Another year has passed and the Toronto International Film Festival is here again. Given that it’s one of the largest and most successful film festivals in the world and occurs on CGM’s home turf, that means that I, your humble CGM film critic, will have to abandon my post for a few weeks to cover TIFF (try not to cry, everything will be ok. I promise).
However, before departing I thought I should carry out my annual tradition of making some TIFF recommendations for all you wonderful readers out there. Since we are a genre film loving bunch ‘round here, you needn’t worry about me wasting your time with some Hungarian documentary about paint drying or the latest weepy Oscar wank. Nope, I’m only going to point you fine folks in the direction of the sick, twisted, violent, bizarre, and unexpected. Even a film festival as prestigious as TIFF has plenty of time for action, horror, thrillers, and other slick genre fare and this year is no exception. So without further ado, here’s a list of the top ten genre films to look forward to at TIFF this year. Your TIFF ticket buying headaches are over. These are the ten films too look out for, all others our filler. Check back next week for my other annual tradition of the CGM TIFF Awards where I acknowledge the best the fest had to offer and you can find out just how wrong (or hopefully right) I was with these predictions.
10) Over Your Dead Body
Takashi Miike has long been renowned as one of the most insane minds in the world of Japanese extreme cinema. His films like Audition and Ichi: The Killer are legendary in their gag-inducing excess. It’s been a while since Miike dabbled in horror though, making his return to the genre of jump scares, gore, and spookiness, a major event for horror fans. It’s a predictably twisted tale about a Japanese theater company staging a classic revenge play in which the cast seem to become possessed by their characters and the backstage events start to be even more horrific than anything onstage. Ghosts, self-mutilation, decapitation, all of Miike’s staples are here in one big terrifying return to form. Welcome back, you sick bastard. Never leave again.
9) The Connection
Anyone who has seen William Friedkin’s The French Connection knows that it’s not just the origin point for the gritty cop thriller, but it’s still the high point in the genre over 40 years later. Enter French filmmaker Cedric Jimenez who has gone ahead and created an unofficial sequel that showcases how the French police finally took down the infamous international drug cartel back in the 1970s. Expect grit, grime, narcotics, explosions, chases, and tragedy. The Connection won’t just be an homage to a 70s movie masterpiece, but proof that the kind of adult-driven crime movie that The French Connection encapsulates is still getting made today. You’ll just have to seek out subtitles to find it.
8) Kill Me Three Times
Ever since Shaun Of The Dead, Simon Pegg has been a best friend to geeks worldwide. Through his masterful collaborations with Edgar Wright and elsewhere, Pegg is a man who has dedicated his life to making audiences giggle in the middle of some of the finest genre films of the last decade. All of which brings us to Kill Me Three Times, a new bleakly comedic neo-noir that casts Pegg as a slick hit man a midst a sea of sleazy crime characters in Australia. Though the film looks like it thankfully falls into the Tarantino homage side of the spectrum rather than the sad Tarantino knock-off category and would be worth seeing on its own, something about seeing the perpetually lovable Pegg as a machine gun toting hit man is irresistible. Good or bad, the movie needs to be seen for that stunt casting alone.
7) The Editor
For those unfamiliar with Astron-6, it’s an incredibly creative and ambitious little film collective in Winnipeg who cranked out the deliciously disgusting micro-budget features Father’s Day and Manborg. This year, the gang comes to TIFF with a new feature practically designed for the horror-obsessed Midnight Madness crowd. The Editor is about (you guessed it) a film editor with a wooden hand who is the prime suspect in a series of murders. However, that’s only what the plotlines covers. What the project is really about is paying homage to the lovingly over-the-top Italian giallo horror films of the 60s and 70s made by such masters of the macabre as Mario Bava (Bay Of Blood), Dario Argento (Suspiria), and Lucio Fulci (Zombie). Featuring mountains of gore, ridiculous camerawork, deliberately bad dubbing, psycho-sexual perversion, and an Udo Kier cameo, The Editor is guaranteed to please even the most cynical horror snob by perfectly recreating and mocking a beloved sub-genre of horror that was long thought lost.
