2013 was a year of distinction for Fantasia Film Festival, due to its high quality features. Known for its strong genre and horror theme, this year’s diversity in subject matter was pleasing; from vulgar gang fights to exorbitant torture scenes, to rich esotericism and true-to-life dialogue. The sentiment during the festival was vibrant, per usual, but also serious, with the feeling that perhaps the bar had been raised.
With over 200 shorts and features combined, from countries such as Canada, USA, France, Japan, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Belgium, Germany, Australia, and the U.K., choosing favorites was difficult. Yet it is undeniable that certain films shined with a special innovation, pathos, and artistry, so these ten selections will certainly not be forgotten among the festival circuit and beyond.
Directed by Jeremy Gardner
Sometimes when we hear, “it’s a zombie film,” we roll our eyes. Attempting a zombie film that stands out amongst the thousands out there can seem a futile endeavor. Writer/director Jeremy Gardner has achieved something rare with The Battery, a film that targets just a microcosm of a zombie takeover: two ball-playing acquaintances, Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), who end up the sole survivors among their families, and take to the road. Rather than focusing on the monsters themselves, this intimate story centers on the relationship between the two young men. With gorgeous shots of a New England landscape, a melancholy folk soundtrack, and an agonizing entrapment in a station wagon, Gardner highlights that the slow burn of impending death can be the most afflictive.
Big Bad Wolves
Aaron Keshales, Navot Papushado
A modern spin on the fairytale without any lack of psychosis, this bloody thriller follows a macho cop on a quest to find a serial child molester and murderer, and possesses one of the most effective opening sequences seen in years, thanks to cinematography by Giora Bejach. The combination of extreme torture, graphic violence, and slapstick humor is a tricky one to navigate. Yet unlike torture films like Saw, for instance, the humor and heart in Big Bad Wolves keeps us there, connects us to the characters, and eases the pain. Rare also is the ability to introduce the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with lightness and humor, and the directors pull this off, all the while toying with our trust. One of the first films of its kind to come out of Israel, Keshales and Papushado were sure to record the enthusiasm of their audience as proof to bring back to their home country.
This sadistic little ride makes us question how far we would go for money. Meet Craig (Pat Healy of The Inkeepers), a desperate father who has just received an eviction notice. When he has a drink with old friend and derelict Vince (Ethan Embry), the two meet a bored rich couple who pit them in the ultimate contest against each other. Clearly we aren’t just talking drinking games here. While the film doesn’t escape its mainstream aesthetic and Hangover vibe, it’s hundreds of feet closer to hell than the former. David Koechner is Colin, the buffoonish husband to bored wife Violet (Sara Paxton, also of Inkeepers). Our inability to tell when he is serious makes him utterly creepy, and what keeps us on our toes is waiting to see how far Craig and Vince will go to climb the financial ladder.
See You Tomorrow, Everyone
Nakamura,’s projects (Fish Story, Chips) fall on a wide spectrum, asserting an irreplaceable worldliness and wisdom. Ever since a damaging childhood event, Satoru (Gaku Hamada) has developed an extreme obsessive compulsive disorder and an inability to leave the projects—his home. We follow Satoru and his single mother for years, as he gripes with his sexuality, the departure of his friends, and an impending adulthood. Never has a coming-of-age film been so unpredictable, rhythmical, and rich in tenor. With a style to match Wes Anderson, the film touches upon the purity of childhood and the warmth that accompanies naiveté, while asserting the unexpected strength that can lie behind it.
Two words: fight scenes. Despite the filmmaker’s low budget, it’s obvious the outcome of this project was a product of sheer will. With Mitsuki Koga performing six different forms of martial arts, filmed in real time, and often improvised, Bushido Man is a truly impressive feat. Sometimes a mature story arc doesn’t matter, especially when what we are seeking is feathery entertainment. To truly know his opponents Toramaru (Mitsuki Koga), must eat what his opponent eats. This creates a dynamic between fighting and fodder that keeps audiences smiling and tummies grumbling. This is a film that could be watched multiple times, especially while enjoying late nights and laughs.
It’s always impressive to find a filmmaker who has escaped the redundancy of the traditional narrative in a way that doesn’t make its audiences want to hit the snooze button. Behold Doomsdays, which puts the road film on its feet. Justin Rice is Dirty Fred, a wealthy hipster with a taste for fine literature, and finer bourbon, and peeing on partner-in-crime Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick), a belligerent environmentalist. Together the two meander from one vacation home to the next, ransacking and pillaging, or “living off the land.” With the world’s inevitable end due to peak oil, why not start living an alternative life? While the lead characters are hardly sympathetic, their vulnerabilities are slowly uncovered, proving the film an adventure of both outer conquest and inner discovery.
This meta-cinematic piece will use your brain as silly putty, forcing you to ponder it days after your initial viewing. Writer director Matt Johnson returns to high school with friend Owen Williams, where the two of them play slightly fictionalized versions of themselves, planning to shoot a movie about the school’s bullies—the Dirties. Shot in a reality television style, it’s often hard to decipher where the film ends and certainty begins. As Matthew drowns in an endless pool of Tarantino references, his reality becomes a violent one. What’s unique about The Dirties, is not only its filming style but its ability to give (a controversial) voice to those teens who have been bullied to the point of drastic measures. Its true scare factor is that it forces us to ask who the real villains are.
Nothing used to scare me more than Bigfoot mythology, so Bobcat Goldthwait’s found footage horror film felt all too real. Couple Kelly and Jim (Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson), take to the woods to investigate the haunting folklore. Referencing “the thousands of people that disappear from forests each year,” it’s surprising that Goldthwait was the first to come up with this chilling idea, as it seems the perfect match for found footage.
Finally, 13 years after shooting, Shion Sono (Suicide Club) has edited his lengthy footage into a two hour and 45 minute absurdist piece. Part gang-film and part comedy, it’s amazing that a high-8 video quality film can still entertain us—a testament to video form. At times the film appears to have no resolution in sight, a sequence of fights, puns, rape scenes, and drinking. Yet when two women from rivaling Chinese and Japanese gangs fall in love, issues of war and peace, discrimination, and loyalty manifest.
Broken Circle Breakdown
Felix Van Groenigen
We’re all a bit sick of Bella and Edward romances, so despite how dramatic the love between Elise (Veerle Baetens) and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) is, their issues are steeped in relatable issues of religion, and an illness. The two play in an Americana-influenced bluegrass band, solidifying their passion into a form they can share, and this just heightens the intensity of their affair. While at times the issues of the film can seem forced, or dialogue slightly unrealistic, we can’t help but get sucked into a romance that is glamorous on the one hand, yet doesn’t deny the staunchness of real-life relationships.
~ By Olivia Saperstein