Toronto After Dark Film Festival Wrap-Up – Mini reviews of Love, The Theatre Bizarre, Midnight Son, Absentia, The Corridor and VS

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It’s over! My first time at Toronto After Dark has come to an end, my body is grateful, but the film fan in me isn’t taking it so well. 19 screening in 8 days and complete coverage of the festival was an ambitious goal that I fell somewhat short of. I missed out on two screenings and failed to get a review up for everything, but I’ll be better prepared for next time, perhaps with a guest blogger or two up my sleeve.


Love -A thoughtful and awe-inspiring space adventure that forces the audience to question what exactly it means to be human. Great lead performance by Gunner Wright, and beautiful direction by William Eubank. The film is a bit of a softy in terms of the Sci-fi content, but would be an excellent film to introduce someone to the genre.

The Theatre Bizarre -The horror anthology makes a return with this collection of seven short horror films presented in an abandoned theatre by horror icon Udo Kier. The quality and subject matter of these shorts covers a very wide range, I’m sure everyone will find one to like. For me the best was the Lovecraftian mystery from Richard Stanley, while the food fetish story from David Gregory actually had me looking away from the screen. I actually enjoy eating food and couldn’t risk having some of this imagery stuck in my brain.

Midnight Son -I missed it. I couldn’t watch four movies from 1:30pm – 12:00am on Sunday and I picked the 9:45pm screening of Midnight Son as the one to miss. I screwed up. Multiple fans that I spoke to called this film one of the best of the fest. From what I hear, it is a gritty, realistic, and different take on a vampire film. I also found out that I had been talking to the director, Scott Leberecht, who is a chill, down-to-earth guy. Next time I won’t be taking off any features.

Absentia -A very cool and surprisingly scary low-budget horror film from director Mike Flanagan. Very creative scares and decent acting make this one a pleasure to watch, although the budget does not allow for some of the money-shots that some members of the audience might have been waiting for.

The Corridor -A Sci-fi and horror mash-up that has a lot going for it. Decent writing, acting, and special effects across the board. For some reason the secluded-cabin-in-the-winter theme never seems to get old for me. The intricate relationships between the friends on this winter cabin trip is one of the highlights of The Corridor. The tone of the end of the film may not work well for some, but the film as a whole is certainly worth a watch.

VS -The third and final world premiere at Toronto After Dark. I really wanted to give VS a full review, but simply ran out of energy and time. An amalgamation of superhero and Saw movies, VS really feels like something unique. The film was written and shot quite quickly, but doesn’t come across this way in the visual department. Dark warehouses and junk yards are the environments of VS. Unfortunately the writing comes across as rushed. However, the great performance by James Remar (Dexter) adds some energy to the script. If you feel like a devilishly dark take on the superhero genre, check out VS.

Toronto After Dark Films Earning the Entertainment Maven Seal of Approval (The best of the best)

At TIFF this year I saw roughly 20 films and was ecstatic to find 6 additions for the Seal of Approval page. Toronto After Dark continued the trend as I saw plenty of entertaining films, including 5 remarkable ones. Click on the film titles for my reviews.


Some Guy Who Kills People

A Lonely Place to Die

The Divide

The Innkeepers

Final Thoughts

I WILL MISS the amazing sense of community at TAD. I found myself alone during a few of the social events, at night after the screenings, that is until I approached a long-time pass holder at TAD named Kirk. Before I knew what was going on, I was being introduced to the whole community, including staff, press, and filmmakers. If you find yourself in my position, make the first move and find a great fan like Kirk.

I WON’T MISS the volume level that some directors think is ideal for their film screening. Turn it down guys.

I WILL MISS the incredibly kind and accommodating people at The Toronto Underground Cinema. Everyone, including Nigel, Charlie and Harvey, did a great job.

I WON’T MISS glass bottles rolling down the length of the floor like clockwork.

Finally, I WILL MISS the films. Genre films don’t often get the respect they deserve, but my god, is there a better type of film on the planet? The variety of themes, characters, environments, writing styles, unlikely heroes, menacing villains, soundtracks, action sequences, etc. that can be found in genre films is absolutely astounding. Toronto is one of the best cities in the world for genre fans, and Toronto After Dark is one of the most dedicated and incredible festivals out there for genre films, and only in their 6th year!

I’ll look forward to seeing everyone next year, and until then, maintain your love of the weird, wicked and wonderful, I’m sure it will be effortless to do.

