Fantasia 2019 Review: Terrifying Japanese Ghost Story ‘Stare’ Won’t Let You Look Away

First, the lights start to flicker. Then, you hear a quiet tinkling of bells. You turn to find the source of the noise and find a woman hiding in the shadows. Her face is covered with long, black hair and her hands are pressed together in front of her. As she gets closer, she looks up and reveals her unnaturally large eyes. This is the last thing you see before she claims your eyes. This is Shirai-san, the ghost of Otsuichi’s newest film, Stare, which premiered this year at Fantasia. 

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Fantasia 2019 Review: Step Into A Different Kind of Post Apocalyptic World in ‘Riot Girls’

In a world without parents, kids actually know what they’re doing for the most part. They can take care of each other, find the basics of survival, and make life work in a land without adults. But, without parents, the typical teenage tensions of jock versus punk bubble up into violent rivalries. This is the world of Jovanka Vuckovic’s Riot Girls. Her feature-film debut is jocks vs. punks, east side vs. west side, rich vs. poor, all in the name of survival. Yet, despite these rivalries, Riot Girls is still a hilarious and colorful film that lets kids be kids while also kicking major ass.

It is an alternate version of 1995. A strange wasting disease has wiped out all of the adults. This has left kids to fend for themselves and form alliances. Here, the poor kids live on the east side of town, while the rich jocks live on the west side. On the east side, we meet Scratch (Paloma Kwiatkowski) and Nat (Madison Iseman), two punks trying to have fun in the face of a terrifying reality. Scratch sports a tall mohawk, Nat wears thick eyeliner, and both wear leather jackets covered in patches and spikes. Punk never dies, even in the face of the apocalypse. However, they must dig deep into their punk sensibilities when Nat’s brother and the group’s leader, Jack (Alexandre Bourgeois), is kidnapped by the west side jocks, also known as the Titans.

The Titans, ruled with an iron fist by Jeremy (Munro Chambers), the oldest kid in town, live in the local high school and train kids to be ruthless fighters. Meanwhile, the east side has a much more relaxed approach, treating each other as equals and living in harmony without dictator-like rule. This is a story of jocks versus nerds and outcasts taken to the extreme. The jocks, of course, rule the school, wear letter jackets like military uniforms, and collect weapons like candy. The outcasts have a more DIY approach, not unlike the punk movement. They don’t have many vehicles, they use bats are protection, and their “uniforms” are band t shirts and leather jackets emblazoned with phrases like “Eat the Rich.”

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Fantasia 2019 Review: Dive Into South African Horror and Folklore in ‘8: A South African Horror’

So often, American film tropes are looked to as the golden standard, a potential guide for international filmmakers who want to make it big in Hollywood. But there is nothing more satisfying than seeing an indie horror film that is not from the U.S. utilize certain tropes in order to highlight a unique story. This is the case in Harold Hölscher’s feature film debut, 8: A South African Horror. Hölscher gives a well-tread story of worlds colliding a breath of fresh air by incorporating South African folklore, racial tensions, and beautiful visuals. 8, while not persistently scary, is a melancholy fairytale the likes of which the Grimm Brothers have never seen.

The film begins in 1977 with a downtrodden trio heading to their new home. Couple William (Garth Breytenbach) and Sarah (Inge Beckmann) have taken in his sister’s child, Mary (Keita Luna), after her parents’ deaths. Each is full of their own sadness, from mourning parents to mourning the inability to become pregnant. But this farm will be a fresh start for them, a place where they’ll come together as a family. Then, they meet Lazarus (Tshamano Sebe), a mysterious man who lives in the woods surrounding the farm who carries a suspiciously large bag. He asks William for a job, explaining that he once worked for William’s father and would love to help in anyway he can. Mary and Lazarus strike up a friendship, finding understanding and compassion in one another. Yet, he is not what he seems.

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Fantasia 2019 Review: ‘Harpoon’ is a Deeply Disturbing and Darkly Comedic Look at Male Entitlement

It all starts with a harpoon, a spear-like weapon used for fishing that can pierce flesh at astonishing speeds. So it makes sense to gift a harpoon to your friend with anger management issues, right? This is how Rob Grant’s newest film, Harpoon, opens, with a simple gift to an angry man. What ensues is a tale of resentment, friendship, and toxic masculinity on the open sea.

