Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011 Wrap Up

After six years, Toronto After Dark is bigger than ever. The films are better, the lines are longer and the fan-frenzy is wilder. This year’s chilling selection included: civil war zombies, creepy abductors, cliff-hanging killers, post-apocalyptic insanity and suburban hell – a sci-fi horror fan’s paradise.

Writer-director John Geddes’ Exit Humanity is a post-civil war zombie epic set in 1870’sTennessee. When his wife and son fall victim to the undead, Edward Young (Mark Gibson in a breakout performance) flees across the countryside for survival, but zombies are the least of his worries after he’s captured by a band of ruthless Confederate soldiers who are obsessed with conducting medical experiments. Geddes‘ concept of zombies in the old west is a fresh perspective on the popular genre. The film’s use of animation (a budgetary decision) advances the action excellently and the beautiful cinematography makes this a great-looking period movie. Newcomer Mark Gibson carries the film effectively and complements veteran cast members, Dee Wallace and Bill Moseley, well. Despite its technical merits, Exit Humanity is far from perfect. Geddes over-indulges in depicting his lead character’s devastation by having him scream incessantly and pounding his fists relentlessly on furniture. Brian Cox’s excessive storybook narration is tedious and the film’s snail pace will have viewers looking for the exit early.

In writer-director Mike Flanagan’s Absentia, strange abductions are being linked to a mysterious neighbourhood tunnel, which may be a portal to another dimension. Absentia has been playing the festival circuit since spring of this year and has received numerous awards for “Best Horror Feature”. Flanagan effortlessly creates tension by playing on viewers’ predetermined fear of the dark. His lead characters often find themselves walking down the unlit tunnel or staring into the darkness at the foot of their stairs. Indeed, everyone can relate to how terrifying that can be and, in Absentia, that terror comes in the form of a creepy shadowy creature with long arms. Performances by lead actresses Katie Parker and Courtney Bell are convincing as distraught sisters and Flanagan’s dialogue is funny and authentic. Unfortunately, Absentia’s payoff does not satisfy its scary build up, which will leave many horror fans in the dark.

A Lonely Place to Die is director Julian Gibey’s action-packed thriller about five mountain climbers who fight to protect a kidnapped girl from her abductors high above the Scottish mountains. Gibey (who co-wrote the movie with his bother Will) never lets up on the action. In order to escape the killers’ sniper fire, the protagonists must brave harrowing cliffs, survive dangerous rapids and swim deep water – all leading to a brutal hand to hand combat amidst a roaring chateau fire. And if that wasn’t enough, the Gibey brothers throw mercenaries-for-hire into the mix. In her first action role, Melissa George (Amityville Horror remake, 30 Days and 30 Nights) does an outstanding job. Her portrayal of Alison recalls the strong spirit of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, and also impressive is Sean Harris (24 Hour Party People). His calm demeanour effectively heightens his killer’s menace. A Lonely Place to Die is a must-see for adrenaline junkies.

When New York City succumbs to a nuclear attack, eight residents of a high-rise building take refuge in the basement, where they must survive something worse than radioactivity – each other. Xavier Gens’ The Divide is a gripping examination of what happens when regular people are confined together under agonizing conditions. The film stars Michael Biehn (Terminator, Aliens) as the cantankerous janitor, who is none too pleased to share his accommodations and limited food with the diverse group: two brothers (Milo Ventimiglia, Ashton Holmes) and their friend (Michael Ekland), a wife and husband (Lauren German, Iván González), a mother and daughter (Rosanna Arquette, Abbey Thickson) and a middle-aged man (Courtney B. Vance). Initially, they work well with each other, but then tensions flare, leading to a questionable death. And when it’s later discovered that the ill-tempered janitor is keeping a secret stash of food, hell finally breaks loose. Inevitably, the cool and collected become the enraged and savaged, and the weak become the prey. At the Q&A, Gens credited his cast for collaborating on the story and dialogue. To everyone’s credit, the characters’ interactions are authentic and the action is engrossing. Biehn gives an exceptional performance, but it’s Ventimiglia who stands out as the group’s tormentor. The Divide is a great achievement that cannot be missed.

