2020 Fantasia Film Festival Reviews dark and the wicked

Usually, the genre-heavy Fantasia International Film Festival is held annually in Montreal, but with things the way they are this year (terrible), the festival has gone virtual. This year, Chris Evangelista and Matt Donato are covering Fantasia for /Film, firing off dispatches featuring capsule reviews of the titles we’ve watched from the safety of our own homes, all while dreaming of poutine.

In this edition: the best film of the festival; a sleep study gone wrong; an Evil Dead doc; and more.

Come True is a Bit of a Snooze

Anthony Scott Burns directed the Father’s Day segment in the hit-or-miss horror anthology flick Holidays, and what a shot in the arm it was. Relying on impeccable sound design, Burns’ short is the perfect example of using inventiveness to your advantage in horror. Sometimes, you don’t need a bunch of jump-scares or gore – you just need a great idea, and an even better way to realize it. 

So with all that in mind, I was looking forward to Burns’ feature Come True, about a teenage runaway who takes part in a sleep study that turns out to be a real nightmare. My excitement quickly faded as Come True’s narrative dragged, and dragged, and draaaagged, basically regurgitating the same material over and over again. 

Come True has plenty of promise, and lead Julia Sarah Stone has a plucky, no-nonsense demeanor that keeps us invested in her character. But the film, which deals with trippy dream sequences and an overwhelming sense of dread, keeps losing sight of what it wants to do, and it’s hard not to watch this and think that it would be much, much better as a short film – like Father’s Day – rather than a feature. I remain a fan of Burns, and Come True has plenty of visual inventiveness – the dream sequences are dark and foreboding in all the right ways – to hope for something better in his future. But this ain’t it. – 6 out of 10 – Chris Evangelista

Come True Alternate Take

Anthony Scott Burns’ sophomore debut is everything horror fans praised about his Holidays segment (“Father’s Day”), but unrestrained. He’s an ethereal filmmaker who ponders and provokes with his art, challenging convention without hesitation. Come True is many things: A24-inspired “undefined” horror, a study of dream states, and an intriguing concept that struggles to stick its ambitious ending.

There’s no more sinking feeling than when you’ve been hooked for at least ninety minutes, only to have a final frame or text card deflate your enthusiasm. Ghastly nightmare figures define lead character Sarah’s (Julia Sarah Stone) time as a subject at a sleep study clinic, but Burns’ assault against expectations will go too far for some (maybe most). Tinges of Silent Hill and slumber ghouls tease these threats to subconscious humanity, only to reward audiences with a payoff that continues to think aloud when clarity is needed most.

Maybe Burns has no interest in conclusive brands of filmmaking. I’m sure viewers attuned to psychological explorations will geek out over the inspired research of Come True. For the rest of us, there’ll be a lot of head-scratching and continued conversation about a film that’s undoubtedly unsettling, rife with stylistic talents, but narratively weakened by yet another ending that asks its watchers to do whatever heavy lifting they choose.6 out of 10Matt Donato

The Dark and the Wicked Will Give You the Creeps, and Then Some

I’ll be blunt: I’ve been underwhelmed with most of the Fantasia titles this year. Even the films I’ve liked have left me wanting something more. So what a joy it was to watch The Dark and the Wicked, the latest from The Strangers writer-director Bryan Bertino.

Ominous and loaded with genuinely creepy scares, The Dark and the Wicked is a twist on possession horror, and one of those rare possession horror flicks that tries to do something new with the concept rather than just ripping off stuff from The Exorcist

Siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr) return to the rural farmhouse they grew up in when their father takes ill and slips into a coma. Their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) is upset, and while her attitude might at first be chalked-up to her reaction to her husband’s illness, it becomes apparent rather quickly something else is going on. “You shouldn’t have come here,” she tells her children on the first night they arrive. 

Sure enough, nightmarish things begin happening around the farm, plaguing both Louise and Michael (although Louise remains the primary focus). Like he did with The Strangers, Bertino lets shadowy, quiet darkness do a lot of the heavy-lifting here. We just know something scary and dreadful is about to happen, and the anticipation is almost unbearable. 

The Dark and the Wicked stumbles a bit here and there – we never really get to know that much about Louise, which hurts her characterization a bit, and a subplot about a creepy priest (Xander Berkeley, making the most of a brief role) never really adds up. But the horrors on display here are so expertly mounted that you’ll be able to overlook the shortcomings and embrace the chills. – 8.5 out of 10 – Chris Evangelista 

The Dark And The Wicked Alternate Take

To describe genre cinema as “evil” sets certain expectations, often lofty, but that’s what Bryan Bertino conjures in The Dark And The Wicked. Pure evil. Some films opt for artfully morbid expressions of grief (Relic), while others strive to rationalize contextual relief behind unearthly possessions. Bertino does neither, enacting a demon’s wrath because, welp, demons gonna demon. Plain and simple.

