with the more drama elements for the characters itself.

*When I Consume You had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 18th.*