Fantasia Review: Unearth

Dealing with internal and external troubles, two families are at odds over what to do with their farmland. One family decides to lease their land for fracking. When the fracking unleashes something ancient, it leads to dire consequences for the generations living on the land.

Fantasia International Film Festival continues to bring a wide range of unique films with Unearth. The film is co-directed by John C. Lyons (Schism, There Are No Goodbyes) and Dorota Swies (Schism, There Are No Goodbyes). Lyons also co-wrote the film with Kelsey Goldberg, making her feature-film debut. This film is the definition of a slow burn. The filmmakers take their time gradually building the tension. This tension comes in the form of strained familial relationships, financial struggles, and disagreements between the two main families. One of these families takes pride in working their farm. The other family is having difficulty making ends meet, which is what leads to them leasing their land for fracking. This only makes the issues between the two families even more fractious. It isn’t really until the final act of the film that they show what was buried deep underground and how it wreaks havoc on the unsuspecting families. The climax of the film really emphasizes the strain between the characters while also introducing some truly shocking moments of gore.

It’s clear Unearth is meant to be a slow burn and for the focus to be on the relationships between the individual characters. The more horrific elements are more of a side note to make the end of the film more shocking. While I found this to be enjoyable because it allowed for thorough character development so I cared more about each person’s fate, it will also likely deter many viewers. Many audiences are sure to find the film to be too slow and the shocking climax won’t be enough to make up for that. The final moments of the film also seem out of place with what we learned about what was unleashed only moments before. It leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and not the good kind.

Unearth has a great ensemble cast, including relative newcomers and some horror favorites. Horror fan-favorite Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape From New York) plays Kathryn. Kathryn is the matriarch of her farm and very set in her ways. Barbeau knows how to play a strong, powerful woman and she does not disappoint in this role. Another face horror fans will likely recognize is Marcus Blucas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Knight and Day), who plays George. Much like Kathryn, George is the head of his family on the neighboring farm, but he differs in how he struggles with his leadership role and continually makes bad decisions. Blucas does a great job of bringing this character to life in a way that makes him flawed yet sympathetic. These two opposing characters stand out in a memorable way. Honorable mention goes to Allison McAtee (Bloomington, Calfornication) and Rachel McKeon (Jessica Jones, Gone).

While the practical effects are reserved for the climax of Unearth, they definitely pack quite a punch. I won’t go into too much detail regarding these effects because I don’t want to spoil anything. What I can tell you is that the filmmakers managed to fit quite a bit of gore in a short amount of time. Not only are these effects incredibly well done, they are quite shocking and at times truly disturbing. Some of the images from the climax of the film are guaranteed to stick with the audience long after the film ends.

Unearth is a suspenseful character study that takes its time leading up to a disturbing climax. The filmmakers clearly want to make sure the audience is invested in the characters, but it might take a bit too long to get into the horror awaiting underground. While the slow burn works fine for me, it’s sure to alienate some viewers. Luckily, the film boasts great performances and the effects during the climax hold no punches. There’s no denying that moments of this film definitely make it a memorable viewing experience.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Fantasia Review: Detention

Taiwan in 1962 was experiencing the White Terror martial law period. Two high school students awake to find themselves trapped in the abandoned high school. As they try to stay alive, the duo must also figure out how they got there while also trying to escape before it’s too late.

Fantasia International Film Festival continues its run of fantastic foreign films with Taiwan’s Detention. The film is the feature-film debut of director John Hsu and is co-written by Hsu, Shih-Keng Chien (On Children, The Victim), and Lyra Fu (A-Tsuí & Kok-Siông, Close Your Eyes Before It’s Dark). Detention is my favorite kind of foreign horror film because it not only tells a frightening story, but it also reveals a piece of Taiwan’s history that I wasn’t familiar with. The filmmakers waste no time in setting up the tense situation the characters are in. At first, we see the students in their military-like high school, but then the two students wake up alone in the darkened school. They see a number of bizarre and terrifying things as they walk the halls, trying to remember what lead to them being trapped in this situation. Between the gradual reveal of clues and the haunting things these students encounter, the film becomes a suspenseful supernatural thriller that also acts as a metaphor for the horrors of living under martial law.

