In Canada, October brings fall foliage, low temperatures and rings the dinner bell for zombies and gore-lovers to surface and witness the spectacle of the 2008 Toronto After Dark Film Festival. This year, the festival showcased a myriad of award-winning international films and shorts with genres ranging from cult cinema to horror, sci-fi and back. Only in its third year, the festival received over 700 entries—200 of which were feature films—and over 8,500 fright fans in attendance. The festival runs in correspondence with the Toronto Zombie Walk, where hordes of horror buffs unite dressed as the living-dead and parade down the city streets.
The festival took place for eight days, screening two feature films a night. Each feature was introduced with an international short film with genres spanning animation, sci-fi, horror and experimental. One of them, The Goblin Man of Norway, is a twenty-four minute short that documents the unearthing of a 100,000-year-old mechanical artifact. The quiet short arouses questions of philosophical circumstance and mystery as they continue to unravel the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Doxology, a five-minute experimental sketch comedy reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, showcases hilarious musical tennis balls and Argentine tangos with cars; it’s entertaining to try and analyze the technicality of its production.
“Good evening cine-maniacs! Are you ready for some scares?” announced festival director Adam Lopez as he commenced the Toronto premiere of Let the Right One In to a first time sold-out opening-night audience. Best Picture Winner at the Tribeca Film Festival, Let the Right One In is a Swedish vampire film that tells the story of a bullied boy who finds confidence and strength when he meets his new neighbor. The film is accompanied with stunning cinematography and picturesque imagery with blankets of snow and contrasting subject color.
Straying away from the screen of horror, Red, based on the riveting Jack Ketchum novel, is the story of an old man’s thirst for justice. Brian Cox displays a powerful performance as Av Ludlow, whose dog is senselessly killed by a group of juveniles. When the crime goes unpunished, Ludlow embarks on a courageous mission of truth. A marvellous story that distinguishes the difference between justice and revenge accompanied with profound dialogue and Cox’s moving portrayal, build into an explosive climax.
Alas, my favorite feature of the festival: Thailand’s horror anthology, 4BIA— a film captained by four separate directors and four separate themes. The first short, entitled “Alone”, tells the story of an isolated girl who familiarizes herself with a stranger through text messaging. A sure fright story emphasized by hardly any dialogue and the only means of communication is technology. The second story, “Tit for Tat”, surrounds a bullied boy using black magic as revenge. Thirdly, “In the Middle” follows a camping trip of four friends with electrically humorous personalities. “Last Flight” follows a flight attendant escorting the corpse of a recently deceased princess. There is a link between the four shorts and its subtle hints make it very interesting to discover them all. I find that Asian horror films provide the best scares with stories of moral substance and 4BIA is no exception, marking an absolutely delectable four-course meal of terror.
This festival brings attention to a new face of horror sub-genres that are usually masked by the stigma that horror films are loaded with cheesy make-up effects and empty storylines. We are not accustomed to seeing this side of horror and must break from the binds of predisposition. Until next October, fright fiends will have to keep at bay to witness the next generation of international horror—and until then salt your doors and windows, sleep with a silver knife under your pillow, and never invite a stranger into your home. See you at Toronto After Dark 2009.