10 Films to watch at Fantasia Fest 2021

By Naomi Roper

The Fantasia International Film Festival returns for its 25th year from 5 August through 25 August with a killer lineup of genre films. This year’s festival will be a hybrid festival with both in-person screenings and a digital platform (accessible across Canada). 

The lineup is incredibly strong with a huge number of features, shorts and special events. Several of the special events are free to attend and look fascinating including a masterclass with stop motion animator extraordinaire Phil Tippett, a talk with Grady Hendrix re his new book The Final Girl Support Group (being adapted into a tv series for HBO Max by Charlize Theron and Barbara and Andy Muschietti’s production companies) and a look at the rise of indigenous horror.

Here is our list of ten films to look out for at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival:

1 The Night House – Canadian Premiere

Reeling from the unexpected and shocking suicide of her husband, schoolteacher Beth (Rebecca Hall) is left alone in the remote lakeside home he built for them. Beth valiantly tries to hold it together – but when the nightmares come (and they do!), that becomes increasingly difficult. Not helping: disturbing visions of a presence in the home calling to her, beckoning her with a ghostly allure. Other unexplained phenomena pop up, like the stereo system bursting to ear-splitting life during sleeping hours, and the “night house” across the lake that strangely appears and disappears. Against the advice of her concerned friends, Beth begins digging into her husband’s belongings, yearning for answers. What she finds are secrets both bizarre and frightening – a mystery the frazzled widow is determined to unravel.

Directed by David Bruckner who also directed recent folk horror/study of male masculinity The Ritual this went down a smash at Sundance and was swiftly snapped up by Searchlight Pictures. Rebecca Hall is always compelling and the trailer is creepy as hell. Very excited to catch this one.

2 King Knight – World Premiere

Living the dream alongside his beautiful life partner Willow (Angela Sarafyan, Westworld), the revered high priest of a modern Californian coven, Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler, Criminal Minds) has it all… as well as a secret past that may or may not be as dark as his wardrobe. And much like the tides pursuing the moon, our past tends to follow us around. So, when his beloved uncovers said secret on the night of their Beltane celebrations, Thorn sets out on a soul-searching journey back to his hometown. 

Written and directed by Richard Bates Jr (Excision, Suburban Gothic, Trash Fire and Tone Deaf) who re-teams with his Suburban Gothic lead Matthew Gray Gubler for the fourth time. King Knight is a deeply charming, trippy dark comedy about found family and self-acceptance with fire performances from its two leads. I’m a huge fan of Matthew Gray Gubler from his time in Criminal Minds (his book is adorable) and loved Suburban Gothic so this is one of my most anticipated titles. The supporting cast features genre faves Barbara Crampton and Ray Wise.

3. The Sadness – North American Premiere

In an alternate version of Taiwan, a rapidly spreading pandemic that the government has largely chosen to ignore suddenly mutates into a rabies-like affliction. The infected find themselves unable to control their id, acting on their every primal impulse. Limbs are torn, faces are peeled, everything becomes a weapon – or an orifice – and anything could happen. Anywhere. Everywhere. In the midst of escalating, city-wide ultra-violence, a young couple on opposite sides of town struggle to re-connect.

Written and directed by Rob Jabbaz I have been completely desperate to see this ever since the first trailer above landed. I mean just look at that carnage! The Sadness looks completely sensational and I cannot wait. 

4 We’re All Going to the World’s Fair – Canadian Premiere

Casey (newcomer Anna Cobb) signs up for the “World’s Fair Challenge,” billed as “the internet’s scariest horror game”. She soon befriends a fellow player JLB who is not what they seem.

A disquieting take on the coming-of-age film, writer/director Jane Schoenbrun’s breakout Sundance hit We’re All Going to the World’s Fair harnesses the potent aesthetics of found-footage horror and amateur YouTube videos to craft a quietly devastating look at loneliness, alienation, and despondency – as lived through the Internet. 

This got killer reviews at Sundance and is meant to be a sensitive look at online culture with a stellar performance from its talented lead. 