The mostly young cast of Detention is incredibly talented. Gingle Wang (On Children, The Outsiders) plays the young Fang. We quickly learn that Fang is a quiet, shy girl who mostly follows the rules. Unfortunately, she lets a crush consume her so she can’t see the consequences of her actions. Wang does a fantastic job of showing the duality of Fang’s innocence and how vindictive she can truly be, while still making Fang an overall sympathetic character. Chin-Hua Tseng (The Name Engraved in Your Heart, Workers) plays Wei. Like Fang, Wei also allows a crush to cloud his better judgement, but he cares much more about others and the state of the country he lives in. Wei works with a small group of students who copy banned books, knowing if he is caught, he could be killed. Tseng strikes a perfect balance between Wei’s desire to do good and his young male infatuations.

From start to finish, the team behind Detention took great care to create something with visual interest. At first, the set and the costumes help to tell the story of the time period. The audience quickly picks up on the strict, government-controlled life the students live. It also helps to establish the danger the students are in from real-world factors. When the students wake up in the abandoned school, it is almost like an alternate reality. The school is derelict and contains clues to what happened to the kids in real life. Between the creepy set design and a combination of disturbing practical and CGI effects, Detention transports audiences to another world that mirrors what’s happening in the real world.

Detention creates a stunning metaphor to express the real-life horrors of Taiwan in the 60’s. Hsu, Chien, and Fu weave together a tale that is as frightening as it is heartbreaking. It feels somewhat reminiscent of Sucker Punch, albeit slightly more competent and with more historical relevance. The film boasts great performances from the entire cast, gorgeous visuals, and also teaches audiences a bit of Taiwanese history they likely weren’t aware of. It’s a sad, beautiful film that delivers as many chills as it does heart.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Fantasia Review: The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw

In a secluded community, one woman has kept her daughter a secret for 17 years. In that time, the woman’s farm has been the only successful one, making the other villagers think she practices witchcraft. When the daughter witnesses a villager mistreat her mother, she decides that she’s done hiding.

Bringing a bit of witchcraft to Fantasia International Film Festival is The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw. This is the sophomore feature of Canadian writer and director Thomas Robert Lee (Empyrean). The film takes place in 1973, but the characters we follow live their lives as if it’s 1873. This remote Irish community choses to forego modern advancements to live a simpler life. Unfortunately for most of the villagers, the 17 years after a strange eclipse has left them with almost no crops. Except one woman, Agatha, who lives further away from the village on her own always has a great harvest.

It’s immediately clear there is a lot of tension between Agatha and the rest of the village. They are not only envious of her harvest, but they assume she has been successful because of witchcraft. Tensions only rise as Agatha has to hide her daughter, Audrey, for 17 years. It generates a constant sense of danger and a fear of the unknown. Why does Agatha hide Audrey? What would happen if the town knew about her? The moment Audrey decides she isn’t going to hide anymore, the village slowly descends into madness and bloodshed.

For the most part, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is a mystical, compelling film. I believe the one issue the plot continually bumps into is time. The most obvious issue with time is that the film takes place in 1973. While this community seems to be modeled after the Amish, as they refuse modern advances in technology and medicine, it doesn’t necessarily seem important to the plot. There are only a few minor references to the time period after it is established in the beginning. These references are so fleeting it doesn’t add to the film, although it doesn’t detract either. There is also a much larger passage of time in the course of the film than there appears to be. From the time Audrey decides she has had enough to the end of the film, it only seems to be a few days. Yet one character at one point mentions it has been weeks. It’s a small detail, but Audrey’s wrath seems so quick until the many weeks are mentioned, effectively slowing that wrath to a crawl.