Manborg Review – Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011

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The 6th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, 8 Nights of Horror, Sci-Fi, Action, and Cult Movies runs Oct 20-27, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For complete festival info visit

The guys at Astron-6 are back for the second time at the 6th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival. The first helping was the deliciously over-the-top Father’s Day which must have been one of the crowd favourites of the festival. This time around the visuals resemble an old cd-rom game, the acting is cheesier, and the spirit of fighting games has been channeled to create some epic showdowns.

Before I get into Manborg I would like to discuss the impressive short that preceded it, Ethereal Chrysalis from writer\director Syl Disjonk. Disjonk introduced the short, saying that the imagery we were about to witness was the product of his nightmares. He wasn’t lying. Ethereal Chrysalis really reminded me of Dante’s Inferno, and the otherworldly work of Clark Ashton Smith. In addition to this, there is even a character who is reminiscent of the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley, in more ways than one. Disjonk has done a remarkable job creating a nightmarish world complete with amazing special effects. I hope he continues to be haunted by nightmares, so I get to see more of his films.

Back to Manborg.

Do I really have to explain the plot of Manborg? It sounds like your typical computer game from the early 90’s. The Hell Wars have been going on for years. Draculon, the military leader of Hell is up to his usual business, slaughtering human soldiers and then sucking them dry. But when he kills a seemingly harmless soldier, he starts a chain of events that delivers the human race’s final chance at salvation, Manborg. Half man and half…borg, Manborg has a devastating arsenal and at least 128-mb of ram, enough to take on Draculon and the armies of Hell, but has he been assembled in time?

Manborg is a tribute to old computer games, fighting games, and most importantly VHS movies from the 80’s. Like Father’s Day, every member of Astron-6 is involved in some way. For the most part this is Steven Kostanski’s film, as he directed, while sharing writing and some special effects duties with Jeremy Gillespie. Kostanski’s love of movies and computer games from the 80’s and 90’s is readily apparent. #1 Man (Ludwig Lee) is an out of place and badly dubbed martial artist dressed like Johnny Cage from Mortal Kombat; Justice (Conor Sweeney) is a ridiculous vigilante with a bizarre gun stance and a hilariously awful Australian or New Zealand accent (I heard both); finally, Manborg (Matthew Kennedy) is armed to the teeth with weaponry from old first person shooters. In other words, Manborg is nerd video game/filmmaking heaven. Also, Jeremy Gillespie’s performance as the Baron, much like Sweeney’s portrayal of Justice, has some real comedic flair. Astron-6 films may feel like a bunch of your high school friends decided to make a movie, however real individual talent can be found with each member.

If you’re on the fence about checking out Manborg, just understand that seriousness and incredulity must be left at the door before watching this one. If you can do that, and you can find an audience to watch it with, then I am sure you will find something to like about Manborg. It’s a fun movie, and you get to see what the Astron-6 guys were up to three years ago, before they completed the highly entertaining and boundary pushing Father’s Day.

The Woman Review – Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011

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The 6th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, 8 Nights of Horror, Sci-Fi, Action, and Cult Movies runs Oct 20-27, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For complete festival info visit

The short film preceding the feature tonight was the third and final installment in director Chris Nash’s skin disease trilogy, Liplock. I have no idea what possesses an individual to make such a disgusting trilogy, but I have to admit that I have enjoyed Nash’s work immensely, I just won’t be re-watching them before or after I have eaten a meal. Liplock was not as upsetting as My Main Squeeze, however I do think that it is the more creative of the two and a great watch. Also, make sure to watch and vote for his ABCs of Death entry.

The Woman was the second last screening at the 6th Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Before the festival kicked off I had The Woman circled as a movie NOT to see. It just looked like an exercise in torture-porn to me. The synopsis makes it clear that a seemingly normal family finds a woman living in the wild. They then take her home and attempt to domesticate her. Add to this bare storyline the now infamous reaction by some audience members at Sundance, and to me this seemed like it would be a movie trying to push the boundaries of violence and bad taste, something I am not very interested in. However, I’m glad I decided to attend the screening in the end, and I’m glad the TAD team highlighted the dark comedic elements to be found in The Woman. It turned out to be an entertaining movie with a cool soundtrack and some excellent characters.

