Fantasia Festival 2021 Lineup Preview

Last year, CineFiles covered the Fantasia International Film Festival for the first time. Due to everything occurring in the world in 2020, the festival went virtual, allowing someone without the means or adequate free time to attend an in-person festival in Montreal (i.e., myself) a chance to experience a cavalcade of fresh, original genre film content.

That festival screened some great films. Arthur Jones’ documentary Feels Good Man, which shined a light into the cavernous darkness of the internet. Special Actors, Shinichiro Ueda’s follow up to the inventive horror comedy One Cut of the Dead, itself an inventive and fun film with a knotty plot. And Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s swan song, Labyrinth of Cinema, a life-affirming and melancholic exploration of life, history, and the cinema (I believe its U.S. release date technically makes it a 2021 film for the purposes of my best of the year list, so stay tuned…).

2021’s Fantasia Festival begins on August 5, and we will be covering it again from the comfort of our own homes. This year’s festival will be a hybrid, so there are selections which can be watched on demand through the festival’s website. You can see the full program here, but in the meantime let’s look at a few films worth looking forward to.

Prisoners of the Ghostland

Easily one of my most anticipated films of the year, Prisoners of the Ghostland is the unlikely collaboration between director Sion Sono and actor Nicholas Cage. That fact alone is enough for me to be sold on this—the subversive and provocative filmmaking of Sono meets the erratic and undeniably meme-worthy acting of Cage. It’s either a match made in heaven or a glorious disaster. Either way, I want in. What reads as a samurai western blended with a post-apocalyptic nightmare, Prisoners of the Ghostland will no doubt be a whole lotta something.

Straight to VHS

If you have read any film festival coverage on this site, then you know I am a sucker for films which tap into VHS nostalgia. I can’t really explain why that is, but the premise always hooks me. Also, film festivals always seem to have at least one film which fits this bill. Fantasia is no different. Last year they had Survival Skills (not my favorite of its ilk, but it tried for something different). This year, it is Straight to VHS, a documentary about an elusive Uruguayan cult film of the 1980s, Act of Violence in a Young Journalist (which is playing the fest alongside the doc). The doc follows filmmaker Emilio Silva Torres’ attempt to track down the director of Act of Violence and make some sense of its existence as a strange artifact of Uruguay cinema.

Frank & Zed

A Frankenstein-esque tale depicted with puppets and made over a long period of time with a skeleton crew, Frank & Zed appears an ambitious debut for Jesse Blanchard. With dozens of hand-crafted puppets and the promise of an “Orgy of Blood,” consider my interest piqued. At the very least, this looks to be a labor of love for Blanchard, who took six years to bring the project to the screen, and hopefully that passion will translate into the work itself.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

Jane Schoenbrun’s first narrative feature is a horror film about an internet game called the “World’s Fair Challenge.” I’m keeping myself willfully in the dark regarding the details of this one, but it is reportedly doing something not overly dissimilar from other recent internet-based horror films, albeit doing it with less of a technophobic stance. Also, it apparently comes from a place of clearer understanding of the internet and its cultural function (I imagine something closer to a Searching than an Untraceable. You remember Untraceable? Boy, what a bomb!).

The Great Yokai War — Guardians

The festival’s closing night film comes from the legend of Japanese genre cinema, Takashi Miike, and is the sequel to his 2005 film. The titular war of the film involves “gentle demons” of various guises, a fantasy battle of myth and legend. Miike is an astoundingly prolific filmmaker, and understandably his oeuvre runs the gamut, both in terms of scope and quality. Thus, it is hard to predict how The Great Yokai War — Guardians will play. But it looks like a wild ride.


As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)

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