The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw has an array of fantastic performances from start to finish. Making her feature-film debut is Jessica Reynolds (My Left Nut) as Audrey. From the moment we meet Audrey, it’s apparent that she isn’t content with her life hidden in the shadows and letting people walk all over her mother. Reynolds has a great ethereal presence that she can quickly turn sinister that works perfectly for the role. Another outstanding performance comes from Jared Abrahamson (American Animals, Fear the Walking Dead) as Colm. When we first meet Colm, he has just lost his son and he lashes out at Agatha. Yet, while our fist impression of Colm is negative, Abrahamson does a great job of bringing depth to the character and showing the good heart underneath the rough exterior.

Everything from the production design to the cinematography is stunning. The production design team and the costume design team behind The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw expertly transport the audience to a different time. The homesteads of the small village are gorgeous. The costumes have a utility to them that matches the rough lives these people lead while still being beautiful. In general the film has a monotone color palette that matches how stark the land and their lives are, but there are still many moments of beauty in the cinematography and how each shot is framed. That starkness is punctuated by a few shocking, gory, vibrantly bloody practical effects.

The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is a haunting film that keeps audiences on the edge of their seat with each increasingly horrific event. Lee effectively makes it known that he is a filmmaker to keep an eye on. His film drips with tension and plays into the fears and desires of the residents in this isolated village. There isn’t a great sense of time throughout the film, but the bewitching visuals and captivating performances are what audiences will remember after watching the film. The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw is sure to cast a spell on you.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Fantasia Review: Hunted

A French woman working in Belgium decides to blow off some steam at a bar. She meets a charming man and decides to leave the bar with him. Yet things quickly take a turn when she realizes this man is a psychopath and he has an accomplice. She will have to fight to escape the fate these men have planned for her.

French director Vincent Paronnaud (Persepolis, Chicken With Plums) brings his latest film, Hunted, to Fantasia International Film Festival audiences. Co-written by Paronnaud and Léa Pernollet, the latter making her feature-film debut, Hunted tells the story of Eve. She is stressed from working on a big project, so she goes to a bar for a few drinks to unwind. She meets a man who seems to be a knight in shining armor, but quickly turns into the villain of the story. This man and his accomplice plan on doing unspeakable things to Eve. She manages to escape into the forest, leading to a long fight for survival in a fairly standard cat-and-mouse game. What makes Hunted unique is how it comes across as a reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood. Eve is Red, even wearing a bright red raincoat as she flees the two evil men. The men, who at first seem to be the helpful huntsmen, are actually the big bad wolves in disguise. Instead of being ominous and dangerous, the forest and the animals inside it act as Eve’s protectors. It creates a fun spin on a familiar story that draws audiences into the story.

As a way to both add humor and more dynamic suspenseful moments, the heroine and the villain encounter some other people. In the second half of the film, there are multiple encounters with other people or even groups of people. Often times this adds to the tension and horror of the film, but sometimes the encounters end in confusion. Some of the people clearly see the dangerous dynamic happening between Eve and this man, but half the time they don’t seem to be phased and go about their day. It makes me wonder why even include those encounters if there is no direct interaction between the main characters and these people.

Hunted has a number of great performances, but the three leads definitely stand out. Lucie Debay (Melody, The Confession) stars as Eve. Eve is a flawed person, but none of that matters when she is thrown into this dangerous situation. Debay’s portrayal of Eve really shines when she decides to shift from her flight to her fight response, when her performances goes to an extreme place that still works well in the film. Arieh Worthalter (Girl, The Take) plays the “handsome man.” At first, this man seems very charming and chivalrous. Then, it’s as if a flip switches in his brain and the man becomes a dangerous predator. When that shift happens, Worthalter delivers a great performance that is both disturbing and humorous. And finally we have Ciaran O’Brien (Ripper Street, Pursuit) as “the accomplice.” What I love about this character and O’Brien’s performance is that he makes the character so pathetic that you almost feel sorry for him, but then you remember that he is also trying to murder Eve. Together, this trio manages to both thrill audiences and make them laugh out loud.

