2012 Toronto After Dark Summer Screenings – Summary & Wrap!


The Toronto After Dark Film Festival brought something new to the plate this year by screening in advance 2 days of summer “Spotlight Presentations” for fans of the genre ahead of the main annual festival that takes place in October. This event or “mini festival” was a great opportunity to experiment and gage the interest level of current and new audiences to see if they would actually attend this genre event outside of the main festival. And what an experimental success it was as it brought out crowds to the Bloor Cinema and even had a sold out theatre, which seats some 700+ people, at its final summer screening V/H/S. The summer screenings have not only been a treat for loyal fans of the genre but also was a great opportunity for those new to the festival and its films, to actually get a taste of what to expect from the main event in October.  The 4 features that screened on June 27 and July 11 this summer included; Juan of the Dead, The Pact, Detention and V/H/S. Both late night screenings were followed by an after-party pub night at Paupers, which was an all inclusive perk for ticket and pass holders alike to mix and mingle and an opportunity to analyze, wow, and bash their likes and dislikes. And in case you wanted to disguise your fear under the pretext of blaming your memory for being “oh so weak”, here is a quick re-cap of what went down:

Day 1:
The first feature that screened was Juan of the Dead, directed by Alejandro Brugues, which is a funny, clever and very entertaining zombie flick from and shot in Cuba. The script is fresh and keeps you involved wanting to know what will happen next, as nothing feels as you would expect it to be.  This is the story of Juan, who is a pretty useless, lazy fisherman and absent father who simply spends his days having an affair with a married woman and hanging around with his very good friend Lazaro on his building rooftop patio drinking. While they live their days, all of a sudden we see something strange and noticeable beginning to happen to the people of Havana island. Zombies begin to appear and then some more as the infection starts to spread rapidly. Instead of making a run for it to a safer haven, Juan comes up with a money making idea to work along his pals and become rich. The services provided would include to quote “killing your loved ones” i.e. killing zombies and training fellow citizens to defend themselves against zombies. Although it does not seem like a very big budgeted film, zombie lovers will not be disappointed as there is ample gore, slashing and smashing of brains and even the good ol’ fashioned cannibalism going on throughout the film. The film is mostly hilarious, almost burst out laughter funny for me personally in parts, as the humour used is both personal to the characters as well as a mockery of the political system in Cuba under Castro. However, eventually Juan’s business plans fail when things start to get out of control and this is where the audience really begins to get their fill of zombies as herds of them begin to appear feasting on guts. If you have a weak tolerance for too much blood and nibbling on raw human flesh then perhaps this is not for you. Zombie lovers, this will be a treat for you!

The second feature that screened on Day 1 was The Pact, directed by Nicholas McCarthy, is essentially a ghost film that nonetheless is a mix of genres , both horror and mystery. The story revolves around two sisters Nicole and Annie who have had a rough and abusive childhood under their mother’s care. Nicole returns to her family home after her mother’s death to take care of funeral arrangements and insists that Annie come and help her but she refuses. Later that night, Nicole disappears. Shortly after, the rough and tough bike rider, Annie arrives on the scene at the house and begins to witness the creepy and odd noises, doors opening and shutting, and things falling. The first half of the film is solid and scary, keeping you on the edge of your seat not knowing what to expect next. However the film slows down a bit as we transition from ghostly horror to a mysterious story that eventually leads to the big reveal. Steering away from the conventional horror films, The Pact felt like an experimental cross-over of genres with very clever and unexpected writing which might not be for everyone but still makes it quite an interesting watch.

Day 2:
Detention, directed by Joseph Kahn, was the first feature to screen during the second set of summer screenings. It was probably one of the summer favourites with a handsome set of whole-hearted giggles originating through satirical comedy based on teen flicks over the decades, pop culture, and a lot of references of the 90’s. It would be fair to say that unless you are well attuned to the pop culture, know and have seen teen flicks over the decades it would be a bit hard to get the fairly fast paced jokes and humour. The story which is a mix of comedy, gore, slasher, time travel, and everything else that could possibly exist, follows a group of teenagers in their final year who play a very exact reflection of their character, a mockery so to say which makes it all the more hilarious to watch. Amidst the usual ho-pla of teenage drama that already exists, the group also has to deal with the fact that there may very well be a killer amongst them.It would be unfair to summarize the story of this film in a few lines as there is so much going on in the film that it would almost feel disjointed. What I enjoyed the most was when they played two songs from the very famous 90’s boy band The Backstreet Boys in setting where the group of teenagers are in detention trying to figure out who the murderer is. Another highlight was the Canadian character Gord, a passionate meat lover who only wears a sports jersey and quite possibly might’ve even stolen the show here in Toronto per his outrageously hysterical personality. The film definitely has the potential for a re-watch especially if you want to do true justice to it and also if you are a bit slow like me to get all the jokes the first time round!

The second and last screening of the festival was the greatly hyped V/H/S, an anthology of isolated found footage films, 5 in total, that play against a back drop of a 6th story. A group of crooks hired to break into a house to steal a VHS tape, boldly film their break-in and find a collection of VHS tapes which they begin to watch one by one. The first tape which was quite interestingly shot through a pair of glasses is the story of some drunk, drugged out jocks who pick up some girls to get laid and get laid they do! The second is a slasher with a weird story about a couple who are on a road trip taking breaks at motels when someone enters their locked room to film them. The third shot in the Blair Witch-style is the story about four friends who go into the woods where a killer awaits to slice them all up. The fourth, and one of my favourites especially since by this time I was in a position to appreciate the motionless camera setting, is the story of a haunted house told through a webcam conversation of a couple. The last film, another one of my favourites is a Halloween story where a group of guys break into a known haunted house for some thrills and actually come  face-to-face with a she-devil!

All the films were well done in their own respect, with a proper start and finish to their own individual storylines, without any connection or transition to each other. This might or might not have worked in their favour though as it almost affords the audience an opportunity to re-coup from the scares they just witnessed. Overall, I quite enjoyed the film as it was very different and apart from what I have seen, although the scares didn’t completely live up to the hype that I had originally expected. There were definitely some good scares with dark set-ups and encounters with the devil being my personal favourites that played out in the 1st, 4th and 5th films. The only thing that could make this film a little difficult to watch for those with motion sickness is the constantly shaky camera and often times authentic yet unclear picture quality that could really give you a headache. Other than that, I feel this is an interesting concept and there definitely is a potential for films to be made this way.

With that the 2012 Toronto After Dark Film Festival Summer Screenings wrapped up. A little something new and exciting that was announced on closing night by the founder of the festival, Adam Lopez, is the introduction of the indie video game submissions that are scheduled to be played at an after-party venue during the main festival in October. This is in addition to the roughly 20 feature presentations that will screen later this year, along with a much talked about set of amazing shorts, just to name a couple of the programmes. If you weren’t already, I’m sure by now you are just as excited as I am, anxiously awaiting the upcoming festival in October that will bring more horror, sci-fi action, thriller and cult films to Toronto audiences.  Be sure to check it out this year, you wouldn’t want to miss it!

-Myra Rehman


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