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Fantasia Fest 2020 review roundup

Stills from The Columnist, 12 Hour Shift, Dinner in America, and Slaxx
Stills from The Columnist, 12 Hour Shift, Dinner in America, and Slaxx. (Image credit: Fantiasia International Film Festival)

Virtual Festivals are a whole new world. They might not be a better one, but it's the world we have right now. Despite all of its ups and downs, it at least still has movies. 

Fantasia Film Festival wrapped up its 2020 from home edition on Wednesday, September 2nd. During its run it showed a host of noteworthy titles, including the spectacularly weird 12 Hour Shift and Slaxx, and the more somber The Oak Room. Critic Matt Donato and Entertainment Editor Amelia Emberwing "headed" to the festival so they could chat about their favorites with all of you. 

Survival Skills 

Jim and Jenny in 'Survival Skills'

(Image credit: Fantasia International Film Festival)

Quinn Armstrong’s Survival Skills is a peculiar film. It’s adequately made, to be sure, and there’s something to be said for the 80s safety guide style of yore. The performances are all solid as well, but it seems like a film that’s not quite sure what it’s trying to say. It may be a victim of timing, as well. A Pleasantville style cop just wanting to do what’s right isn’t really something anyone’s looking for right now, but let’s take a look at it outside of our current political spectrum. 

Read Amelia's full review here.

The Mortuary Collection

(Image credit: Trapdoor Pictures)

The Mortuary Collection is a love-letter to 80s horror anthologies that’s slathered in guts and signed with a cloven hoof. Ryan Spindell shares his genre influences without shame, from Peter Jackson to Tales From The Crypt to Amicus classics and seventy-billion other references you'll easily connect. It’s the proper kind of homage that doesn’t cheaply bank on nostalgia but oozes passion and obsession like digging up a time capsule full of ghoulish period-past treats. A film that puts fresh meat on old bones and transports viewers back to a time when the fantastic and flamboyant gave life to graveyard haunts of the macabre, mystical, and practical-effects messy.

Read Matt's full review here. 

Dinner in America

(Image credit: Atlas Industries)

“Fuck the rest of ‘em, fuck ‘em all, fuck ‘em all but us.”

The above lyrics, performed by ostracized and bullied Patty (Emily Skeggs), pack an emotional punch I would never have predicted based on the first stretch of Adam Rehmeier’s Dinner In America. What starts as a nihilistic satire about Midwestern suburbia develops into an anthem for the outcasts produced by the unlikeliest pair. It’s punk-as-hell in a crudely anarchistic way but hides unconventional sweetness behind cynical defense mechanisms. Something you wouldn’t expect from earlier sequences filled with gay-panic dialogue (as commentary) and bastardizations of the red, white, and blue dream, the former which I could have done with less of, but still, sincerity prevails. Against all odds.

Read Matt's full review here.

12 Hour Shift

Regina (Chloe Farnworth) inspects her prize in '12 Hour Shift'.

(Image credit: 12 Hour Shift Productions)

Brea Grant’s 12 Hour Shift is what happens when a comedy of errors, a game of cat and mouse, and some exquisite weirdness make a film baby. It’s a dark comedy swaddled in a neo-noir blanket that doesn’t feel at all like a sophomore feature. While the first thirty minutes are a touch slow, you’ll find yourself cackling along with these characters’ odd misadventures as the story unfolds.

Read Amelia's full review here. 

Slaxx

Lord (Kenny Wong) is having some issues with one killer set of pants.

(Image credit: The Horror Co.)

Elza Kephart’s Slaxx is horror-comedy about capitalism and consumerism, as told through killer denim. If only to stress the importance of its themes when they matter most, Kephart and co-writer Patricia Gomez frontload their screenplay with gore and mall-rat humor. It's got the looks that kill, and they kill brutally, that's for sure. There are some structural issues presented when a jazzier, bloodier first two acts give way to a dourer, at-odds-with-itself third. However, Kephart still sustains the ridiculous mania of murderous trousers to an approvable degree.

