Content Warning: The Blazing World involves heavy subject matters that may be triggering to some viewers, including self-harm. These issues are briefly discussed in the following review.
The fantasy genre is endlessly attractive. It can enchant us with whimsical imagery and inspire us with dynamic characters who set off on adventurous quests. Fantasy lets us escape into mystical worlds with different rules than our own — but usually, those worlds reveal some kind of universal truth. In The Blazing World, a college student named Margaret Winter (played by Carlson Young, who also wrote and directed the movie) enters a fantasy world that reflects the inner workings of her subconscious mind. Her mystical journey through this world allows her to process grief that she’s been bottling up since childhood. The Blazing World is an attractive fantasy film, but a flawed one. It’s attractive in a sensory way, charming us with lush imagery and a rich sound design. The story, however, is more distancing than attractive, and it gets stuck under the weight of heavy-handed and self-indulgent psychoanalytic themes.
“Be careful what you wish for, be certain what you pray for:” Religious intentions are put on trial in “The Righteous” [Fantasia International Film Festival]
If you’re into Southern Gothic literature, you’ll go nuts over Mark O’Brien’s feature directorial debut, The Righteous, which screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival earlier this month. Granted, it was filmed in Canada and not the American South, but it sure does capture the dread, madness, religious anxiety, supernatural freakishness, and overall darkness of the genre. The Righteous tells the tale of ex-priest Frederic (Henry Czerny) and his wife, Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk), who are trying to make sense of their lives after they lose their only daughter. The couple’s mourning process comes to a halt one night when a stranger, Aaron (Mark O’Brien), shows up outside their home with a sprained ankle. Aside from his irreverent vocabulary and general secretiveness, Aaron is a harmless, mild-mannered kid. However, his presence casts a haunting shadow over Frederic and Ethel’s household, a shadow that will change their lives forever.
We’ve all had at least one bad family road trip. Maybe it was the time your toddler threw up all over your new car, or maybe it was the time you had to sit squished between your least favorite cousins for several hours with no AC. But those experiences seem like dream vacations compared to the nightmarish family road trip that unfolds in Coming Home in the Dark. In this tense thriller directed by James Ashcroft, schoolteacher “Hoaggie” (Erik Thomson) and his wife Jill (Miriama McDowell) undergo chilling physical and psychological trials during a hiking trip with their two sons (Billy Paratene and Frankie Paratene). The movie is based on a short story by Owen Marshall and skillfully adapted for the screen by James Ashcroft and Eli Kent. After an impressive festival run, Coming Home in the Dark will be available on VOD and in select theaters starting October 1, 2021.
On Wednesday, September 29, 2021, horror streaming service Shudder will introduce a new serial murder movie to its library, Seance. The movie was written and directed by Simon Barrett, an experienced horror writer whose previous credits include You’re Next (2011) and Blair Witch (2016). Seance, however, is his feature directorial debut. The cast includes a few somewhat recognizable faces including Suki Waterhouse (The Divergent Series: Insurgent) and Madisen Beaty (Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood). If you’re wondering what a filmmaker can do with the serial murder genre that hasn’t already been done, you’ll be disappointed to hear that Seance does absolutely nothing to answer that question. The movie briefly gestures to some intriguing and unique horror themes, but in the end, it turns out something like Scream Queens (2015-2016) stripped of any and all creativity. Seance could have been a cringey disaster – but thankfully, the cast gives solid, natural performances that hold the movie together.
Despite its tried and true formula and undeniable star power, “Cry Macho” falls far below expectations
A washed-up has-been, played by a seasoned veteran of the silver screen, teaches a young boy in the midst of a family crisis what it really means to be a man, and hilarious shenanigans ensue amidst heartwarming emotional development. Sounds like an instant classic, right? After all, the formula worked for Secondhand Lions, and similar story lines have served as the basis for countless other successful Hollywood flicks. With a star like Clint Eastwood serving as director and lead actor, you’d think that not much could go wrong. Unfortunately, however, the creative team behind Cry Macho relied a bit too much on Eastwood’s star power. The lighthearted western / road trip comedy may entertain a few Eastwood fans who have nothing better to watch, but overall, the flick leaves much to be desired.
