Supernatural

Fantasia Review: Anything For Jackson

Audrey and Henry Walsh lost their young grandson. In a desperate attempt to bring him back, the couple decides to kidnap a pregnant woman and perform a ritual to put their grandson’s spirit in her baby. When things don’t go as planned, it places every one of them in mortal peril.

Fantasia International Film Festival brings audiences a disturbing new tale of terror with Anything for Jackson. The film is directed by Justin G. Dyck (Super Detention, Christmas in Paris) and written by Keith Cooper (Super Detention, A Christmas Village). Most of these filmmakers’ filmography is primarily made-for-TV Christmas films, which is very different from Anything for Jackson. No time is wasted in setting up the suspense as we witness the Walshes kidnapping a pregnant woman and imprisoning her in their home. From there we slowly learn the driving force behind their actions and how it is all a desperate attempt to bring their grandson, Jackson, back from the dead. What I love about the way the plot structure is how the audience gets breadcrumbs of information and each of these breadcrumbs brings some new surprising revelation. At times these surprises can be a bit confusing because certain images aren’t fully explained. Yet it helps to bring fear to the film. It adds some depth to the story and the characters while also gradually building the terror.

Anything for Jackson also takes a deep look into the things we do for the ones we love and the consequences of those actions. Everyone in the film has a different motivation driving them throughout the story. Some of these motivations are so strong that they are willing to make any sacrifice necessary. Yet there are also repercussions, especially when dealing with dark magic. The filmmakers take a look at what happens when you don’t fully understand those repercussions, which ends up being the catalyst for much of the horror that ensues.

There are some familiar faces in Anything for Jackson and multiple great performances. Sheila McCarthy (The Day After Tomorrow, Die Hard 2) plays Audrey Welsh. Audrey is the driving force behind much of the film. McCarthy makes it quite clear Audrey is the most distraught over losing her grandson, but she also is doing her best to make sure no one gets hurt in the process. Julian Richings (Supernatural, Urban Legend) plays Henry Walsh. Henry is the more practical of the couple, which makes sense since he’s a doctor. What drives Henry is kept a bit more of a mystery. Richings plays the character in a way that is very cool and collected, yet tender and loving with his wife. With both of the Walshes, McCarthy and Richings portray the characters in a way that conveys their determination, but also makes it apparent they are not necessary evil people. Konstantina Mantelos (A Christmas Crush, Miss Misery) plays Becker, the kidnapped pregnant woman. Throughout the film the audience sees Becker go through a gambit of different emotions, and Mantelos plays the character incredibly well. These three performances create an interesting dynamic throughout the film.

This is quite the visually stimulating film. Anything for Jackson takes place in a large, uniquely designed house. It allows for strange angles and opportunities for things to lurk around every corner while also conveying the Walshes wealth. Then there are the scares. When things don’t go quite as planned, many strange entities appear throughout the house. What’s even worse is that something seems to be able to control people who are on the Walsh’s property. It creates plenty of opportunities for disturbing and haunting practical effects. There is everything from ghostly figures, to gory mutilations, to sinister otherworldly beings. All of this is created with wonderful practical effects and results in some memorable imagery.

Anything for Jackson is a terrifying story of loss, the lengths we go to for love, and the dire consequences to our actions. Dyck and Cooper make a daring and successful dive into horror with this film. It hits on the emotional notes as much as it does the frights. The film boasts strong performances, especially from McCarthy and Richings as the Walshes. Throughout the film there are many twists and turns intermixed with horrifying practical effects that are sure to disturb audiences. This film makes me hope to see the filmmakers continue in the horror genre.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Fantasia Review: Sanzaru

A woman is giving live-in care to an elderly woman with dementia. Due to dealing with health issues and the strain between family members, the strange happenings around the house at first go unnoticed. As the situation becomes more dire, the caretaker has to put the pieces together to save those she loves.

Writer and director Xia Magnus brings his feature-film debut to Fantasia International Film Festival. The plot of Sanzaru follows Evelyn as she begins to care for Dena, an elderly woman who has some mental and physical health issues. Evelyn and her nephew, Amos, live in Dena’s house while Dena’s son, Clem, lives in a trailer on the property. Since Evelyn is primarily alone in the house as she cares for Dena, she starts to notice that something about the house doesn’t feel quite right. We learn that everyone in the home has their secrets and some of those secrets are more dangerous than others. While increasingly sinister occurrences happen in the home, Evelyn begins to solve the puzzle of what haunts the home. It is a haunting, slow burn of a film that has some very eerie moments.

What makes it especially interesting are intercut scenes in which the audience hears Evelyn’s deceased mother speaking to someone named “Sanzaru.” It is these moments that make Sanzaru unique among other films like it while also allowing the audience insight into what’s happening before the main characters do. The film also does a fantastic job of showing the dangerous effects of secrets. Almost everyone in the home has a dark secret they are keeping hidden, and Magnus does a wonderful job of conveying how those secrets can fester and affect later generations.

