The 10th edition of the Toronto After Dark film festival kicks off later today and runs for a solid 9 days (Oct. 15-23). The fest seems to have settled into its niche – it doesn’t look to expand beyond its ~20 screenings per year and likely won’t compete for big World premieres, but year after year it puts together an interesting and eclectic lineup of solid genre fare. Granted, there are typically some odd choices and a rather insistent need to pick thematic pairings (I have to assume many people are getting slightly tired of the zombie double-bills every year – or is that just me?), but there’s little doubt that genre fans who don’t make the trip to Fantasia and Fantastic Fest are rabidly happy that TAD rolls in the numerous big genre titles of the year to the big screen here in Toronto. And many of us are also rabidly happy about the late night pub gatherings.
With the shift to the downtown Scotiabank location in recent years, the more anticipated screenings typically sell-out (several have already done that) so the fest has instituted some late night second screenings for the more popular titles. Consult the full lineup on the festival’s schedule page) which should include trailers for the films as well. Here’s a short run down of this year’s titles (with the proviso that I’ve not watched any trailers or read much about any of these films):
Thursday October 15th
Tales Of Halloween – Though my love for horror anthologies was challenged a few years ago when Trick R’ Treat was screened at After Dark (I seem to be in the minority in not liking that film though), I have higher hopes for this particular effort. The stories are shorter, the directors are more varied & interesting and there has already been some solid reviews of it. All the tales apparently take place on the same spooky evening, so we’ll see if they manage to do any crossover/merging of the stories or if they are all standalone. I’d love it if they could bring some of the feeling of the old Amicus anthologies from the 70s, but I think we’ll be in for a pretty rousing fest opener regardless.
The Hallow – To be honest, all I needed to see was that the film was from Ireland…Of late, there have been numerous really solid atmospheric horror films coming from that isle (or at least funded via their film fund) like Dorothy Mills, Citadel and the recent The Canal. Though there isn’t necessarily anything specifically in common between those films, there is an appreciation of atmosphere and a willingness not to rush to jump scares. Even though The Hallow is getting stuck with the “scariest film at the fest” moniker (which always sets expectations too high), I’m hopeful that it will tackle horror in my favourite way – the one that slowly envelops and squeezes the breath from you.
Friday October 16th
Synchronicity – Sci-fi can be a tricky bet at smaller festivals like this (especially when you hear them being compared to much larger budget and classic films like Blade Runner), but TAD has chosen a few good ones the last couple of years and with director Jacob Gentry’s track record of The Signal behind him, there’s at least some solid talent involved. Given the title and the knowledge that there are likely some time travel paradoxes involved, the film promises to be a head-scratcher in a good way. Also, Michael Ironside plays a baddie, so there’s always that.
Lazer Team – I’ll be honest…I have much less confidence that Lazer Team lives up to any of its billing. Goofy comedic sci-fi can be even more difficult to hit right especially when your protagonists are (apparently from the blurb) idiots. I’m not familiar with the filmmaking team’s web series (Rooster Teeth), so this one is a crap shoot.
Saturday October 17th
Shorts After Dark – Each of the feature length films at every After Dark screening has a Canadian short film playing before it and the quality level is usually quite high (which says a great deal for our filmmakers and the selection committee), but each year the festival also devotes an entire screening to shorts from across the globe. So you’ll get a good solid 90 minutes or so of internationally spiced horror and genre that has been culled from a wide set of submissions. I’ve rarely been disappointed in these collections, so don’t skimp on the festival – go see the shorts!
Night Of The Living Deb – Last year’s zombie double-header was admittedly quite fun – Zombeavers knew what it was and hit its mark while Dead Snow 2 asked the audience to simply come along for a fun, silly and entertaining ride (and we did). I’m not getting similar vibes from this year’s slate though…In the case of the opener, my feeling is based on nothing more than the rather lame pun of its title and the fact it is listed as a horror comedy. I’m open to a zombie horror comedy still being able to do something new, but I doubt it’ll happen here.
A Christmas Horror Story – Once you’ve seen Treevenge, I’m not sure you can really take Christmas horror to new realms. The Canadian lineage for the film makes me want to support it, though, and it also just happens to be an anthology film with William Shatner handling the wrap-around story. So I’ll remain positive about this one.
