If you’re a genre film fan, or if you just like good, original films of any kind, this is the best time of the year. That’s because Montreal’s own genre film festival, the Fantasia International Film Festival, is about to begin. If you can get to Montreal, you should; if you can’t, you can still keep an eye on what’s playing there to make up your wish list, because there’s nothing like anticipation to make the viewing of a film extra sweet.
There are over 130 feature films playing at Fantasia 2019, plus a healthy selection of shorts, so you may become dizzy just reading the program. Having said that, here are a few of the highly-anticipated films that will screen in Montreal this year.
Fantasia 2019 kicks off with the North American premiere of Sadako, a film continuing the Ringu franchise created by director Hideo Nakata and author novelist Koji Suzuki. Sadako begins with a young girl (Himeka Himejima) being admitted to a psychiatric ward with amnesia after surviving her mother’s attempts to kill her. The girl has telekinetic powers, it seems, and Mom believes her to be the reincarnation of the original Sadako. The girl forms a bond with psychologist Mayu Akikawa (Elaiza Ikeda), while Mayu’s brother Kazuma (Hiroya Shimizu), a video producer, mysteriously disappears after venturing into the girl’s ruined house.
Vivarium, directed by Lorcan Finnegan, stars Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg as a young couple looking to buy a place together. Fate brings them to the office of a suburban development known as Yonder, and a real estate agent (Jonathan Aris) drives them out to take a look. Yonder turns out to be an endless cluster of identical little boxes with no hillside in sight, and things only get weirder from there. The agent disappears, whatever direction they drive brings them right back to where they started—and you’ll have to watch the movie to see how it all works out. This will be the North American debut for Vivarium, which it was nominated for the Critics’ Week Grand Prize and won the Gan Foundation Support for Distribution at Cannes this year.
Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein’s science-fiction thriller Freaks is also set in suburbia, where seven-year-old Chloe (Lexy Kolker) lives with her father (Emile Hirsch) in a beat-up old house. She’s a bright little girl, but it’s not clear that Dad is playing with a full deck—he makes her run security drills all the time, warning her of the necessity to be “a good hider” so “the bad guys” can’t find her. What bad guys would that be? One candidate is the fellow who calls himself Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern); he also claims to know Chloe’s mother, whom Chloe has always assumed was dead. Freaks won Best Feature Film at the 2018 Paris International Fantastic Film Festival and won the audience award at Les Utopiales, the Festival International de Science-Fiction de Nantes, in 2019.
Shooting the Mafia, which has already played Sundance and the Berlin International Film Festival, offers a unique look at Sicilian photojournalist Letizia Battaglia, who began her career in journalism in 1971 after fleeing a bad marriage. No surprises, then, that Battaglia has little patience for the patriarchal assumptions of her culture, or that over the years she has worked as an environmental activist and champion of women’s and prisoner’s rights alongside her primary work of documenting and exposing organized crime. Director Kim Longinotto takes a highly personal approach to telling Battaglia’s story, combining archival materials from Battaglia’s own collection with clips from news reports, contemporary footage, and excerpts from classic Italian films.
Animation is always well represented at Fantasia, and this year is no exception. The closing film is the Canadian premiere of Hiroyuki Imaishi’s Promare, which was also an official selection at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival this year. Featuring a screenplay by Kazuki Nakashima and animation from Studio Trigger, Promare is set 30 years after a giant flame war nearly burnt the earth to a crisp. The world has since been rebuilt, and an elite firefighting squad headed by Galo Thymos created to battle the terrorist group Burnish Mad, who seem determined to torch it all over again.
The 22nd annual Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 12 to Aug. 1, 2019, in Montreal. You can check out the full lineup, which includes a number of guest appearances and free events as well as film screenings, at the festival’s official web site. | Sarah Boslaugh