Fantasia Film Festival Dispatches, Day One: 'The Columnist', 'Sleep', 'Fried Barry', 'Survival Skills', 'The Mortuary Collection', 'Monster Seafood Wars'

The Fantasia International Film Festival is now on-going – virtually. Usually, this genre-heavy fest is held 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 from the safety of their homes, 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: a clever horror anthology, a wild ode to kaiju cinema, a bizarre police training satire, and much more.

The Columnist Reminds You That The Internet Is Bad

The internet is evil. I don't need to tell you that, do I? Well, in case you're somehow unaware of how bad a place the internet can be, here come The Columnist, a film that wants you to know that America doesn't have the market cornered on internet trolls – they're plentiful in the Netherlands, too. Director Ivo van Aart follows Femke Boot (what a name!), a famous columnist played by Katja Herbers. She's so famous, in fact, that wherever she goes, people recognize her, and comment on her columns. Femke mostly writes about what we would call "cancel culture" here in our current hellscape, but her message boils down to this: why can't we all just get along? Why can't we all be nice to each other even if we have differences of opinion? Needless to say, not many people share Femke's line of thinking, and after receiving constant sexist, threatening online abuse, Femke takes matters into her own hands and starts murdering her critics. It's like the painfully dated finale of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, where Jay and Silent Bob fly around the country beating up people who dared mock them on movie message boards. And if you want to know how dated that concept is, just know that Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back came out in 2001. And yet here we are, with the same basic thing. With the world as it is right now (that is: bad), The Columnist could've had something interesting to say about online bullying and a lack of civility. But it doesn't. It just uses its set-up and runs with it. Herbers does the best she can with the part, and van Aart's direction is crisp and stylish. But it doesn't add up to much. – 5 out of 10 Chris Evangelista 

The Columnist: Alternate Take

Curse you, Chris Evangelista, for claiming the Jay and Silent Bob reference because that's spot-on. The Columnist puts hateful internet egg avatars in its crosshairs and freely fires away. There's never a pause to think deeper about the troll horde massacre that ensues, as Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) mercilessly assassinates her haters. How? By using internet records to cross-reference usernames and locate addresses, which neither renowned horror novelist slash boyfriend "Steven Dead" (Bram van der Kelen) nor daughter Anna (Claire Porro) notice.Daan Windhorst's screenplay is narrow-mindedly bloodthirsty, outraged, and vengefully hair-triggered. I, too, could have done with more substance beyond the shallow juxtaposition of Anna's free speech crusade against Femke's serial spree. Ivo van Aart knows how to stage a murder since cinematography shines as Femka snatches another victim's middle finger (calling card), but it ends so one-dimensionally. The internet is vile, folks, and the more time you let it corrupt your perspective, the more it'll drive you mad. We get it."Never read the comments" is advice I try to follow. I've gotten the hatred myself, when Disqus users leave cheerful notes like, "fall on a sword," or "fuk you soyboy." Still, I don't view The Columnist as justified catharsis. However, it's an artful take on revenge for the internet age that'll resonate with enough blogosphere navigators who see social media as nothing but a hellscape. For that, there's minimal respect to be paid. - 6 out of 10 - Matt Donato

Sleep Features a Wild Boar, But Is It A Wild Bore? 

Surreal and often hauntingly beautiful, Sleep would be a great short film. Unfortunately, it runs 102 minutes, which means there's a lot of padding to get through. Marlene (Sandra Hüller) has been having horrible night terrors about a hotel – and, wouldn't you know it, the hotel really exists. Chasing after her fears, she checks into the hotel and proceeds to have a massive breakdown. Her teen daughter Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) follows in her mother's footsteps and heads to the hotel herself, where she discovers a cast of characters who all behave as if they're rejects from a community theater production of Twin Peaks. And oh yeah, there's something going on involving a wild bore, and a man who is willingly strapped down to his bed every night. Glacially paced but often loaded with arresting imagery that seems ripped from a book of fairy tales penned by a lunatic, Sleep is the type of movie that makes you angry. Angry because you can see the better movie lurking beneath all the clutter, and you wish like hell someone would go in there and clean things up. – 5.5 out of 10 Chris Evangelista 

Fried Barry Is Like Someone Got Intoxicated and Remade Under the Skin While Removing All the Interesting Stuff

If you've longed for a film where an alien device descends from a ceiling and plants itself on a fully erect penis, I come bearing gifts! Fried Barry is such a film, and what it lacks in, well, everything else, it makes up for with nastiness. "Fried" is the perfect monicker for this film because everything here feels greasy. You get the sense that if you touched your screen while this movie was playing you would draw back stained fingers.Directed with jarring, garish, and often admirable style by Ryan Kruger, Fried Barry follows heroin addict Barry (Gary Green, an actor who looks like he's really seen some shit), an all-around terrible guy who roughs people up for money when he's not yelling at his wife or denying the paternity of his child. After getting high with a pal, Barry gets abducted by aliens in an admittedly effective sequence full of trippy visuals – double-exposures, weird body horror, grating sound effects. It does a great job conveying a true sense of otherworldliness and indicates Krueger really has the goods, if only he had a better script to work with.Barry comes back to earth, but he's no longer Barry – he's an alien possessing Barry's body, and he stumbles around Cape Town getting in one misadventure after another, usually involving sex. It reminds one of Under the Skin, but it's not nearly as interesting. Fans of disgusting stuff will probably dig this. Everyone else? Stay away. – 4 out of 10 Chris Evangelista

