Montreal is currently hosting Fantasia, the largest and longest running genre cinema festival in North America. Elena Lazic highlights some films to keep an eye on.
At Seventh Row, we’re striving to cover more horror cinema. Every summer, Fantasia — North America’s largest and longest-running genre film festival — brings some of the best and most exciting genre films to Montreal, Quebec. Here are four titles we love, and four we are very excited to check out, from this year’s line-up.
Four films we recommend
Mandy (Panos Cosmatos)
Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy was a revelation in Cannes, and not only for its crazed Nicholas Cage performance, featuring some of the best Cage-isms in years. The moving first half of the film belongs to Andrea Riseborough as Mandy, an artist obsessed with fantasy imagery of wolves, the moon, and the occult. She is also the wife of Cage’s Red, but their relationship looks more like a high school first love: they stare into each other’s eyes, talk about their favourite colour… Riseborough imbues the film and its phantasmagoric, trippy atmosphere with genuine emotion. When she is kidnapped by a Manson-like cult, Red’s heartbreak feels all the more real because of her hypnotising performance.
Skate Kitchen (Crystal Moselle)
After her feature debut documentary The Wolfpack, Crystal Moselle returns with a fiction film that still treads very close to real life. Skate Kitchen is the name of a real all-female skateboarding crew based in NYC, and Moselle’s film follows its real members essentially playing themselves in a story constructed from real life events. Rachelle Vinberg plays Camille, a shy and isolated teenager who one day finds solace in the group through skating but also via the sort of female friendship she never had. But it isn’t all smooth sailing, and as the film fully aligns with Camille and respects her emotions, her teenage problems feel like much more than superficial drama.
Bodied (Joseph Kahn)
You’ve probably already seen the work of Joseph Kahn without necessarily knowing it. A famed music video director, he has worked with Enrique Iglesias (yes, he directed the clip for ‘Hero’), Destiny’s Child, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, and most recently with Taylor Swift. He has also directed a few films, but Bodied is by far his most ambitious and successful. If you watched 8 Mile and wondered “isn’t it a bit distasteful to compare the hardships faced by black people in America — for whom rap is one of a few rare means of expression — to those encountered by a white rapper such as Eminem?” then Bodied gives you an answer: yes, it is.
Kahn’s film updates Slim Shady’s self-made-man narrative for our modern, trigger-warned and socially aware times, then proceeds to dissect its hypocrisy with jaw-dropping force and merciless wit. The film’s hero is a self-proclaimed progressive white student writing a thesis on rap battles who, in analysing the structure of rhymes like they are Shakespearean verses, divorces them from real life and real struggle. He pins them down on the page like so many dead and dried-up butterflies, assimilating them into white academic culture and deadening an artform that was never meant for him. His knowledge — acquired not through talent or hard work but via an expensive college education — and total lack of shame soon bring him to participate himself. A rap battle is a game of character assassination and humiliation in verse, but as in all games, there are basic rules. Our ‘hero’ progressively makes his way to the top, but only because he can afford to break those rules: as a white man, attacks based on race cannot harm him the way they harm others — this is where the Eminem comparison comes in. Bodied is a brilliant deconstruction of liberal hypocrisy and nothing short of a must-see.
Searching (Aneesh Chaganty)
Among all of the films exclusively composed of images from the screens of computers and other such electronic devices, Searching stands out as the most earnest and the least silly — which doesn’t mean it isn’t also a lot of fun. Aneesh Chaganty’s feature debut is essentially a drama / thriller about a father (the wonderful John Cho) looking for his missing daughter, but here, he does so by tracking her social media presence. The film is exceptionally engrossing, and not just because computer screens generally have that effect. The tension of the search is well-calibrated throughout as we follow this desperate father through every roadblock and unexpected breakthrough. The film makes brilliant use of the the way the internet encourages our obsessive impulses: the false leads, although so far-fetched IRL, seem terribly likely when perceived online. It’s a wild ride but rest assured, it does not feel like staring at a computer screen for 90 minutes.
Four films we can’t wait to see
The Ranger (Jenn Wexler)
Said to “[play] with traditional slasher rules like a cat with a dead mouse”, this feature debut about a group of young punks fighting off an unhinged park ranger sounds intriguing to say the least. The trailer promises a fun homage to and riff on the genre, and a badass leading lady with more resources and agency than final girls are usually granted.
Cam (Daniel Goldhaber)
Unlike Searching, Cam does show the world outside of computer screens — in fact, here the IRL is the whole point. The film’s title comes from the term “camgirl”, describing women who broadcast themselves (often under pseudonyms) for the sexual entertainment of their viewers, and for a fee. Here, the real girl in front of the camera doesn’t confront a client, but her own online alter ego. Trying to log into her own camgirl account one day, Alice (Madeline Brewer) finds that someone else already did — somebody who looks just like her, in a room just like hers. Co-written by the director and by an ex-camgirl, the film sounds like an interesting and formally daring film about sex work, and the complex interplay of perceptions it involves.
Relaxer (Joel Potrykus)
In 2014, Potrykus’ Buzzard introduced me to a director and to an actor I’ve kept my eye on ever since. Potrykus’ own idiosyncratic brand of punk mumblecore cinema was — and still is — incredibly refreshing, at a time when indie cinema often seems to have coagulated into one homogenous and safe aesthetic. With the face of Buster Keaton, Joshua Burge was not an actor I would soon forget. But despite a few appearances in bigger films, he hasn’t been given the roles he deserves.
I am thus doubly excited for the Potrykus/Burge reunion Relaxer, centred, like Buzzard, on a lazy loser whose act of rebellion against society is to play video games all day long. This task becomes an incredible challenge when Burge’s Abbie is dared by his brother to beat the unbeatable level 256 on Pac-Man without moving from the couch. This new film is set just before Y2K, and with his proven talent for seeing through the hypocrisy and selfishness of rebellious nerds, Potrykus should be one of very few directors allowed to make a movie about the ‘90s.
Microhabitat (Jeon Go-Woon)
A decidedly anti-conformist streak seems to run through this woman-directed film from Korea. When a thirty-something housekeeper finds that the price of cigarettes has doubled, she decided to lose her apartment rather than give up on her one form of freedom and rebellion. What follows is a slacker film that sees the newly-homeless woman navigate various social situations without ever ceding to the pressures of convention and social roles. We cannot wait to meet this unconventional, rebellious heroine.
In the coming months, Seventh Row will be bringing you even more content tailored to fans of genre cinema. Watch this space for an exciting announcement in the next few days! Until then, you can catch up on the entirety of our Special Issues dedicated to genre films Personal Shopper, Thelma, and You Were Never Really Here. Our reviews of The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches, Raw, and Crimson Peak all explored how these films fit in with tropes of the horror genre. Director Aoife McArdle also discussed using those tropes to heighten what would otherwise be a naturalistic coming-of-age story in her feature debut Kissing Candice.