On July 7, humidity engulfed Montreal, gloomy, thick and viscous. The perfect setting for suspense and dark tales to unfold. On that day, Fantasia Film Festival unveiled its generous program chock full of unnerving, innovative flicks that will haunt you potentially for years.

For many, this season offers more gifts than any other festivities: over 130 features across the genre spectrum. Navigating the whole shebang can be dizzying, and so here are my recommendations for a varied selection of the most promising films to check out this summer:

10. The Invitation – USA/Karyn Kusuma/2015

 August 3, 7:35 PM, at Concordia Hall Theatre


Karyn Kusuma, known for her breakout debut Girlfight and the fun Jennifer’s Body offers what might just be that unexpected unnerving Fantasia experience that stays with you for weeks. A young couple, Eden and Will, splits after a tragic event and depression ensues for the heartbroken man who struggles to move on.

Years later, an invitation from Eden proves too hard to resist. This dinner party, however, is strange – the kind of strange you can’t quite put your finger on. Mitch Davis, co-director of the fest, hails the film as a “astoundingly frightening film, a brilliantly scripted, character-driven ensemble horror work of the rarest kind.”

9. Crumbs – Ethiopia/Spain/Finland/Miguel Llanso/2015

July 31, 7:40 PM and August 3, 3:30 PMat J.A. De Sève Theatre


Crumbs is a post-apocalyptic work of afro-futurism. In this world, relics of the past are so old and unknown that they hold a sort of mystical quality. Candy, a man, forgoes his routine in the search for some answers. This sci-fi feature is part of a resonating Ethiopian new wave and its name has been on critics’ and programmers’ lips since its screening at the Rotterdam Film Festival.

8. Cherry Tree – Ireland/David Keating/2015

July 25, 9:45 PM, and July 31, 1:00 PM at J.A. De Sève Theatre


Cherry Tree is one of two Irish genre cinema picks on this list, and for good reason. In a tiny town with a rumoured dark past, Faith’s father is very sick. Things seem hopeless until one of her mentors makes her an offer she can’t refuse. Fantasia wouldn’t be complete without a film doused in dark intentions and sprouting from satanic intentions.

7. We Are Still Here – USA/Ted Geoghegan/2015

July 19, 7:20 PM at the Concordia Hall Theatre


A couple attempts to start over in rural New England after the loss of their son. But there will be little time for mending wounds, as something is off with the house and it seems they are not alone. The floors are squeaking with secrets ready to spill out. Soon, they inadvertently unleash a bloody slaughter that will literally paint the walls red. 

This film is a Fantasia baby of sorts, directed by Ted Geoghegan, the fest’s Director of Publicity. Noteworthy is the casting of Larry Fessenden (director of The Last Winter and Wendigo) as a spiritualist hippy. Can’t wait!

6. The Blue Hour – Thailand/Anucha Boonyawatana/2015

July 24, 17:40 PM, and July 27, 13:00 PM, at J.A. De Sève Theatre


From its trailer, The Blue Hour seems like one of those films the premise of which is less important than the experience of immersing yourself into its world alongside its characters. Tom, a young bullied queer man, meets up with a potential one night stand at an abandoned pool, which is supposedly haunted, and the two embark on a relationship that becomes increasingly murky. Fantasia programmer Ariel Esteban Cayer calls The Blue Hour a “masterpiece of tension” and hails its cinematography as “ethereal and painterly.”

5. Turbo Kid – Canada/Bew Zealand/François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell/2015

July 23, 7:00 PM, at Concordia Hall Theatre

I am beyond stoked for the Canadian premiere of Turbo Kid, a film that has come about as a result of the magic of Fantasia’s co-production market, Frontières, where industry members join forces to bring audiences their labour of love. This Quebec indie has been met with lots of love in its initial festival run, winning the audience award at SXSW and screening as part of the official selection at Sundance. This flick offers a post-apocalyptic tale of BMXs and kitsch, a killer electronic score, friendship and courage, and from what I can tell from the tailer, some good fun crimson splatter. Plus, it stars Munro Chambers (as The Kid) and Laurence Leboeuf (Apple) who must face off against Michael Ironside (the super evil Zeus). This will be rad.

4. Cub – Belgium/Jonas Goaverts/2014

July 28, 5:15 PM at Concordia Hall Theatre


As a kid, I always loved going to summer camp and always envied scouts for their survival and wilderness training. I loved ghost stories and campfire scares even more. Cub centres on outsider Sam whose camp experience will earn him some unusual badges. Facing bullies and an unsympathetic scout master is hard enough, but Sam will come to face to face with a much more deadly foe.