Marin Ireland stars as Louise and Michael Abbott Jr. as Louise’s brother Michael. The siblings return to their quaint farmland homestead, where mama (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) is working herself ragged both keeping up with chores and taking care of her sickly, non-responsive husband. The children see their mother at her most vulnerable, and then the visions start. Bertino isn’t hiding anything. Something wicked this way comes, to claim souls and slaughter goats.

The inevitability of this ghoulish graveyard dance isn’t about passing with grace or honoring a glorious life. The Dark And The Wicked calls itself what it is, as Bertino emphasizes the outright horror of unholy forces that cannot be combated. It’s bleak, it’s haunting, and it’s especially mean. The tricks this movie plays on its characters, for funsies, guts you like a pig in a slaughterhouse. This is the Bryan Bertino I want releasing at least one film a year. – 8 out of 10Matt Donato

Hail To The Deadites Is Barely Fit For DVD Special Features, Let Alone It’s Own Title

It’s hard to fault a passion project. That’s Hail To The Deadites, a documentary about Sam Raimi‘s Evil Dead franchise as told, primarily, through its fans. Horror journalism mainstays Michael Gingold, John Fallon, and Chris Alexander appear as talking heads, but this is an ode to those who’ve made Raimi’s series a religion and Ash Williams their God.

Unfortunately, it’s a glancing blow at best.

There’s nothing here for viewers to engage with beyond a few interviews with die-hard “Deadites” sharing stories about that one time they met a certain actor. Some props are shown off, exclusive memorabilia, but this project’s thesis doesn’t push farther than stating, “Hey, let’s show people who like Evil Dead way more than you do!” Again, which is fantastic that so many have found themselves and newfound purpose in a horror property. It’s just that, as a viewer, anecdotes are never explored with engagement, and insight is sparse.

At sub eighty minutes, filmmakers never give themselves enough time to explore each subject’s past, present, and future (nothing worth inquisitive impact). A pre-credits “Where Are They Now!” recap highlights this truth, as faces flash that I’d already forgotten. Kudos for sharing the love and bringing “Deadites” together, but there’s very little here for horror fans to cherish that hasn’t already been explained or seen on convention floors.3 out of 10Matt Donato

Fried Barry Will Sizzle Your Brain

My notes for this one read like a Cinemax softcore porno produced by Die Antwoord.

As a fan of “disgusting stuff,” as Chris quipped in his previous Fried Barry capsule, I found it imperative I watch Ryan Kruger’s sci-fry oddball with immediacy. I’m more appreciative of abstract style experiments that exist to drive you batty. You cannot fault Fried Barry for trying…something? Alas, even I can’t distinguish that “something.”

Kruger’s talent bursts through artistic direction, while Gary Green exits his human body to play an extraterrestrial role. As Barry is abducted, possessed, and violated by his alien captors, Kruger’s stylistic choices between auditory disruptions and blood-red overlays reveal a keen cinematic eye. As Barry then humps and chainsaws his way through Cape Town, it’s all so unjustifiably random.

Kruger gives us a taste of Earth’s underbelly from an outsider’s perspective, which should matter more. It’s Under The Skin meets a massively multiplayer online world where the player, us, only follows side-quests with little reward. Is it supposed to mean something that Barry is a neglectful, loathsome, wretch of a human until he’s body swapped, and are we supposed to care about his change of heart (literally)? I don’t know, but damn, some of those visuals get freakier than Barry’s escapades. The rest is gross-out nonsense of every variety.5 out of 10Matt Donato

Bleed With Me Is A Conventionally Unconventional “Cabin In the Woods” Thriller

While Chris is a tad more smitten by Bleed With Me, I’ll still pronounce my advocation for Amelia Moses’ conventionally unconventional “cabin in the woods” thriller. It’s about perception; the boogeymen and boogeywomen our minds create to justify what we otherwise can’t explain. It’s a slow-burn, working with minimalism in an isolated vacation setting, but benefits from performers who embrace the unknown at hand.

Rowan (Lee Marshall) spends an extended getaway with fast-friend Emily (Lauren Beatty) and her boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros). Rowan starts waking up with cuts on her arm. Rowan cannot decide if Emily is drinking her blood at night or it’s her sleepwalking flare ups. That’s all we’re given, and all characters experience. Moses takes a risk by sticking to a formula that’s been used since horror’s first breaths, but talented filmmakers are always able to find intrigue in the familiar.

As Rowan sleeps, she dreams visions of Emily gnawing on what looks like roadkill, her mouth dripping with bloody runoff. We’re conditioned to believe Rowan, but also question how her paranoias may not reflect reality. Moses does well to prod our suspicions, and never commit to a narrative that fully endorses either woman. This is how Bleed With Me sets itself apart from other rustic chamber pieces, allowing its subjects to fall into delirious fits of fear that burn with consistency as not to leave viewers out in the cold. – 7 out of 10 Matt Donato

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