Many of the visual elements of Hunted help to create a strange, fairy-tale type look to the film. The film opens with a story about a wolf girl in the forest using some absolutely gorgeous animations and light/silhouette work. It tells an interesting story while providing a visual aid to draw the viewers in. From there, a majority of the film takes place in the forest. The lush green as a background of Eve’s vibrant red coat not only adds to the fairy tale look, but it also makes sure that our eye is constantly drawn to Eve. Beautiful cinematography also enhances the allure of each scene and further helps to draw the eye. Then of course there are the practical effects. There are a handful of startlingly violent moments with brilliant and realistic practical effects. Everything creates a bizarrely magnificent balance between realist horrors and a dreamy aesthetic.

Hunted is an intense thrill ride that brings a bit of fairy tale dreaminess to the shocking horrors awaiting the protagonist. Paronnaud and Pernollet combined their abilities to create a story that is a different take on a familiar tale. Debay is a true delight to watch as Eve and both Worthalter and O’Brien make memorable villains that strike a balance between sinister and funny. Hunted is as gorgeous as it is suspenseful, making it a memorable film among the many great films at Fantasia International Film Festival.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Fantasia Review: The Undertaker’s Home

An undertaker, his wife, and his stepdaughter live in the home behind his business. This dysfunctional family is plagued by spirits of the dead who have come through the mortuary. They seek out spiritual guidance to protect themselves and soon learn the horrifying truth behind their ghostly inhabitants.

All the way from Argentina, Fantasia International Film Festival brings audiences a twisted supernatural ride. The Undertaker’s Home is the film debut of writer and director Mauro Iván Ojeda. When we are first introduced to the undertaker and his family, they already have precautions in place so they can live side-by-side with the spirits in their home. Each of them reacts differently to the ghosts and it is these differences that gradually reveal the cracks dividing this family unit. Things eventually get worse and they are forced to seek further help to coexist with the spirits, but they learn there is something far more sinister lurking in the dark. What is interesting about the film is how we are thrown in the middle of the haunting. They have clearly lived here for a long time and already sought help.

From there we dive into the undertaker, his wife, and his stepdaughter individually. They all have different reasons for staying in the home and react very differently to the ghosts. While it is fascinating and I wish it was the primary focus of the film, it instead detracts from the film as a whole because there is no clear single plot driving the film forward. It isn’t until the last act of the film that some semblance of that driving force is introduced, but it feels far too late for it to really add weight to what the audience just watched. The final moments also add a sentimentality that is absent from the rest of the film, making it come across as forced and awkward.

All of the performances in The Undertaker’s Home are well done, but they don’t incite the intended emotional reaction. This is likely more to do with how the characters were written rather than the performances of the individual actors. Luis Machín (Necrophobia 3D, Cain y Abel) plays the undertaker, Bernardo. His character has the most interesting relationship with the spirits, seeming to use them for his own personal fulfillment. Machín plays Bernardo quite well and makes the character both sympathetic and pathetic all at once. Celeste Gerez (Historias de diván, La venganza de Ambar) plays the wife, Estela. Estela clearly has had a difficult life. Gerez’s performance shows how detached she has become to her loved ones, even her daughter, because of that past. Finally we have Camila Vaccarini (Paisaje) as Estela’s daughter, Irina. Right away it is clear that Irina doesn’t want to live with her mother and stepfather, but she stays in the house in hopes of seeing one specific spirit in the home. Vaccarini’s performance is definitely a standout, especially in the final act of the film as the family attempts to rid themselves of the evil.

The filmmakers make an interesting choice to not show much of the spirits within the home. Instead, The Undertaker’s Home relies on different visuals to imply the presence of ghosts. Most immediately obvious is a red line that seems to divide the spaces meant for the family vs meant for the ghosts. The family’s side is clean and tidy, while the ghost side is left to collect dust and trash. It’s a surprisingly strong visual aid that allows the audience to constantly feel as though something is waiting just on the other side of the line. We only see the strongest of ghosts in a physical form, but even then they are primarily in shadow and never completely visible, maintaining their mystery.

