Fantasia Film Festival 2021 – Preview

Fantasia Film Festival is back for 2021! The 25th edition of arguably the most prestigious genre film festival in the world will run from 5th – 25th August, and is once again based out of Montreal, Canada.

The line-up this year is as exciting and off-the-wall as ever, and comes with a distinctly Asian flavour as the festival showcases a number of Japanese titles. There are over 115 features playing this year (plus some intriguing shorts showcases) in a hybrid festival that’s combining in-person screenings with virtual access – so whatever your COVID situation, there should be a way for you to partake in the genre goodness.

But where to begin? Well, we’ve identified a number of the most exciting prospects to get you exciting – plus we’ve been fortunate enough to have already seen and reviewed a small number of the titles at other stops on the festival circuit. So without further ado, here are our tips:

Titles we’ve already reviewed, and recommend:

We’re All Going To The World’s Fair (Dir: Jane Schoenbrun.) From Sunday 8 Aug

A young girl takes part in a an online horror role playing game, where fantasy and reality start to become dangerously malleable. This wonderful parable of losing and finding yourself online is our favourite film of the year so far. Review from Sundance 2021.

The Spine of Night (Dir: Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King.) From Saturday 14 Aug

Over many generations, the use and abuse of a magical flower destabilises a fantasy kingdom – but is this world destined for death, or rebirth? This rotoscoped old-school fantasy epic channels the power of early-80s Ralph Bakshi, John Borman’s Excalibur and Mike Hodge’s Flash Gordon. Review from SXSW 2021

Alien on Stage (Dirs: Danielle Kummer & Lucy Harvey.) Playing on demand.

A crew of Dorset bus drivers stage their own production of Ridley Scott’s Alien. But can they transfer to London’s West End without falling flat on their faces? An uplifting, joyful and often pretty funny tale of perseverance and Styrofoam. Review from Frightfest Halloween 2020

Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche (Dirs: Paul Sng & Celeste Bell.) Playing on demand.

The death of punk icon Poly Styrene, singer with the cult band X-Ray Spex, leads her daughter to follow in her footsteps and try to understand the mother who pulled out of public life near the peak of her fame. A must-see, particularly in light of modern conversations around Britney Spears etc. Review from SXSW 2021.

The Story of Southern Islet (Dir: Keat Aun Chong.) From Sunday 15 Aug

A western-educated Malaysian woman gradually, despite her rationalist instincts, becomes convinced her sick Chinese husband has been placed under a curse by a Thai neighbour. But can she learn enough about the forces at play to undo what has been done to him? Set in 1987 against a backdrop of rising Malay nationalism, this beautiful, quiet, contemplative film reminded me of Mati Diop’s Atlantics, with its use of national borders and cultural barriers as metaphors for the boundary between life and death. Review from IFFR 2021.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion (Dir: Jacob Gentry.) Playing on demand.

A man haunted by memories of his missing girlfriend is busy digitising archive tapes of TV broadcasts when he finds a mysterious pirate video signal in the old footage. Do the eerie images give a clue as to the fate of his lost love? A wonderfully unsettling tale of paranoia and delusion that take the viewer down a rabbit hole of dread. Review from SXSW 2021.

Coming Home In The Dark (Dir: James Ashcroft.) Playing on demand.

A family’s hiking holiday is interrupted by a couple of sadistic thugs. But what exactly are they after? A brutal, gripping voyage into the darkness. Review from Sundance 2021.

Cryptozoo (Dir: Dash Shaw.) From Sunday 21 Aug.

In a world of cryptids, one woman struggles to do the right thing. A gorgeously animated, and very trippy, work from a unique imagination. Review from Sundance 2021.

Prisoners Of The Ghostland (Dir: Sion Sono.) From Friday 20 Aug.

Sion Sono’s latest is set somewhere in the 20th Century (to borrow a line from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil), and somewhere on the border between feudal Japan and the Wild West. Nicolas Cage’s Mad Max-esque outlaw figure is sent to retrieve a kidnapped girl from a doomsday cult that’s trying to halt the flow of time itself. Worth seeing for Cage in full kung-fu rant mode, with his testicles wired to explode. Review from Sundance 2021.

Woodlands Dark And Days Bewitched (Dir: Kier-La Janisse). Playing on demand.

A 3h14m documentary about folk horror movies. Perhaps no review is necessary – you probably already know if this is for you! The highlight is the first hour, focusing on British folk horror – later sections on America and then the rest of the world yield diminishing returns as the definition of ‘folk horror’ is gradually expanded to include anything based on folklore, and so the doc starts to lose some of its focus. But it’s never less than fascinating, and a must-see for horror aficionados! Review from SXSW 2021.

Not previously reviewed by us, but hotly anticipated – we plan to watch all of these!

Stay tuned for reviews as embargos lift…

Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes (Dir: Junta Yamaguchi) Playing on demand.

When his iMac starts to show a video feed from two minutes into the future, a young slacker and his buddies try to work out how to turn things to their advantage. This promises low-fi goofy fun.

Bull (Dir: Paul Andrew Williams) From Friday Aug 6.

British genre favourite Neil Maskell (Kill List) stars as the titular ‘Bull’, who comes home after 10 years to wreck revenge on those who wronged him. That set-up gives me Dead Mans Shoes vibes, but can Bull fill them? We shall see!

King Knight (Dir: Richard Bates Jr.) From Sunday 8 Aug.

After an unexpected setback, the High Priest of a modern day coven (Matthew Gray Gubler) sets out on a journey of self discovery. With cameos from Barbara Crampton, and Audrey Plaza as the voice of “Pine Cone”. I wonder if that’s an actual pine cone.

On The Third Day (Dir: Daniel de la Vega) Monday 23 Aug.

Argentinian mystery horror: a woman in a road traffic accident wakes up three days later with her son missing. But is everything as it seems?

The Sadness (Dir: Robert Jabbaz) Saturday 21 Aug.

Taiwanese zombie outbreak movie, promising blood, gore, and a whole lot more… to the extent some trigger warnings may be required?

Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist (Dir: Pascal-Alex Vincent) Playing on demand.

One of the undisputed masters of anime, specialising in tales of derealisation, memory and fantasy, Satoshi Kon was taken from us too soon in his mid-40s. This documentary looks at his work and legacy, and will be a must-see for fans of his groundbreaking vision.

Strawberry Mansion (Dirs: Kentucker Audley & Albert Birney) Playing on demand.

The trailer shows a beautifully low-fi depiction of a dream world within an alternative present. Co-director Audley stars as an insurance auditor digging through dreams and perhaps finding more than expected.

The Great Yokai War: Guardians (Dir: Takashi Miike) Wednesday 25 August.

Director Miike’s sequel to his own eco-friendly retelling of the classic Japanese ‘Momotaro’ narrative, with a young boy called to his destiny – to battle evil Yokai (natural spirits) who are gathering to force a so-called “natural disaster” on Tokyo, Japan, and the world.

The Last Thing Mary Saw (Dir: Edoardo Vitaletti) From Sun 15 Aug.

In 1843, a recently-blinded young woman is interrogated about the death of her grandmother, the family matriarch. What was the last thing Mary saw? The framing narrative suggests The Usual Suspects; the early images suggest The Witch – and advance buzz is strong.

What Josiah Saw (Dir: Vincent Grashaw) From Fri 13 August.

The film some are already calling “this year’s The Dark And The Wicked.” A fair comparison? We shall see, but we’re already excited.

So, there’s our preview – be sure to circle back for more reviews once the festival is under way!

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