One of the most controversial films of the year is Lucky McKee’s dark comedy The Woman – a story of a suburban husband who finds a wild woman in the woods and chains her in his storage room to domesticate her. The film’s dubious premise has sparked heated debate from viewers (and non-viewers) for its insensitivity and violence against women. McKee and Jack Ketchum’s script depicts women as submissive after years of abuse from men. This is apparent in the Cleek home, in which the women acquiesce to the patriarch’s (Sean Bridgers) selfish and inhumane whims (including domesticating a feral woman in their home). But when the man of the house tries to exact the same authority with his unwilling female houseguest, things take a bloody turn for the worse. The Woman will shock even the most hardened horror enthusiasts with its unabashed violence and mean-spirit. Thankfully, McKee and Ketchum strategically apply humour after the brutality to calm viewers’ nerves. Sean Bridgers’ performance as the father is magnificent (especially when he goes from sweet to maniacal almost instantly) and Pollyanna McIntosh’s beastly Woman is simply arresting. Lastly, the film’s indie-rock soundtrack provided by Sean Spillane is addictive (that’s why I downloaded it from iTunes shortly after seeing the film). The Woman is highly recommended — that is if you have a strong stomach.

  • Nigel Hamid

 

Here are links to other reviews from the festival featured on our site.

Deadheads

Comedy’s already pretty tough to pull off well, and adding such a diverse mix of genres and conventions only makes it tougher. A lot of the banter and dialogue is hit or miss, but Deadheads is the kind of film where you forgive the misses because some of the hits are so great. This has to do with the actor’s performances, which are also a mixed bag. There’s a lot of good comic timing, but there are also a lot of stupid character voices. Where the film really shines, though, is in the physical comedy. It’s got a good mix of slapstick, sight gags, and the kind of gross-out humour at which zombies so excel… (read the full review)

Exit Humanity

Sure, Exit Humanity is ambitious. However, it isn’t stunning. It isn’t well-executed. It isn’t smart. It isn’t thought-provoking. It isn’t harrowing. I would have walked out, had there not been seven people between me and the aisle. I can’t say how much I hate this film, but boy did I try... (read the full review)

Father’s Day (review #1)

Written and directed by Winnipeg-based Astron-6, Father’s Day will likely bring the five man team global notoriety for their courageous guerrilla filmmaking and campy humour. The direction and editing are impressive and their funny script moves the action along superbly. The subpar acting from the supporting cast is forgivable considering that it’s a b-movie. Fans of Grindhouse, Black Dynamite and Hobo with a Shotgun will not want to miss Father’s Day… (read the full review)

Father’s Day (review #2)

Father’s Day is for anyone who’s ever rented tapes from the grindhouse section of the neighbourhood video store, stayed up past midnight watching the sketchiest channel, or smuggled I Spit on Your Grave through the Canada/US border (and yes, it had to be a video tape, and no, the store couldn’t be Blockbuster). It’s got references to grindhouse classics aplenty, but catching them isn’t necessary. This movie is a treat—one of those Halloween treats, laced with arsenic or razor blades, that your father warned you about. But fuck him… (read the full review)

Love

The fact is, Love, despite its odd title and Kubrick aspirations, is an aesthetically beautiful film. Eubank should be commended for creating something so rich with a budget so small. However, this is a film that doesn’t fulfill it’s ambitions… (read the full review)

Manborg

Manborg was made in the director’s parent’s garage and the basement of a store that sold blinds, using found materials for set decoration and models all for about $1,000. Using greenscreening and Harryhausen style miniature work, Kostanski got a lot of value for his money. If you’re looking for 60 minutes of silliness that’s exactly what it says on the tine, then you’ll get good value for your money by picking up a ticket to see Manborg… (read the full review)

Midnight Son

Midnight Son is a first rate film that will appeal to both casual and passionate vampire fans. There’s a compelling story and a lot of blood-splatter. Leberecht’s script and direction is first rate and the performances by lead actors, Kilberg and Parish, are exceptional. Indeed, Midnight Son is proof-positive that there’s still life in the vampire genre… (read the full review)

