Jay Kay’s TOP FOUR FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL PICKS

ff_logo_bwjpgFOUR FILM FAVORITES FROM THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

The massive under taking that is the FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL is a celebration of culture, art, community and film. I was fortunate enough to attend the final weekend of the festival that comprised theater screenings as well as what was available for viewing in the screening room at FANTASIA HQ. While I do focus on horror primarily, this film festival hosts so many amazing shorts, features, documentaries, animation and more for nearly three weeks that you discover some incredible entries of storytelling! These are my four favorite films and honorable mentions from my time at FANTASIA based off the viewings I had access to over that long weekend.

 

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TOO YOUNG TO DIE / DIRECTED BY KANKURO KUDO (JAPAN)

Balls to the wall fun, a ton of heart and rock & roll on a canvas of Japanese filmmaking madness! This supernatural tale blends lots of laughs, awkward moments and a very well-constructed story based on the choices we make as well as those choices and consequences that effect the ones around us. Surrounding a student named Daisuke, his crush who Hiromi, Hell’s rock band and a cast of insanely funny and wicked demons. In the opening sequence, we witness a horrible bus accident off a cliff that kills Daisuke and just about his entire class on the way back from a trip. Daisuke is the only one to land in hell not understanding what got him there.  As the lead demon Killer K educates him, we learn that all new entries have seven chances to be reincarnated from hell through hard labor and changing his life. Daisuke must deal with how his life has changed and his connection to the ones still on earth and below in hell have changed because of the events he has been a part of.

 

TOO YOUNG TO DIE was the funniest entry I saw at the film festival as it showcases great comedic moments that come unexpected and are delivered with such a natural flow.

Filled with lots of infectious and power rock music, the band leader and one of the most prominent demons Killer K as well as his band steal the show with some truly outrageous and well crafted performances. TOO YOUNG TO DIE is a visually creative and beautiful at times with style that enthralled the audience whether a fan of horror, comedy, drama or Asian cinema. Beyond all the twisted moments, has serious and sweet heart that made the audience at FANTASIA cheer, laugh, cry and be completely immersed. With similarities to Sion Sono LOVE & PEACE, TOO YOUNG TO DIE is that feel good tale of love, magic and the power to be what you want to be no matter where you are and what faces you.

 

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TRAIN TO BUSAN / DIRECTED BY YEON SANG-HO (KOREA)

Unlike TOO YOUNG TO DIE, TRAIN TO BUSAN will rip your heart out in the most vicious, intense and emotional way possible. Who says the infection sub-genre of horror is dead? Or maybe reanimated… Director Yeon Sang-ho weaves a tale of a train ride into hell surrounded by an extinction level event that has caused the citizens of South Korea to become extremely fast, vicious and hard hitting living dead (think 28 DAYS LATER). The film starts off with a workaholic father and his distant young daughter who have boarded a train from Seoul to the city of Busan to visit with her mother. An infected young woman jumps on board thinking she has survived the slowly growing death and chaos outside of the train doors. As she slowly succumbs to the infection, the crew and passengers become the growing victims, predators and finally prey in a vicious circle of life. With nowhere left to turn, the train must stay on the tracks heading towards its final destination in Busan. Facing not only the horrific infected horde, the remaining passengers must cull their fears, pride, darkness and emotion that could transform them into human monsters. With each moment that goes by, the number of survivors decrease as they must learn that even in such extreme times the group must put brains, brawn and team work ahead of themselves in order to survive as the world falls apart both inside and outside the train cars as they head towards their final stop and the confrontation of a new world off the tracks.

 

TRAIN TO BUSAN is just magic and a prime example of the infected/zombie genre done right. While not original in concept, Yeon Sang-ho takes all the tools and creates a genre film that is a sensory nightmare that is tensely funny as well as palpable. Not since 28 DAYS LATER, has there been such an effective and tense effort. TRAIN TO BUSAN pulls no punches with the viewer as the director wants to keep you off balance and always feeling some kind of pain but at the same time connecting to the passengers in every aspect of their struggle. The sense of isolation helps dictate a hopeless mood and reality of no escape within a world that is succumbing to chaos and a new level of living hell! TRAIN TO BUSAN features incredible sound work that aids to the performance by the actors who become infected. The visual look of each of the living dead is impactful like their fury and movements whether alone or as a gang. They are the living dead for the modern age of quick burst action and consumption. Their transformations are as nasty, cringe worthy and larger than life as you will find (think magna). With that said, that human interest angle of TRAIN TO BUSAN is so heart felt as we see the different sides of survival and the bonds of family. It also produces the darker side of humanity and the villains that are just as deadly as the hordes closing in on them. Hats off to Yeon Sang-ho, cast and crew for making sure that this film had intelligence within the madness that for me personally and the ruckus FANTASIA crowd paid off!

