Its name might conjure Walt Disney’s animated merger of high and low art, but Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival is in fact so named because of its twin focus on fictive genre and Eastern cinema – although, had the festival existed in 1940, Fantasia would almost certainly have been welcomed to it. If you love sci-fi, action, horror, fantasy and general oddness, and lament the cinematic underrepresentation over here of genre films from Asia, then the Fantasia International Film Festival is most definitely for you. For it is the melting pot where East meets West, fright meet fight, and boundaries – whether between genres or nations – are transgressed.
In the past, Fantasia has introduced the western world to Takashi Miike (with Fudoh, 1997), Hideo Nakata (Ringu, 1999) and Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, 1997), and has boasted the world premières of debuting filmmakers like Adam Wingard (Home Sick, 2007) and Sarah Adina Smith (The Midnight Swim, 2014). Other world premières over the years have included Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress (2001), Ryan Prows’ Lowlife (2017), Ryuhei Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train (2008), Steven Shainberg’s Rupture (2016), Richard Bates Jr.’s Suburban Gothic (2014), Caroline Labrèche and Steeve Léonard’s Radius (2017) and Noboru Iguchi’s Dead Sushi (2012).
Now in its 22nd edition, this year’s Fantasia opens with a French-Canadian production, Daniel Roby’s apocalyptic thriller Dans la Brume, which sees a deadly fog isolating survivors on the Parisian rooftops. The closing film, starring a certain Nicolas Cage, is Mandy, Panos Cosmatos’ long-awaited, mind-mangling follow-up to 2010’s retro straight-to-VHS oddity Beyond The Black Rainbow. In between there is an eclectic, lovingly curated mix of features and shorts from across the globe, with something for everyone. Levan Gabriadze’s Unfriended, which had its world première at Fantasia before enjoying international success, returns in the form of Stephen Susco’s sequel Unfriended: Dark Web. Also making a return are festival favourites Miike and Sion Sono with their latest features, respectively Laplace’s Witch and Tokyo Vampire Hotel. Tsui Hark is back too, with the latest instalment of his Tang Dynasty investigation/adventure series, Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings.
This year there are three horror anthologies: The Field Guide To Evil, Tales From The Hood 2 and Nightmare Cinema. The last of those includes an entry from Joe Dante, whose features The Howling (1981) and Gremlins (1984) are also screening as retrospectives. Other revivals include Mario Bava’s fashionable proto-giallo Blood And Black Lace (1964), Walter Chung’s kung-fu comp Five Fingers Of Death (aka King Boxer, 1972), Ho Meng-hua’s monster-hero revenger The Oily Maniac (1976), Philip Brophy’s Ozploitation bad-taste bad trip Body Melt (1993), and Robert Morin’s Canadian heart of darkness Windigo (1994).
There is a triple serving of feature-length manga adaptations from director Shinsuke Sato (Bleach, Inuyashiki, I Am A Hero). Joko Anwar’s remake Satan’s Slaves retains the Eighties Jakarta setting of Sisworo’s Gautama Putra’s original Pengabdi setan (1982), while updating both its politics and its scares. Meanwhile Shinichiro Ueda’s low-budget, single-take One Cut Of The Dead is a self-devouring meta-zom-com, and Jung Bum-shik’s Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is an unofficial Korean reimagining of Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz’s found-footage frightener Grave Encounters (2011). Minihan has his own new feature at the festival, the LGBT psychothriller What Keeps You Alive. Local Canadian genre is well presented by Justin McConnell’s shape-shifting tragic romance Lifechanger, and Regan-era rear windower Summer Of ’84, from the Montreal-based creative team (François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell) behind Turbo Kid (2015).
Advocating for films from a programme that I have not yet been able fully to explore is always a little invidious, but I can wholeheartedly recommend Xavier Gens’ isolationist Great War allegory Cold Skin, Justin P. Lange’s traumatic victimhood-flipping monster movie The Dark, Lisa Brühlmann’s fishy tail of feminine self-discovery Blue My Mind, and Issa López’s extraordinarily moving fairytale reimagining of Mexico’s drug war orphans Tigers Are Not Afraid. I also really like Tim van Dammen’s hilarious story of time-skipping, multiple-personality crime and romance in small-town New Zealand, Mega Time Squad, and Dominique Rocher’s apocalyptic apartment building reverie La nuit a dévoré le monde (The Night Eats The World).
The Fantasia International Film Festival kicks off in Montreal on Thursday 12 July, and ends Thursday 2 August.