The cast of Sanzaru gives understated yet powerful performances. Aina Dumlao (Ballers, McGyver) plays Evelyn. Dumlao is great at making Evelyn come across as a very reserved woman, but also dedicated to her job. It’s her dedication and capabilities that make the audience believe she can solve the mystery inside the house. Justin Arnold (Sister Aimee, Lawless Range) plays Clem. Clem struggles after returning from the military, but he has deep and dark secrets that tear him up even more. Arnold portrays Clem in a way that makes the character dark and mysterious, but also makes him entirely sympathetic. Both Dumlao and Arnold also have great on-screen chemistry together.

One of the things I enjoy most about Sanzaru is the unique depiction of ghosts. During the intercut scenes I previously mentioned with the voice of Evelyn’s mother, all we see is a glowing ball of light in the center of the screen. Eventually, those scenes bleed into the real world and the house where Evelyn cares for Dena. There is a brilliant use of light and shadow to convey spirits of those who have passed and also denotes whether these spirits are friend or foe. This not only adds visual interest to the film, but it also helps elevate the suspense in the climax of the film.

Sanzaru is an eerie and unique tale of a family haunted by ghosts and secrets. Magnus makes a strong debut for his first feature film. It’s clear he is one to watch in the future. The plot is a relatively simple, slow-burn, but Magnus adds depth and interest to make his film memorable. Strong performances and haunting visuals help bring everything together. The film is a great study on subdued horror and the generational consequences some secrets leave behind.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Fantasia Review: The Dark and the Wicked

On a secluded goat farm, a man is slowly dying. After being under the care of his wife, it seems as though he is running out of time. When his two adult children come to say their goodbyes, they become plagued with waking nightmares as something evil comes for them all.

Fantasia International Film Festival brings audiences yet another hit by writer and director Bryan Bertino (The Monster, The Strangers). The Dark and the Wicked tells a terrifying tale of something evil targeting a family. The film begins by introducing us to a woman caring for her ailing husband. It’s immediately clear something isn’t quite right. When her two adult children arrive to pay their respects before their father passes, the evil quickly becomes more active. Bertino is great and constantly implies the evil entity is lurking in the shadows, making for a terrifying movie-watching experience. He plays with the fear of the unknown as much as the fear of evil and death. The audience can’t trust their own eyes and it’s never obvious what is real and what is a sinister hallucination.

Bertino also excels at not only having traditional frights in his film, but also having complex family dynamics. In The Dark and the Wicked, there is immediate and obvious strain among the family members. The mother makes it known she didn’t want her children to come. Both the son and the daughter obviously haven’t been home in a while. There is also tension between the siblings. Every bit of family drama and deep-rooted issue boil over as the evil entity manipulates their emotions. It gets to the point where the family members can’t trust their own eyes and are led to the brink of insanity.

The Dark and the Wicked has a wonderful cast who give emotionally charged performances. Marin Ireland (The Umbrella Academy, Piercing) plays the daughter, Louise. Ireland’s performance is absolutely brilliant. There is clearly a lot of emotional strife within her family relationships, but a sense of duty and guilt drive Louise to stick around, even when it’s clear she’s in danger. Michael Abbott Jr. (Loving, Mud) plays Louise’s brother, Michael. It’s obvious that Michael feels a similar sense of duty, but his loyalties are pulled in two different directions because of his wife and kids. Abbott is great at conveying how his practical nature and love of his family make it more difficult for him to accept what’s happening on the farm. Both Ireland and Abbott act very well together, embodying that often times tumultuous relationship between siblings.

Bertino films are known for being very minimal when it comes to effects, yet they still have great visuals. Luckily, The Dark and the Wicked is no different in that regard. The stunning cinematography sets the tone. It showcases the beautiful sets while also drawing your eye to the things that don’t belong. The evil entity after this family never shows its true face. As a result, most of the more frightening scenes rely heavily on barely seen things in the shadows. The entity also plays with the minds of the characters and audience by constantly making it unclear what is real and what is a waking nightmare. It all results in terrifying look and feel sending chills down your spine.

The Dark and the Wicked is yet another achievement by Bertino that balances supernatural terror with character-driven drama. There are many truly frightening moments and the plot is compelling from start to finish. Between the subtly haunting visuals and the emotional performances from the entire cast, it’s impossible to deny the success of this film. It is the kind of film that is a punch to the gut, but in the best way possible. I have no doubt this will be on many “best of the year” lists for 2020.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Fantasia Review: Kriya

A beautiful woman picks up a DJ from a bar one night. She takes him back to her family home, where they discover the woman’s father has died. Through the rest of the night as the family mourns and goes through their rituals, the DJ is dragged down a strange path of magic and evil.

