Trying to keep up with this beast of awesome that is Fantasia has left me breathless. I’ve fallen into a strangely blissful kind of sleepless stupor. No complaints! Now that I’ve finally sat down long enough, here is a report on 4 of the 15 films named (by me) as most anticipated in this year’s program: Life After Beth, Suburban Gothic, Cybernatural, and The Harvest.

Life After Beth (Baena, 2014)


Life After Beth is a refreshing addition to the growing list of zombie coms.  Life After Beth fleshes out the ups and downs of hanging on to a relationship that is over; attempting to revive what should be mourned.

Dane Dehaan (Chronicle, Kill Your Darlings) plays Zach whose girlfriend Beth, played by none other than the fiercely deadpan Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Rec), has recently succumbed to a snake bite. Overcome with grief, Zach finds solace in hanging out with Beth’s parents who at first welcome him with open arms and then suddenly shut him out.  For, you see, Beth has come back from the grave and doesn’t realize she’s died. Zack is overjoyed… but for how long?

Before the screening, I had the opportunity to tag along with Ryan Stick of Season Xero to interview Jeff Baena and Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds), who plays Zach’s bizarre brother Kyle who is the film’s absurdist comic relief.


In a way, Life After Beth is itself a filmic zombie having been written by director Jeff Baena years ago, abandoned, and then revived by happenstance into the wonderfully strange creature before us. During the Q & A, Beana mentioned his interest in the work of Jacques Derrida at the time. This perspective opens up a whole new dimension of the film in which Beana engages with ideas of inversions which are sprinkled throughout.

Dehaan’s performance as Zach is one of the film’s greatest strengths as his emotional roller coaster and brief dances with madness lead the audiences further down(up) the rabbit hole. Along with his performance and those of Plaza and Gubler, the film offers some great scenes that stay with the viewer even after the credits have rolled. Life After Beth is very relatable in a twisted kind of way, boasting delightfully raw comedy.

 Suburban Gothic (Bates Jr., 2014)


Richard Bates Jr.’s first film Excision raised the bar for genre films and what the initiated expect from genre and horror films whose aim is to cause visceral emotional reactions in their audiences. Bates Jr.’s sophomore film Suburban Gothic, then, was an automatic must see this Fantasia. Although it is a completely different kind of film it’s also a great flick proving that this director is more than a one hit wonder and is one to keep an eye on in the next years.

In the vein of childhood mysteries (Scooby Doo, Hardy Boys and Are You Afraid of the Dark) with a hardy splash of profanity and paranormal ejaculate, Suburban Gothic follows recent graduate Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler) who finds himself having to move back in with his parents (a nightmare in and of itself), a doting mother and an unrelentingly disappointed father (Ray Wise). Soon Raymond finds himselt t(h)aunted by strange visions and soon must face his proclivity for the paranormal.

Bates Jr. spoke of this film as a project made with a bunch of friends, a project of the heart, and this comes through in the film. Those seeing Suburban Gothic should go into it expecting an oddball tale made wonderful by Gubler’s strange antics, the strained relationship between Raymond and his bizarre folks, and Ray Wise’s great ability to play a total jackass.

Cybernatural (Gabriadze, 2014) **Best of the Fest**

cybernaturalCybernatural is hands down one of the best films of Fantasia. Furthermore, I’d add that it is one of the most innovative films screened at the fest in the last few years.

Told completely from the perspective of a fixed computer screen, Cybernatural is a thriller that follows, in real time, six friends who on the eve of the suicide of a fellow classmate, meet up on Skype. Unexpectedly, a seventh uninvited guest shows up and soon the teenagers are faced with the horrors of their social media ways.

Cybernatural is storytelling adapted to the age of social media. It breaks new ground and marks the beginning of a branching off of found footage, which is itself is the descendant of the epistolary novel in the advent of new media (from letters to film, from film to video, from video to phone cameras, and from these to digital media).

McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” might be, would be apropos here. Throw in some Donna Harraway. Cultural studies scholars will surely be speaking of this film in years to come: “From Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Gabriadze’s Cybernatural: The Medium is the Murder.”

Truly, what makes Cybernatural remarkable is that its finger is right on the pulse of the ways in which we currently produce the stories of our lives. Cybernatural explores with its narrative methods how our lives unfold and the ways in which stories, told and untold, have the power to shape our lives in a myriad of sordid ways.

Along with this, Cybernatural features a talented cast, a mix of fresh faces and seasoned actors: Shelley Henning (Blaire), Renee Olstead (Jess), Jacob Wysocki (Ken), William Peltz (Adam), Courtney Halverson (Val) and Moses Jacob Storm (Mitch). These six actors deliver performances so realistic that it’s easy to forget that they are acting at all. Often for this kind of spooky thriller, characters are undeveloped dispensable walking body parts. Cybernatural however succeeds in grabbing the viewer into the screen by delivering chemistry between the cast that is remarkable.

Director Levan Gabriadze, writer Nelson Greaves, and producer Timur Bekmambetov not only crafted an immensely enjoyable (read: thrilling) film but one that has developed new methods for filmmaking that will no doubt change the landscape of many movie genres.

