IT LIVES INSIDE (Fantasia Fest 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

American teen horror gets a Hindu twist in Bishal Dutta’s feature debut It Lives Inside. American-Indian high school student Samidha is struggling to live between two cultures; the apple pie western lifestyle of her school friends, and the more traditional world of her parents at home. Her mother in particular refuses to speak to her in English, and fails to disguise her disappointment with Sam’s lack of interest in participating in family events linked to her ethnic heritage. It Lives Inside plays fairly conventionally with horror’s familiar codes and conventions, but the incorporation of Hindu folklore in a story that is fundamentally built around the immigrant experience breathes new life into the storyline.

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NEW LIFE (Fantasia Fest 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

The film is a genre hybrid that on the surface plays out as a fairly straightforward thriller, but the revelation of why Jess is running – and why Elsa is chasing her – contains echoes of the strongest episodes of cult favourite, The X-Files. A satisfying, adrenaline-pumping journey of two women not knowing where their paths will take them, New Life provides edge-of-the-seat thrills with an emotionally intelligent twist.

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PIAFFE (Fantasia Fest 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

For all of its conceptual moving parts, Ann Oren’s feature debut Piaffe is a strikingly coherent work driven by profound integrity. Shot on 16mm and opening with a jaw-dropping sequence inside an old fashioned photoplasticon theater, Oren is clearly a filmmaker with a reflexive fascination with cinema itself, rendered perhaps most overtly in the clear reference to Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering 19th century horse-centric moving image experiments. Make no mistake: Ann Oren is a filmmaker to watch.

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SATAN WANTS YOU (Fantasia Fest 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Steve J. Adams and Sean Horlor’s documentary Satan Wants You about the satanic panic that swept North America during the 80s and 90s is at its strongest when it situates the historical satanic ritual abuse moral panic of the period in a longer historical context, drawing a direct line to eerily similar and equally hysterical present-day conspiracy theories like Qanon and Pizzagate. Sadly still all too relevant, the documentary is an unflinching examination of the endurance of certain fears, and the equally persistent way that those fears can be cynically mined for financial and political gain by a morally bankrupt few who should know better.

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BLACKOUT (Fantasia Fest 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Blackout reveals that Larry Fessenden is a filmmaker whose unparalleled genre literacy results in meticulously crafted films that do not miss a beat. Despite delving into dark themes, there’s a certain comfort that comes from watching Fessenden’s films in that we are so completely in the hands of a filmmaker who has fully mastered the strange power and delicate nuance of horror at its best.

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APORIA (Fantasia Fest 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Aporia functions most compellingly as a kind of ethical family melodrama with a scifi twist, focusing the bulk of its attention on precisely how lives are impacted as a result of the tinkering with time that lies at the heart of its scifi premise. Aporia is a family melodrama with a scifi edge rather than vice versa, but if you are open to the bringing of these two generic strands together it is a satisfying watch.

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FEMME (Fantasia Fest 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Definitely queer and aggressively dark in tone, Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping’s feature debut Femme is a slick thriller that confounds any number of expectations across its taut 100 minute runtime. At every point where the filmmakers might take the easy way forward, they consciously choose the opposite, resulting in a genuinely exciting and vibrantly original viewing experience.

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WHERE THE DEVIL ROAMS (Fantasia Fest 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

The cold, dark claws of poverty have left deep marks on the family of travelling carnival performers at the heart of Where the Devil Roams. In socio-economic carnage left by the Depression, father Seven (John Adams), mother Maggie (Toby Poser) and daughter Eve (Zelda Adams) combine their struggling sideshow gig with a far more successful side hustle where they murder and pillage from the houses they come across as they travel across America from town to town in their beat-up ‘31 Chevy. Period films are not an easy thing to do on a budget, but with the integrity to stay true to their creative vision, the Adams Family collective once again harmonize their talents to perfection and pull off something most indie filmmakers could never dream of.

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STAY ONLINE (Fantasia Fest 2023) – Review by Nadine Whitney

Stay Online is the first Ukrainian film since the Russian invasion. As the news cycles away from Ukraine it is apt that it is a film about the internet and its uses to disseminate information is the first to appear. For so many, since the invasion, the internet has been the only way to communicate the reality of life in Ukraine. Stay Online is an astonishing film and one you cannot look away from even for a second. A reminder to the world that we should also be not looking away from Ukraine.

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HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS (Fantasia Fest 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

In Hundreds of Beavers, filmmakers Mike Cheslik and Ryland Brickson Cole Tews irreversibly lift the bar for contemporary spittoon-centric early cinema homages. Hundreds of Beavers literally has to be seen to be believed. They make films that are unashamedly in love with the experience of being in love with the movies, and it’s contagious. Hundreds of Beavers starts strange, gets stranger, and yet remains resolutely adorable.

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