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: On The 3rd Day (2021)

On the 3rd Day (Al Tercer Día, 2021)

Director: Daniel De La Vega

Cast: Mariana Anghileri, Diego Cremonesi, Lautaro Delgado Tymruk, Osmar Nunez, Gerardo Romano, Osvaldo Santoro

Cecilia and her son Martín have a car accident. On the third day after the crash, she wanders by herself on a lonely route and there is no clue of her son. She can’t remember what happened during this time and she is desperately looking for her son. On her quest she finds coincidences with her case and other police files, which seem to be acts of a brutal hunting. The circles goes round and Cecilia will end up facing a religious man, who is the responsible of this slaughter. For her, he is a lunatic. For him, Cecilia is the enemy. – IMDB

On The 3rd Day is an Argentinian fantasy horror thriller that tells the story of a mother who reappears three days after an accident with no memory of what happened during that time and sets off to find her missing son. Argentinian horror is definitely on an up at the festival especially with last year’s The Funeral Home (review) recently landing on Shudder. The credit for its plot is greatly towards its creativity and execution. For many who frequent here, my greatest issue with thrillers (which I do love to watch) is with execution as the whole mystery needs to be paced really well to make the final end game or plot twist land effectively and logically. On that level, On The 3rd Day does a fantastic job.

At first glance, its easy to feel a little bit of “been there done that” in its first act whether its an accident or amnesia or even the creepy sort of hospital moments right down to the overuse of sound cues to create this sense of constant suspense and tension which tends to overstay its welcome fairly quickly. However, the film has some great visual elements that also build up the environment and atmosphere whether from the mysterious things that the main character, Cecilia starts seeing around her. At the same time, there’s an incredible use of symmetry in its cinematography which is greatly accented by the emphasis on mirrors. In certain scenes, through doorways and such, it almost feels like there’s a reflection of the room (although I’m not quite sure if that’s deliberate or not). It does create some uneasiness although in one scene (and I’m slightly nitpicking), where the cars park facing each other on the street which is a bit contradictory to the dialogue between two character from the previous scene. Little details, of course.

The story isn’t just about the mother and child but also has a parallel storyline which shows the other person that was part of the accident who seem to have a secret task where he is carrying a wooden box or casket around and does these very odd sort of rituals playing almost like there’s something that he is trying to hide. This part of the story line starts building up the mystery more as the horror elements start expanding into a possibility of the other subgenres that could be involved and what the box holds that makes this character so on edge but builds up on the unknown of what his goal is, which only starts having answers as the two plotlines converges in the final act.

It might sound like I’m being incredibly obscure with the plot here however its reasonably done. While On The 3rd Day does a lot of things right especially with cinematography and plot lines, what makes this film stand out is the well-executed ending that truly does pack a wonderful punch that wraps up all the mystery and suspense and is truly thrilling to watch unfold as the pieces fall in place. There’s a lot to love here especially as it touches on a biblical interpretation of resurrection but also uses that element in such a clever way. As a final note, remember to watch through the credits as there is an after credits scene.

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.*

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: 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: 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: 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.*