For 12 years now the Toronto After Dark Film Festival has brought some of the biggest names in horror and sci-fi to Toronto for this annual event and to date has featured over 2,500 films from all over the world. This year, the line up was stellar featuring 20 films that ranged from Fantastic Fest winner My Friend Dahmer starring Ann Heche to the latest in the popular killer doll series Cult of Chucky. With nine nights there was something for everybody this year with films showing from North Korea, Australia, Germany, France, England, USA and of course Canada.
It’s almost impossible to see them all, but here are six films that stood out the most for us…enjoy!
Rabbit (Australia) – Directed by Luke Shanahan
Rabbit is a fun neurotic noir thriller by Australian Director Luke Shanahan. The film plays with the misdirection motif and invokes more of an Italian horror feel with straight forward camera angles, conventional lighting and loud bombastic sound cues.
The film follows Maude, played by Adelaide Clemons, who is having vivid visions of her twin sister who’s been missing for a year now. While others would rather move on, Maude is convinced she’s alive and follows her instincts to an even more horrifying truth.
The first half of the film suffers from a lack of clear character motivation and exposition. So much that by the time you’re involved in the actual plot, you’ve tuned out long ago. There’s one or two characters that I could’ve done without to make room for more fleshing out of the main characters and by doing that there’s just threads that are left for bare.
Luckily for Shanahan he gets inspired performances from the lead cast and they make the most of his simple yet effective script. Lead Clemons is really great at Maude who suffers seemingly all the time, either emotionally, mentality or phsyically. Not an easy part to play and she balances between those emtional upheavals very well. Kudo’s to Shanahan for bringing that out in her.
This is a nice entry into the misdirection genre and there are elements, especially in the final act, that are worth remembering.
Dead Shack (Canada) – Directed by Peter Ricq
Canadian made Dead Shack is s fun zombie film directed by west coaster Peter Ricq. It’s clear Ricq has a love for throwback genres like Stranger Things and another Canadian film the Turbo Kid because this film has that retro feel that is so popular these days.
Simple premise of a bunch of shallow and thin characters who find themselves in a bad situation. In this case it’s a broken family who rent a cabin in the woods and uncover a family of zombies led by Lauren Holly…yes, that Lauren Holly. Turns out renting the cabin isn’t such a good idea as one by one people make bad decisions which lead to their death.
Ricq also has a fondness for close-ups and drone overheads which is unfortunate because you lose sight of the beautiful west coast scenery. There are glimpses of real set ups and blocking but it always falls back on a constant barrage of misplaced humour. The whole thing is tad self-indulgent but lighthearted enough not to offend and there were a few times where the audience cheered and clapped for the mayhem and gore, which is appropirate for this festival.
The problem is like alot of these genre films, the tone of the film changes so often you’re left wondering if laughing out loud is offensive to those that made it. I never got a sense of whether I was in on the joke or not and that’s usually not a good thing from a film’s perspective.
Trench 11 (Canada) – Directed by Leo Scherman
For fans of Call of Duty: Zombies you will love this new film from first time Canadian director Leo Scherman titled Trench 11. Taking place near the end of World War I the Germans have abandoned most of their posts save one, a mysterious set of underground tunnels called Trench 11. When an allied team made up of British intelligence, American troops and a Canadian tunnelling expert are dispatched on a reconnaissance mission they discover that a maniacal German officer named Reiner (Robert Stadlober) has been developing a chemical weapon of sorts. This weapon, that manifests itself in the form of worm-like strands, invade the host in this case German soldiers, and turns them into flesh-eating monsters.
The film doesn’t get marks for originality per se but it where it does excel is Scherman’s use of lighting and sets to create a wonderful feeling of claustrophobia. It’s this paranoia and euphoric sense of disorientation that make this film hypnotic in a way. The script by Scherman and Matt Booi was something they’ve worked on for many years and it’s polished as far as pacing is concerned I just wished they would have fleshed out the characters more especially in the first act.
We are quickly thrust into this situation of misfit toys in a way and there is next to no character disposition. Instead Scherman chooses to skip vitally important exposition scenes involving character recruiting and team introduction that would create the empathy necessary to actually care whether they live or die. The only character who seemingly has something to live for, which they literally tell you, is the Canadian tunnel expert played with as much melancholy as could be mustered, by Canadian actor Rossif Sutherland.
The cast really does a nice job however in making the most of the light material and that combined with Dylan Macleod’s nice camera work make this a really nice entry into the zombie library. In fact, its remarkably easy on the eyes and flows really, really well despite some questionable editing.
I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys the “infected human” scenario or is a fan of the Walking Dead or the Call of Duty: Zombie franchise for sure.
Check out my next article where we look at three more films from Toronto After Dark that we enjoyed!
For more information on these films and all the great films showing this year, check out the Toronto After Dark website HERE.
Till next time…