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Fantasia 2006 Complete preview : Spotlights

Bloody Blighty: The
New Wave Of British Horror Cinema

The British horror film
has long been celebrated for its penchant towards character driven pieces that
rely on strong ensemble performances and evocative atmosphere to bring
credibility to even the loopiest of scenarios. The UK genre films of the 50’ and
60’s operated in stark contrast to their often light or campy American
contemporaries, taking vampires, werewolves and the like into real-world, often
working class environments, populated by wholly believable characters. These
films seldom made light of their subjects and their lead performers, who
regularly hailed from theater backgrounds, often lent the productions a quality
that bordered on the Shakespearian.  

Today’s new wave of UK genre filmmakers have upheld their country’s tradition
for intelligent character-driven horror, fusing it with the visceral ferocity
being seen in the current US crops. The results are often breathtaking, and
several of this year’s UK genre films rank among the strongest works of their
kind produced anywhere in the last 12 months.

THE DESCENT (Official Opening
UK   Dir: Neil Marshall, 2005
Canadian premiere
Several women on a cave expedition find
themselves all-but buried alive after a rockslide seals off their exit. The only
possible way out is down. As claustrophobia builds to suffocating
extremes, a bad situation turns ferociously worse when the women realize that
they are being stalked by an age-old forgotten species. Heart-stoppingly intense
(it’s a wonder nobody has died during a screening), wholly character-driven and
unbelievably engrossing, The Descent has been widely hailed as the most
frightening horror film of the year, which is an understatement. It is one of
the most effective horror films of the past decade. This recent review
quote from The Guardian’s Mark Kermode says it all: “”One of the best British
horror films of recent years. I jumped, I gasped, I winced, I cringed and, for
lengthy periods of The Descent, I simply held my breath”.

UK  Dir: Billy O’ Brian, 2005
Montreal Premiere
With the bank knocking
at the door and the bills piling up, a farmer agrees to have his cattle used for
genetic research in a series of breeding experiments. Soon it is clear that all
is far from well and the farmer along with an isolated group are fighting for
their lives, under assault by the horrific result of genetic experimentation
gone grotesquely wrong. Executed with a serious, matter-of-fact tone that makes
it very easy to buy into what is not such a farfetched scenario (the film’s
monster was created by simply merging two actual, well-documented cattle
mutations). Isolation asks a surprisingly frightening question: what are
you eating? 

UK,  Dir: Simon Rumley, 2006
North American Premiere, hosted by
director Simon Rumley
Making its North American
debut after a strong launch at this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival, this
hallucinatory nightmare plays like a Merchant Ivory production directed by
Darren Aronofsky.   In an arthouse spin on the Old Dark House subgenre,  the
film takes us into Longleigh, a decaying English mansion inhabited by a decaying
aristocratic family –  patriarch Donald, his bed-ridden wife Nancy and their
mentally challenged, highly unstable schizophrenic son James. Donald leaves town
on a business, leaving Nancy in the care of a nurse. Misdosing on his meds,
James decides that, as the “man of the house”, he’s going to nurse his mother
back to health, shutting out her homecare nurse and taking the phone off the
hook. The film evolves into a surreal barrage of sometimes violent,
quasi-existential nightmare sequences that ultimately leave the outcome up to
the viewer which, any way you slice it, isn’t pretty./p>

UK, Dir: Michael J. Bassett, 2006
North American Premiere, hosted by
director Michael J. Bassett
Brace yourself for this
gripping genre hybrid that plays like a cross between Lord Of The Flies,
Friday The 13th and Deliverance. Vicious bullying leads to the
suicide of a timid inmate at the Moorgate Young Offenders Institute. The
administration’s solution is to pack up everyone who had resided in the dead
boy’s dorm – an assembly of violent sociopaths, repeat sex offenders,
white-power skinheads and armed robbers – and send the entire lot “outward
bound” to a deserted island for a part of their sentence. Once abandoned, the
prisoners find themselves hunted by a vicious ex-military man. Strong ensemble
performances and gruesomely inventive shock setpieces rocket this one through
the stratosphere, and make Wilderness one of the most intense films of
the year. On the basis of this film, director Bassett was hired by Fox to helm
the sequel to this year’s Hills Have Eyes.  

Also screening in this
series are Simon Boyes & Adam Mason’s BROKEN, Jake West’s EVIL ALIENS and Sam
Walker’s infamous short film DUCK CHILDREN.


A small
sampling of genre trends in Russian cinema, mounted to announce that this is a
country whose distinctive filmmaking will regularly be showcased at Fantasia
from this year onwards.


Russia  Dir: Oleg Kompasov
North American Premiere 
+ Though little known on
these shores, Sergei Lukianenko is nothing less than a sensation in his native
Russia. In fact, you could fairly say that Lukianenko is the man largely
responsible for the current boom in Russian genre film. Lukianenko is an
enormously popular author of science fiction and fantasy, best known on these
shores as the author of both the novels and screenplays that formed the basis of
the hugely successful Night Watch and its sequel Day Watch. With
its blend of science fiction and kid-oriented action elements, Aziris Nuna
aims for the adventure feel of films. Helping greatly to that end is some
stellar design and effects work – this is quite simply a beautiful film.
Aziris Nuna
shows another side to Lukianenko.


Russia Dir: Denis Neimand
North American Premiere, hosted by
Director Denis Neimand

+ A psychopathic
serial killer is up for sentencing and Marina, a onetime ace Muscovite who’s
trying to quit the game, is asked to interview him before final word comes down.
She grudgingly agrees, but on the morning she is due to meet with him, the
killer escapes and Marina is swept up in the pursuit, eventually becoming lost
with a lone police investigator in an abandoned dacha town now populated only by
a handful of society’s outcasts – criminals, degenerates and predators all. From
the stunning opening sequence onward, one thing is abundantly clear: director
Denis Neimand has an exceptional eye. The film is beautifully shot, tension
expertly manipulated, and Neimand includes a handful of excellent action set
pieces. Helping things along are a strong cast and if the film feels a little
familiar in the middle act, it is only to set up the slyly subversive ending.


