HELLBENDER (Fantasia 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Izzy and her mother live an isolated but relatively happy life in the lush mountains, their reclusiveness supposedly because Izzy has a rare autoimmune disease. As Izzy soon learns, however, her mother has kept her squirrelled away from the world because they are both “Hellbenders”, defined as a hybrid of witches, demons and predatory animals. While her mother tells herself she has her powers under control, when Izzy learns that she too has these abilities, a mother-daughter power struggle collides with a supernatural coming of age story that at its heart is also a powerful tale of the maternal bond and that old chestnut, the circle of life. A film embossed with all the ferocity and heart and passion and craft of the most powerful of art, Hellbender is a reminder that when film like this is revealed as possible, we never should settle for less.

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GIVING BIRTH TO A BUTTERFLY (Fantasia 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

A visually immersive experience as much as a compelling narrative populated by some truly unforgettable characters, it’s lush 16mm photography adds a textural quality that only deepens the sense of intoxication that riddles the film – as a world building exercise, Giving Birth to a Butterfly pulls you in, and refuses to let go. Giving Birth to a Butterfly is a poem, a love song, a cry to be heard and a breaking free, all in one.

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THE RIGHTEOUS (Fantasia 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

A brazenly ambitious horror film about grief and belief, actor Mark O’Brien dominates both in front and behind the camera in the additional roles of writer and director in one of the year’s most unforgettable horror films, The Righteous. Shot in crisp, high contrast black-and-white, the tale of an ex-priest forced to face his demons hinges largely around a series of intensely focused one-on-one conversations. Yet so steady is the writing and so solid are the bulk of the performances that this is all this film really needs, so much so that when it strays from that path the impact of what in other films would be jump scare highlights, here they seem somehow out of place. Thankfully, however, O’Brien knows to trust his cast and trust his words, and the showier horror set pieces are kept to a minimum, leaving the real terror of The Righteous buried in the words of its key protagonists.

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MARTYRS LANE (Fantasia 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

While on one level this is a ghost story about a child who fears her mother does not love her, it is more broadly a vision of a nightmare world where adults are unable to speak openly and honestly with children – and the consequences are chilling. Passionately rejecting the far-too-common tendency to reduce children to ciphers for innocence or symbolic tools in the telling of stories about adults, in Martyrs Lane Ruth Platt pulls back the curtain into the complexity and sophistication of the childhood experience with breathtaking imagination, extraordinary filmmaking, and a heartfelt, sincere respect for children themselves.

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GLASSHOUSE (Fantasia 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Kelsey Egan’s Glasshouse from South Africa is a masterclass in how small-scale fantastic allegory and its world-building potential can provide fertile ground with which to examine the stain of colonialism itself on that country’s cultural imagination. The film centers on a mother, her three daughters and her son, who have protected themselves from an airborne contagion which has ravaged society, causing a dementia-like condition in those who inhale the infected air. Although never articulating colonialism as a central thematic focus of the film, its presence is thus escapable, and Glasshouse excels in its understanding of how the mechanics of genre cinema itself allow them to strip back the specifics of history itself to get at its heart.

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WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR (Fantasia 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Low-key, dark, and emphatically superb, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair flirts with the internet horror of films like the recent Zoom indie smash Host, but where that film stayed impressively loyal to its central formal conceit, Schoenbrun dazzles with this unrestrained foray well beyond the boundaries of any particular horror subgenre and into much more abstract terrain. Swirling around the plug hole of a digital abyss, we’re never sure what lies down the drain even after the film has ended, making it the rarest of gifts; a horror movie that becomes more disturbing the more you think about it, long after it has ended.

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GEORAMA BOY, PANORAMA GIRL (Fantasia 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Tokyo-born director/writer Natsuki Seta adds to her growing list of feature film credits that she has steadily helmed since 2011 with her latest, Georama Boy, Panorama Girl. The smell of teen spirit here is decidedly wholesome in this romantic coming-of-age tale that fluctuates between that of a love triangle and the story of (maybe) star-crossed lovers.

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KING CAR (Fantasia 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

King Car is fluffy fun. Outside of some tonally inconsistent sex scenes between the minor character of Mercedes – an erotic performance artist – and the central sentient car of the film’s title, this could otherwise quite easily pass as a contemporary riff on the old after school specials. There are heavy boys’ adventure tale vibes here, given a modern angle by basically combining elements of Knight Rider and Christine, pushing it all through a rather explicit socialist lens and adding a good dollop of environmental didacticism for good measure.

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ALIEN CRYSTAL PALACE – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

The film is, to put it mildly, more of a sensory experience than an exercise in character development and complex plot mechanics; to explain the story feels like trying to describe the narrative logic of a lava lamp. A haptic celebration of camp, Alien Crystal Palace loosely follows a deranged scientist obsessed with bringing into the world a new kind of perfect being, marked by its defining androgyny.

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Fantasia International Film Festival 2018: Born of Woman Section Dominates — Liz Whittemore Reports

This year’s Fantasia International Film Festival (July 2-August 2) showcased some extraordinary femme-centric thrills and terror in its BORN OF WOMAN section. In the nine selections in the program, stories range from sci-fi to horror, all the way to to the downright strange and unusual. What makes these shorts unique is that fact that they are all directed by women and their stories are all about women. When Fantasia International Film Festival gave birth to BORN OF WOMEN program in 2016 incarnation, it added something that has long been missing in a genre that is known for its predominantly misogynistic overtone.

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