Mindnight Son (review #2)

If you can forgive some rough indie moments, then give Midnight Son a shot. It’s creepy, contemporary, and uncomfortable in all the ways a vampire movie should be… (read the full review)

Monster Brawl (review #1)

Monster Brawl is more comedy than it is horror and its gore would be tolerable for even the mildly squeamish.  Although Cook’s script shows some originality, there’s not enough to engage viewers for a feature-length film.  Furthermore, Cook’s lacklustre editing brings Monster Brawl’s action sequences to a grinding halt — sometimes long enough to call attention to its dull electronic score.  Despite Cook’s best efforts, Monster Brawl feels excruciatingly longer than its 85-minute running time… (read the full review)

Monster Brawl (review #2)

To really enjoy this film, you’ve got overlook a few flaws, like wandering accent syndrome and terrible pacing. The best way to do that, I suspect, is with a fridge full of beers and a basement full of friends. If you can overlook said flaws, Monster Brawl has some golden moments (Swamp Gut’s opening tirade is hysterical) and a great premise: in a fight with monster x versus monster y, who would win?.. (read the full review)

Redline

Watching Redline is such an incredible and surreal experience that it’ll probably be a some time before I try once more. On the plus side, if I buy the DVD, I’ll never need drugs again… (read the full review)

Some Guy Who Kills People

About halfway though Some Guy Who Kills People, I’d laughed my throat raw. Then again, I love black comedies that involve mentally damaged thirty-five year old losers with brutally violent revenge fantasies wherein they destroy their high school bullies. If you too can find humour in pain and suffering, then check out this nasty little delight… (read the full review)

The Theatre Bizarre (Review #1)

If you love horror and suffer from A.D.D. then you already agree that horror anthologies are a great way to pass the night. Films such as Creepshow, Twilight Zone: The Movie and Trick ‘r Treat have gained tremendous notoriety for their smorgasbord of terror and fast scares. The Theatre Bizarre may not be in the same league as these gems, but it’s an honourable attempt to satisfy a quick horror fix... (read the full review)

The Theatre Bizaree (Review #2)

Omnibus films tend to appeal mainly to hard-core fans and other filmmakers. That isn’t a bad thing. In the case of The Theatre Bizarre, some of horror’s nuttiest and most demented talents can be just as nutty and demented as they want. If you’re a horror fan, it’s a grab bag of treats; you’ll love some and hate others, but that’s part of the pleasure. If you’re a filmmaker, then The Theatre Bizarre is a twisted little laboratory. After all, experiments are always useful, even if they don’t always work…(read the full review)

War of the Dead

War of the Dead is exactly what it sounds like: a war. There are ambushes, running battles, holding fixed positions against the undead horde, fast escapes, infiltrations, and a final stand in a secret bunker. The vast majority of the film takes place at night, ratcheting anxiety levels up a few notches. There’s a lot of unmitigated action, but Makilaakso fends off any battle fatigue on the part of the audience by making the action both swift and varied.  I should add that these zombies don’t just lurch: they dash, they’re innumerable, and they seem to be better at problem solving than most zombies. Rather helpfully, Makilaakso’s protagonists don’t just limit themselves to shooting their enemies. War of the Dead has a lot of great little hand-to-hand sequences too. They’re short, snappy, and terribly satisfying... (read the full review)

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By Nigel Hamid

If you ask Nigel what his all time favourite film is, he’ll proudly tell you that it’s a tie between The Godfather and Saturday Night Fever, but don’t hold that against him (the latter is a guilty pleasure). He works in the financial district, but secretly wishes he could review movies 24/7 – unfortunately for him, that wouldn’t pay the bills. A true horror fan, while in L.A., Nigel actually had his girlfriend wait in a cab while he took pictures of the original Halloween house (much to the dismay of the homeowners). In his spare time, Nigel enjoys photography and writing & directing short films. Artist, Musician, Poet and Scholar – yes, Nigel is none of those things, but you can rest assured knowing he’d like to be. Email Nigel: hnigel8@hotmail.com

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