Today is the official start of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which marks the unofficial beginning of “prestige movie season”! Every year, major studio and indie films vie for spots on the TIFF line-up in the hopes of garnering buzz and positive reviews to hype their releases. They’re also hoping for the kind of critical acclaim that wins films prestigious awards.
Unlike some other festivals of this caliber, TIFF always makes room for horror movies in their lineup. In recent years, TIFF has showcased films like The Grudge in 2002, Hostel in 2005, Inside (À l’intérieur) in 2007, 2008’s The Loved Ones, Black Swan in 2009, The Lords of Salem in 2012, and Raw in 2016. Last year, TIFF screened mother!, Veronica, The Ritual (loved that movie!), Mom and Dad, and of course, Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning The Shape of Water.
This year, TIFF has an impressive slate of horror movies, from the highly anticipated Halloween to quieter entries like The Wind. I can’t wait to see which ones will make a splash! Read on to see the full line-up!
Here are the TIFF screening categories that are showcasing horror this year:
Contemporary world cinema: Compelling stories, global perspectives.
Midnight Madness: The wild side: midnight screenings of the best in action, horror, shock and fantasy cinema.
Primetime: Serial storytelling: television in its artistic renaissance.
Discovery: Directors to watch. The future of world cinema.
Enjoy this year’s TIFF horror films!
Contemporary World Cinema
“Ali Abbasi’s Border is a stunning, near–note-perfect mystery that seamlessly fuses fantasy, social commentary, and psychological insight. The heroine, Tina (Eva Melander), was born with a facial “disfiguration,” a strange scar on her tailbone, and the ability to sense or smell how people feel. She’s especially adept at detecting fear or unease.
These skills make her invaluable as a border guard. But her latest two attempted busts are more troubling than the usual routine arrests of pimply teenagers smuggling booze. First, there’s the twitchy businessman who turns out to be carrying child pornography. His crime so enrages Tina that she begins to take foolish risks when she’s brought in to help with the investigation. Then there’s the suspicious Vore (Eero Milonoff, who played the desperate manager in The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki), who shares physical traits with Tina, and has a cocksure smirk that never leaves his face. It’s a look suggesting he knows things Tina doesn’t, knowledge that may disrupt her life completely.
Based on a short story by Let the Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist, Border conjures up memories of unsettling folk tales, suggesting a time when we were closer to the natural world and its odder anomalies, a world that now seems distant while feeling creepily familiar. Border is an eerie, unforgettable, and affecting work.”
“Set in the suburban community of Salem (natch), the film’s mayhem first ignites when an anonymous hacker starts exposing the private data of select citizens. When the hacker suddenly doxxes half the town, an initial wave of righteous public shaming gives way to a violent mob mentality of paranoid prejudice where the pitchforks are no longer proverbial.
True to their legacies, the Salemites are quick to find a scapegoat. Across a trajectory that deliriously rockets from Mean Girls to The Purge in the span of a few retweets, a small band of high-school girls find themselves falsely accused of the hacks and must now fight for their lives as their neighbors vie for bloody reprisal.”
“Art-house agitator Gaspar Noé has accrued a reputation over the years for shocking violence and explicit sexuality that typically incites audiences to race for the exits in abject, pearl-clutching horror. However, the Cannes crowds and critics were enthusiastically rapt during the award-winning bow of his latest and most exhilarating provocation.
Set in 1996, and inspired by true events, the film deliriously depicts the malevolent madness that envelops a dance troupe’s post-rehearsal party after a communal punchbowl of sangria is spiked with LSD. As each dancer’s psyche begins to disintegrate, a creeping paranoia gives rise to deep-seated prejudices within the group that eventually explode into outright pandemonium against an infectious and hypnotic parade of period-appropriate needle-drops from the likes of Cerrone, M\A\R\R\S, and Aphex Twin.”
“Horror’s most iconic boogeyman returns in a direct continuation of John Carpenter’s seminal slasher, under the auspices of Blumhouse Productions. Shirking the sequels, this latest terrifying iteration instead picks up exactly 40 years after the night serial killer Michael Myers came to Haddonfield and embarked on a killing spree that nearly claimed the life of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).
A profoundly traumatized Laurie has never ceased anticipating the day Michael might return. This all-consuming paranoia has left her estranged from her family, particularly from her daughter (Judy Greer, also at the Festival in Driven), whose childhood she co-opted into her obsessive rituals of preparation, and who has been determined to shelter her own daughter (Andi Matichak) from her mother’s disturbing proclivities. But when a prisoner transfer goes awry the night before Halloween, Laurie’s greatest fears become justified and horror comes home once again.”
“Obliquely split between two distinct tales in a dreamy divide reminiscent of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Strickland’s film is populated with an idiosyncratic array of indelible characters and imagery. From a lonely divorcee to the wife of a washing machine repairman with a thousand-yard stare, dissatisfied souls float through a mesmerizing miasma of surreal sights and sounds, sporadically punctuated with bursts of disorienting collage-montage evoking the experimental works of Arthur Lipsett.
Pervading each thread is the witchy sales-matron (Fatma Mohamed) of the demonic department store, who speaks to her clientele in a cryptic verse to mask her dark designs, and an eccentric pair of bureaucrats hilariously portrayed by cult-favorite actors Steve Oram and Julian Barratt. Further bolstered by an entrancing cast that includes Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Gwendoline Christie, to say nothing of the villainous dress itself — which hauntingly sails towards its victims with an eerie glide that flirts with both camp and genuine menace — In Fabric is an absorbing synthesis of the exquisite pastiche Strickland achieved with Berberian Sound Studio and the erotic romanticism of his The Duke of Burgundy, here hemmed to sinister effect.”
