Fantasia Announces Opening Film ‘Red Rooms,’ Second Wave of Titles: ‘The Audience is Going to Be Left Completely Breathless’

Canada’s Fantasia International Film Festival has announced the opening film of its 27th edition: Pascal Plante’s “Red Rooms,” about a high-profile case of a serial killer and the woman (Juliette Gariépy) obsessed with him.

“It’s a film of enormous emotional force, unbelievably controlled and smart, with a staggering performance from Gariépy. Pascal is one of the greatest talents of his generation in Quebec cinema and among the strongest filmmakers in the country right now,” says festival’s artistic director Mitch Davis. 

“In a sense, it’s an unconventionally grim note to open a festival on. It’s a profoundly disturbing film. But I know the audience is going to be left completely breathless by it.”

“As a Montrealer, I have been a regular festival goer of Fantasia for years now, but it’s the first time one of my features will be screened in their lineup. I’m honored and humbled that they selected ‘Red Rooms’ to open the festival,” the director tells Variety. His film will world premiere at Karlovy Vary. 

“The Fantasia crowd is the best, most adventurous and most reactive audience there is: Even if our film is quite insidious and dark, they will bring the ‘festive’ back into ‘festival’!”

The festival, running from July 20 through August 9, has also revealed its first and second wave of titles, including several world premieres. starting with Ukraine’s “Stay Online,” Eva Strelnikova’s feature debut which will see a volunteer from Kyiv using a laptop donated to the resistance and coming into contact with the son of its original owner, in search of his missing parents.

“The fact that it even exists is something worth celebrating,” adds Davis. 

“Every one of us felt it was an important film to be shown, as urgent art that speaks to the experience of life in wartime,” he says, describing it as a “visceral thriller told from a gruelling perspective of ongoing circumstances that most of us will be fortunate enough not to know first-hand.”

Interestingly enough, the festival will also show Victor Ginzburg’s vampire epic “Empire V,” banned by Russia’s Ministry of Culture.

“It’s a fascinating companion piece of sorts, albeit one produced before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both stand as unconventional anti-war films in their own ways. For ‘Empire V,’ Ginzburg made a point of hiring Aleksei Rodionov, the cinematographer of ‘Come and See,’ which is a statement in itself,” says Davis.

“Genre, in general, has always largely been empathetic, confrontational and brimming with social commentary. As broken reflections of the realities they came out of, I think the most haunting and unforgettable genre works illuminate as art that’s both a mirror and a hammer. As an audience member, I love a good rollercoaster and I also want to be challenged, shaken up, even hurt.”

Another world premiere, “Kurayukaba” by Shigeyoshi Tsukahara, is “equal parts crazy cartoon caper, shadowy film noir, nostalgic escapade and steampunk fantasy,” while Zach Clark will deliver “The Becomers,” a romantic tale of two body-swapping aliens. In “Romi,” directed by Robert Cuffley, AI takes control when a young woman hides out in a smart home while evading the law.

“Irlande Cahier Bleu” from Olivier Godin, shot on 16mm, will introduce “an anachronistic firefighter, a quotidian poet and an expert soup-maker” who also plays in a competitive basketball league. Then, there will be time for “The Primevals,” a long-gestating film by visual effects wizard David Allen, who passed away in 1999. His associate Chris Endicott has now brought it to completion alongside producer Charles Band, promising a tribute to the stop-motion madness of Ray Harryhausen. 

Other world premieres include Teresa Sutherland’s “Lovely, Dark and Deep” (“fantastically atmospheric and beautiful debut,” says Davis), “Aporia” by Jared Moshe, and “Where the Devil Roams” from the Adams Family (Toby Poster, John Adams, Zelda Adams), celebrating their third consecutive world premiere at the fest.

“Mayhem” by Xavier Gens, “Blackout” by Larry Fessenden, finally making his werewolf film, “What you Wish For” with Nick Stahl, directed by Nicholas Tomnay, Ryan Ward’s “Daughters of the Sun” and Jenn Wexler’s “The Sacrifice Game,” co-presented with Les Fantastique Week-ends, will be shown as well.

Apart from world premieres, Cannes title “Vincent Must Die” and Sundance’s “Talk to Me” will also be brought to Montreal’s audience, as well as Chihiro Ikeda’s “Insomniacs after School” and “River” by “micro-budget time travel maestro” Junta Yamaguchi. In “Sympathy for the Devil,” director Yuval Adler will reunite with Joel Kinnaman and bring Nicolas Cage along for the ride, the latter delivering “one of the most intense performances of his career,” tease the organizers.

Fantasia will also host a book launch event for “Dark Matter Presents: Haunted Reels,” celebrate South Korean cinema and give its 2023 Canadian Trailblazer Award to underground filmmaker Larry Kent. 

“Against all reason he has become, in many ways, cinephilia’s secret handshake that’s still largely unknown outside the country, despite Cronenberg, Egoyan and others citing him as an important influence,” says David.

“New 4K restorations of his first three films – the first of which, ‘The Bitter Ash,’ actually once saw police chaining cinema’s doors shut to block a screening – will hopefully help to change that. It feels so good to be able to honor him this way. His contribution to what we know today as Canadian indie film can’t be overstated.”

The festival’s complete lineup will be announced in early July. You can find the full list of titles here:

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