2021’s edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival collects genre cinema of the highest order and eclectic filmmakers with a unique vision. It also happened to have quite a few films I had seen at previous festivals. This wrap-up acts as the cherry-topper for an unconventional fest; included beyond the jump is our entire festival coverage with links for full reviews when available, as well as my personal top five films and two of Allison’s honorable mentions.



Full review at the link.


This is a unique little movie that borders on coming-of-age, and it is hard to nail down in terms of genre—Baby Don’t Cry is part crime romance, part thrilling drama. Baby (Zita Bai), a young Chinese immigrant, lives on the outskirts of Seattle. She spends her days randomly filming fights and gang violence. Everyone thinks Baby’s a major weirdo, always watching and never participating. Then she meets violent, sexually aggressive delinquent, Fox (Vas Provatakis), and everything changes. Baby smokes weed for the first time, gets held at gunpoint, and plots to obtain “diamonds the size of your asshole.” While Baby and Fox’s volatile relationship is at times shocking and baffling to behold, the languid pacing and lack of plotting hampers Baby Don’t Cry from ever evolving beyond the sum of its parts.


Baby Money is a home invasion thriller lacking the thematic heft to take it beyond genre conventions. The movie starts with an ultrasound, as our lead character, Minny (Danay Garcia), finds out the gender of her baby: she is having a little girl! When an eviction notice comes, there is only one thing to do… Minny and Gil (Michael Drayer) must partake in a shady suburban robbery to obtain a major payday! Things do not go as planned (as tends to occur in this type of film), and pretty soon Minny is on the run without an escape plan. It is not that Baby Money is bad, it is just incredibly generic. I feel like I have seen this same type of movie before, and done better. The tension was lacking, when I should have been on the edge of my seat.


Indigenous horror is not something we see very frequently, so I was actually excited to check out this strangely straightforward slice of Canadian filmmaking. I started to feel a little ambivalent about it after the opening, where we witness the setup for a creepy first kill—everything about the moment is blah. A girl runs in a straight line and simply gets hit by a car. Shortly afterward, a scene meant to showcase a mother’s grief over the death of her daughter is clouded with cheesy music and line delivery. “She became so much, now reduced to THIS?” One character has war flashbacks, then snaps on a guy who asks her to dinner. She offers to give him her number so he will move his truck, then pistol whips him. A seemingly invisible ghost is slashing up a trail of bodies. There is always a stink just before it appears, and when we see it, the effects of the creature itself are laughable and disappointing. The only thrilling moments of excitement come in the final act, mostly in a secluded and intimate locale.


If one took Game of Thrones, The Black Cauldron, buckets of gore, and puppets, mixed them all in a blender, then pumped it full of electricity, Frank & Zed would be the end result. Filmed over a period of six years, this “classic-gloved” puppet feature is a bold, messy passion project that quite literally envisions an orgy of blood, set long ago in “a foul castle.” An epic battle with a town full of murdered folks against Frank the Frankenstein creation and Zed the zombie turns out to be highly entertaining. My favorite parts were Frank and Zed working together to help each other, whether it be through cutting out brains or pumping electricity into their system. This super gory movie certainly proves that this set of puppets are not exactly filled with stuffing! Funded through Kickstarter with fully practical effects, the beauty of Frank & Zed is in the technical wizardry on display, rather than the somewhat convoluted storyline. The creativity it takes to envision on a scale this large is commendable, and let me forgive the narrative shortcomings. This is a movie that might have worked better as a short, though I am just happy to have it exist in the first place.


Diana (Annie Parisse) does not know how she is going to pay the college tuition for her daughter, Danielle (Rachel Resheff)—especially not when someone steals her identity. She takes it upon herself to go on a road trip with her son’s pregnant girlfriend, Marlene (Gus Birney), to track down this identity thief. Giving Birth to a Butterfly is an interesting cocktail of genres: 85% dull drama, and about 15% contemplative, bizarre mystery. When they arrive to two creepy twins (Judith Roberts) speaking in riddles and inviting them to stay the night, Diana and Marlene are faced with a strange decision. The problem is, once we reach this point, the movie is essentially at its end. These random, surreal elements do not mesh with the previous 45 minutes in any way. I was left with too many questions and not enough answers, and I felt ultimately unsatisfied with the end result.


Full review at the link.


Full review at the link.


