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 Toronto After Dark 2014 Poster



Arriving on day four into the 2014 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, I was still fairly upset that I couldn't make the first few days because they included some must-sees for me this season. For months I have been dying to see the long awaited sequel, Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, and after seeing a glimpse of cheesy puppet goodness, I desperately wanted to watch the creature feature, Zombeavers. Fortunately, I couldn't be too upset because what was to come seemed like an interesting and well-rounded slice of the horror genre.

The Drownsman CoverOnestar

The Drownsman (screened with the short film Kismet)

When I was watching the trailers for the movies I would be seeing this evening, I was fully prepared to like The Drownsman the most. Seemingly promising an eerie film with a haunting and relentless villain similar to Freddy Krueger, this movie disappointed to say the least.

Madison is a young woman who while out at a party with her friends, slips and falls on a deck and almost drowns in a lake. She then becomes plagued with images of a swampy large man who appears every time she is near water, which causes her to develop a crippling phobia throughout the subsequent year. Madison soon discovers that there is more to her frightening nightmares when she finds that the man she has been seeing is much more than a figment of her imagination, and is hell-bent on getting to her and everyone she loves.

Apart from the long list of plot holes in The Drownsman, starting as small and irritating as how Madison manages to have perfect, flowing hair after a year of not going anywhere near water, the tone of the film is completely confusing. Occasionally I'll see a horror film and think to myself, "Is it self aware? Does it know it's bad?", which was a thought I had during most of this movie. After an evening of letting it percolate and re-watching the trailer, I'm fairly certain this film does not realize how bad it is. The acting and dialogue are hyper-serious to the point of self-parody, the entire plot is a cheap A Nightmare on Elm Street rip off, and the more integral parts of the film are rushed and perplexing, such as the haphazard ending that masquerades as complex.

Every movie that plays at Toronto After Dark is preceded with a Canadian short horror film, this of which screened with a twenty-minute piece called Kismet, which was written and directed by Sean Cammack. Setting the tone of being frightened by a shadowy figure in the dark, this short was more inventive and original than anything presented in The Drownsman. Jill and Alex are two people who are emotionally beaten down by their respective partners and decide to let loose for one night, and flirt and kiss and go on an adventure with each other to an abandoned home. After discovering bloodied remains, they race to escape the house and whatever is haunting them. Capably acted and effectively creepy, it could easily be expanded to a full-length movie, while The Drownsman could probably be more effective as a short film.

Even with the bad, swampy taste of The Drownsman lingering, I was still wide eyed and excited to see the other films that the festival had to offer, as the remaining fell under their "Werewolf Night", with a Lupine double feature.


Wolves CoverThreeandahalfstars

Wolves (screened with the short film, Rose in Bloom)

The introductions to each film screened at Toronto After Dark are a huge treat for fans. Hearing the director or writer say, "I made this movie because a, b, c," really sets the tone to enjoy what's to come. I believe this is the reason why I enjoyed Wolves as much as I did, because it is otherwise fairly teen-geared. Writer and director David Hayter introduced Wolves by explaining that the movie is a love letter to the '80s horror films he watched when he was growing up. A cheesy hero story with charming practical effects was what I expected, and it was exactly what I got.

Our hero, Cayden Richards, is a teenage boy who is entirely unaware of the power that has been within him his whole life. He is awoken frequently in the night by terrifying nightmares of wolves and blood, and as he hits puberty and is exposed to a whole new world of hormones, he becomes unable to contain his true form; a werewolf. After a terrible tragedy that forces Cayden to leave home, he discovers an entire town of people who know exactly who he is, and exactly what he is.

Although the film is probably more suiting to people like my teenage sister, it is still an enjoyable and genuinely funny adventure story. Filled with snappy one-liners that are worthy of honest laughter, it is an escapist treat for younger horror fans who want an action and a love story all wrapped up in one package.

The short film that was screened with Wolves is called Rose in Bloom, which was written and directed by Trevor Kristjanson. The main character is a young girl named Rose, who on her birthday accidentally happens upon her father and sister burying a body of someone who wronged them. Although there is an effectively eerie tone to the short, it did fall apart in the ambiguous ending, and it left myself and everyone I asked feeling as though they had missed something that might explain what it meant.

Rose in BloomTwoandahalfstars

Late Phases CoverFivestars

Late Phases (screened with the short film, Dead Hearts)

After one picture that I hated and one that I enjoyed but wouldn't watch again, I was still in perfect spirits to be surrounded by horror fans; young, old, weird and wonderful. I chatted with friends who I met on social media, I giggled at all of the hardcore lupines who dressed up as werewolves for the evening, and I got way too much candy from the concession stand. Late Phases was the final film for the evening, and with no available trailer until earlier in the night, it seemed mysteriously intriguing, with a more serious take on the werewolf story to contrast the light-hearted Wolves that screened before it.

Late Phases follows Ambrose, a blind veteran who has recently moved into a gated retirement community by the plea of his son, William. After one night of living in his new home, Ambrose and his dog are attacked by a large animal-like being, which kills his dog and leaves Ambrose with a razor sharp vendetta against the thing that has harmed him and others in the community.

This film is so magnificently subtle. With sly red herrings that lead the viewers one way but even briefer moments of foreshadowing for where the plot does end up turning, it accomplishes so much without hitting the viewer over the head with anything. It is also remarkably acted by Nick Damici, who plays Ambrose, as well as stellar supporting performances by Tom Noonan (House of the Devil) and Lance Guest (Halloween II). Although (as with most horror fans) I appreciated the practical makeup of the werewolves, the one part where the film loses some of its bite is near the end, when the beasts are more in view. In the beginning, it is a series of swift and jarring cuts that never leaves the audiences seeing much more than a silhouette of a werewolf, which I would have preferred in the end. Regardless of the schlocky looking monsters, Late Phases is still a strong contender for best film of the festival.

The short film that screen with Late Phases is called Dead Hearts, which was written and directed by Stephen W. Martin. This short was easily my favourite of the three out of the evening, following a young mortician who falls in love, and after a series of obstacles standing in the way of them being together (including his own death), he relentlessly attempts to return to her. With intentionally flat camera angles and charming sets and costume design, this short is like if Wes Anderson and the one Goth kid you went to high school with got together and made a movie. And it is wonderful.

Dead HeartsFivestars

01 The Drownsman Poster02 Wolves Poster03 Late Phases Poster

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