The Horror, The Horror: notes on Fantasia Film Festival

It is not immediately obvious how singular the Fantasia Film Festival is, and how lucky we are to live in a city that plays host to a long-running fest that platforms historical and contemporary genre films from around the world, and from right here in Montreal.

Science fiction, fantasy, and especially horror are genres often overlooked or maligned by large American festival committees, in favour of more serious film modes such as dramas, documentaries, and films based on true stories.

Though we are seeing a shift away from this characteristic exclusion, with the success of original genre films such as Everything Everywhere All At Once and the rising prestige of fantasy in film and television, the Fantasia Festival has championed these sorts of works and held space for their creators and their fans for 27 years.

The thoughtfully curated programming always pairs short films prior to features, so audiences are treated to more meaningful cinematic experiences, often with the artists involved showing up to offer preambulatory context, and thanks to the earnest pride that producers of such works can’t help but show.

Over one week’s worth of films are screened on the downtown Concordia University campus and the relatively new Cinéma du Musée space at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It was there that a few Montreal-made movies were screened back-to-back to an audience of their cast, crew, and local community.

The Wild World Itself (2023) directed by Finn and Dwight Petrovic is elegantly shot with an evenhanded approach to well-composed framing and shaky-cam country chase scenes. The film features grounded roles for its young leading actors, and a campy revelry from the supporting villainous characters. Joshua Bilbao and Devin Bell star as a pair of young boys on the run from a punitive cult of survivors, lending the world of the film’s grueling conditions out to the audience as we ride along with them. Edited around its compelling original score, composed by father-son team Finn and Goran Petrovic, the film’s powerful performances shine from every shot.

Emptiness (2023) directed by Onur Karaman is a bold, stylish psychodrama of a thriller, shot with luminous Montreal talent. A stark, desolate farm keeps Louise (Stephanie Breton), a disabled woman, fearfully lonely as she holds out hope for the return of her missing husband, while under the watchful eyes of the women in her house, played by Anana Rydvald and Julie Trépanier. Remarkable special effects of smoke-and-mirror spookiness are used sparingly; instead the film’s visual language relies heavily on black-and-white cinematography to emphasize the shadowy unknown mystery of Louise’s husband’s whereabouts. Selective vivid reds menace her dream sequences and memories as they blur together. The effect pays off.

Wraith (2023) directed by Samuel Edward Mac is a film in which natural playmates fantasy and horror are fused flawlessly. Much like The Wild World Itself, a whole wild world is revealed to the additive in the span of a short film’s run time. A brave but wary warrior (played to perfection by video game action star Shawn Baishoo) is tasked with confronting the wraith of the woods (Nicky Fournier) who terrorizes his body and soul. An impressive script manages to avoid falling into the traps that beset writers of fantasy — to use clichés or attempts at archaic speech patterns. A perfect, Fantasia-defining piece.

If you’re looking for thrilling ways to spend the weekend, spread open the colourful program, throw a dart, and catch everything there is left to see. Their Instagram is alive and buzzing with dazzling shots of events and screenings, and the lineup is lit up with some surefire delights for film novices and cinephiles alike.◼︎

The Fantasia Film Festival continues through 9 August 2023.