Montreal’s Fantasia Festival is officially underway and although we’re only finishing up the first week, I already caught a handful of discussion-worthy titles. Below you’ll find my thoughts about the South Korean dark comedy Next Door, the wilderness horror title Dark Nature, and the satirical absurdist dark comedy We Might As Well Be Dead.
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The directorial debut from Yeom Ji-ho proves to be an entertaining, but at times grating comedy thriller. Oh Dong-min plays Chan-woo, a likable loser trying to get into the police academy who, after a night of heavy drinking with his buddies, wakes up in his loud neighbor’s apartment with her lifeless and bloody body laying on the floor. Chan-woo must now piece together the series of events that led him to this predicament while removing himself from whatever kind of awfulness happened the night before.
More than just a riff on The Hangover, Next Door keeps audiences guessing with its multiple twists and turns as Chan-woo must contend with a nosey landlord, violent boyfriends, and his own buffoonery.
Tonally, this is firmly planted in the dark comedy genre, though I personally didn’t find much here in the way of laughs. Chan-woo is far too annoying to really find much humor in his character and while the various set pieces are clever and certainly entertaining, they are far from a laugh riot.
Shot largely within the confines of two tiny studio apartments, Next Door‘s claustrophobic locale helps aid in the moment to moment thrills, but its pacing is a bit off, dragging in moments.
Still, this is a fun little movie with a few surprises mixed in for good measure.
Berkley Brady’s wilderness-set creature feature Dark Nature is a perplexing title that’s a bit too derivative without bringing anything new to the genre.
After escaping an abusive relationship, Joy (Hannah Emily Anderson) agrees to attend an unconventional therapy group at the behest of her best friend, Carmen (Madison Walsh), which takes them to the mountains for a camping trip to confront their trauma. Unfortunately, their mental anguish is not the only thing they’ll need to overcome as there’s a creature lurking in the woods that sets its sights on the group.
The weak script is compounded by the sub-par performances and the lackluster creature effects.
Furthermore, the overall narrative makes little sense, as the women begin to have visions of their past trauma. It’s unclear if the creature itself is causing these, or if it’s something in their heads they’re being confronted with. If it’s the former, it’s left too nebulous as to what this thing is and where it came from. If it’s the latter and the creature is somehow a manifestation of the group’s trauma, what happens to them doesn’t make much sense.
There’s a half-hearted twist that occurs near the final act, and while most won’t see it coming, the end result doesn’t add much to the overall story, which amounts to little more than a less scary version of The Descent.
We Might As Well Be Dead
Natalia Sinelnikova’s debut (and graduation project!) is a dry, sardonic look at a dystopian present where a panel of old white people lord over the citizens of a seemingly utopian high rise community.
Ioana Iacob plays Anna, the security officer who controls nearly every aspect of the insulated building, ensuring the residents are safe and happy, but after a dog goes missing and a prowler is spotted, fear and mistrust begin washing over the already paranoid populous.
I have a soft spot for movies contained within high rises, and the satisfyingly clinical production design combined with the absurd narrative make this a satire worth a look, though it might be a bit too dry for some viewers. For others such as myself however, there’s plenty of endearing elements here to keep audiences engage. Sinelnikova hints at the perils of outside world, but we’re largely kept in the little bubble of the community, much like the members themselves.
Iacob shines as Anna, a working class woman just trying to keep the building from breaking out into full on riot mode while also tending to her teenage daughter who refuses to leave their bathroom.
Chock full of social commentary, We Might As Well Be Dead is an impressive debut and a surprise highlight of the festival so far.