3. Bridgend – Denmark/Jeppe Rønde/2015

July 15, 9:15 PM, and July 17, 2:45 PM, at J.A. De Sève Theatre


If I were a gambling person, I would bet that this Danish production is most likely in the running for one of the bests of the fest this year. The subject matter is dark and disturbing; more so since it is based on the tragic epidemic of suicides in the town of Bridgend, Wales. Rønde dramatizes these events, refusing simple answers, into what Ariel Esteban Cayer calls “a tale of pure South Wales horror.”

2. The Hallow – Ireland/Corin Hardy/2015

July 15, 9:35 pm, at Concordia Hall Theatre.

The Hallow explores the consequences of trespassing and unheeding the warnings of locals and the land. A conservationist and his family move to a woodland cottage and are quickly met with the cold shoulders of neighbours. This does not bode well – secluded location, dark woods, critters in the woods… Building on mythology and lore, The Hallow offers a creature feature from the darkest corners of our nightmares. An official selection at Sundance, this film promises beautiful visuals and viscera gripping intensity.

1. Goodnight Mommy – Austria/ Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala/2014

July 20, 2:50 PM, and July 23, 7:30 PM, at J.A. De Sève Theatre

There is a slight chance I might pass out or have a full-blown panic attack during Goodbye Mommy, a nightmarish art house horror sure to mess with your head. Twins Elias and Lukas try to grapple with their mother’s odd behaviour since her return from surgery. Their mother, whose entire face is bandaged, has begun acting increasingly angry and the two begin to suspect that perhaps this woman is not who she claims to be. Convinced something bad has happened to their rightful progenitor, the two do anything necessary to force this imposter to abandon her guise.

Special Mentions: Bite, H., Anguish, Observance, Dark Places, They Look Like People

Fantasia Film Festival runs from July 14 to August 4, 2015. Tickets can be bought here.

I’ve always been fairly neutral on auteur darling Paul Thomas Anderson. Oh sure, There Will be Blood was pure greatness spread across a crusty kaiser roll; but as longtime readers will remember, I found The Master (or at least, the second half) about as boring as watching paint dry, and without even the fun of any fumes to inhale. So the announcement of a new PT Anderson flick itself doesn’t get my blood running. But Inherent Vice looked fun and entertaining from the trailers, with a strong cast and Anderson’s to-be-expected excellent visual presentation. All of which the film delivered, but rather than merely the wild caper its trailers may have made it out to be, Inherent Vice is also one of the more tightly packed, intelligent, beguiling crime films I’ve seen in a while – a true blue Neo Noir the likes of which hasn’t been seen on screens in years.

Inherent Vice posterJoaquin Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, a drug addled private eye in 1970s LA who gets thrown into an ever-deepening labyrinth of crime and corruption when his old flame, Shasta, reappears out of the blue in classic noir fashion. It’s probably been said somewhere that it’s only really noir if the whole thing is kicked off by some leggy dame, who’s nuthin’ but trouble, crossing the hero’s doorstep, and Inherent Vice sticks to that rule. Shasta’s arrival drops Doc into an intensely convoluted criminal conspiracy involving drug smugglers, real estate moguls, police corruption and all that other fun neo-noir fare, with a heavy does of pot-fuelled paranoia to keep things even more interesting.

It’s that convoluted storyline that I think will keep Inherent Vice at arms length for a lot of people, or at least the film’s unwillingless to offer the audience any help in keeping up. Like Beyond the Black Rainbow last week, and Drug War beyond that, Inherent Vice will not offer you any aid in keeping up with the vast conspiracy you’re thrown into. Let your attention wander and you’re bound to miss at least five pieces of crucial information, and God help you if you go for a pee-break. And even just paying attention isn’t enough. There’s a lot of double-speak, implication, and conclusions reached by the characters in the film that aren’t always spelled out in plain English for the audience. I’m not sure how much of this comes from Anderson and the screenwriter intentionally, and how much is that old “adapted from a book” problem where you feel like you’re missing a vital piece or two of the picture if you haven’t read the book in advance. But either way Inherent Vice isn’t what you’d call a “casual” movie. Pay attention, think and maybe you’ll be able to keep up. Maybe.

Inherent Vice Roberts

But even if you get lost, you can at least still enjoy the dynamite performances and visuals. I was bracing myself for Phoenix to go a bit too Johnny Depp, reducing his performance as Doc to a collection of affectations, ticks, one-liners and pratfalls. But while those are all there, he doesn’t let Doc become a caricature. There’s always the sense that there’s more lurking under the surface, and with a performance like this that’s a tricky thing to pull off. Josh Brolin is a deadpan powerhouse, often delivering some of the film’s most memorable lines (I want my “Motto Panecaku!” shirt), and the rotating cast of walk-ons all do fine, even if a lot of them only get one or two scenes tops.