Coming all the way from India, Fantasia International Film Festival brings Kriya to Canadian audiences. Writer and director Sidharth Srinivasan (Divine Vision, Soul of Sand) delivers an unsettling supernatural thriller. The film opens in a nightclub where we meet the DJ, Neel, and a beautiful woman named Sitara. She lures Neel back to her large, albeit decrepit family home where the rest of Sitara’s family has already begun mourning her father. Despite a cold reception from Sitara’s mother, Neel keeps succumbing to Sitara’s wishes and staying to help with the burial rituals. Throughout the course of this single night, Neel experiences increasingly bizarre supernatural occurrences. Everything lends to a constant state of dread that only gets worse and worse leading up to the shocking final moments of the film.

Kriya is fascinating for those not familiar with Indian customs, but that lack of knowledge could also be a detriment. I personally always love learning about different cultures, even through the lense of horror films. Yet, when it comes to the plot of Kriya, it feels like audience members might not get what is off about these funerary practices. By not understanding the warning signs, some of the suspense and terror the filmmaker intended to convey is lessened. It is still a fascinating watch, but it might leave some viewers feeling as if they weren’t in on the secret behind the film. It’s also hard to believe, no matter how polite Neel wanted to be, that he wouldn’t just leave. He just met Sitara and owes her nothing so it seems unlikely he would stick around, even with the promise of sex.

Each cast member brings depth and layers to their character, but two stand out. The first is Noble Luke making his debut as Neel. Luke is great at making Neel come across as a kind and caring man. Yet the final act of the film is when we really get to see what Luke can do and he delivers quite a memorable performance. Navjot Randhawa (Mehsampur, The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs) plays the alluring Sitara. Sitara uses her good looks to get her way with Neel, but Randhawa shows a more malevolent side of the character that is always just beneath the surface and eventually comes out for all to see. Both Randhawa and Luke have great chemistry on screen, even when the night takes a strange and terrifying turn.

This film utilizes many stunning visuals in order to generate and maintain the sense of fear. Sitara’s family home is in a remote area and seems to be in disrepair. The production design of the crumbling walls and sparsely decorated rooms create an eerie feel. This also makes the people within those rooms the true focus of the film. It’s the production design of Unearth that creates the first feeling of unease. Then that feeling increases with the performances and the inclusion of small details in the background that reveal shocking revelations.

Kriya tells a fascinating and disturbing tale about funeral rituals and family secrets. Srinivasan does a great job of including many layers to the mystery, each one more deadly than the last. The viewing experience would likely benefit from more cultural context, but the film is still a compelling watch. From the performances to the setting, every aspect of the film comes together to create the feeling of tension and dread. It’s a dread that sticks with you even after the film ends.

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: 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: 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: Sleep (Schlaf)

A woman plagued by vivid dreams travels to a remote German village to try to solve the mystery inside her head. She suffers a medical episode and her daughter stays in the town to be near her mother. The daughter picks up where her mother left off and begins to unlock the secrets behind her mother’s dreams.

Coming from Germany to Canada, Fantasia International Film Festival brings audiences Sleep. This is the feature-film debut of director Michael Venus, who co-wrote the film with Thomas Friedrich, also making his feature-film debut. Sleep begins with a tangle of different mysteries. The filmmakers take their time in unravelling these mysteries, building the tension and constant sense of dread throughout the film. It begins as the mother’s story, but when she is hospitalized the focus quickly shifts to the daughter. Despite that protagonist shift, it is still largely the mother’s story. Over time we slowly learn the answers behind the mother’s strange dreams and what brought her to the hotel in the remote village filled with tragedy.

Throughout Sleep, the idea of dreams and having trouble separating reality from what’s inside your head is a common theme. It’s a great way to make the audience second guess if what they are seeing is real while also including some nightmarish yet visually stunning scenes. Unfortunately, there are times when the plot seems to move a bit too slowly. This is likely at least in part due to a few subplots that are never fully explored. There are at least two subplots that are introduced later in the film that are never explained further nor do they reach any kind of resolution. It doesn’t necessarily take away from the primary plot, but it will likely leave at least a few viewers with lingering questions.

Each of the performances in Sleep are quite haunting. Sandra Hüller (Toni Erdmann, Requiem) plays the mother, Marlene. The most powerful aspect of Hüller’s portrayal of Marlene is her physical performance. During Marlene’s nightmare and mental episode, her body goes rigid and her eyes are clearly in another world. Hüller delivers a performance that is truly disturbing. Gro Swantje Kohlhof (Tatort, Ever After) plays Marlene’s daughter, Mona. It’s almost immediately established that Mona is more the parental figure than Marlene is. Kohlhof perfectly conveys that maternal instinct and Mona’s capability when it comes to taking care of business. August Schmölzer (Schindler’s List, Downfall) plays Otto, the owner of the hotel mother and daughter visit. Otto is a character who outwardly seems warm and helpful, but there is something sinister to him that makes it clear he can’t be trusted. Schmölzer does an amazing job of delivering that duality in his performance.