The Harvest (McNaughton, 2013)


After hearing whispers of how dark and negative John McNaughton’s The Harvest would be, seeing the film was a disappointing experience. Perhaps I am jaded by having seen so many dark and twisted films (i.e. Excision) that something like The Harvest leaves me unmoved. Perhaps not.

The Harvest follows a nurse/doctor couple, Richard (Michael Shannon) and Katherine (Samantha Morton), who take great pains to take care of  and shelter their sick son Andy (Charlie Tahan). When Maryann (Natasha Calis), a young girl who just lost her parents, moves in next door and tries to befriend the mostly bedridden Andy, his parents’ reaction is beyond bizarre.

Although I am not inclined to hail it a total loss, The Harvest just didn’t work. To begin with, the title is too straightforward and unimaginative. Although Morton’s performance was interesting as was Shannon’s emasculated broken father, most of the film felt forced.

The Harvest felt uncomfortably off beat. There were pleasant touches of fairy tale-like elements in the film, but performances and music choices were at odds. The few thrills the film had were early on and the climax was at its height at the first reveal with the second twist being so obvious that it was painful. The resolution was just okay, slightly on the boring side.

Perhaps this was the wrong audience for a film like The Harvest and it might appeal to non genre audiences who are looking for a bit of a strange dip into the dark basement of suburbia. Perhaps not.

Fantasia is upon us. If you are anything like me and the fans that flock to theatres for this one of a kind experience, your summer can finally begin. The lineup this year is stellar which makes choosing which films to see that much more difficult. Screening decision anxiety and panic is amongst us. Never fear! Take out your colour-coded pens, rulers and notebooks; here are the must-sees of the 2014 lineup!

15.  Metalhead


Director: Ragnar Bragson

Writer: Ragnar Bragson

Iceland, 2013

Metalhead touches on themes of tragedy, grief, youth, faith and fate. Hera lives in a small town with little to offer her and is haunted by the death of her brother. She rebels against the bourgeois world of her parents and creates a safe haven for herself in the world of heavy metal: a world that she slips further into body and soul.

Screenings: Monday, August 4 at 7:10 p.m. and Tuesday, August 5 at 7:35 p.m at Salle J.A. De Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve w.).


14. The House at the End of Time (La casa del fin de los tiempos)


Director: Alejandro Hidalgo

Writer: Alejandro Hidalgo

Venezuela, 2013

Dulce receives ghostlike messages warning her of her husband murdering his own children. Panic ensues as do tragic events and Dulce is incarcerated for a crime she didn’t commit. Thirteen years later, on parole, Dulce must stay within the house where all these tragic events happened. Fantasia programmer Mitch Davis hails this tale as both scary and touching: not your typical haunted house story.

Screenings: Saturday, July 26 at 9:30 p.m. at Theatre DB Clarke and Wednesday, July 30 at 5:20 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.


13. Feed the Devil


Director: Max Perrier

Writer: Matthew Altman

Canada, 2014

The world premiere of Feed the Devil is co-presented by the Montreal First Peoples Festival. This film follows Marcus, who is in dire need of some fast cash, as he, his sister and his girlfriend search for a marijuana plantation rumoured to be near a First Nations reserve. According to legend, this plantation is smack in the middle of a hunting ground for the gods, where no human is to enter and no human who has dared to enter has ever returned.

Screening: Monday, August 4 at 8:30 p.m. at Cinémathèque québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve e.).
* Tickets for this film will not be available through Fantasia’s ticket outlets and Fantasia passes are not valid for this film. Visit Montreal First Peoples Festival for more info.


12. The Snow White Murder Case


Director Yoshihhiro Nakamura

Writers: Tamio Hayashi, Kamae Minato

Japan, 2014

When a young office worker’s body is found, social media is quick to make the news viral. A television director soon comes into some juicy intel and realizes that this sensational case might be the perfect way to break through in the industry. He begins to to investigate the case, accounts multiply and cloud the waters: who killed Noriko?

Screening: Tuesday, July 29 at 10 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.


11. Cybernatural


Director: Leo Gabriadze

Writer: Nelson Greaves

USA, 2014

After a humiliating video is posted online by her friends, a young girl kills herself. On the anniversary of her death, the six cyberbullies meet up on Skype. However, an uninvited seventh user joins the conversation and seems to know everything about the crime. As events unfold in real time, the six cyberbullies get a taste of their own medicine and the body count soon begins to rise.

Screening: Sunday, July 20 at 9:30 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.


10. The Creeping Garden


Directors: Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp

United Kingdom, 2014

This documentary centres on something all around us but almost everyone is unaware of it: plasmodial slime mold. Slime mold is not plant, not fungus, nor animal but a strange hodge-podge of all three. It even exhibits forms of intelligence. The Creeping Garden explores this uncanny organism through interviews and microscopic photography and boasts a score by Jim O’Rourke.

Screenings: Sunday, July 27 at 9:45 p.m. & Monday, July 28 at 3 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.