5. #Blue_Whale – World Premiere

A provincial Russian town is ravaged by a wave of inexplicable teen suicides. Rebellious and sharp-witted schoolgirl Dana (Anna Potebnya) grieves for her younger sister, a once-happy kid who suddenly withdrew and stepped in front of a train. Desperate to learn what happened, Dana explores her sister’s online history, discovering a sinister social-media game that encourages youths to take an escalating series of self-harm challenges – 50 tasks in 50 days. Beginning with actions designed to alienate them from friends and family, the challenge breaks its victims lives apart to push them past any point of return. Hungry for answers and out for revenge, Dana registers for the game, opening a doorway into the cruellest of hidden online worlds. One that will jeopardize the lives of everyone she cares about.

The feature debut from writer/director Anna Zaytseva #Blue_Whale is told in the screenlife format of films like Host, The Den and the Unfriended series. I’m a sucker for this format which when done correctly can be deeply disquieting. 

6 – The Feast – Canadian Premiere

The Feast sets its distinctive storytelling table inside a surrealist-sleek household nestled deep in lush Welsh countryside, where a politician’s family are putting together an extravagant dinner. A new hire (Annes Elwy) is brought into the home when a sudden crisis makes it impossible for the household’s regular helper to assist. When not serving, she observes in silence with eerie, almost anthropological interest. Everything set to happen that night will do so with designs towards winning a lucrative deal to mine in the local forestry. Centuries-old lifeforces in said forestry, however, may have other plans on what exactly is to be served.

Directed by Lee Haven Jones The Feast is a Welsh language folk horror which got raves at South by South West for being a grisly supernatural morality tale. Folk horror is having something of a revival at the moment and this looks like a fascinating entry into the genre.

7 –What Josiah Saw – World Premiere

Everyone in town knows about the haunted Graham Farm on Willow Road. You’ll hear there’s a bad history to it. Josiah and his youngest son, Thomas, are all that remain of this estranged family. But after experiencing terrifying visions from beyond, Josiah decides they must change their ways to right a great wrong. After being away for over two decades, Eli and Mary, Josiah’s eldest children, are enticed to sell the property and reunite at the old farmhouse in hopes of closing this haunting chapter of their lives. Soon, sins of the past will be paid for.

Described as continuing in the tradition of the deeply upsetting The Dark and the Wicked, and directed by Vincent Grashaw What Josiah Saw has a cast of genre faves including Robert Patrick and Nick Stahl.

8 – Midnight – Canadian Premiere

A wave of murders hits the city and, lurking in the shadows, a killer has just identified his new prey – a deaf woman. South Korea has become the go-to source for fans of dark, intense, unpredictable thrillers that deliver cutthroat tension, and Kwon Oh-seung’s debut feature Midnight follows in this tradition. A breathless tale boasting a hallucinatory sound design that relishes in testing the nerves of even the most seasoned viewers. 

9 – Don’t Say Its Name – World Premiere

The small, snow-covered Indigenous community is about to see an upturn. Mining company WEC has just made an agreement for drilling on this tribal land, and it’s looking like everyone will benefit – except the land itself. Local activist Kharis Redwater is one of those protesting the deal when her voice is silenced in a hit-and-run that remains unsolved. So as WEC begins their assault on the land, the land itself retaliates against WEC and all those who support it. But for local peace officer Mary Stonechild (Madison Walsh) and Park Ranger Stacey Cole (Sera-Lys McArthur), the answer to this mystery lies in the traditions of their people and the vengeance-filled spirits that have haunted the land for generations, about which the people know one rule: don’t say its name.

It’s great to see Fantasia committing to showcase tales of indigenous horror and Don’t Say Its Name is meant to feature a cast of likeable characters in a strong supernatural tale. 

10 – Coming Home in the Dark – Quebec Premiere

A high school teacher (Erik Thomson) and his family’s plans for a weekend picnic at an isolated coastline take a fateful turn when a pair of sociopathic drifters descend upon them. What follows is 90 minutes of unbearably sustained tension and caustic bursts of violence that will have your heart in your throat. As sweat pools on cooling skin, it becomes clear that the ferocity they’re facing has direct threads to actions from decades ago. With tears and blood, a creed is being written. Screams of the voiceless will echo through the night.

Described as a blistering neo-noir that plays like a home invasion thriller but in a moving car this New Zealand film from director James Ashcroft looks intense and harrowing. 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from 5 August through 25 August with a mix of in-person and online screenings (accessible in Canada only).

You can find out more on their website and buy tickets via their platform.