Survival Skills Is Somewhere Between The Sims And A Surreal Police Training Satire

What starts as a police recruit training video (hosted by none other than Stacy Keach!) turns into something far more strange in Survival Skills. As our VHS-tape quality film begins we meet new beat cop Jim (Vayu O'Donnell, perfectly cast), who seems ready and willing to get to work with a big smile on his face. This set-up is rife for comedic possibilities, and sure enough, the first half-hour or so of Survival Skills plays up the surreal, happy-go-lucky world Jim inhabits inside the training video. He's endlessly polite, hopelessly clueless, and always hoping to do the right thing. But Jim's world begins to deteriorate when he answers a domestic disturbance call, and becomes attached to the abused wife.Writer-director Quinn Armstrong expanded a short into a feature here, and at times, it shows. But Survival Skills finds its footing as it goes along due to a surprising shift in tone. The over-the-top comedy soon gives way to often alarming darkness, and there's a harsh melancholy that creeps in making the entire experience highly memorable. – 7 out of 10 Chris Evangelista

Survival Skills: Alternate Take

The "VHS wall breaking" angle is intriguing from a satirical standpoint, and even familiar, recalling a short film titled Great Choice, which traps Carrie Coon behind tracking fuzz in a Red Lobster commercial. It's a way of playing tricks on our mind, blurring stage production with reality, and losing ourselves along the way. I just don't think Survival Skills achieves said disillusion. It's a film that takes a hot-button stance and gets lost in the commentary it's trying to make. Our following of Jim (Vayu O'Donnell), the Pleasantville beat cop acting out Stacy Keach's instructional narration, doesn't convey the biting satirical wit that could come from assessments of how cops are trained. Especially in today's socio-political climate. I'm not sure whether Quinn Armstrong is telling us all cops are emotionless robots, or if good people can't survive in police forces, because emotions will always win out versus "the rules."Those able to roll with the darkened comedy of Jim's inability to follow his instructor's guidelines, and how that leads to suffering, will find humor in how stereotypes skew. The wife whose only trait is making jam, or the workplace banter that's outed as superficial within a second. The message, though? It becomes lost as Jim's sunshine-bright world is clouded by violence, the law's inability to deliver real justice, and other unfortunate deviations in this "choose your own adventure" farce. Uniqueness may be its video-vortex signature, but any semblance of storytelling cannot sustain a feature-length elongation. - 5 out of 10 - Matt Donatothe mortuary collection review

The Mortuary Collection Puts New Flesh On Old Horror Anthology Bones (Then Rips It Off For Funsies)

Ryan Spindell's throwback horror anthology is the kind of genre treatment that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Clancy Brown plays Montgomery Dark, the peculiar mortician of Raven's End, who tells his hopeful new protégé, Sam (Caitlin Custer), morbid tales of death and gloom. Montgomery's funeral parlor sets the stage for Spindell's wraparound, as stories of how cadavers found their way atop his steel slabs become each segment. An old, corpse-looking orator who tries to impress his spunky new sidekick.As Montgomery speaks, we're treated to a wondrous world of horror "magic" that shares DNA with 70s and 80s Amicus classics. Details are of the fantastical and macabre, dancing this fine line that always keeps entertainment in mind. I reviewed the film at length, calling it a blend between "credibly creepy" and "funhouse freaky," but if you don't take my word, peep /Film's review out of Fantastic Fest from last year (I see you Chris).You're here for the skeletal library demons. Explosive (yuck) revenge curses. Deformed Deadite reimaginings that bring this romantic whimsy to deathly terrors. Imagine a book club of the damned that you never want to end. Each chapter read allowed, turning the page on how committed sins are ultimately the cause of our undoings (the womanizer, the babysitter, the pickpocket, and more). - 7.5 out of 10 - Matt Donato

Monster Seafood Wars Is A Crazy Delicious Kaiju Tribute To Japanese Creature Features

Yes, the seafood Kaiju movie. Minoru Kawasaki's library is so vastly obscure that "mutated restaurant ingredients turning mega-sized" doesn't even rank as his most insane concept. Somehow, Monster Seafood Wars is relatively tame by comparison but in no way forgotten. That said, this Toho love-letter is best devoured by early Godzilla fans. Diner beware.Kawasaki isn't restrained by conventional representations of "quality," from horrendous green screen backgrounds to hilarious crayon drawings as official task force blueprints. Monster Seafood Wars honors the passion behind no-budget Kaiju films by focusing on the colorful costumes, behemoth wrestlenastics, and destruction of miniature models we all love. Never without respect paid towards B-Movies, creature classics, and personal projects with unstoppable energies.It's not going to be for everyone. It is for me. Between humanity's obsession with "Monster Meat," rice vinegar cannons, and a finale surprise that turns the tables, I'm a Monster Seafood Wars defender. None of this should shock you based on my love of midnight movies, but the unstoppable charms of this endlessly zany adventure are just the menu I'm looking for late on a Friday or Saturday night.  - 7.5 out of 10 - Matt Donato