The Undertaker’s Home creates an interesting premise, but it fails to follow through with a cohesive plot. For a feature-film debut, this is still quite a strong start for Ojeda as it shows quite a bit of potential that could benefit from just a bit more finesse. The idea there and the performances are strong even if the characters aren’t fully realized. While I don’t love the film, I enjoyed elements of it enough that I am quite interested to see what Ojeda does in the future.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10

Fantasia Review: Monster Seafood Wars

On his way to make an offering of squid, octopus, and crab, a young scientist’s offering is stolen. The animals are given a secret drug to make them grow into giant monsters. It’s up to him and a government team to stop these enormous sea creatures before they destroy the city.

Fantasia International Film Festival is bringing lots of laughs to their audiences with Monster Seafood Wars. Director Minoru Kawasaki (The Calamari Wrestler, Executive Koala) co-wrote the film with Masakazu Migita (Death Kappa, Outer Man) based on an unmade film by Eiji Tsuburaya (Godzilla, Tokyo 1960). The film is a parody of the giant monster films popular in Japan. Kawasaki has a long history of making these types of films, but this is the first time he has brought all three of his seafood monsters together in on one screen. The film primarily focuses on Yuta, the young man who invented the drug, who is fired before he is able to complete is work. While he’s working at his father’s fish market, someone steals his seafood offering and uses his invention to unleash havoc on the city.

Monster Seafood Wars is funny, action packed, and also very cheesy. That cheesiness is part of the film’s appeal, especially since it is meant to be a parody. Some of the dialogue is comparable to what many of us likely experienced watching old episodes of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in the 90’s. There is also a lot of food references throughout the film. Yuta makes it clear that he created this drug to make animals bigger to help feed the world. This leads to a long stretch in the middle of the film where people begin to eat monster meat and it is regarded as the best tasting meat there is. Kawasaki even brought Masayuki Kusumi, of Solitary Gourmet fame, on board to supervise. It definitely makes your stomach growl watch all the delicious looking food, but it also makes the middle of the film drag as we see meal after meal with no progression of the plot.

Likely in keeping with the parody aspect of Monster Seafood Wars, many of the performances are over the top and hilarious. The clear standout is Keisuke Ueda (Black Crow 1, Yowamushi Pedal) as Yuta. Yuta is the most relatable character for many audience members who are likely watching the film for the monsters. Yuta loves monsters and even describes them as “cute,” but Ueda still does a fantastic job of making it clear that his true purpose is to make the world a better place. Yoshida Ayano Christie makes her debut as Nana, a member of the Defense Ministry and a childhood friend of Yuta’s. Nana is the only female starring in the film, and she is a strong authority figure. Christie is great at making her character stand with the men as their equals.

The creature designs for this film are absolutely delightful. Kawasaki used monsters from his previous films, but this is the first time they have all been together in one film. They all have a very static look common with monsters from classic 1950’s monster movies. The monsters are people in costumes, typically working on a green-screen or in a set with model buildings that can be smashed to smithereens. All three creatures are adorable and I want to cuddle them. The one aspect of the low-budget beasts that I was not a fan of is how the octopus monster looks like he has a giant vagina on his forehead.

Monster Seafood Wars is a delightful giant monster throwback, complete with people wearing the monster costumes. Kawasaki clearly loves Godzilla and similar classics and shows that love by creating his own, more humorous version of those films. Despite some of the clunky dialogue, the performances for the most part are great and Ueda and Christie are endearing to watch. Because of how goofy the film intentionally is, and the long food sequences, this film won’t be for everyone. Yet it will greatly appeal to all the monster lovers out there, just like Yuta.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Fantasia Review: The Mortuary Collection

A young woman visits a mortuary to interview for a job. Throughout the course of the interview, the creepy mortician tells ghastly tales of how some of the bodies came to be in his mortuary. Spanning from the 50’s to the 80’s, each tale is more horrifying than the last.

Writer and director Ryan Spindell brings his feature-film debut to the Fantasia International Film Festival. The Mortuary Collection tells four tales of terror with a single overarching plot to tie it all together. That overarching is the story of a somewhat frightening mortician in his mortuary. After a funeral he gets a knock at the door and meets a young woman looking for a job. As he goes through the motions of the interview process, the young woman encourages him to tell scary stories. But these aren’t just any scary stories. These stories are about how and why certain bodies ended up in this mortuary.