Richard (Christopher Gray), Jonah (Munro Chambers), and Sasha (Emily Tyra) are a trio of misfit friends with a rocky history. Richard is wealthy and has an extremely short temper, which was inherited from his father. Jonah is mopey and was constantly berated by his parents, until they died. Sasha, Richard’s girlfriend, is their reluctant caretaker who must play the referee between their antics. And we are introduced to this strange trio in a moment of violence: Richard beating Jonah’s face in while Sasha screams for him to stop all over a misunderstood text message. They explain they were texting about Richard’s birthday present, a harpoon with a mahogany handle. 

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Fantasia 2019 Review: Revenge-Filled ‘A Good Woman Is Hard to Find’ is A Satisfying Hit to Patriarchal Expectations

A camera opens on a woman shaking and covered in blood, but it’s not her own. It follows her closely as she quickly washes herself off to hide any evidence of violence. We learn that this is Sarah (Sarah Bolger), a widow who is trying her best to raise her two kids after the murder of her husband. She is the focus of Abner Pastoll’s film, A Good Woman Is Hard to Find, which screened at this year’s Fantasia Fest. This is a film full of misogyny, blood, violence, and a woman fighting back against it all in the name of a better life for her kids.

In the midst of trying to care for her kids and find her husband’s killer, Sarah becomes forcibly involved with a drug dealer named Tito (Andrew Simpson), who shoves his way into her apartment after stealing drugs. Sure, she gets a cut of the profits but as Tito gets too comfortable and familiar with her home, she turns to violence to protect her family. Meanwhile, a grammar-obsessed crime boss named Leo (Edward Hogg) is searching for Tito after he stole his drugs. All of their paths meet in a mess of gore and dismemberment.

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Fantasia 2019 Review: ‘The Deeper You Dig’ is a Beautifully Sad Look at Grief and Guilt

The Deeper You Dig is a deeply impressive film. It is the passion project of family trio John Adams, Toby Poser, and their daughter Zelda Adams. All three of them took on the roles of stars, directors, writers, camera operators, and composers to create their film, The Deeper You Dig, a ghost story about coping with tragedy. It is truly a DIY film that exemplifies the power of indie filmmaking and the gorgeously devastating stories begging to be told. 

Shot in their hometown in upstate New York, The Deeper You Dig revolves around three players. First, there is 14-year-old Echo, played by Zelda, who is on the precipice of adulthood. She wears dark blue lipstick and openly declares her hatred for school, but also wants to spend all night sledding in freshly fallen snow. Then there is her mother, Ivy, who works as a medium and Tarot card reader. Lastly, there is their neighbor, Kurt, who carries a dark cloud around him that he tries to fight away with a steady stream of booze. One night, as he’s drunkenly driving home from the bar, he hits Echo as she’s sledding in the dark. In a fit of fear and desperation, Kurt brings hides her body and kills her when she regains consciousness. 

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Fantasia 2019 Review: ‘Sadako’ is An Overzealous Attempt at Reviving a Franchise

The phrase, “seven days,” has echoed through the heads of my generation since the release of The Ring in 2002. This Naomi-Watts-helmed horror film brought fear and terror to the heart of many in the States. But before 2002, there was Hideo Nakata’s 1998 Japanese film, Ringu, which first brought the fear of a cursed videotape to our collective consciousness. Nakata’s film is about a vengeful ghost, Sadako, and how she murders those who watch her videotape. Since its initial release, Ringu has been adapted into an English remake and spurred an entire Japanese franchise of sequels and showdown flicks (Sadako fights Kayako, the ghost from Ju-On). Now, Nakata has returned to the Ringu franchise with Sadako, which premiered at Fantasia Fest this year. Unfortunately, Nakata’s return did not bring back the scares or originality. 

To be clear about the Ringu canon, Sadako is meant to be a direct sequel to Ringu 2. That sounds straightforward on paper, but really, Rasen was the first sequel. Then Nakata returned to make Ringu 2 due to Rasen’s poor reception. There are two cinematic timelines for this franchise, and yes it is very confusing! None of this really seems to come into play in Sadako, though, other than just knowing who she is.

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