Sunday October 18th
Shut In – The mid-afternoon screenings on Sundays are a difficult slot sometimes. Though years ago they selected the great documentary Audience Of One, the pickings have been slim since. Could a home-invasion thriller mixing Panic Room and You’re Next (and apparently a bit of Home Alone) buck the trend? It’s possible…
The Hollow One – Listed as a supernatural thriller, this has one of the more interesting setups of the lineup for me: “An artifact unleashes a demonic force upon the people of a small farm town. With most of the townspeople possessed, two young sisters find themselves in a race against time…”. There’s plenty of potential for ghostly apparitions and malevolent spirits to do some damage, so let’s hope the film hits the creepy quotient.
The Demolisher – The plot sounds extremely familiar (a mentally unstable man becomes a vigilante warrior at night in a suit of armour), but there’s been some very good chatter about the film and it does look like it might try a few new angles with the story. Done well, this could be great.
Monday October 19th
The Diabolical – Ali Larter stars in another of this year’s batch of supernatural thrillers. When she and her children are repeatedly frightened by scary apparitions, she decides to take the fight to the paranormal beasts (with help from her boyfriend). The quality here will likely depend on whether they just want jolts or if they can manage to bring atmosphere and interesting creature design to the table. Larter has the ability to be the focal point of a movie, so there’s potential here.
The Interior – My pessimistic side senses there is much less potential here…Mixing horror-comedy with creepiness is like juggling while on a unicycle. And then basing it on a single character alone in the woods is like putting that unicycle on a high wire. But, since I’m normally more of an optimist, perhaps this Canadian production will embrace the minimal characters and have it spur on a creative approach to the storytelling. Perhaps.
Tuesday October 20th
Backtrack – TAD is showing an Adrien Brody and Sam Neill film that appeared at Tribeca? OK, I’ll bite. The plot sounds uninspired (a psychologist returns home to a rural setting to work out some childhood issues), but I’m always game for a good ghost story. I’m also oddly encouraged due to the film coming from Australia.
Gridlocked – The promise is that this will throw you right back into the realm of the 80s and 90s action films (calling out Die Hard as a comparison point is dangerous, but it certainly does make you hopeful of the possibilities). With Trish Stratus (of WWE fame) not only starring in the film, but also making an appearance for the Q&A, this could be a rollicking evening.
Wednesday October 21st
Nina Forever – Had no idea what to make of this story of a dead ex-girlfriend coming back to life after her boyfriend starts a new relationship, so I watched the trailer…I still have no idea what to make of it, but there’s obviously some craft and skill at work here. Cinematography looks solid, acting appears to be more than fine and it feels like it will not completely rely on the obvious comedic aspects while keeping an eye on the emotional possibilities.
The Hexecutioners – Though Tony Burgess wrote Pontypool, he also wrote Septic Man (which appeared at TAD a couple of years ago). It’s really hard to forgive the latter, so with him listed as the writer of Hexecutioners paired with the director of another TAD alumni also-ran Monster Brawl, this one shapes up as being the least interesting film of the festival.
Thursday October 22nd
Tag – An evening devoted to new Sion Sono films?! Sign me the hell up. Though his entry to TIFF this year (The Whispering Star) was experimental even for him (though still interesting and even affecting at times), the 2 selected films here have some built-in excitement due to their track record at other festivals. The opener Tag won the “Best Film” award at this year’s Fantasia, so could the anticipation for it be higher? Well, since it’s about 3 Japanese schoolgirls trying to survive an unknown force killing all the girls around them, yes as a matter of fact, it could be!.
Love & Peace – Looks like Sono was holding court at this year’s Fantasia as the second of his features to hit TAD also won an award in Montreal (one of the Audience Awards). Sono has a unique ability to create engagement in his stories where logically there shouldn’t be any. His use of repetitive music, rapid pace and unique storylines has me very excited for both these films. Love & Peace, in particular, seems to have all these hallmarks.
Friday October 23rd
Patchwork – A horror comedy about a Frankenstein-type monster seeking revenge for the murders of the people that previously owned its body parts sounds like it might be good. I’m not sure it makes sense as a closing night film, but I’ll give some benefit of the doubt to the festival programmers who typically load the front and backends of the fest with some of the strongest material.
Deathgasm – A double shot of comedic horror on the final night is definitely an interesting choice by the fest, so let’s hope they chose well. Deathgasm is touted (by the fimmakers themselves) as the “party movie of the year” and that definition seems to be holding after some scanning on the web for a few reviews. At the very least, the film should be your basic entertaining, gore-filled romp. Which I think is exactly what it’s aiming for.
It’s good to see a film festival can still appear healthy and relevant after a decade, so let’s hope TAD can move into its second decade with some fire in its belly an extension of its influence.