Now in its 26th year, the Fantasia International Film Festival has become a staple of the festival calendar. Running from 14 July through 3 August 2022 in Montreal, Quebec, the in-person screenings, workshops, and events are hosted in the Concordia Hall Cinema, the Cinémathèque Québécoise, the Cinéma du Musée, and the McCord Museum.
The programmers curate an eclectic international lineup of films that transcend the boundaries of genre and fantasy cinema. Opposite traditional genre works including Mark O’Brien’s occult chamber drama The Righteous (2021) and Spanish director Igor Legarreta’s vampire fantasy-drama All the Moons (Todas las Lunas, 2020), one of the highlights of last year’s edition was Japanese director Miwa Nishikawa’s Under the Open Sky. An adaptation of Ryūzō Saki’s novel Mibunchō (1990), it’s a beautiful portrait of a character trapped between the past and the future who must reintegrate into society after serving a 13-year prison sentence.
Looking ahead to the 26th edition presents the usual challenge of wading through the vast programme to identify films of interest. The iconic Hong Kong action director John Woo will be celebrated with a Career Achievement Award in a year that sees the celebrated Italian director Dario Argento, return with his new film, Black Glasses (2022).
Anticipation surrounds Canadian filmmaker Denis Côté’s new film, That Kind of Summer (Un Été Comme Ça, 2022), after his captivating ghost story Ghost Town Anthology (2019), which saw him continue to explore the theme of isolation. A director who has shown a willingness to play with the language of film, in Côté’s hands the story of three women retreating to an isolated cabin by the lake to be treated for trauma and their hyper-sexuality is likely to be strikingly original, although a divisive curiosity.
Director Andy Mitton also returns to Fantasia with the World Premiere of his supernatural tale, The Harbinger (2022). A timely work, it taps into the fears and vulnerabilities heightened by the pandemic. The story centres on a woman who tries to help her friend, only to discover her nightmares are contagious. After his sensitive ghost story, The Witch in the Window (2018), his latest hopefully merges this with a darker and more brooding type of storytelling.
The first of two intriguing feature debuts is the International Premiere of Next Exit (2022), which Fantasia Founder and genre expert Mitch Davis describes as, “Equal parts ghost story, misfit road movie, speculative science-fiction and heart-rending tragicomedy.” He calls Next Exit “an outright miracle of a debut from writer-director Mali Elfman.”
The story centres around the concept that we can be tracked beyond our physical deaths. Two strangers Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli) volunteer in Dr. Stevenson’s (Karen Gillan) research, but before they end their physical lives and enter the afterlife, they must go on a road trip across America.
The second of the two debuts is Natalia Sinelnikova’s, We Might As Well Be Dead (2022). I try to avoid hyperbolic statements, but this is likely to be one of the films of the year. Different from Elfman’s speculative near future, Sinelnikova’s film is about an enclosed community surrounded by a dystopian world we never see taps into our collective past and present. We Might As Well Be Dead observes the toxicity of the herd mentality. Blessed with self-awareness, it’s an uncomfortable reflection on the human condition and how easily people are emboldened by a feeling of moral superiority and righteousness, how easily free will is seen to be a threat, and how easy the “other” can be ostracised.
The final recommendation and one of the most intriguing entries in this year’s programme is Amanda Kramer’s, Please Baby Please (2022). Ideas around gender are preoccupying contemporary society, and when her bohemian newlyweds Suze (Andrea Riseborough) and Arthur (Harry Melling), witness a murder by the gang called “the Young Gents” who occupy their neighbourhood, they begin to ask questions about gender and sexual identity.
One film that shouldn’t be forgotten is Andrew Semans’ Resurrection (2022), which sees Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth in an unsettling struggle for empowerment. The story depicts the power we can give to others, how easily we can be manipulated and denied power, and the long-lasting consequences of emotional abuse. Resurrection is centred around Hall and Roth’s captivating performances.
These and other films showing at Fantasia International Film Festival 2022 embrace cinema as a means for escapism and self-reflection, entertaining viewers while stimulating their emotional, cultural, and social intellect.