“Picking up after a millennia of no doubt badass battles between demons and a secret order of demon hunters known as Nekromancers, the forces of evil have gained a substantial foothold thanks to their new-found strategy of causing demonic possession via online social-media apps. With every WiFi-connected soul on the planet at risk, a dwindling band of Nekromancers find themselves forced to put their faith in a hapless sanitation worker (Ben O’Toole) who unwittingly carries an ancestral power that may afford them the means to definitively force evil offline.
Nekrotronic features an indelible performance from the ever-magnetic Monica Bellucci as the queen of the underworld, and an eclectic array of demon-busting weaponry — the most novel of which 3D prints a demon’s soul into a corporeal (and therefore explodable) form. The Roache-Turner brothers have conjured up a riotous supernatural romp that splits the difference between the likes of The Matrix and Ghostbusters, then pours on the gore.”
“Since disemboweling writer-director (and sporadic actor) Shane Black in their 1987 debut, the extraterrestrial hunters known colloquially as Predators have enjoyed a prolific, if idiosyncratic, Hollywood career — one that has seen them violently interrupt an LA cop movie, twice tussle with another famous monster of filmland, and even stage their own dramatic reinterpretation of The Most Dangerous Game.
Now, some 30 years later, Black returns to conduct the latest and (so far) strangest iteration of the alien’s exploits, adeptly applying the deconstructionist mode he brought to his Marvel Cinematic Universe shakeup Iron Man 3, along with his signature acerbic wit and R-rated snark. In a subversion of the fetishized machismo that pervades the series, Black assembles an eclectic cast of unconventional combatants, with a PTSD-addled soldier (Boyd Holbrook), his autistic child (Jacob Tremblay, also at the Festival in The Death and Life of John F. Donovan), and an evolutionary biologist (Olivia Munn), each independently stumbling into a gory close encounter with one of the galaxy’s most lethal warriors.”
As the plot threads converge in the streets of an all-American suburb, a duplicitous government agency attempts a desperate cover-up, and an even deadlier threat arrives to indiscriminately rip out spinal cords and chew bubble gum… and it has never heard of bubble gum.
“Unravelling across a series of flashbacks that propel us towards the devastating aftermath of violence that opens the film and beyond, the story assumes the perspective of Elizabeth Macklin (Caitlin Gerard), a settler of the 1800s who has accompanied her husband in his effort to cultivate a desolate stretch of the American Western frontier.
Elizabeth has long perceived a festering evil permeating their pastures, only to have her observations dismissed by her husband as religious superstitions. However, when a couple arrives to rehabilitate a nearby abandoned cabin, their strange experiences rekindle Elizabeth’s own infectious paranoia. As with any great horror film, the devil is in the details (often quite literally), and Tammi meticulously sows sinister threads into every creak of wood, every rattle of rusted metal, and every eerie breath of howling wind. With its exquisite photography and its dread-soaked tone, The Wind, in the tradition of The Witch, represents an uncanny chapter in the annals of American folk-horror.”
“The term “folklore” dates back to 1846 when Englishman William Thoms coined a word to describe popular antiquities, stories from the populous that had been passed through from generations. In 2018, Singaporean cinematic multihyphenate Eric Khoo transforms the concept by culling together some of the best genre directors from Asia to tell creepy tales that speak to their respective cultures, in settings both historical and contemporary.
Joko Anwar, the genius behind such great Indonesian films as A Copy of My Mind and Satan’s Slaves, tells the tale of an impoverished maid and her son, who, after being locked out of their home by their landlord, are forced to live in the house they are cleaning. When strange noises start coming from the attic, they find more than they bargained for. Meanwhile, in Thailand, arthouse favorite Pen-ek Ratanaruang puts his distinct spin on the greed parable with the story of an ambitious photojournalist who, while visiting his sick mother in the hospital, manages to attract the attention of an elderly spirit with unusual intent.
Like all great horror stories, the episodes of Folklore speak to deep pains in the world, whether from the past or present. Playing off themes of class, justice, and storytelling itself, the show is packed with as much insight as fear. Punctuated with a few surprise genre twists, “A Mother’s Love” and “Pob” represent some of the best, most frightening short-form content coming out of Asia today.”
“Shot through with paranoia and claustrophobia, Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein’s genre-bending Freaks focuses on seven-year-old Chloe (Lexy Kolker) and her constantly distraught father (Emile Hirsch). Isolated and desperate to get outside and experience life beyond the crumbling walls of their dilapidated house, Chloe finally makes a break for it when her sleep-deprived father drifts off. But the outside world isn’t all she envisioned. The fierce light is disorienting, almost nauseating, and the neighbors, whom Chloe has been hearing about for years, are creepily bland. She’s immediately met by a twitchy, oddly familiar ice-cream salesman (Bruce Dern) who gives off the wrong kind of vibes but entices Chloe onto his truck. He speeds off to the park and en route she’s introduced to a strange world, haunted by the threat of freaks who look like us but are markedly different — and likely dangerous.
An oblique allegory about refugees, diversity, and fear of difference, Freaks juggles ambiguity and mystery virtually to its last scenes. Presenting events through the eyes of a young girl who is terrified, incapable of understanding all that’s going on around her, prone to fantasy, and uncertain about who she can trust, Stein and Lipovsky create an unsettling world.”
Are you going to TIFF this year? Which films do you want to see? Let me know in the comments!