Anderson, as fans have come to expect from him, comes through on his rep for visually breathtaking movies. The framing, camera movements, and general formal qualities are all strong. The image has this nice washed out quality on top of what must have been very colorful sets and costumes, making the film look almost like a comic book left out in the sun or something. There’s also this nice trend of long takes, but not attention grabbing long takes. More the kind that demands that the actors keep on top of their game and keeps the attention without being distracting.

Like a lot, if not all, of Anderson’s movies, I don’t think Inherent Vice is for everyone. But in a film culture that often seems to baby its audience, catering to as many demographics as possible, and treating the audience with kid gloves, it’s refreshing to see a film that dares to demand its audience to pay attention, think, and make connections themselves, rather than watch as the film spells them out. For people willing to acquiesce to this demand, Inherent Vice can be an incredibly rewarding experience if you manage to tease out what’s going on, which admittedly can be pretty damn tricky. I have a feeling I won’t totally “get” it until I’ve seen it at least one or two more times. But even if you can’t quite follow every minutia of the plot, the atmosphere, performances and humor are all more than enough to keep you entertained.

David Fincher’s new movie Gone Girl is an experience. Say what you will about its qualities as a piece of film art. But, if nothing else, the experience of sitting down in a darkened theatre and taking in Fincher’s dark, sometimes funny, and often profoundly messed up flick about marriage and relationships was, for me, one of the most affecting, involved, and flabbergasting experiences of all this year.

On paper, Gone Girl looks like a dime novel thriller. It’s the story of a man, whose beautiful and charming wife is kidnapped. Her disappearance becomes a massive media event, throwing scrutiny on their not-so-happy marriage and casting him as the prime suspect. But rather than being seen as a hero, Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) innocence in this whole rigmarole is continually undermined, not just to the media and public, but to the audience of the film, leading to an exercise in suspense and mystery, in which the audience literally doesn’t know who to trust.

Gone Girl posterOk, so let’s get the formal stuff out of the way first. As we have come to expect from a craftsman like Fincher, Gone Girl is beautifully shot and edited, about as broody and dark as we’ve come to expect from the Se7en director, just under-lit enough to make the everything feel slightly sinister, and accompanied by a thumping minimalist score by Fincher’s frequent collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. All of the cast knocks it out of the park, with Rosamund Pike’s Amy, the missing wife, delivering a performance that will probably enrage a lot of people when it gets passed over at next year’s Oscars. The supporting cast are full of standouts, with a possibly career re-defining turn from Neil Patrick Harris and a shockingly good but understated supporting performance by Tyler Perry. The one who may get passed over a lot, unfortunately, is Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister. It’s not one of the “in your face good” performances in the flick, which may lead to a lot of people not noticing that she’s seriously good, especially given that this is her first film role ever.

As for Affleck? He’s good. Not amazing, not terrible, but good. He pulls of what he needed to pull of, and, if nothing else, the fact that I wasn’t thinking “So you gonna be a good Batman?” every time he was on screen is proof enough that he did a good job.

For virtually the entire second half of the screening, my mouth was ajar. As you may have heard, Gone Girl, like a novelty drinking straw, or my small intestine, is a wee bit twisty. Virtually every 20 minutes or so there’s some new twist, some new shocking development, something that completely throws you off from where you think this is all going, to the point that by the halfway mark I’d completely given up trying to make predictions and just sat there in gobsmacked awe, completely going along for the ride. I could almost see David Fincher perched above the screen, a puckish grin on his face as he lobbed the occasional flashbang grenade into the audience, mouthing the words “Oh what, were you getting complacent? Bored even? Well, let’s change that!” And then there’s a soft thud on the floor next to me and suddenly my ear drums are bleeding.

Gone Girl insert

And of course it’s all ridiculous – a collection of twists and turns that would make Gone Girl a laughable soap opera of a movie in the hands of any other director. But because it was Fincher at the helm, stringing you along with expertly maintained tension and suspense, it’s an incredibly engrossing experience. This is in no small part because it spends almost the entire second act walking an absolute razor’s edge between being credible and incredible, constantly teetering on the edge of being completely and utterly ridiculous. And then it does a backflip, a pirouette and a handstand on that edge, just to show off how much it can be silly without breaking its hold on you.

It’s a rollercoaster, a spinning teacup of twists and turns that leaves you disoriented and a bit nauseous. The only point at which it really let me down was in the ending, which is the kind of ending where the credits suddenly roll and all you can do is let out a little, deflated “Oh.” It’s not a bad ending, but it comes out of nowhere, sneaking up on you. It’s anticlimactic, but that’s not the problem. It’s meant to be anticlimactic. But I think it’s rather the wrong sort of anticlimactic, a bit too deflating and not nearly sinister and chilling enough as it could have been.