This wildly inventive, deeply flawed coming-of-age horror movie takes an approach to witchcraft that embraces a 70s-style hippie grunge vibe. Hellbender—directed, written, and starring Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, and John Adams—frequently feels like a music video on acid in between the narrative parts. Izzy (Adams) and her Mother (Poser) are two serious weirdos living in the woods. Mother forbids Izzy from going anywhere beyond their cozy little area. When Izzy befriends Amber after stumbling upon the girl lounging poolside in an extravagant backyard, it is the first spark in embracing her femininity. Izzy says for fun that she hikes, draws, swims, and plays drums in her band, Hellbender—Amber is especially feeling this last item. Described as “a witch, a demon, and an apex predator combined,” Izzy comes into her own even as Mother tries to shield her from the most outrageous darkness of her very nature. The music is catchy, the creepy visuals are memorable, and a touch of cannibalism refuses to lighten the atmosphere. Ultimately, Hellbender is visually stunning, but emotionally bereft.


Full review at the link.


Kratt has to be one of the kookiest entries in the Fantasia lineup. This Estonian film starts with Wes Anderson vibes, as two city kids without their phones are forced to work with their grandma on the farm using “the world’s best fertilizer.” Grandma tells them a tale about the Count and his missing journal. These writings had instructions on how to make a creature called a Kratt—a being that does all one’s work and brings mounds of gold, according to legend. The kids take it upon themselves to seek out the journal and make a Kratt of their very own. All it needs is a soul, so what could go wrong? The comedy does not quite hit, with many of the jokes falling flat, including multiple mentions of dabbing. Only the goofiest scene, wherein a fart is lit wit a match and the person subsequently shoots into the sky like fireworks, made me laugh. Kratt is incredibly unbalanced, considering the strengths of the first half clashing against the silliness of the latter. Still, there is half a good movie here. 


Full review at the link.


Mad God has got to be one of the weirdest movies I have ever seen in my entire life, a statement I seriously do not say lightly. Overwhelmed would be the first word to come to mind, simply because both the spectacle and dialogue-free narrative are not easy to follow. It goes without saying that the stop motion animation and visuals are obviously incredible. A bizarre autopsy scene, weird creatures, excessive violence, and steampunk machinery—Mad God is a deep dive into the headspace of legendary creative Phil Tippett.


An old-school (and highly conventional) ghost story, complete with a creepy child who climbs in through bedroom windows at night, is exactly what writer/director Ruth Platt brings to the table in mildly effective chiller Martyrs Lane. An atmospheric opening, where we follow ten year-old Leah (Kiera Thompson) as she bikes down a long eerie stretch of road surrounded by suffocating woods, sets the stage in an impressive way. What follows fails to maintain the impressive setup, occasionally flirting with true horror, yet mostly skirting along through character conflict and mysterious trauma of the past. The visuals are striking and work best when they play up the imposing woods, or when Leah finds a beaten-up old doll missing an eye. Playing cute childhood games with a bloody-nosed girl can only stay engaging for a short window of time before one craves more action or horrific antics. 


Full review at the link.


From acclaimed indie director Dodo Dayao, who also co-wrote the script with Bradley Lieu, this high-concept horror mystery suffocates from terrible dialogue. “The darkness is off the charts,” one character observes while literally standing in the dark. Set in Manila, we follow the urban legend of strange blackouts that will consume you if you stay out after midnight. Four friends are forced to confront the legend head on, whether they believe it or not. Stunning, atmospheric visuals try hard to overcome hollow characterization. It shows alternate perspectives in a somewhat fresh way; I wanted to see even more. If the envelope was pushed, the script tightened up, and the drug storyline mostly clipped, this would be exceedingly more palatable.


Full review at the link.


Full review at the link.


Selected for a “platinum level exclusive contest,” Maria (Susanne West) walks away from her career and embraces the exciting chance of a lifetime. The rules are simple: five competitors must compete in eight rounds, and at the end, whoever has the most points wins “a brand new habanero-orange compact SUV.” Perhaps not the most exciting prize, yet the promise of “authentic personal transcendence” could prove too enticing to miss. The first two challenges go by quickly, but then it starts to drag. It was a little difficult to gauge the overall tone they were attempting here. At times, the dark humor in Stanleyville is suffocating, while at other intervals, this concept is played deathly serious. I wish there was more to the narrative, because as it stands, it is incredibly straightforward and obvious. Fleeting moments of clever asides—and veteran character actor Julian Richings as the bumbling host of the bizarre contest—provide passable, if slight, entertainment.


