Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2018 - highlights



Mexican director Issa López’s horror-fantasy hybrid (the original title, Siempre Vuelven, translates as “they always come back”) has already won a slew of awards, and had Guillermo Del Toro and Stephen King both waxing lyrical on Twitter, and it’s easy to see why. Her tale of several orphaned children banding together to fend off the brutal gangland tactics of the ever-present drug cartel and the ghosts of the murdered lingering close is the kind of narrative premise that appeals to the sensibilities of Toro and King, as they have both tackled their own tales of horror and adolescence. 

López has delivered a powerfully nuanced film, with superb performances from her young cast, especially Paola Lola as brave Estrella, trying to find out what happened to her mother, convinced of three wishes, searching desperately for closure. She befriends a ragtag group of boys, proves her mettle, and has them aid her on her dangerous quest, being pursued by vengeful gangsters. 


The production values are excellent, especially the cinematography, which captures the grit and grime, the inescapable sense of desolation within the ghetto. Yet there’s a kind of ruinous beauty to it all. And López doesn’t pull any punches with the inherent violence either, it’s a truly cruel world. The melding of the fantasy element is interwoven beautifully, as the young imagination conjures the fantastical in order to comprehend the horror of the adult world. 

The statistics of how many people, especially children, go missing each year as a direct result of the drug wars is truly harsh. It’s a reality where street kids are forced to become adults at a very tender age, weapons thrust into their hands, often out of the necessity for survival. Right from the start Tigers Are Not Afraid is a tense and compelling journey, moving inexorably deeper toward the dark truth, and almost certain to pull hard on your heart strings. 



Usually I’m not one for smart-arse horror comedies that try and be oh-so-self-aware-clever and end up compromising everything they’ve set out to encapsulate. However, there are always exceptions to the rule, and this little slasher spoof hits the meta nail right on the head. Directed by Brett Simmons, who made a forgettable scarecrow horror movie called Husk, comes out with both guns blazing. A wickedly original premise that holds up to the very end. And then demands some more. 

The movie opens with Sam (Fran Kranz), a kids camp counsellor covered in blood and holed up in a shed. He’s called his best friend Chuck (Alyson Hannigan), a horror movie geek, for help, as he’s sure he’s being hunted by a maniac killer, who has already butchered most of the other counsellors. He doesn’t remember large sections due to blacking out. Chuck asks a few pertinent questions, and it quickly dawns on the them that Sam might very well be the killer. Sam describes in detail the events that have lead to this moment of realisation. 


It might sound hokey, but this very entertaining movie ticks a lot of boxes. Firstly, the performances of the good-looking, mostly unknown cast, are terrific, with special note to Kranz in the utterly confused and desperate lead role. He has a kind of Steve Carroll dork factor, but is endearing, which is crucial, considering the predicament. Hannigan is Hannigan, and she delivers the perfect counterpart, over the phone, that is. Also of note is Brittany S. Hall as Sam’s ex-camp fling, Imani. 

The lush, retro-hued cinematography fits hand in glove, plus there are some choice kills, which is de rigour for a slasher flick. The movie is short, hilarious, and finishes with the perfect ending. Not surprisingly, it won awards for “Best Film To Watch With A Crowd” & “Film Most Want To See A Sequel To” at Toronto After Dark. Indeed, it’s the perfect popcorn and mates movie. And beers and blunts too, if you can. 



Another Latin-American entry, this one from Guillermo Amoedo, one of Eli Roth’s friends, who collaborated with him on Aftershock, The Green Inferno, and Knock Knock. This movie, however, is nothing like those three. The Inhabitant is a richly atmospheric shocker dealing with demonic possession, which unfolds in a classic mold, unlike Roth’s obnoxious, over-the-top style. Indeed The Inhabitant relies more on character and subtlety, and is all the more resonant and memorable for it. 

Maria (Maria Evoli), Camila (Vanesa Restrepo) and Ana (Carla Adell) are sisters, and have broken into a mansion, searching for a stash of money in a safe, from a tip-off to help Camila who is in a spot of trouble. But, their plans are scuttled by the discovery of the wealthy owners’ daughter Tamara (Nastash Cubria) strapped to a bed in the basement. The girl looks definitely worse for wear. The parents are desperate to be left alone. The sisters have their own demons, but those have been kept in the closest since they were teens. Until now. 


This is a movie of more than just diabolical invasion of the body. It is about the loss of faith, the theft of humanity, the sacking of sacred family trust. It is about the darkness within the darkness of the soul. Peer too closely into the shadows and they just might bite your face off. The Inhabitant has a tenebrous shroud that blankets everything. It’s an impressively nightmarish vibe, enhanced by the roving camerawork, down the hallways of the labyrinthine mansion, and strong performances from all the actors. 

Eschewing the usual viscera (though it is still violent) and arching histronics of other possession movies The Inhabitant still manages to create a genuinely chilling atmosphere, all icky dread and cold sweaty moments. It’s not a long movie, but it demands you pay attention, for the denouement is most satisfyingly apocalyptic, and coal black eyes have been staring intently in that direction. 

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2018 screened October 11-19, Scotiabank Theatre. For complete program and all award winners please visit their site Toronto After Dark.