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Body swap movies have been with us for as long as we can remember. In the original Freaky Friday from 1977, Jodie Foster's character switches places with her mom, played by Barbara Harris. In 18 Again!, it's a grandfather and his grandson. The switch always differs. It can be because of a car accident, magical potion, or a wish cast during the full moon. It can also be a demonic ritual involving a mystical blade – that's what happens in Freaky where a teenage girl switches bodies with a serial killer. This horror comedy, directed by Christopher Landon (of both Happy Death Days), written by Michael Kennedy (Fox's "Bordertown") and Landon, is a bloody feast for every slasher fan, packed with inventive deaths and campy characters.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been very interested in witches – especially on screen. I used to watch "Sabrina the Teenage Witch", "Charmed", and many other shows. Hence, it's no surprise that when I discovered The Craft, I immediately became obsessed. The film from 1996, directed by Andrew Fleming, is, without a doubt, a Halloween must-watch. Which is why I was incredibly happy to hear that Zoe Lister-Jones wrote and directed a follow-up to the events that transpired in the first movie. Directing her second feature, The Craft: Legacy, Zoe Lister-Jones showcases magic, sisterhood, toxic masculinity, and more.
Screened as a selection of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. It seems as if one of the common themes in many films this year is stalking. Back in February, we got to see Elisabeth Moss fighting the "Invisible Man". This heinous act, appearing more and more in TV & film, relates to many people on a personal level, especially women. We can see similar themes (and more) in Lucky, the spine-chilling thriller directed by Natasha Kermani (her third film following Shattered, Imitation Girl) and written by actress / filmmaker Brea Grant (director of this year's 12 Hours Shift), who also stars as May, the main character of the film. What makes Lucky unusual is its post-reflection consideration that lingers long after finishing the thriller.
Screened as a selection of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. When nature is one of the key elements of a film, it usually touches on humanity's relentless power of destruction. This theme is a major part of the newest eco-horror feature, Unearth, co-directed by John C. Lyons (Schism, There Are No Goodbyes) and Dorota Swies (Schism), from a script written by Lyons and Kelsey Goldberg. This self-described "fracking horror story" captivates audiences with its intense storytelling and, most importantly, the lessons hidden within. Next to phenomenal directing, its cast, especially Allison McAtee, deliver gratifying performances.
When I was in school growing up we studied a painting that particularly captured my heart and my mind. Its title, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, is a perfect description of the events portrayed in the painting. The French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin created this masterpiece in Tahiti, painting characters that are meditating on the questions about human existence listed in the title. We ought to study the painting from right to left, starting with a sleeping child's figure and ending with an old woman near her death. These same existential questions immediately came to mind while watching I'm Thinking of Ending Things, the latest feature film both written and directed by Charlie Kaufman (director of Synecdoche New York, Anomalisa). Based on the debut novel by Iain Reed, this metaphysical thriller-drama touches on captivating ideas such as dreading existence and merciless aging of human being.
Screened as a selection of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. Many stories begin with, "a man walks into a bar." They are often light jokes, but some involve bone-chilling circumstances and plot twists that we would never expect to follow. The latter transpires in The Oak Room, a suspenseful thriller from Canadian filmmaker Cody Calahan (Let Her Out) and written by Peter Genoway (Masks). The creators set the story during a frosty storm in a small, dim-lit bar. What captures our attention right away is the filmmakers' ability to generate anxiety around a variety of storylines and surprise us with sudden twists and turns in the film. Calahan also highlights the tremendous value and significance of well-crafted, enigmatic storytelling.
Screened as a selection of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. Working is generally exhausting. Even if you love your job, it can still be draining. Every one of us has had a bad day at work, and it can be because of many different factors. However, I guarantee that you haven't had as horrible of a day at work as Mandy (Angela Bettis) in the film 12 Hour Shift. The second feature written & directed by actress Brea Grant (Best Friends Forever), is deeply entertaining and bloody. While engaging audiences with its sick sense of humor, 12 Hour Shift explores the world of a nurse going through the worst night of her life. With extreme edginess and wicked characters, this is my second favorite watch so far of this year’s Fantasia Film Festival.
How far would you go to save someone in the face of danger? Or would you only care about yourself? Those questions and many survival quandaries are present in the original Train to Busan. Writer / director Yeon Sang-ho focuses the story on humanity, self-preservation, and greed. Coincidentally, I watched the original movie just a few weeks ago, and it completely changed my perspective on zombie films. Returning for the sequel, Yeon Sang-ho touches on similar themes in Train to Busan 2: Peninsula, and further explores these questions through the characters' actions. Although the second film stumbles and does not reinvent zombie genre nor is it anything unique, the storyline, special effects, and the message behind the film may still be worthwhile for viewers. It also touches on topics of community, population, and mutual respect.
Screened as a selection of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. Shortly after watching The Columnist, I noticed that Twitter enabled a very interesting feature – you can now control who can reply to your tweets. It would be a highly valuable benefit for Femke Boot (played by Dutch actress Katja Herbers), the titular columnist of a local newspaper, and author of an upcoming book. The film, directed by Ivo van Aart (of Quantum Zeno) and written by Daan Windhorst, is a powerful revenge comedy horror and a cautionary tale that perfectly connects to contemporary culture, teaching us an important lesson. Plus, it's bloody good fun.
"We're all going to die at some point," says Jason (played by Chris Messina) at some point in She Dies Tomorrow, written and directed by Amy Seimetz (Sun Don't Shine). Those words brought me back to one particular moment of my childhood. It was late evening, and I was already lying down in my bed. The light was on because I refused to sleep in darkness. Suddenly, a horrible feeling came over me, and the few-year-old me started wailing. I ran to my parents, crying my eyes out. They hugged me and looked at me with concern in their eyes. "I'm very afraid of dying," I choked out. I don't remember the rest, or what my parents told me. But Neon's latest release made me think of that moment and every other one when I had a feeling of death creeping behind me. Seimetz makes sure that the audience will think about the film long after and crafts a narrative based around visualizing an eerie sense of anxiety and its contagious impact on others.
What would you do if you were immortal? Would you save people and help the impoverished? Or rather use it only for your own selfish needs? Those and many similar questions arise in the minds of audiences while watching The Old Guard. Directed by filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights) this sci-fi Netflix film touches on the subject of immortality and the abuse of body autonomy, as well as many other aspects. The Old Guard, adapted from a graphic novel series by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez, captivates audiences with its superb cast and fascinating topic that makes it more mature than other films based on comic books. The director steadily builds up the tension, leading to its satisfying finale.
Often, when a beauty pageant is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the film Miss Congeniality. Young white women dominate beauty contests around the world. But Miss Black America, Miss Black USA, and other similar competitions have been celebrating Black beauty, culture, and identity for more than half a century. This is where Channing Godfrey Peoples steps in with her first feature, a drama titled Miss Juneteenth. The film first premiered at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The director, also known as a writer for the TV series "Queen Sugar" or for her 2013 short film, Red, shines a genuine light on Black motherhood, the Miss Juneteenth pageant, and mother/daughter relationship in this heart-gripping drama.