The audience gets to hear stories from different subgenres of horror including a pickpocket from the 50’s who finds more than she bargained for, a 60’s frat boy who learns a lesson the hard way, a husband forced to make a tough choice about his invalid wife in the 70’s, and an homage to the classic 80’s babysitter/serial killer story. These stories are fascinating, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that it has a bit of a “woman-hating” tone. Each of the main female characters typically is portrayed in a negative light or meets some kind of violence. I believe it may seem this way because the film also tends to portray women in roles typically reserved for men, but it was an aspect that gave me pause.

Despite spanning four decades and covering a wide range of topics, these stories feel unified. Each tale in The Mortuary Collection is unique, but Spindell unifies them by giving all of them the same, somewhat cheeky tone. There is a perfect marriage of gruesome events sprinkled with moments of dark humor. It gives the film a bit of a lighthearted feel despite some of the more horrifying and graphic stories being told. Even the overall look of the film helps tie the different stories together. They all have the same visual style, utilizing a heavily blue and green color palette. The filmmakers also had all the stories take place in the same town of Raven’s End. The scary, yet humorous tone combined with the eerie look of the film all blend seamlessly. It’s as though Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Creepshow came together and had a spooky baby.

Other visual aspects of The Mortuary Collection that enhance the look and vibe of the film are the production and effects designs. From the moment the camera moves through the streets of Raven’s End, the audience is transported back in time. The cars are clearly decades old, the buildings all look as if they have been around for at least 100 years, and the clothing matches the time period. The mortuary itself is an absolutely gorgeous Victorian building that I would definitely live in, even if it was haunted. The sets and costumes also help us move through the decades in each story and match perfectly to their respective time periods. To bring terror into these tales, the filmmakers use absolutely gorgeous practical effects. There is some CGI enhancement, but for the most part you can tell they wanted to keep it old school. The effects are just as stunning as they are disturbing, plus they add quite a bit of fright to the film.

From each segment, The Mortuary Collection encompasses tremendous performances. Everyone is truly magical, but it is the mortician and the young woman he is interviewing who stand out. Clancy Brown (Shawshank Redemption, Starship Troopers) stars as the mortician himself. This man is creepy, decrepit, and always seems to be laughing at some inside joke in his head. Clancy brings this character to life in the most memorable way, being both scary and funny all at once. Caitlin Fisher (Teen Wolf, Extraction) plays the interviewee, Sam. Fisher’s performance really stands out because, on the outside, Sam appears to be just a sweet girl looking for a job. Yet Sam is cunning and challenges the mortician at every turn and Fisher conveys that defiant nature quite well. Brown and Fisher also have a great banter between the two of them and seem to challenge each other for dominance at every turn.

The Mortuary Collection is an enthralling blend of scares and laughs that is a delight to watch from start to finish. The fact that this is Spindell’s feature-film debut makes me believe he is a writer/director horror fans should keep an eye on. As a whole and also looking at the individual tales of horror, the various plots are all unique and intriguing to watch and every performance is impressive. Unified by the gorgeous visuals and the storytelling mortician, The Mortuary Collection delivers a group of tales audiences are sure to enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Fantasia Review: Climate of the Hunter

Two sisters are reunited with a childhood friend. As they both vie for his affections, one of the sisters feels that something is off about the man she used to know. She becomes convinced he’s a vampire and decides to do what she has to in order to protect her family.

Director Mickey Reece (Tarsus, Mickey Reece’s Alien) brings Climate of the Hunter to Fantasia International Film Festival. Co-written by Reece and John Selvidge (Man Sitting in Chair, Suedehead) the film follows a woman named Alma. She lives in a somewhat secluded cabin with her sister, Elizabeth, taking an extended vacation to visit. Their old friend Wesley comes back to the states for a visit after several years of traveling the world. While the two women are initially infatuated with Wesley, being a handsome, worldly writer, Alma quickly notices something isn’t right. The filmmakers truly excel at building the tension while also making the viewer uncertain of what is real and what is fantasy.

