This wrap-up is part of our coverage of the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival.
This year’s Fantasia International Film Festival — the 25th edition — has come to a close, and while it was once again a virtual affair (with some in-person events for those in Montreal), it remains one of the best displays of international genre films for fans of the grim, thrilling, and macabre. All of the films that played are winners to some degree, but a handful were awarded actual awards as well by audiences and jurors. The 2021 Cheval Noir, the fest’s most prestigious honor, went to Hong Eui-jeong’s Voice of Silence which also garnered a win for lead actor Yoo Ah-in. Best director went to Igor Legarreta for All the Moons, best screenplay went to Mark O’Brien for The Righteous, and Hellbender picked up both Best Score (John Adams) and Best Actress (Zelda Adams). be sure to check out Fantasia’s official site for the rest of the winners.
We don’t have physical trophies to hand out here, but we are prepared to highlight the best of the fest as decided by a jury consisting of Rob. Keep reading our (ie his) picks for the ten best films of Fantasia 2021!
10. Coming Home in the Dark (New Zealand)
Some people prefer their horror to have some manner of the fantastical simply because they know it can never be real, but others choose real-world terrors for the same reason. Zombies aren’t a concern, but a sadistic psychopath with a knife? There’s a chance you might cross paths with one of them some day. This chiller from New Zealand is one for these latter horror fans as it pits a family on a road trip against a pair of cruel murderers. Director James Ashcroft delivers a beautifully shot journey into night, and while some choices frustrate for the wrong reasons the suspense and tension are palpable throughout.
9. Midnight (South Korea)
Few things are as close to a guarantee as the quality of South Korean thrillers. From the action and violence to a willingness to push boundaries, filmmakers in South Korea often display a truly intense ability to twist the proverbial knife just a little bit more, ratchet up the tension just enough, and leave viewers holding their breath in stressful anticipation. Kwon Oh-seong‘s feature debut knows all the tricks and more and delivers a suspenseful ride with a hearing-impaired woman targeted by a serial killer. Moral questions are raised and tested, and your heart might just skip a beat along the way.
8. The Night House (US)
Can you ever really go wrong with Rebecca Hall? That’s a rhetorical question as we all know the answer is no, and the latest piece of evidence to that fact is this haunted house chiller from director David Bruckner. Hall plays a recently widowed woman who discovers her architect husband has left a series of symbols and mysteries throughout their lakeside house — and also, he may not have left after all. Bruckner delivers a sharp-looking film that finds scares in shadows and possibilities, and Hall makes for a perfect protagonist leaving viewers rooting for her even as we’re terrified for her.
7. The Devil’s Deal (South Korea)
The second thriller from South Korea to make the list, this engrossing tale explores evils well beyond the madness of serial killers. The bad guys here are sociopaths of different stripes — they’re politicians. Director Lee Won-tae last thrilled audiences with 2019’s The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil, and while his latest seems more traditional on its surface it’s no less exciting for it. Our protagonist is a man running for office whose desire to play things straight takes a serious turn for the worse. Corruption, murder, gang influence, and more lead to whiplash as his fate changes direction again and again.
6. Bull (UK)
Revenge tales come in all shapes and sizes, but sometimes the leaner the better. That’s the case with Paul Andrew Williams‘ latest which is as lean as it is mean. The always intense Neil Maskell plays a tough guy who returns to his hometown after a decade away, and he only has one thing on his mind — bloody revenge. The whys behind his crusade trickle in slowly, and while some surprises are lurking here and there it’s mostly a pretty straightforward affair. That’s not a bad thing, either, as viewers are able to relish Maskell’s performance and cringe at the brutality he’s dishing out to the deserved.
5. The Feast (UK)
Slow burns aren’t to everyone’s tastes, and neither are horror films with an ecological bent. If you are in the camp that enjoys such things, though, Lee Haven Jones‘ gorgeous and wicked slice of eco-horror is a must-see. Class and family dynamics come into play here too as a young woman working a party for wealthy people at their country estate takes on a new role in the face of their excess, waste, and disregard for Mother Nature. It’s a beautifully shot nightmare that slowly tips towards grim justice, and while darkness abounds you won’t be arguing with the light at the end.
4. Raging Fire (Hong Kong)
The great Benny Chan passed last year but not before gifting action fans with one last banger. Donnie Yen stars as a detective whose loyalty to the law supersedes that to his brothers and sisters in blue — that’s how you know he’s fictional — but it comes back to bite him when a dirty cop returns for vengeance. Nicholas Tse plays the villainous cop, and he’s a beast with blades leading to some deadly encounters along the way. We gets some speeches, some chases, and more, but it’s all building to a fight between Yen and Tse that is just thrilling to behold. Chan was a real one, and he went out on top.
3. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (US)
Screenlife is a branded term used to describe specific films that unfold entirely on a computer screen — we see the windows opening and closing, the cursor move, and the videos/cameras display — and tell a story along the way. This isn’t a Screenlife film, but like 2013’s The Den it uses the same format to deliver something far better. Director Jane Schoenbrun and lead Anna Cobb deliver a hauntingly chilling tale of one teenager’s descent towards darkness courtesy of sadness, peer pressure, and an internet game. It’s frightening at times, but it’s ultimately heart-breaking and thought-provoking.
2. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Japan)
Some people tend to give studio features more credit simply because they’re bigger and more costly, but sometimes the most impressive movie you’ve seen in ages cost less than a new car. This Japanese gem from director Junta Yamaguchi is case in point — a tiny budget, a single location, a small cast, and one ingenious premise executed flawlessly. A man discovers his upstairs video monitor (connected to his restaurant below) can see two minutes into the future, and utterly brilliant chaos follows. Read nothing else (aside from my spoiler-free review below) and seek this one out.
1. The Sadness (Taiwan)
Hoo boy, you might not be prepared for Rob Jabbaz‘s brutal, shocking, entertaining, taboo-smashing, thrilling, and gory as hell feature. A young couple in love struggles to reunite after a rage virus turns the city’s populace into sadistic killers. They’re eventually murder you, but first the infected choose to play with their prey in twisted, painful ways ranging from cannibalism to assault to penetrating an eyehole with impunity. That all of the ugliness is captured with a sharp eye, energetic visuals, terrific effects, and engaging performances is a minor miracle. This might just be the best horror film of the year.
Related Topics: Fantasia Film Festival