You know that summer’s coming to the end here in the city when details of the Toronto International Film Festival start trickling out. Even more than when the big Galas and Special Presentations (McConaugheys and Moss’s and Gagas, oh my!) are announced, the reveal of the Midnight Madness lineup, that dark corner of bloody and weird fare, hand-selected by programmer Peter Kuplowsky, is like Christmas to me. Films like Saw, The Grudge, Dazed and Confused, Insidious, Martyrs, and then-unknown directors like Ben Wheatley, the Spierig Brothers, and more all got their starts in the Midnight lineup, and maybe one of these films will end up becoming a classic as well. Here’s what Peter has on tap for us this year:
The Predator (Opening Film)
Oh you’ve heard of Predator, have you? Maybe you remember it from such despicable acts as blowing a hole in Jesse Ventura, or ripping off Apollo Creed’s best punchin’ arm. Either way, director Shane Black’s vision of the alien hunter has a killer cast, including Yvonne “Serena Joy” Strahovski, Sterling K. Brown, and Keegan Michael Kay. I’ve had my eye on this sequel for a couple years now, so my expectations are high. Let the hunt begin!
Between Open Windows, The Den, and the Unfriended movies, internet horror is extremely on trend right now, but Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation indicts our online presence in a more direct way. In the town of Salem, some internet fuckery causes an entire town to turn into something resembling The Purge. Starring Suki Waterhouse, Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Bill “Pennywise” Skarsgard, and Joel McHale, Assassination Nation looks like a crowd pleaser and exactly the kind of movie that the famously-rowdy Midnight audience will lap up.
Provocateur filmmaker Gaspar Noe is known for his ability to shock, and Climax looks to be no departure from his perfect record of dark and controversial (to say the least) projects. Whether it’s 1998’s I Stand Alone, 2002’s Irreversible, 2009’s Enter The Void, or 2015’s LOVE, each of Noe’s films plays like a pipe bomb being dropped into a multiplex, spraying shrapnel and changing the lives and the outlook of everyone it touches. With Climax, Noe puts us in the centre of a hedonistic orgy that gets turned into a psychedelic nightmare with a few hits of acid. This one is not for the faint of heart, or the weak-willed.
What do I need to say about Halloween? Nothing, that’s what. But early buzz is that this sequel to the original Halloween , from two writers (David Gordon Green and Danny McBride) that are best known for comedy, is a serious banger. With Jamie Lee Curtis back in the fray and a trailer that has been giving me goosebumps over the last month, Halloween is certain to be one of the most memorable horror experiences this year.
I adore Peter Strickland’s vision. His films Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke Of Burgundy (both of which screened at TIFF) are like nothing else I’ve ever seen. They’re dark, for sure, but have a lush beauty to them that conceals that darkness. You can call In Fabric the sinister cousin to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, but that movie didn’t feature a haunted dress, now did it?
The garish Wyrmwood should have been a warning to us all about what was coming next from Kiah Roache-Turner. That blood-soaked, ultraviolent zombie actioner was over the top, even for an Australian genre film. So how do you top that? Well, for starters, I guess you can cast Monica Belluci as the Queen of The Demons. Like it’s fellow Midnight entry Assassination Nation, this is an irreverent tale about the evils of the internet, though Nekrotronic is much more hellish story, in the literal sense.
The Standoff At Sparrow Creek
This is where Midnight Madness puts on its serious face. A gritty feature debut for Henry Dunham, Standoff At Sparrow Creek looks like an intense bottle story about one night, a lumber warehouse, and some very harsh interrogation techniques. It’s got some great character actors on board and a distinct visual style. If you’re a little worn out from supernatural fare, this could be your jam.
Midnight Madness features only one woman behind the camera this year. Emma Tammi’s horror western, The Wind, reads like a study in loneliness and isolation and the madness and doom that go with it. Set in the 1800’s, nothing says being driven insane like the pioneers and their clackety wooden teeth. Tammi is better known for her documentary work, so her first fiction piece will definitely be something to keep an eye on.
The Man Who Feels No Pain
Midnight Madness’s first foray into Bollywood looks like a total riot, with Vasan Bala’s tale of an invincible man who must defeat a hundred foes, presumably using karate or something similar. Bala’s Peddlers played TIFF in 2012, so it’ll be an auspicious return when he graces the Ryerson stage for Midnight Madness.
I don’t quite know how to explain Diamantino, and I’m not sure that I’ll be able to do any better a job with that once the credits roll either. Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s mockumentary about a famous, self-obsessed soccer player – kind of like Ben Stiller’s Zoolander – has a strong political message underneath. All signs point to Diamantino being something truly surreal, existing somewhere between Spinal Tap and a twisted Sasha Baron Cohen project. It’s been getting rave reviews since it’s screening at Cannes, so I’m looking forward to this Midnight Madness closer to end the festivities with a resounding, ‘huh?’
So there you have it. Ten off-the-wall Christmas presents to open, each containing something to transport you to places you can’t, or maybe don’t want to, visit outside of a darkened theatre with a thousand of your closest friends. Ten straight nights of Madness kick off on September 6th. See you there!