Gone Girl is a pretty darn good movie. Eminently well-made, fantastically acted and masterfully suspenseful. But its true value, I think, is the experience it leaves you with upon first viewing. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie this year that engrossed me this much, that kept me this on the edge of my seat, even when a part of my brain was going, “This is ridiculous, this is utterly ridiculous” while another bit went, “Shut up, will you, I wanna see where this goes!!” And if you can’t appreciate it for that, you can appreciate it for being a deeply layered meditation on relationships and manipulation, a searing take down of the news media (particularly ones named for a certain small, red member of the Canidae family) and a seriously well made and acted thriller.

Looking over my recent columns, I think I’ve indulged myself a bit too much. So this week no more Godzilla, zombie movies or superheroes, we’re gonna look at a somber, artful Irish movie.

Ondine is a 2009 film by Neil Jordan, possibly the most prominent Irish filmmaker of our time. Jordan rose to fame when he won the Academy Award for his 1992 film The Crying Game, a film which despite what you may have heard is only partially about a guy who finds out his girlfriend is a transsexual.

Jordan is most at home when he’s making fundamentally Irish movies, and Ondine is definitely one of those.

Colin Farrel stars as Syracuse, a fisherman who pulls up a mysterious and seemingly amnesiac woman in his net. He openly muses that perhaps she’s a selkie, a sea creature from Irish and Scottish mythology that comes on land to fall in love with fishermen.

The speculation becomes more and more real, however, and the question of whether this woman is indeed a magical creature is something the movie toys with until the final act. The film is very good at playing with our expectation, throwing out hints at one possibility and then another, keeping the audience interested to find out what exactly is going on.

Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it, but I will say that the ending may turn some people off. As I said earlier, this movie is very somber in its tone, which is typical of Irish movies these days. In 2008 there was an economic crash that brought a sudden end to a period of unprecedented economic prosperity and social growth, and the period following has been a downtrodden time indeed.

The ending of the film is, for lack of a better term, very fairytale like. Things get wrapped up rather neatly and happily, which some may see as a betrayal of the film’s bleak tone. I enjoyed it myself, but I can see how a lot of people may be unsatisfied with it as a conclusion.

Colin Farrel proves yet again that he can act his ass off when he wants to, painting a fascinating picture of a man grappling with his own set of demons, in this case alcoholism and a terminally ill daughter.

Alicja Bachleda is equally terrific as the mysterious woman Ondine, a lost soul to complement Farrel’s Syracuse, a (literal?) fish out of water, scared and alone in a strange land. I’ll just come out and say it, she’s also insanely beautiful. She spends a lot of the movie in baggy sweaters and sporting dirty, tangled hair and she still looks stunning. The sexual tension between her and Farrel is thick enough to spread on toast and I was not at all surprised to learn she and Farrel had an off-screen romance and that she even had his kid.

Another element that may divide people is Annie, Syracuse’s daughter, who is slowly dying of kidney failure. She’s one of those kids you see a lot in movies who seems to talk like someone twice her age. She seems very mature, and perhaps too much so at times.

It’s a cliché I see a lot, and something that happens as a result of writers who just don’t know how to write children properly, but in Jordan’s case I’ll let it pass. She was a good character, don’t get me wrong, but she did start to grate on me here and there.

As I said before, the film is fundamentally Irish. For one, it has a pronounced tension between older “pagan” beliefs and Christianity. One of Syracuse’s only friends is the local priest, who acts as a kind of one-man AA meeting for Farrel and instantly disapproves of this strange woman Syracuse is suddenly with, and utterly denounces the possibility that she is a mythical creature.

The tension between the “old” mythical beliefs and the “new” Christianity is in the subtext of a lot of Irish literature and film, pretty much ever since some fella calling himself St. Patrick waltzed in and told us we can’t worship our nice, scary-looking pagan gods.

It isn’t an outright conflict in this case, Ondine and the priest never even meet in the film, but the tension between the two and what they potentially represent is definitely there.

The dowdy, abstinence and sobriety-promoting Christian priest vs a leggy Slavic chick who may in fact be a creature of pagan lore. I see watcha did there, Neil. I see watcha did there.

Speaking of which, Jordan’s technical prowess is in full swing. The film is gorgeously shot, with lots of clever framing, mixed with many somber but breathtaking shots of the Irish coastline. At times things do get a tad jumbled, especially during a climactic scene at night when it gets a bit hard to tell who is doing what, but aside from that you can tell that a professional is calling the shots here.

Honestly, there isn’t much more I can say here. Ondine is a fantastic addition to the repertoire of all involved, and if you’re looking for something moody, introspective and very very Irish, I would definitely check it out.