“Hellbender” shows off one family’s filmmaking talents but falls flat under the weight of its poorly developed plot and dialogue. [Fantasia International Film Festival]
From Rosemary’s Baby to False Positive, Psycho to Mommie Dearest, motherhood and the horror genre are a match made in heaven. The labyrinth of psycho-socio-political issues surrounding motherhood, pregnancy, and the mother-child relationship has truly found its home in horror cinema. One of the horror flicks showing at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, Hellbender, is not only about motherhood, but also stars a real-life mother-daughter duo. In fact, Hellbender was written, directed, shot, edited, scored, and produced by the four members of the Adams/Poser family: John Adams, Toby Poser and their two daughters, Lulu and Zelda Adams. All four family members also make an appearance in this occult horror film, with Zelda and Toby taking the lead roles. The family filmmaking feat is incredibly impressive, and Hellbender’s high production value showcases the family’s talents and creativity. Unfortunately, however, one little filmmaking misstep can bring a movie crashing down. In this case, that one misstep is the dialogue. While Hellbender is otherwise horrifically beautiful, the script and plot development leave much to be desired.
“Small Engine Repair” fires on all cylinders with breathtaking performances and nuanced thematic development
Scotch, steaks, and a small-engine repair shop - the perfect recipe for an evening of male comradery and boyish banter. When single-father Frankie (John Pollono) invites two of his lifelong buddies to watch a pay-per-view fight in his shop, his pals have no idea that he’s actually recruiting them for his mad and dangerous plan to help his daughter, Crystal (Ciara Bravo). John Pollono’s deceptively simple Small Engine Repair is packed with tension and suspense, and it provides a subtle yet thorough investigation of modern masculinity. Pollono wrote, directed, and starred in the film, which is based on his award-winning play of the same name. Small Engine Repair was accepted to the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, but the release was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting this Friday, September 10, 2021, you can catch this pleasantly surprising dark comedy / thriller on the big screen.
“Follow The Light (Hikariwooikakete)” paints a beautiful picture of adolescence with romance, family drama… and a crop circle [Fantasia International Film Festival]
For most people, the teen years come with a myriad of confusing emotions, drastic life changes, and embarrassing incidents. For Akira and Maki, the young protagonists of Yoichi Narita’s Follow The Light, those formative years also bring a number of upsetting changes to their small farming community, including a UFO and crop circle. These bizarre occurrences not only set them on intersecting paths, but symbolically carry the weight of their strange and explosive teenage emotions. Follow the Light, an official selection at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, is a wistful romance that ponders the many conflicts and emotions of adolescence.
You may want to leave a few lights on to watch “The Last Thing Mary Saw,” a visually petrifying feature debut from writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti. [Fantasia International Film Festival]
You don’t necessarily need complex characters or ingenious plot twists to write an engaging story. With strong imagery and a clear, palpable tone that physically affects your audience, you can transform the most overdone plot into a memorable tale. Writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti demonstrates that kind of storytelling craftsmanship in his feature debut, The Last Thing Mary Saw, which premiered at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Every aspect of this suffocatingly dark period drama, including its characters and plot, takes a backseat to its tone and mood. As a result, The Last Thing Mary Saw is bursting with palpable dread that will chill you to the bone.
Explore the wonders of “Strawberry Mansion,” a love letter to the films that first sparked the imaginations of an entire generation of fantasy fans [Fantasia International Film Festival]
You don’t need a degree in film studies to make an educated guess about when a movie was made, or to at least place it within the right decade. It’s easy to recognize specific cinematic styles and themes from each decade of big-budget filmmaking, and it’s also fairly easy to date a movie based on its special effects. Innovative filmmakers have spent millions of dollars and years of their careers trying to make movies look “better” than those of yesteryear, particularly movies in the sci-fi, fantasy, action, and adventure genres. After all that work, it might seem counterintuitive for a filmmaker to purposely make a movie that looks like it was shot thirty or forty years ago. But co-writers and directors Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley did just that with their fantasy masterpiece Strawberry Mansion, a selection at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Strawberry Mansion fully embraces the visual style and effects of charming fantasy flicks from days past like The NeverEnding Story (1984) and Labyrinth (1986). It reminds us of a time when “special effects” and “set design” in a fantasy movie didn’t just mean CGI, bringing back fond memories of the worn-out VHS tapes that defined our idea of adventure.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."