Aside from the interesting story, Sleep is simply beautiful to look at. A large part of that has to do with the setting, especially the hotel. It is large and industrial looking, but it’s barren. Through the entire film, the only guests we see are Marlene and then Mona. The architecture of the hotel and the rest of the town just feels slightly off throughout the entire film. It makes it incredibly eerie, especially with the dense surrounding forest. The cinematography also helps to create that unsettling feel along with sequences of nightmarish, psychedelic imagery and coloring. It all ties together to be both gorgeous and haunting.

Sleep is a waking nightmare that slowly unravels the mystery at its center. This is another Fantasia International Film Festival entry that delivers a powerful debut for first-time writers and directors. Venus and Friedrich clearly know how to tell a good mystery with supernatural elements. There are times when the film seems to stall, but it doesn’t take away from the film’s overall achievement. Sleep also includes strong performances and gorgeous visuals, making it an atmospheric, suspenseful film.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Impetigore

After a deadly encounter with a stranger, Maya decides to learn more about the parents she never knew. With her best friend Dini in tow, they travel to a small village where Maya might be from. They soon regret ever trying to uncover the secrets of Maya’s past.

Beloved Indonesian writer and director, Joko Anwar (Satan’s Slaves, Folklore) brings audiences around the world new terror. Impetigore wastes no time in bringing suspense to the screen. The protagonist, Maya, has a frightening encounter at work that leaves her shaken and questions her past. She was raised by her aunt and knows almost nothing about her parents or where she comes from. From there, the tension continues to build as the two friends arrive at the remote village and get a chilly reception from the locals. Anwar takes his time with the plot, allowing the audience to connect with the two female leads. He also takes his time in revealing shocking revelation after shocking revelation leading to the explosive finale. There are so many secrets to unpack throughout the film and each one manages to be more surprising than the last. This focus on building suspense and minor scares over bigger jump scares and horror leads to an edge-of-your-seat viewing experience. It also results in a film that stands apart from others like it and an ending you won’t see coming.

One of the things I love about watching foreign horror films, and Impetigore specifically, is learning about different cultures. Every culture has its own legends, customs, and ghosts. Impetigore offers a fascinating glimpse into the customs of a rural Indonesian village and their unique view of curses. While the legends are incredibly interesting, the integration of traditional Indonesian puppetry is not only stunning, but it adds another captivating cultural aspect. As an anthropology major, I greatly appreciate when a horror film can be eerie as well as a learning experience.

Impetigore has a wonderful cast who all deliver haunting performances. Tara Basro (A Copy of My Mind, Gundala) stars as Maya. Basro gives off an air of innocence, which works well for her character. She is unaware of her past and deals with new information as best she can throughout her hellish journey. Marissa Anita (Gundala, Folklore) plays Maya’s best friend, Dini. Dini is a much more outspoken character and Anita perfectly shows how she is Maya’s protector and does what she can to be a supportive friend. Ario Bayu (Java Heat, Soekarno) plays the village elder, Ki Saptadi. Bayu’s portrayal of this character is memorable because he comes across as a very calm, stately man, but he also manages to convey a sinister nature in his eyes. Honorable mention goes to Christine Hakim (Eat Pray Love, The Golden Cane Warrior) and Asmara Abigail (Gundala, Satan’s Slaves). Together these two women offer two differing points of view of the superstitions of the small village.

Every scene in Impetigore is gorgeous and atmospheric. The film opens in the big city, but as soon as Maya and Dini travel to the village it’s as if they have been transported to another time. The set and production design are truly stunning to behold from the smaller huts to the grand house Maya’s parents once owned. The puppetry scenes are also quite beautiful. It is a traditional Indonesian form of puppetry that utilizes light to project the shadows of the puppets onto a screen. The use of light and dark, like with the puppets, is a common theme throughout Impetigore. In the village there is no electricity, so many of the night scenes are lit by candlelight. It creates an unsettling ambiance while also making each scene captivating. On top of that, there is even a surprising amount of disturbing and realistic practical effects that result in rather shocking scenes.

Impetigore is a bewitching Indonesian horror film that drips with atmosphere and spins an intricate web of magic and deception. Joko Anwar proves yet again that he is a talented storyteller. His handle on Indonesian folklore allows the rest of the world to be exposed to his frightening tales. The performances from the entire cast are delightful, especially Basro’s portrayal of Maya. Through the slow unravelling of the mystery of Maya’s family, audiences will not be able to look away at the truly fantastic visuals. And, because I unfortunately still have to do this for some people, I will warn audiences that the film is subtitled. Yet I hope that won’t deter anyone from feasting upon all Impetigore has to offer.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10