Russia Dir: Aleksei Sidorov
North American Premiere
+ Artem is boxing’s great
white hope. Smelling the massive box-office potential of a series of bouts
against a legitimate white contender, the American champ’s promoter offers Artem
a deal to throw the match to set up a lucrative repeat performance, but Artem’s
team is too proud to accept – this will be settled in the ring, with their
fists. But pride comes before a fall and, when the fall inevitably comes, Artem
is left broken, blinded, and on the run from drug dealers, the police and his
own promoter. A big, glossy action picture, Shadowboxing boasts a likable
cast, fantastic production values and some stunning action set pieces. A
sprawling piece of work unafraid to criticize its own culture – from the desire
for American-style success through to the mob influence on local business. 

VIY (1967)
Russia  Dirs:  Konstantin Ershov,
Giorgi Kropachyov, Aleksandr Ptushko
New 35mm print, hosted by Russian film
historian / preservationist Alla Verlotsky

+ Viy
, based on
Nikolai Gogol’s short story, is one of two seminal pre-The Exorcist
“possession” films. Viy is striking in the way it blends fantasy with
early Soviet film history, most notably the aesthetics of post-Revolution Soviet
cinema. What will strike audiences today are the three increasingly horrific
nights that Khoma spends in the church doing battle with the evil spirit
possessing the young woman’s body. The first two set pieces are exercises in
effective use of camera movement to reflect the supernatural, while the third is
an overload of expressive shadow-play, stop-motion animation, creative set
design and special effects, as the witch summons all forms of creature in an
attempt to overwhelm Khoma in a literal “all hell breaks loose” climactic,
not-to-be-forgotten set piece. 



The very dawn of cinema is rooted in the fantastic, from Méliès’ Le Voyage
Dans La Lune
(1902)  to Edison’s Frankenstein (1910), and the
painstaking methods of stop-motion animation developed in unison alongside the 7th
art as a means to create elements that do not exist in nature.  Now mostly
abandoned in favour of cold, computer generated creations, the old-school art of
stop-motion is being kept alive and vital almost exclusively by obsessive
auteurs who use the form to bring life to their deepest personal visions in the
most hands-on manor in which one can possibly make a film. For our 10th
anniversary, we felt compelled to organize a small salute to several of the most
intriguing contemporary stop-motion filmmakers working today. In a fateful note
of programming synergy, it bears mentioning that Britain’s Robert Morgan, whose
extraordinary work is a key component of this tribute, could just as well be
listed in our UK New Wave spotlight.


USA  Dir: Christiane Cegavske, 2006
Canadian Premiere
+ An astonishing and
Lynchean, 13-years-in-the-making independent masterwork – written, produced,
animated, and directed by a single woman, who also built every character and
set, armed with nothing more than a 16mm Bolex and a credit card. With the tone
of a child’s nightmare, the film follows a group of beaked creatures who build a
doll, sew an egg inside her womb and hang her Christ-like in an oak tree. The
figure is stolen by a pack of aristocratic mice in turtle-drawn carriage,
leading the creatures into a dream-like quest to retrieve it. A triumph of
creative passion as an all-consuming force of nature, brimming with wonder,
twisting with madness and hitting its eccentric marks with a uniqueness seldom
seen in modern film, Blood Tea is a dialogue-free aria of unrestrained


Czech Republic  Dir: Jan Svankmajer,
Canadian Premiere
The latest production from legendary Czech surrealist Svankmajer (ALICE, FAUST,
LITTLE OTIK) loosely adopts the writings of the Marquis de Sade and Edgar Allan
Poe to create a forceful black comedy about societal perceptions of freedom and
mental illness, while simultaneously lashing out against institutional
manipulation and the trappings of what people are willing to accept as good or
evil. Coming from Svankmajer, it should be no surprise that these issues are
occasionally addressed with stop-motion animated pig brains, cow eyes and slabs
of rotting meat. Svankmajer’s most radical and subversive film to date concerns
the plight of a man who is talked into confronting his fears of madness by
undergoing “preventative therapy”…and checking himself into an institution for
the insane.


UK    Dir: Robert Morgan
Screening are: Man In
The Lower-Left Hand Corner Of The Photograph
(1997), The Cat With Hands
(2001), The Separation (2003) and Monsters (2004), followed by an
extensive discussion with the filmmaker.

Britain’s Robert Morgan
is one of the most visionary genre filmmakers working today, and chances are,
due to sorry state of short film distribution, you have yet to hear of him. 
Morgan’s shorts are surreal mini-epics of inner crisis and morbid grotesqueries.
Each captures the essence of a child’s fascination with death, deformity and
decay, and merges it with the dark, philosophical ponderings and fears of adults
in their most shattered state. Imagine a fusion between the sensibilities of
David Cronenberg, Ingmar Bergman, Tim Burton, Clive Barker, Salvador Dali and
the Quays, and you’ll have a partial idea of the sheer brilliance of this man’s
work. His films seem to win prizes whenever screened, THE SEPARATION alone
having won no fewer than 15, including one at Fantasia. We are very excited to
bringing Morgan to Montreal to host a special screening block of his complete filmography.  

Also screening are numerous stop-motion
shorts, including one from Jan Svankmajer’s son, Vaclav.

More Fantasia coverage on Ioncinema :

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