The Toronto After Dark Film Festival started up in 2006 to showcase new and innovative genre cinema. The festival also hosts Pub After Dark, giving fans a chance to socialize with filmmakers. TAD has been extremely well-attended and received over the past few years, making it one of the more popular genre festivals in Canada. This year, TAD extended its run to nine nights, screening twenty films, some of which were national or local premiers.
Each feature was paired with a short film, and festival programmers took care to select complimentary films. The pairings were thoughtful and the short helped set the tone for the feature screening.
Grabbers opened the festival this year. The film, explained festival director Adam Lopez, features a lot of drinking which is fitting because The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema was recently licensed to sell alcohol. The hard drinking aside (by characters and audience members alike), Grabbers is great fun.
The film is an alien invasion story gone mad: The residents of Erin Island, an island of the coast of Ireland, are set upon by a swarm of space monsters. The aliens need water to survive and feed off blood, but are deathly allergic to alcohol. With the coming storm, the islanders' only hope of survival is a lock-in.
Reminiscent of Tremors, Grabbers focuses on the combined horror and humour of the situation. The blood-thirsty tentacle beasts are creatures straight from your nightmares, but the thought of having to get drunk in order to survive the onslaught is laughable. A lot of Grabbers' humour, however, is drawn from its characters--a colourful bunch of islanders that include the local drunk, the local cop (who is also drunk), and a marine "psychologist."
Paired with Not Till We're Married. A woman finds herself stuck in a relationship with an ill-formed and recently un-conjoined twin.
I remember someone telling me this movie isn't really about the end of the world. Doomsday Book is a Korean anthology comprising of three films, two of which are apocalypse stories. The third movie is more a spiritual "apocalypse" than a physical one. And since the world doesn't actually end in any installment, I suppose technically Doomsday Book isn't about the end of all things.
But that's all academic.
Doomsday Book's first and third stories are fun, relatively light-hearted movies about a zompocalypse and a meteor strike, respectively. In the former, a young man unwittingly brings about a deadly zombie virus. In the latter, a young girl looking to replace a broken billiard ball accidentally causes a meteor to crash into Earth. Both films are humorous takes on unlikely and outrageous end-of-the-world scenarios.
The middle story is very different from the other two both in subject and in tone, so much so that it's quite jarring and for just a moment takes the audience out of the film. In it, a robot that was originally bought to do administrative work at a Buddhist temple has gained enlightenment. The company that built the robot is determined to destroy it because its spiritualism is an affront to humanity.
The idea that a robot could have religion is interesting, but the film's discussion is so heavy handed and circuitous that it tires out the viewer. This is especially problematic given how the film ends. In its final moments the audience is asked to consider the limitations of humanity and the intersection of robotics and same.
The questions posed by the film's other two stories are less philosophical but no less interesting. The first touches on themes of food production and consumption, while the third suggests a natural (if unexpected) end to all things.
Paired with Frost: In the distant future, a young woman scavenges for food in a desolate city. Her scavenging turns into a fight for survival when she encounters what's left of civilization.
This was easily the most fun to watch. The rules are that you must yell "sushi" when sushi appears on screen, and "danger" when characters are in a dangerous situation. That makes for a lot of yelling and laughter because the film is crammed full of sushi and action.
Keiko is the daughter of a sushi master chef. Distraught that she will never live up to her father's expectations, she leaves home and finds work at a resort as a waitress. A business retreat for a pharmaceutical company goes horribly awry when a former employee injects the sushi there with a reagent. Only Keiko has the specific skillset needed to defeat the deadly undead sushi and its zombified victims.
Anyone familiar with Noboru Iguchi's unique brand of filmmaking will immediately know what's in store; Dead Sushi is wonderfully insane. Weird to the point of hilarity, the film is better developed than RoboGeisha and more accessible than Mutant Girls Squad. The effects are cheesy and the comedy broad. It also features so fantastic fight action and an amazing robot dance.
Paired with Sandwich Crazy: The owner of a failing sandwich shop is given a brilliant sandwich-making microwave. The sandwiches prove to be too good, however.
To read my full-length reviews of select films, click the titles below.
Lloyd the Conqueror
In Their Skin
This year, TAD also featured the Darkcade, an indie game showcase. Each night of the festival, after the second screening, two games were showcased at Pub After Dark. Unfortunately, my schedule did not allow for me to take in the games (I'm a crap gamer, btw) but using a film festival to showcase new, innovative indie games is, I think, a wonderful idea. Fantastic Fest runs a similar platform, with a gaming conference held in tandem with the festival.