Toronto After Dark 2013 Journal: Day 6 – Last Days On Mars / The Machine

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In keeping with the themed nights at this year’s festival, last night was Sci-Fi night at Toronto After Dark. I was looking forward to the films because I had heard a lot of buzz around them, and for the most part, they delivered.

I knew that the first screening of the night was going to be a busy one, because the passholders line and the ticket holders line were both jam-packed with people, and folks were standing in the Rush line as well. That means that the show was either sold out, or it was going to be close. In this case, it was the former, so it was a packed house when Festival Director Adam Lopez took the stage to say a few words. As always, his enthusiasm is contagious, and he not only got people excited about Last Days On Mars (which they were already there to see), but he also did his best to sell the crowd on The Machine, which apparently still had a lot of seats left at the time.

After Adam stepped off stage, we got to check out the first Canadian short of the night, The Vehicle. This film centers on relationships and time travel, and it is the very definition of no-budget Sci-Fi. I don’t say that in a bad way, I say that because the Director pulls off a high concept Sci-Fi story with very minimal resources. Overall, I thought it was good. I wasn’t blown away, and the story could have used a little bit more meat to it (especially considering the main reason that the characters were there, but the acting was wonderful. This film was certainly the most character-driven of the shorts this year so far, and the leads did a phenomenal job portraying their characters in a believable manner. I would certainly watch more from the filmmaker.

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Next up was the Canadian premiere of Last Days On Mars, a Sci-Fi Horror/Thriller from Director Ruairi Robinson, who was previously nominated for an Oscar for the animated short Fifty Percent Grey and also directed the fan-favorite short film, BlinkyTM. The movie has a simple setup, as it focuses on a small group of International astronauts who are on Mars to perform various tests and collect samples when they come across an infectious disease that essentially turns people into monsters. It’s funny because, while I really have no very negative sticking points in regards to the film, I find that it also isn’t something that I was crazy about. Visually, the movie was stunning, and it really makes you believe that you are seeing Mars; dust storms and all. The performances – which include turns from Liev Schreiber (SCREAM), Olivia Williams (THE SIXTH SENSE) and Elias Koteas (TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES) – were all very good as well. However, I just couldn’t help but feel like the film was a bit long and didn’t really do anything new. Again, those aren’t huge criticisms, but it was enough to keep the film from registering as “Great” on my scale; though it is certainly above average. From the trailer that I’ve seen, it looks like Magnet may have picked this one up for distribution, so I imagine you will soon get to check it out on Blu-ray or stream it on Netflix. Worth a watch, but don’t get super excited. Here’s the trailer:

Next up was another Canadian short called Night Giant, which was considerably lighter in tone. The film, which tells the story of a young man being stalked by a giant, was well-made and had some good chuckles. It certainly doesn’t break the mold, but it was a fun watch, and again, another example of how to make a Sci-Fi film on a very limited budget.

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This brings us to the final film of the evening, the Toronto premiere of Caradog W James’ The Machine. This was a film that I knew almost nothing about before the festival, but since arriving had heard only great things about from some of my friends who had seen it at previous festival screenings. Though I still kept my expectations low, I have to admit that I was blown away by the film. The story is about a man, Vincent (played by Severance‘s Toby Stephens), who is working with the Ministry Of Defense to develop artificial intelligence for use in android soldiers. The comparisons that I kept hearing were to Blade Runner, which usually only ends in disappointment. However, in the case of The Machine, I can kind of see where they are coming from; though this is still very much its own movie. The visuals are wonderful, and the special effects are great. It’s hard to believe that this film was made for under $1 Million. The score is amazing too. Apparently, it was made using only synth plugins that were available in the 1980s. so it has a very John Carpenter-ish vibe at times. There’s also quite a bit of emotion at the heart of the story as well. I would say that, so far, this may be my biggest surprise of the festival this year, and I absolutely loved it. I really hope it finds a distributor soon so that you can all see it, as this one is a no-brainer recommendation. I couldn’t find any full trailer for the film, but here is a small clip. It’s worth noting that it really doesn’t do the movie justice though:

Well, that about wraps it up for the day. As always, after the last screening, people headed to the Office Pub for the nightly Pub After Dark social event. I skipped this particular night, however, as a theater near my hotel was having a midnight screening of John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness as part of a month-long Carpenter mini film festival. If you know me, or have listened to any of the John Carpenter Retrospective podcast series I did last year, then you probably are not surprised why I chose to skip the pub; which is always a great time. As always, so much to do here in Toronto…

Anyhow, with only three days left of the festival, there are still six more features ahead. Tonight we are being treated to “Gore Night” with the Toronto premiere of Found, a movie about a bullied boy who’s life turns into a horror movie, and the World Premiere of Evil Feed, a movie about a Chinese restaurant that kidnaps MMA fighters and makes then fight to the death, with the loser being served up as dinner (yes, that sounds wonderfully crazy to me as well). I’ll be back with a report tomorrow, and as always, keep checking for more full feature reviews here on the website, as we are still cranking them out over the next week or so.

Until tomorrow… Stay Undead!

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