Toronto After Dark 2013 Journal: Day 8 – Willow Creek / Banshee Chapter

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The penultimate night of Toronto After Dark 2013 is now behind us, and for all intents and purposes, it was a great success. The night’s movies were programmed so that they had a horror theme, and the directors of both were in the house to talk about them. As such, it wasn’t a surprise that the auditorium was packed to the brim for both features.

Kicking off the night was a rousing introduction to Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest film, Willow Creek, by the TADFF staff and Rue Morgue Magazine, who were co-presenting the screening as a part of their monthly Cinemacbre offering. Nothing gets you pumped for a night of movies quite like a dude in a bigfoot costume. They also gave away prizes to some audience members, and Bobcat took the stage to intro the film in his own words. As expected, he was funny as hell, but he was also surprisingly restrained and humbled by the large crowd on Thursday night.

Next up was the night’s first Canadian short film, The Lamp. The movie is essentially about Internet dating and how it can be a horribly bad idea.  Though the film was introduced as being scary as hell, I found it more creepily amusing than anything else. I especially loved the opening segment of the film which is essentially one long take with the two main characters riding in a taxi and getting to know one another. It might sound less than exciting, but the actors did a phenomenal job at portraying the awkwardness of the situation, and they set up the creepy tone perfectly. This might possibly be my favorite short of the fest so far, and I hope you all get the chance to see it soon.

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After the short finished, Willow Creek started. The movie, which was Goldthwait’s first foray into the horror genre, is about a young couple who are documenting a camping trip where they hope to find proof of the existence of Sasquatch. The film is shot in a found footage style, and honestly, it very much follows the formula of The Blair Witch Project, in that it was shot in the woods, using a lot of real townsfolk. It also hits a lot of the same beats that that film does, but it more humor, and the characters are much more likeable. If you don’t like Blair Witch at all, then you may not like the film, but I really enjoyed it, which makes me happy, since it was one of my more anticipated films of the festival. The best segment of the film is in the third act, where there is one long 19-minute take of the two leads reacting to the noises around them in the woods. Again, it probably doesn’t sound enthralling on paper, but the chemistry between the two is undeniable, and their reactions are very believable. I don’t believe the film has a firmly announced release date in the States, but Bobcat said that it should hit VOD in early 2014, with a Blu-ray/DVD release that Spring. Keep an eye out for it, as it is probably the best Sasquatch film of the last decade or so.

After the film wrapped, Bobcat took the stage again for what was easily one of the best Q&A sessions of the festival. He discussed a lot of his experiences with the Sasquatch Enthusiast community and talked about how the movie was put together. As expected, he was hilarious, and I honestly could have listened to the man for an extra hour. If you ever get the chance to see him speak, I highly recommend it.

The trailer for Willow Creek is below:

Next up was the final Canadian short of the night, entitled Master. The film was a strange little number in which a man wakes up after suffering some sort of head injury and discovers that he doesn’t have any memory of who he is, what happened, etc. Of course, he eventually pieces together some information about his life and makes a disturbing discovery. Though I telegraphed the reveal early on, I still thought the short was competently produced, and I liked the music and atmosphere. Nothing mind blowing, but entertaining and it didn’t overstay its welcome.

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This brings us to the final feature of the evening, the North American Premiere of Banshee Chapter, which uses the real-life MK Ultra experiments that the US Government performed from the late 1950s through the early 1970s as a catalyst for a supernatural phenomenon that causes mysterious disappearances. Filmmaker/TADFF Programmer Justin McConnell ushered in the film with a highly entertaining (and much more elaborate than usual) introduction where he used the theater’s surround sound and screen to simulate mind control messages. Personally, I love it when they do this kind of interactive intro, and I honestly wish they would do it more frequently, as it was very fun.

As for the film itself, overall, I thought it was entertaining, and though I didn’t find it very scary at all, the audience seemed to. I particularly enjoyed Ted Levine (Buffalo Bill from Silence Of The Lambs) as an old journalist who is basically a mash up of Timothy Leary and Hunter S Thompson. There are some legitimately creepy moments in the film, though, and I really found the central idea of it fascinating. In fact, almost so much so that it ultimately became a situation where the real-life experiments were more interesting than the movie itself. Still, that’s not to say that it’s a bad movie. It was well acted, and I think it accomplished a lot with  fairly modest resources. While it’s definitely not at the top of my list from this year’s festival, I do think there are a lot of folks out there who will like it, so I do recommend giving it a shot. I believe XLerator Media will be distributing it in the US soon, though there is not yet a firm date.

After the movie wrapped, the Director and Producer of Banshee Chapter took the stage for a Q&A session. I found it quite fascinating that Canadians seem to know a lot more about the MK Ultra experiments than US citizens do, which probably just proves that we don’t pay a lot of attention to what our government is doing. Anyhow, that’s a discussion for another day… Getting back to Banshee Chapter, its filmmakers certainly were candid about where their inspirations came from. H.P. Lovecraft fans will be happy to note that the movie takes liberal notes from his short story, From Beyond, which was also the basis for the Stuart Gordon film of the same name. All in all, it was a decent discussion, though not as spirited as the previous one (I think people were tired and/or ready to head to the pub by this point).

The trailer for Banshee Chapter is below:

Well, that about does it for Day 8 of the 2013 edition of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. The ninth (and final) night is still ahead, and it features two of my most anticipated films of this year’s festival, Cheap Thrills, about a man who takes part in a series of dangerous dares, and Big Bad Wolves, a revenge film from Isreal. Those films will, of course, be followed by the closing night gala party over at The Office Pub on John Street, where there will be music, food, drink, and general ridiculousness until 4am. It’s always a great time, and the closing party always makes my list of favorite events at the end of the year. Speaking of which, I need to go and prepare… But, be sure to stop back tomorrow for a full update on the last night of the festival, and keep an eye out for more full reviews of the films.

So, until then… Stay Undead!

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