These days you just aren’t going to find any country cranking out genre films with quality or quantity of South Korea. Haemoo comes scripted by Korean genre master Joon-ho Bong (The Host, Snowpiercer), but he leaves directing duties to his longtime collaborator Sung-bo Shim. Set on a fishing boat used to smuggle illegal Chinese immigrants into South Korea, Haemoo will serve up a master class of tension, betrayal, and social commentary. Like everything Bong has been involved with before, expect wild tonal shifts, a mish-mash of genre tropes, low comedy, and high drama. The difference is that this time the tragedy and action spring from a very real and very upsetting set of social circumstances in contemporary Asia that’s sure to serve up extra emotional weight for these wildly ambitious filmmakers.
It’s not often that I would dare to include an all-star Oscar-bait drama on this list, but Foxcatcher is something special. Based on a so-strange-it-must-be-true story about an eccentric billionaire (Steve Carell) who was so obsessed with a pair of Olympian wrestling brothers (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) that he built a gym and hired them to train there only for his obsession to turn murderous, Foxcatcher is not the movie you’d expect from the handsome packaging. It’s a strange, darkly comedic, and ultimately deeply disturbing tale of obsession that gets some brilliant performances out of its cast and is sure to leave most viewers stumbling out of the theatre in a daze. Mainstream Oscar dramas are not supposed to be this unsettling. In other words, there’s finally one worth seeing.
4) [Rec] 4: Apocalypse
The Spanish zombie series [Rec] was rather quietly the most consistent horror franchise of the last decade filled with more pants-wettingly affecting scenes in each outing than most horror franchises combined. Hyped up as the series finale, [Rec] 4: Apocalypse shoves the few remaining survivors from the past three movies onto a boat in the middle of the ocean and unleashes claustrophobic hell one last time. It’s sure to be a blood soaked fond farewell for the longtime fans of the series as well as TIFF’s only guaranteed source of zombie monkeys. That’s right, zombie monkeys. If that’s not worth the price of a Midnight Madness ticket, then I don’t know what is.
3) What We Do In The Shadows
Vampires have been such a prevalent force in the horror genre over the last ten years that they’ve been long overdue for a piss-take. Thankfully the non-Muppets half of Flight Of The Conchords Jermaine Clement has given us exactly that. Teaming up with co-writer/co-director/co-star Taika Waititi, Clement has delivered a hysterical mockumentary about the challenges of fitting into a New Zealand suburb as a blood-sucking vampire. The mixture of awkward comedy, vampire mockery, and a few dollops of the red stuff just might provide the most chuckles of the entire festival. If nothing else, it’s a take on vampires that no one else has done before and given the overwhelming stacks of vampire films, books, and TV shows out there, that’s a damn impressive achievement in and of itself.
2) The Guest
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are quickly becoming the most dependable duo in horror. Together they made the underrated serial killer chiller A Horrible Way To Die, created the V/H/S series, and delivered the masterful horror/comedy You’re Next. Their latest flick The Guest sees the duo bouncing back into their genre-bending ways, mixing up horror, thriller, and action movie conventions in a way that recalls the work of John Carpenter at his 80s peak. The plot involves a mysterious former soldier showing up at the house of a fallen brother-in-battle. He mingles his way into the family and seems impossibly friendly, until things inevitably go all-topsy-turvy. It’s an amazingly entertaining little genre mash-up that proves these two gents are only getting better at what they do. Hopefully we can expect another appearance from the duo next year and the year after that and the year after that and the year after that and the year after that…
Finally, we come to a movie that could be great and could be awful, but desperately needs to be seen either way. Kevin Smith has oddly chosen to give up his talky comedies like Clerks and Mallrats to become a horror director. His first genre effort was Red State, a flawed yet interesting religious horror yarn. Now he’s made Tusk, a film about Justin Long traveling to Canada to meet an eccentric walrus-obsessive (Michael Parks), who ends up kidnapping Long and slowly, surgically transforming him into a new walrus buddy. The concept is sick, yet fascinating and unlike anything else that Smith has attempted thus far. Whether or not he can deliver Canuck body horror that will please Cronenberg’s home town crowd is a reasonable question, but watching Smith try is one of the most tantalizing options at this years TIFF. Good, bad, or mediocre, it’s safe to say that you’ll never forget this one.