Fantasia Film Festival: From Indie to Big Ticket

This Year’s Contenders are Nothing to Shake a Katana at

This year’s Fantasia Film Festival runs the Quebec premiere of Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins.

From soft-porn romances to action-packed samurai bloodbaths, gruesome black comedies and plain old piss-your-pants horror flicks, Fantasia provides an impeccable range of genre films for even the most unflappable consumer. And your inner indie geek is sure to be satisfied by the dozens of little celluloid gems that have yet to be discovered.

2011 marks the 15th edition of Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, and its lineup, comprising roughly 130 feature films and more than 15 world premieres, promises to dazzle, enchant, and outright terrify.

The previews below provide only the briefest of glances at some of the contenders for Fantasia’s Prix du Cheval Noir, the jury prize that will be awarded to this year’s best feature.

Red State (Kevin Smith)

Fantasia’s 15th edition opens with the much-anticipated Canadian premiere of Red State, the controversial horror film written and directed by Kevin Smith. Three suburban teenagers looking to get laid end up the unlikely prisoners of the deranged Pastor Cooper and his hard-right congregation, who have developed their own ways of dealing with sinners. A specialized task force is called to their rescue, and things are about to get very ugly.

The Theatre Bizarre

The Theatre Bizarre is an anthology film showcasing the work of six indie horror luminaries. Each was given an identical budget and let loose to create a short film with absolutely no boundaries. The result is a thematically and stylistically diverse group of perverse and terrifying shorts, each grappling graphically with sex, death, revenge and retribution. It’s sure to be one of 2011’s most cringe-worthy blood feasts. Along with the movie, the seven architects of The Theatre Bizarre – Douglas Beck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini and Richard Stanley – will participate in a one-hour panel at Reggie’s Bar.

The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julian)

In a can’t-miss gala event, Fantasia presents a screening of a rare 35mm print of the 1925 silent film The Phantom of the Opera. Composer Gabriel Thibaudeau has composed an original score specifically for the film, which will be performed by a 30-piece orchestra at the Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place Des Arts.

Retreat (Carl Tibbetts)
Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton star as one very unlucky couple in the UK horror film Retreat. Kate and Martin have taken a much-needed vacation to an isolated island retreat to work on their flagging relationship, when a blood-soaked stranger washes ashore and informs them that a lethal plague has broken out across Europe, and their secluded island will surely soon be crawling with others desperate to escape their fate. The couple impulsively agrees to barricade themselves in their cottage along with their new companion. Big mistake.

Love (William Eubank)

Love, the debut feature by director William Eubank, promises to be visually sumptuous and ambitiously cerebral. Don’t let misgivings about the Angels & Airwaves-produced musical score keep you from seeing this intriguing film about an astronaut stranded in the wreckage of an abandoned space station, coping with the reality of an unknown catastrophe that has occurred down below and his own maddening isolation.

The Wicker Tree (Robin Hardy)

38 years after releasing The Wicker Man, and after a 22-year hiatus from filmmaking, director Robin Hardy releases the successor film to his 1973 cult classic. The Wicker Tree deals with evangelical Christianity and Paganism through a missionary couple who attempt to spread the word of God to a Scottish townspeople who aren’t particularly interested in their brand of religious fundamentalism. The screening will be accompanied by the North American launch of Robin Hardy’s book, The Wicker Tree, formerly titled Cowboys for Christ.

Burke and Hare (John Landis)

The newest in a line of classic comedies by John Landis, who will be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s festival, Burke and Hare is set to join the comedic ranks of An American Werewolf in London, The Blues Brothers, and Animal House. Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis star as a pair of petty crooks who discover a lucrative new career in providing doctors with fresh cadavers in this comedic retelling of the real-life wave of grave-robbing and murder that swept through Edinburgh in the 1820s.

13 Assassins (Takashi Miike)

This year’s Fantasia lineup also sees the Quebec premiere of Takashi Miike’s award-winning 13 Assassins. A tale of moral righteousness and bloody vengeance set in feudal-era Japan, 13 Assassins is a beautifully choreographed and surprisingly sympathetic tale of twelve skilled samurai and one peasant hunter who are prepared to lay down their lives to put an end to the tyranny of the aristocrat Naritsugu.

Don’t be Afraid of the Dark (Guillermo del Toro)

Closing the festival is the Canadian premiere of Guillermo del Toro’s remake of the 1973 horror opus Don’t be Afraid of the Dark. The remake bears the Oscar-winning screenwriter’s distinctive artistic imprint while retaining that which made the original so terrifying. The protagonist is no longer the solitary suburban housewife, but a lonely and neglected young girl who longs for companionship and turns to the mysterious and horrifying creatures released from her basement who would “like nothing more than for Sally to play with them… and be their friend forever…”

The Fantasia Film Festival Runs July 14th – August 7th. See festival website for full lineup and screenings.