(Written by Allison Brown) Looking for a quirky and off-beat Asian film? Director Bee Thiam Tan’s Tiong Bahru Social Club is here to provide a mix of the oversaturated pastel hues and black comedy of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, along with sci-fi tech elements that could be pulled from the scenes of a Black Mirror episode. Ah Bee (Thomas Pan) lives with his mother, but on his 30th birthday, he is urged to move out to live and work in the “happiest neighborhood in the world,” the Tiong Bahru Social Club. This utopian society provides happiness rings (to “measure happiness and positive impact on others”), a Betterment Ratio Assisted Volition Oscillator (better known as BRAVO60, to monitor your happiness level and offer means of improving it), an assigned senior client (or elderly resident whose happiness is key to a job promotion), an ideal apartment, and even a perfect partner determined by an algorithm. Everyone’s sole goal in life is to mutually improve the happiness levels of the community. There were several comedic moments of the film which enforced the cult-like nature of the association, such as coordinated laughing, cuddling lessons, a scene where there is an instruction manual and observed critique for sex, and frequent absurd chanting of “Very good, very good. Yay!” Tiong Bahru Social Club is a fun film with great insights and creative technology, but some of the execution could be improved. I really enjoyed it, yet I expected to love it more than I did. Despite this, I highly recommend checking it out during the festival.


Full review at the link.


Full review at the link.


When I Consume You is the type of film I imagine would be incredibly meaningful for the right subset of people, particularly if suffering from addiction, anxiety, or depression. There is deep meaning in the way it approaches each of these topics, seemingly by placing emphasis on horror through metaphor. For me, I simply could not connect to any of these characters, most of all the lead, Wilson (Evan Dumouchel), who is frustrating to follow. Convinced his sister has succumbed to something more sinister than drugs, Wilson sets out to prove that Daphne (Libby Ewing) has actually been murdered. The imagery hits a nerve (the recurring visual of creepy glowing eyes shining out from the darkness gave me chills), but does not feel vital enough to effect the story. It leans more into the drama than anything else, including weird contemplative poetic quotes. Sad, emotional, and slow, When I Consume You may appeal to fans of slow-burn horror.


About twenty minutes or so into action/thriller Yakuza Princess, I became convinced that it had to be based on a graphic novel. The primary reason for this assumption is the complex lore and bloody, visceral action-violence. It turns out the film is, indeed, based upon Danilo Beyruth’s Samurai Shiro—if any recent film has felt like a graphic novel come to life, it is Yakuza Princess. Teaming up heartthrob Jonathan Rhys Meyers with talented pop singer MASUMI, both in supreme badass mode, is a winning combination that proves a joy to watch. The final act is explosive, but lacks the satisfying bite of other revenge thrillers. Still, if you are in the mood for graphic-novel style action hijinks, Yakuza Princess could be just what the doctor ordered.



Full review at the link.


Full review at the link.


Full review at the link.


Full review at the link.


The Feast is basically a less compelling version of The Invitation. Great gore effects and visuals are underserved by a hollow storyline. Acting is great and editing is tight, but this film mostly left me baffled. (Previously viewed at SXSW.)


Full review at the link.


The Spine of Night is completely and totally bonkers. The 2D animation is stunning and brings to mind similar adult animated fare, like Heavy Metal. Graphic nudity coupled with brutal violence (people are sliced in half, bones crack out of bodies, heads explode, etc) makes the convoluted storyline easier to digest. I think I’d need to see this again just to be able to decipher the plot. The first act is very Game of Thrones; the rest is something entirely different. (Previously viewed at SXSW.)


Full review at the link.


Full review at the link.


Things I learned from Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror:
• You can easily sustain a full 3 hours and 14 minutes of horror doc content.
• America is scared of the past and pagans!
• Hoodoo vs. Voodoo
• There is no such thing as Indian burial grounds.
• I have tons more folk horror I need to watch.
• “O Death” will always be the best end credits song.

Five Favorite Films from Fantasia 2021

I really enjoyed this festival, as it exposed me to several curiosities that I definitely would not have seen otherwise. Aside from my top five, surprises like The Righteous, Hayop Ka!, Glasshouse and King Knight meant I never knew what to expect before hitting play on each title. Thanks for following our coverage of the festival, and we hope to cover it again next year! For a full listing of everything that screened at Montreal’s 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival, please check out the official website.

One thought on “Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 Wrap-Up

  1. I’ve been looking to watch Frank & Zed all over the place and I can’t find it. Do you know where to stream it? I don’t care about price.

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