The Woman was directed by Lucky McKee (May, Red, and The Woods) and written by McKee and Jack Ketchum. For those who don’t know, Jack Ketchum has to be one of the most talented authors out there when it comes to grisly violence and inhuman villains. I haven’t seen any of the Ketchum adaptations that have been made (Offspring, Red, The Girl Next Door and The Lost), but if a director ever manages to put a perfect adaption of a Ketchum novel up on the screen, then the audience will be in for a sleepless night. The Woman is definitely toned down Ketchum. Yes it is violent, yes some of the characters are evil bastards, but it is certainly not the boundary pushing work of violence that I thought it would be. Much of the violence takes place off-screen, and it is not overdone. Also, the very dark comedic element actually lightens the mood every now and then, so it really doesn’t feel oppressive, unlike most works of torture-porn.

The music in The Woman consists of a pop-indie-rock soundtrack that was not written scene-by-scene for the film, but rather for the work as a whole. Such a light and cool soundtrack also helps to alleviate some of the emotions that will surely build up in viewers watching a film about such dark subject matter.

Finally, the cast do an incredible job in The Woman. Of particular note are the performances by Sean Bridgers and Zach Rand, as the evil father and son duo of Chris and Brian Cleek. Viewers will absolutely loathe these characters for their callous treatment of others. However, the star of the film is without a doubt Pollyanna McIntosh as the Woman. McIntosh brings a primal energy to the screen and remarkably the guttural sound effects emitted by the Woman are from McIntosh and not from some animal in post-production. A wonderful performance, and apparently one that McIntosh prepared for by spending some considerable time alone in the woods.

The Woman is not for everyone, and is certainly not a ground-breaking work in the horror genre, but it is without a doubt an entertaining movie. Any accusations of this being a torture-porn or anti-feminist work are completely unfounded. These accusations stem from a shallow understanding of what The Woman is all about, and a failure to see the big picture.

The Innkeepers Review – Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011

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The 6th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, 8 Nights of Horror, Sci-Fi, Action, and Cult Movies runs Oct 20-27, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For complete festival info visit

The final screening of Toronto After Dark 2011 was The Innkeepers, the highly anticipated haunted hotel story from Ti West. West was at the festival for an intro to the film and a Q&A afterwards. The Innkeepers closing night gala was one of the hottest tickets of the festival. The ticket holder line wrapped around the side of the building, where people seemed content to wait in the rain. Oddly enough, the pass-holder line seemed to have doubled in size, something I can’t even begin to understand.

Preceding The Innkeepers was a short film called The Lady Paranorma from director Vincent Marcone. The animated short was about a shunned woman of a small town who could hear the dead. The lovely animation reminded me of something Tim Burton might produce, and the poetic narration really added to the mystery and charm of the film.

Back to The Innkeepers.

I checked out West’s most popular film, The House of the Devil, a little late in the game. I really enjoyed the film (check out my review), the pacing in particular was remarkable. The House of the Devil felt unique in today’s world of ‘jump scare’ horror, and more of a harkening back to the days of 80’s horror movies. West has been labelled as a skilled ‘slow burn’ filmmaker, which he admits he doesn’t fully understand, as he feels he is simply treating the audience as intelligent moviegoers by not overdoing the scares and gore. However, West also stated that he was happy for the ‘slow burn’ compliments. I definitely acknowledge West’s pacing acumen, but am much more impressed with his ability to make drastic tonal shifts in the narrative. The House of the Devil feels like a comforting type of horror film for a while, creepy but not oppressively scary, however West pulls the rug out from underneath the viewer with grisly violence and horrific plot twists. A tonal shift is an ambitious filmmaking device, but an extremely effective one in the right hands. West pulled it off in The House of the Devil. Would he use the same technique for The Innkeepers, and more importantly, would it be just as effective?

The Innkeepers is probably best described as a buddy-workplace-comedy-ghosthunting-horror film. The story follows two employees of a failing hotel, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy). The Yankee Pedlar Inn is set to close shop within the week. Only the second floor of the hotel is open, the others have been cleared out, save for the beds. Instead of dwelling on their soon to be lost jobs, Claire and Luke have an agenda for their final shifts. The Yankee Pedlar has a history of tragedy and Luke has seen some of the paranormal activity first hand. In these final days Claire and Luke are determined to capture something on film or audio tape that would prove the existence of the Pedlar’s ghosts.

The Innkeepers has all the charm in the world. The dialogue in West’s script is intelligent and funny. The performances of Paxton and Healy only add to the already effective writing. Healy is hilariously sarcastic, while Paxton’s portrayal of Claire results in one of the most likeable characters of recent memory. A particular scene has Claire trying to throw out a heavy garbage bag into a dumpster. Her ingeniously awkward and feeble attempts could not have possibly been scripted as they appear on the screen.