In many ways, Climate of the Hunter reminds me of classic 70’s horror films such as George A. Romero’s Season of the Witch. Alma has wild, vivid dreams and is clearly more wild and unstable than her younger sister. It blurs the lines of reality and makes Alma’s point of view unreliable. I don’t necessarily love that the filmmakers chose to go with the “unhinged woman” trope commonly shown in horror films, but it is in keeping with the time period they are trying to emulate. In that regard, Reece achieves a delightfully suspenseful film that feels like it could have just as easily been in theaters in the 70’s.

The three leads in Climate of the Hunter are not only amazing, but I also appreciate that the characters are all over 40. Ginger Gilmartin (Fingerprints, If Looks Could Kill) stars as Alma. Alma is first presented as a hippy, laid back, go-with-the-flow type of woman. As the film progresses, Gilmartin shows that Alma might have some underlying psychological issues that make it seem as though her theory about Wesley being a vampire could be a figment of her imagination. Mary Buss (Lord Finn, Mono) plays Alma’s younger sister, Elizabeth. She is the polar opposite of her sister, acting much more reserved, up-tight, and poised. Buss does an excellent job of conveying how Elizabeth both envies and admonishes her sister’s more outgoing personality. Both Gilmartin and Buss play off of each other quite well, showing the sisterly love between Alma and Elizabeth as well as the competitive nature and contempt for each other. Then there is Ben Hall (Arrows of Outrageous Fortune, Time Expired) as the alluring and possibly vampiric Wesley. Hall is fantastic in how he oozes with charm, but with a hint of something sinister about him. All three actors shine in their respective roles.

Everything from the visuals to the music helps to transport the audience back in time. Climate of the Hunter takes on a stunning soft focus that glitters, giving the film a very dreamy 70’s appearance. It creates a somewhat muted color palette because of that softness, but what the film lacks in vibrant colors it makes up for with striking patterns. The costume design also adds to the time period. Each outfit worn by the two main characters, especially the sisters, adds to their individual personalities. The music by Nicholas Poss (Mickey Reece’s Alien, You People) is absolutely groovy and is something I hope to be able to listen to on vinyl in the near future. Everything feels like it could easily have been made 50 years ago.

Climate of the Hunter is a breathtakingly dreamy 70’s throwback that uses old tropes to ensnare audiences. Reece and Selvidge clearly did their homework on horror films from this time period to create something that is both new and familiar. Part of me wishes they had moved away from the trope of the “unhinged woman,” but it also fits well with the overall look and feel of the film. Climate of the Hunter is dazzling to look at, tells an interesting story, and has superb performances from Gilmartin, Buss, and Hall. This is definitely a film Fantasia International Film Festival audiences should not miss.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Fantasia Review: Hail to the Deadites

Horror fans are often some of the best, most dedicated fans out there. This year’s Fantasia International Film Festival highlights one group of fans by screening the documentary Hail to the Deadites.

Documentary writer and director, Steve Villeneuve (Under the Scares, The Mask of James Henry), focuses on fans of The Evil Dead film franchise. The franchise includes the three original films, The Evil Dead, The Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness, as well as a “requel” of the same name and a TV series, Ash vs. Evil Dead, that lasted for three seasons on STARZ. Villeneuve sought out fans of the franchise, known as “Deadites,” to learn more about why they love the films and how they show that love.

Hail to the Deadites introduces many individuals who are considered superfans of the franchise. These are people who go to every convention to meet those who worked in front of and behind the camera. They are collectors of props, action figures, posters, clothing, and other physical media related to the film. It’s fascinating to not only see how much people love the films, but also the lengths they are willing to go for the film, including spending exorbitant amounts of money and traveling across oceans.

It is interesting to see how fans typically align with one of the three original films more than the others. Often is has to do with whatever film they saw first. Tonally, The Evil Dead, The Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness are very different films, despite all following the same character and being from the mind of writer and director Sam Raimi.

