The 10th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival opened last night with a speech from notoriously expansive festival director Adam Lopez. He took care to thank the fans, the sponsors, and the press for their part in helping the festival reach this unusual milestone—Toronto may be the city with the most film festivals—currently thirty-five—but most don’t last ten years.
TAD’s longevity is in part due to its strong partnerships with Canadian and international arts organizations and with Cineplex, who took over ticketing and hosts the festival at its downtown Scotiabank theatre since 2013, but also to its even stronger relationships with genre filmmakers and producers, including Anchor Bay, who has screened a record twenty-eight films at the festival, and takes on sponsorship of the festival’s Audience Choice awards this year. The festival, which screens only twenty films, puts tremendous effort into bringing outsize press attention to films and filmmakers and treating its guests with respect (which I can assure isn’t just a press line, as a former volunteer), and festival staff can be seen year-round at genre events throughout the city, promoting the festival and its efforts. (Expect to see Lopez handing out fliers when you’re sitting in line at Midnight Madness next year.)
Over the past ten years TAD has debuted and expanded the audience for dozens of now classic genre films, but even as it’s grown in attendance and reach, it’s maintained the intimacy that makes TAD so well-loved. Despite last year’s attendance record of 11,000, TAD remains a smaller international film festival with few formalities. Screenings take place alongside Cineplex’s regular showings, without security or hoopla. Press, crew, volunteers, and all-access pass holders line up alongside directors and actors. After screenings, directors and producers can often be found in the lobby of the theatre, chatting with fans. All attendees are welcomed at nightly Pub After Dark parties across the street at The Office Pub.
It’s a nice festival, one that lacks the hectic pressures of a bigger festival like TIFF, and if you’re in Toronto between now and the 23rd of October, you should stop by and have a drink with me between screenings. If I haven’t convinced you yet, here are my top five feature picks from this year’s fest:
The Hallow – Saturday, October 17th, 11:59 PM
“Probably the scariest film in this year’s Toronto After Dark lineup, The Hallow terrified audiences at Sundance on its debut. After a young family move from the big city to a peaceful Irish woodland cottage they find themselves in a desperate fight for survival in a prolonged confrontation with some vicious creatures lurking in the forest.”
I saw this film at its first screening, last night, and it is excellent. It’s rare that Irish folklore makes an appearance in film that isn’t cliche and unimaginative. The Hallow inventively updates the fair folk without sacrificing tradition—and makes them absolutely terrifying.
Shut In – Sunday, October 18th, 4:15 PM
“Panic Room meets You’re Next in this gripping home invasion horror-thriller, full of shocks and surprises. After three criminals, including fan favourite Martin Starr break into a supposedly empty house, they find themselves in a deadly game of cat and mouse with the occupant, a shy young woman with a few nasty tricks of her own to play on the invaders.”
No trailer is yet available for the film, but I’m a sucker for a female revenger. Home invasion stories are a staple of horror and even a strong female lead can’t always lift them out the doldrums of by-rote filmmaking—but I have hopes for this one, thanks in part to its lead character being described as “agoraphobic,” not simply “awkward” and definitely not “innocent.” And tricks. I am here for nasty tricks.
The Interior – Monday, October 19th, 9:30 PM
In this unique blend of dark comedy and creepy horror, a frustrated young office worker quits his day job and flees the city to go on a camping trip by himself, deep into the forest. His sense of tranquility is replaced by fear when it becomes clear that someone sinister is also out there with him.
This is a Canadian film, billed as a horror-comedy that seems to be part Blair Witch, part Office, all creeping dread. As city dweller who regularly flees to Algonquin Park for peace and quiet, I can attest to how centering the experience can be at its best, and how scary at its worst. And that’s without sinister co-travellers.
Patchwork – Friday, October 23rd, 7:00 PM
“A delightfully dark Frankenstein-themed horror comedy about a re-animated corpse, made from the stitched together body parts of three murdered young women. On awaking, The Creature decides to go on a quest to find the girls’ killer and avenge their deaths with both bloody and darkly humorous results.”
A punky, patchwork, reanimated female revenger? Yup, I’m sold.
Love & Peace – Thursday, October 22nd, 9:30 PM
“This Audience Award Winner, also from the eccentric mind of director Sion Sono, is a wildly imaginative Japanese fantasy/monster movie mashup about a down-trodden office worker who aspires to be a rock star and his pet turtle who wants to grow up to be a city-destroying giant like Godzilla!”
I feel like… this requires no explanation? Turtles.