Read Matt's full review here

The Oak Room

(Image credit: Black Fawn Films)

Cody Calahan’s The Oak Room emphasizes the power behind a good story. An isolated thriller takes place within a barroom, between tender and patron, like something Quentin Tarantino would appreciate. Each character spins their yarn - what’s revealed first, what’s held for impact - and dictates who holds the cards. “Yes, Matt, we know how storytelling works.” Right. But the way screenwriter Peter Genoway exploits liquor-soaked anecdotes, and the importance words hold, is a step-up in how character dynamics shift with each winding sentence. Command an audience, and you can get away with murder—very Fargo vibes, where silver tongues trump brainless action.

Read Matt's full review here.

Detention

(Image credit: 1 Production Film)

A wise entertainment journalist once said, "Horror video game adaptations maketh the best video game adaptations." Oh, right, that was me. I've already exhaustively detailed my argument, so let's catch up with the latest example: John Hsu's Detention. Based on a survival horror chiller by Taiwanese developer Red Candle Games, titled the same, that draws similarities to countless titles such as Silent Hill, DreadOut, and other spooky investigative gameplays. Narratives blend the living with the dead, the otherworldly with the earthly, as cinematic qualities translate effortlessly to screen.

Read Matt's full review here

Bleed With Me

(Image credit: Amelia Moses)

Is it a horror film if friends don’t abandon civilized comforts for an isolated woodland cabin? Amelia Moses’ Bleed With Me plants viewers in a weekend getaway destination similar to eleventy-billion other forest tucked rentals. No neighbors, spotty cellular service, power outages, the works. Familiarity is working against Moses’ narrative from the first road trip introduction, but talented filmmakers aren’t worried about retreading overused motifs or tropes. Like Evil Dead, Cabin Fever, Cabin In The Woods, and other, well, “cabin in the woods” terror tales have revitalized subgenre expectations, so does Bleed With Me

Read Matt's full review here.

Come True

(Image credit: Copperheart Entertainment)

Trends, in any genre, come and go. Cheeseball 80s slashers gave way to 90s meta-ness, the 00s were all about “dark, gritty” reboots, and so on. Today, A24’s influence through films like The Witch and Hereditary (among others) have inspired a brand of filmmaking defined by existential, often unexplained narratives. A film like Anthony Scott Burns’ Come True is both a byproduct and symptom of the times, stoking intrigue through ponderous storytelling that never wants to offer answers, only challenge our scope of “normal” through blurred lenses of reality. Ambitious, engaging but ultimately weakened by its narrative ambiguity (we'll get there).

Read Matt's full review here

Lucky

May (Brea Grant) prepares to tie up her attacker.

(Image credit: Epic Studios)

At first glance, Natasha Kermani’s Lucky appears to be your standard, run of the mill home invasion flick. It only takes several minutes before you realize that isn’t quite the case. The script, penned by lead actress Brea Grant, will then take the viewer on a ride that has them searching for hidden meaning and wondering just how sane our protagonist may be.

Read Amelia's full review here.

The Dark and the Wicked

(Image credit: RLJE Entertainment)

Bryan Bertino returns to The Strangers form in The Dark And The Wicked, a movie that purifies, quadruple-distills, and bottles true evil. It's what Webster's dictionary definition of "horror" would cite as an example. Bertino explores grief and death with chilly clutches that grasp, strangle, and offer no floating lifesaver of hope. "Wow, that sure sounds bleak!" You're everloving right because sometimes the world is a nasty place, and monsters lying in wait will strike without reason or mercy. Don't expect an artistic depiction of rotten heritage like Relic. Bertino doesn't care to provide contextual padding in the form of spiritual relief.

Read Matt's full review here.

The Columnist

Author Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) fresh from a kill.

(Image credit: NL Film)

Being a woman on the internet is challenging. Being a woman with opinions on the internet? That opens you up to a whole host of terrible things. Death threats, rape threats, doxing… the list kind of just goes on and on. It’s this very subject that Ivo Van Aart’s The Columnist acknowledges. 

Read Amelia's full review here.