9. Life After Beth


Director: Jeff Baena

Writer: Jeff Baena

USA, 2014

This comedy follows Zack who falls to pieces after the death of Beth, his longtime sweetheart. Zack grows closer to Beth’s parents in the wake of her death until they suddenly shut him out. For, you see, Beth has come back from the grave and doesn’t realize she’s died. Zack is overjoyed… but for how long?

Screening: Saturday, July 19 at 7:15 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.


8. At The Devil’s Door 

Director: Nick McCarthy

Screenplay: Nick McCarthy

USA, 2014

From the writer of The Pact, a film that left audiences with an unshakeable chill, comes this tale of a real estate agent (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who faces the task of trying to sell a house with a sordid past. The film stars names you will recognize such as Naya Ricera (Glee) and Ashley Rockwards (Awkward). I can’t wait to see them in something out of high school and into a more dark and dangerous setting.

Screenings: Saturday, July 26 at 7 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre & Tuesday, July 29 at 5:10 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.


7. Honeymoon


Director:  Leigh Janiak

Screenplay: Leigh Janiak , Phil Graziadei

USA, 2014

Honeymoon is a cabin-set flick that refuses to rely on traditional scares. Paul and Bea are on their honeymoon but things aren’t quite the bliss that you’d expect. The central questions in this film are “who did I marry?” and “am I enough?”

Screenings: Tuesday, July 22 at 7 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.


6. Jellyfish Eyes (Mememe no Kurage)


Director: Takashi Murakami

Screenplay: Takashi Murakami, Jun Tsugita

Japan, 2013

There is a lot of excitement brewing around the sci-fi/fantasy epic Jellyfish Eyes sponsored by The Japanese Foundation at this year’s Fantasia. Masashi’s father was lost in the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 resulting in his mother relocating them to a small town, near a university research center. Masashi finds a little flying creature and soon discovers that all the others kids at school have secret creature buddies who — unlike his pink bud, Jellyfish Boy — are controlled by their smartphones. But all isn’t honky dory in this town and something dark is brewing…

Screenings: Sunday, July 20 at 12 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.


5. Housebound


Director: Gerard Johnstone

Screenplay: Gerard Johnstone

New Zealand, 2014

Kylie is on house arrest in the home where she grew up where she is forced to live with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Like Kylie, an angry spirit is also displeased with the new living arrangement. But like it or not, Kylie is gonna have to do the time — even if it’s in a haunted house.

Screening: Sunday, August 3 at 9:45 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.


4. The Harvest


Director: John McNaughton

Screenplay: Stephen Lancelloti

USA, 2013

When Andy gets sick, his pediatric heart surgeon mother, Katherine, has to start working from home. When a neighbourhood girl begins to befriend Andy, his parents — whose universes have centred around him and his illness — react in a strange way. According to Mitch Davis, “The Harvest exists in a disquieting median space between sinister fairy tale and shattering human horror.” And if that’s not enough, The Harvest promises what looks like a kick-ass performance by Samantha Morton.

Screening: Monday, July 21 at 9:30 p.m. at Theatre DB Clarke.


3. The Midnight Swim


Director: Sarah Adina Smith

Screenplay: Sarah Adina Smith

USA, 2014

The Midnight Swim is one of the most intriguing films of this year’s program. Dr. Amelia Brooks studied the mysteries of bottomless Spirit Lake, which became the site of her death when she didn’t resurface after a dive. Her three daughters head to Spirit Lake to reflect on their relationships with their mother and return to their family home. The sisters begin to believe that something supernatural is at hand after they jokingly summon the spirits of women who have drowned in the lake.

Screening: Sunday, July 27 at 7:30 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.


2. Suburban Gothic


Director: Richard Bates, Jr.

Screenplay: Mark Linehan Bruner, Richard Bates Jr.

USA, 2014

Suburban Gothic is the second feature by Richard Bates Jr., director of the bloody and breathtaking Excision. The film follows Raymond (Matthew Gray Grubler) who, like many of us in Montreal, can’t find a job with his college degree and has to move back in with his parents. Raymond has had visions for most of his life and joining with local bartender Becca (played by the amazing Kat Dennings) things go in unexpected ways. According to Ted Geoghegan, “Suburban Gothic is popcorn cinema at its most endearing — a saccharine ghost story featuring a faultless mix of honest scares and well-played humour.”

Screening: Saturday, July 19 at 9:45 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

1. Frank 


Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Screenplay: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan

United Kingdom, 2014

Official selection at Sundance 2014, Frank stars Michael Fassbender as Frank, the frontman of a band who swears by a giant plaster cartoon head that he never takes off. The film follows Jon who meets Frank and his strange lineup of bandmates and follows them down a strange musical odyssey to the SXSW festival in Texas.

Screenings: Sunday, August 3 at 4:20 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre & Monday, August 4 at 5:15 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.


Honourable mentions:

Man in the Orange Jacket, Aux Yeux Des Vivants, Prom Night, Dys-, Wetlands, When Animals Dream, To Be Takei, and Summer of Blood


The 2014 edition of Fantasia runs from July 17 to August 6.