The atmosphere of The Innkeepers is reminiscent of light comedic horror films like Ghostbusters or something by Joe Dante, however this is only for a portion of the duration. As the characters become more deeply enmeshed in the haunting of the Yankee Pedlar, the paranormal activity shifts from creaking doors and strange sounds, to truly terrifying manifestations. At no point during the first half of the film will the audience be concerned for Claire and Luke, however the second half forces the viewer to challenge this notion of perceived safety.

The Innkeepers had the potential to be one of the best light-comedic-horror movies I have ever seen, but the shift in tone took the story to a much darker place, and as a result, The Innkeepers becomes a much more important horror film. Much like in The House of the Devil, the tonal shift in The Innkeepers is a very effective bit of filmmaking. West seems discontent to sit back and watch the horror genre rely on buckets of gore and jump-scares. I welcome what he is doing with open arms, as the more variety we have in the horror genre, the better. The Innkeepers is both a very funny comedy and a frightening paranormal mystery. The film is a great success from a critical standpoint, and I hope that it gets the audience it deserves.

The Divide Review – Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011

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The 6th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, 8 Nights of Horror, Sci-Fi, Action, and Cult Movies runs Oct 20-27, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For complete festival info visit

Some readers may be familiar with my position regarding post-apocalyptic films that I have voiced in previous reviews, but I will go over it once more for new readers. I feel that these films are often not subject to the same standard of criticism that fans and reviewers use for other horror and sci-fi fare. There is something about the end of the world, and a bleak environment faced by a small band of survivors that is extremely appealing to a large group of fans. Too often, poor story lines and insipid dialogue are overlooked, simply because a movie features a post-apocalyptic theme. I can certainly dig post-apocalyptic if it is done well, I’m just not as forgiving as the hardcore fans. I’m sure that I too am guilty of the same selective criticism of other sub-genres, perhaps slashers and dark detective stories. Fortunately, my clash with post-apocalypitc apologists can wait for another time, as I’m sure we can agree that Xavier Gens’ The Divide is a grotesquely mean-spirited and emotionally powerful tour-de-force.

The short which preceded the feature was Blind Spot from Matthew Nayman. Blind Spot depicts a disgruntled man driving on the freeway and attempting to change his flight time while on the phone with some unhelpful booking agents. What the man doesn’t realize is that while he battles the booking agents, an alien invasion has begun outside his driver side window. Viewers listen to the oblivious man argue, while a massive urban centre crumbles and burns in the background. Blind Spot is brilliant in its simplicity and is everything you could want in a short film.

Back to The Divide.

The story begins with Eva (Lauren German) gazing out her apartment at the fiery end of the world, or at least the end of New York City. Eva snaps out of it thanks to her husband Sam (Iván González), and the couple make a dash for the secure basement of their apartment complex. The pair make it to the basement safely, along with a small group of other tenants, including Josh (Milo Ventimiglia), Bobby (Michael Eklund), Marilyn(Rosanna Arquette), and paranoid superintendent Mickey (Michael Biehn), however they are forced to close the doors on a stampede of other tenants, or jeopardize their own safety. It turns out that the people who perished in the blast were the lucky ones, as the inhabitants of the apartment basement begin to lose their sanity and turn on each other in a horrifying sequence of events.

The Divide looks, feels and sounds fantastic, but the real story is the amazing acting turned in by the entire cast. Director Xavier Gens gave the cast a large degree of artistic freedom, so the final on-screen performances are the result of careful writing by Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean, combined with many improvised moments and ideas from the cast. Add to this the strict 31 day diet that Gens placed the cast on, in order to realistically display the worsening physical condition of the characters, and I imagine that much of the on-screen tension was fueled by real emotion.

I really don’t want to go through the performances of the cast one by one, as they were top notch across the board, and of a calibre that is rarely seen in this type of film. Although it should be noted that witnessing Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund transform into despicable villains is absolutely chilling.

Gens has created one the most stifling and claustrophobic atmospheres to ever be depicted on film. The characters in The Divide seem like they could be your real life friends or acquaintances. That is what makes their Lord-of-the-Flies-like descent into barbarism all the more chilling. Do not watch The Divide to have a good time at the movies. Instead, go see it when you are ready to witness the dark side of humanity. The film will weigh on your chest and make it difficult to breathe for 110 minutes, as you try to find a way out for these unfortunate characters while they destroy each other, both physically and mentally.

It should be noted that the Toronto After Dark version of The Divide was not the extended cut. The official Xavier Gens cut will feature an additional 15 minutes of sex, violence, and canned beans (don’t ask). I imagine it will feel like a much darker film. I’m not sure if I could handle that.

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