Hail to the Deadites also interviews the many crew and cast members, especially from the first two films. This includes the legendary Bruce Campbell, who played protagonist Ash in all three films and the TV show. These interviews dive into the popularity of the film and how fans’ love of the franchise helps many of their careers. There are a few interactions between fans and individuals involved with the film, specifically Campbell himself and practical effects guru Tom Sullivan, that brought tears to my eyes.

Hail to the Deadites brings light to a fandom that has been going strong since 1981. Villenueve not only highlights how the fans love the franchise and helped to make it such a success, but how that love helped the careers of those who worked on the films. The documentary also shows a connection between fans and celebrities that seems to be unique to the horror genre and can be seen in all the horror-specific conventions where fans can meet celebrities from their favorite films as well as other fans. Hail to the Deadites is a fascinating documentary for any film lover to watch, but it’s a must-watch for fans of The Evil Dead franchise.

Fantasia Review: The Columnist

After a columnist’s article goes viral, she gets a great book deal. The downside is, now she has trolls constantly harassing and threatening her on social media. The columnist decides to take matters into her own hands and exacts revenge on those trolls.

Hailing all the way from the Netherlands, Fantasia International Film Festival brings the darkly comedic horror film, The Columnist. The film is directed by Ivo van Aart (Quantum Zeno, Zes Dates) and written by Daan Windhorst (Quantum Zeno, Zes Dates). Together, this duo deliver a black comedy that is both hilarious and humorous. As a writer, this is a story that really hits home. Femke Boot is a columnist who writes a controversial piece that sets some of the more conservative readers on the attack. Trolls hound her on social media by threatening her, calling her names, and so on. It’s unfortunately all too common for the anonymity of the internet to embolden people to say whatever they want without fear of repercussions. Yet Famke isn’t going to take this harassment anymore. She begins tracking down some of the more vicious trolls and getting her revenge.

The plot of The Columnist is very straight-foward, if not a bit too on-the-nose, but still brings the laughs. Femke gets up to some very bloody and violent antics tinged with dark humor. What makes her violent acts even more hilarious is that they seem to help her break any writers block she runs into while writing her new book. It’s very clear how the filmmakers feel about internet trolls. They address it in a comedic way, but it also doesn’t leave a lot of room for complexity within the plot. The only thing driving the story, aside from Famke trying to finish her book by killing trolls, is whether or not she will be caught. It leads to a rather predictable end, but the film is still a fun watch.

Each actor in The Columnist plays the role relatively straight, which makes their performances even funnier. The characters seem so normal on the surface, but their actions prove otherwise. Katja Herbers (Westworld, The Leftovers) stars as Famke Boot. Famke seems like the most normal, mild-mannered woman. Herbers does a great job of giving off that persona for the character, while also showing Famke becoming more unhinged the longer she scrolls through social media. It makes her murderous actions shocking, yet still plausible. Despite these violent methods, Herbers still shows Famke as a sympathetic character. Bram van der Kelen (Centraal, 4Jim) plays another writer, Steven Dood. At first Steven seems like he’s against Famke, but he eventually reveals he is simply playing a spooky persona to match his books. He’s an interesting character who is surprisingly sweet and van der Kelen’s performance adds a bit more commentary on the roles we play in the public eye. Herbers and van der Kelen are not only great together on screen, but they also perfectly show two opposing types of writers.

Despite the generally lighthearted tone of The Columnist, it still has a fair amount of gore. Each time Famke kills, the murder scenes become a bit more elaborate and violent. The best part is the “souvenir” she takes from each victim. The practical effects are disturbingly realistic. They are all the more disturbing because of the juxtaposition between the murders and the otherwise cheery Netherlands setting.

The Columnist is a delightful revenge fantasy for anyone who has dealt with internet trolls, despite it being a bit gauche. Windhorst and van Aart have a clear message they are sending to Fantasia International Film Festival audiences. There could have been a bit more subtlty, but the bloody dark comedy is still incredibly entertaining to watch. Both Herbers and van der Kelen deliver delightful performances. It’s an almost therapeutic watch that will hopefully make at least a few trolls think twice before posting hate on the internet.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10