 

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RED CHRISTMAS / DIRECTED BY CRAIG ANDERSON (AUSTRALIA)

RED CHRISTMAS’s title is not complex or tricky, it is basically telling you something is going to happen that is visceral, impactful, and bad… very bad. This was one of the most compelling films that I watched and enjoyed during the weekend. It also happens to be one of the most brutal as well… like the underground, 1970’s exploitative brutal. When watching RED CHRISTMAS, ask yourself, what sins come home when you believe they are lost in the shadows and locked away? This is one of the central themes and ultimately the cause of this family’s struggle and battle for survival in this vicious and heart wrenching thriller. Taking place in Australia and featuring a primarily Australian cast, the film is lead by horror legend DEE WALLACE as Diane the mother of a very modern, liberal and diverse family that includes burnouts, extremely religious, a free spirited married couple and Jerry (Gerard Odwyer) who suffers from down syndrome.  Filmmaker Craig Anderson places this story during the holidays on a secluded homestead as the family comes together to fight, feast and reconnect. Not much different than most families do around the world during the holidays. Anderson sets the foundation of this film showing security within the family structure only to have it ripped away when a stranger all bandaged and cloaked shows up to their door in the middle of the holiday celebration. His name is Cletus and he wants to read his letter to the group, however after not understanding his intention and feeling very uncomfortable (and a bit hypocritical) Diane orders them to toss Cletus out of the house. Cletus has a secret that fuels his rage and need to understand as he returns that night back to home to permanently split the family apart. While the killing spree goes on, the family questions why Cletus would do this to them? The answer may come at a bloody and dark price as all secrets come home no matter how much we think they are buried.

 

This was one of the films I watched in the screening room, I so wished I had seen this in the theater. It is also one of the bravest films I saw overall this weekend. Why Craig Anderson has such a vision and perspective pertaining to what makes horror fans satisfied and frightened, he is also a very brave filmmaker for what this film addresses ad connects to the modern family, religion, abortion and special needs. RED CHRISTMAS reminds me of YOU’RE NEXT with more of focused and real purpose in why it all happened. It is very much a modern statement on what the world fears and how we have changed the perspective about our home, bodies and the way we handle those around us. This starts from the opening sequence with a news report and an event that you are not sure at first if it is even connected to the overall narrative but find out that it is rooted so deep, its truly scary. Bravo to Wallace for her involvement in this project as well as her talent shining through as she creates a compelling character that is the lynch pin to all parties involved and the terrible acts that happen. For horror fans, the practical gore, unapologetic kills and the throwback to the old school and exploitative horror will make viewers cheer even though they know that the family does not deserve to suffer the sins of one person. Impactful, powerful and brutal, even if you are not a horror fan, you will question a lot of the characters and yourself in the nightmare that is RED CHRISTMAS.

 

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BEFORE I WAKE / DIRECTED BY MIKE FLANAGAN (USA)

For me, this is Mike Flanagan’s best work since ABSENTIA. Why I was very turned off by the final few minutes that excuses many of the events within the film, this film is a great canvas bringing to life the reality of repressed feelings, coping, moving forward and consumption. I found this fable to be a beautiful and macabre. It blends fantasy, fear and powerful emotion that Flanagan has become known for in his storytelling and perspective. The story surrounds a fractured married couple Jessie (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane) who have lost their son Sean to a drowning accident. They reach a point where they choose the route of adoption to help rebuild their family and fill in the missing piece. The agency places a young boy who has a history of mysterious things happening to his parents as well as care givers named Cody. Cody comes to live with the couple who find out that his dreams and nightmares come to life based on what he experiences and talks about while awake. As the family grows stronger and becomes more familiar to each other, Cody learns of their sons passing which triggers a mysterious dream monster that begins to wreak havoc on the family, his classmates and everyone around them. Jessie and Mark discover that this monster has been with Cody for a long time and will not ever leave him no matter what. As the mystery develops, Jessie and Mark must realize what is real and what is not as the dreaming and nightmares become more real and dangerous both emotionally and physically.

 

There is a magic, an innocence as well as a reality that anchors BEFORE I WAKE. This film was so personal and it shows in every frame presented by Flanagan. Finding origins in idea of what his sons dream would look like, BEFORE I WAKE takes that love for his child and cultivates a dark drama/fable with horror elements unlike his more traditional horror film work before. One of the strongest aspects of this film pertains to Flanagan and his talent to write as well as direct pairs of people. The way they communicate, they connection and the way they face horrors both fantasy and reality. BEFORE I WAKE effectively also address the struggle of addiction and the process of moving forward from something that is so easy to let in yet poisonous to themselves and everyone around them. This idea of addiction which is weaved within the fantasy of Cody’s dreams and nightmares is embodied by the lead actor’s performances (especially Bosworth for a sympathetic and at times wicked performance) as well as the visually frightening embodiment of Cody dreams and nightmares the “Canker Man”. Overall, blending the fantasy and imagination of childhood with the reality of a broken family highlighted by pinpoint scoring and sound design that is its pulse, BEFORE I WAKE finds something for everyone and connects on deeper levels showing that even the most brilliant magic has a darkness and pain it is born from.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS INCLUDE AMERICANA (ZACH SHEDD/USA), BAKUMAN (HITOSHI OHNE/JAPAN), BED OF THE DEAD (JEFF MAHER/USA) & THERAPY (NATHAN AMBROSIONI/FRANCE)

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