VIFF 2019

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Bait – VIFF 2019 Review

Cornish writer-director Mark Jenkin has, with his debut feature film Bait, created a daringly original and unique film that feels like a found artifact from an antiquated era. Shot on 16mm black-and-white Kodak film stock with a 43-year-old wind-up Bolex camera, there’s an unmistakable Dogme vibe to Jenkin’s class clash picture (Jenkin’s authored a very similar “Silent Landscape Dancing Grain 13 Film Manifesto” which is all about embracing handmade celluloid film work).

Set in a touristy Cornish village where boorish long-time denizen and fisherman Martin (Edward Rowe) feels infringed upon by vacationers who scoff at his long held traditions and leave him near destitute. With his boat no longer seaworthy and his family home now the property of some stuffy Londoners, Martin is fuming and at his wit’s end. As it unfolds in a truly and admirably antiquated fashion––critics and cineastes have justifiably drawn comparisons to Soviet silent film-era pioneer Segei Eisenstein, for instance––Bait also seems to reimagine Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971) only here we’re cheering for the local residents.

Martin feels abandoned by his brother Steven (Giles King), particularly after he restored and re-purposed his boat, turning it into, of all things, a tourist tripper.

Playing favorites for a staccato style as well as abrupt and often deliberately disorienting visual compositions and cuts, as in a tense pub scene anticipating one of Martin’s outbursts, Jenkin’s creates an idiosyncratic yet altogether awesome and unconventional showdown. Not content with just being Bait’s writer-director, he is also the film’s cinematographer, editor, and composer.

The narrative that Jenkin’s presents us in Bait, essentially framed around a longish flashback becomes something surprisingly mosaic-like, makes it a difficult film to ascribe a genre to. One part class polemic, it also has the nerve of a Western, the anxiety-building heft of a thriller, and even the sighing yen of a melodrama while also being a very British tone poem.

A parable that unfolds along the sea, Bait moves at times towards almost objective realism and subjective fantasy while packing an emotional punch. With weighty themes of gentrification and societal struggle as tourism wracks up against the old ways of a fishing village, Jenkin’s justifies his stylish and witty tale with a marvellous expertise. It’s not just one of the best films to show at VIFF 2019, it’s one of the year’s finest as well.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

Amanda – VIFF 2019 Review

The opening scenes of the new Mikhaël Hers drama Amanda depict a sun-soaked Paris that thrums with vivid life. The characters we meet may be mundane and prosaic, but that makes them all the more relatable. There’s David (Vincent Lacoste), a flighty twenty-something and sometimes arborist, who gets along well with his older, wiser, more patient sister Sandrine (Ophélia Kolb)––a single mom with a seven-year-old niece named Amanda (a scene-stealing Isaure Multrier).

Hers, along with his distinguished cinematographer Sébastien Buchmann unobtrusively yet elegantly capture so many warm moments as Sandrine and Amanda boogie to Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel”, the agrarian delights of Sandrine and David racing their bicycles through the park; both of them so very in the moment, laughing enjoying each other’s company, before it all comes crashing down.

Amanda is a film that depicts a devastating tragedy in the City of Lights, one all too familiar in this mercilessly sad era of modern terrorism. Sandrine, in a tastefully off-screen, but no less crushing incident, is murdered along with dozens of innocent people in a vicious mass shooting that deliberately echoes the notorious co-ordinated attacks of November 2015. Suddenly Sandrine’s little girl is without a guardian, and David, shattered, comforts her and himself in the process, bravely trying to measure what steps to take in the fallout of such horror.

Hers and co-writer Maud Ameline address, on the periphery, Paris’s collective mourning and recovery, and do it in an unhurried and eloquent fashion, but it’s David and Amanda that softly shatter and slowly reassemble our hearts. Yes, it’s a tale of resilience and observance, and the affable approach it takes in doing so shows a very effectively subdued restrain, making for a subtle but profound tear-jerker.

David, who we first see as Amanda’s silly big brother and fun uncle figure is suddenly, sadly elbowed into adulthood and into becoming the responsible guardian his agonizing niece so sorely needs. And all the while, his own grief journey must move forward. Lacoste is wondrous as David, and he runs a wide gamut of emotions; from falling hard and wooing Lena (Stacy Martin)––who herself was physically and mentally traumatized in the attacks––to being the brave father-figure for Amanda; to finding an overwhelming and very public moment of unanticipated grief that has him bursting with tears on a packed train platform and then somehow pulling himself back together.

Attentive, and quietly elegant, Amanda is a moving and satisfying experience. Recommended.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

Babysplitters – VIFF 2019 Review

Writer-director Sam Friedlander’s refreshingly upbeat comedy sets its sights on the ambiguity couples often have over whether or not to have kids. Presenting itself as something of a modernized screwball comedy––and I’ll define that for people unfamiliar with the sometimes misused term; it’s a rom-com subgenre from the Golden Age of Hollywood that juxtaposes opposites while presenting broad, sophisticated and slapstick humor––with lots of awkward and uncomfortable gags, as well as shrewdly observed commentary on progressive parenting tactics, Babysplitters is undoubtedly one of the funniest, and most compassionate indie comedies of the year.

Sarah (Emily Chang) and Jeff Penaras (Danny Pudi) are a busy, newly-wedded Los Angelinos couple who, along with their best friends Taylor (Maiara Walsh) and Don Small (Eddie Alfano) have often entertained the idea of becoming parents, but can’t see the good without all the bad that would come with such a life-changing experience.

It’s Jeff who comes up with an idea that at first, no one else can really entertain beyond being some lively pre-dinner banter. His plan, in a nutshell, is that both couples could share one baby, without impacting too greatly all the freedoms of being childless represents. It sounds like the perfect compromise, which of course it isn’t at all once this plan is enacted.

To say too much about the delightfully zigzagging trajectory that Babysplitters takes us down would ruin a lot of the ensuing absurdity and diversion, which is ample and often at a feverishly fast-clip––the perhaps daunting two hour run time just flies by––suffice it to say their plan gets very messy, devolving into what Don describes as “the worst of both worlds.”

There’s no shortage of big laughs in the film; from Sarah and Jeff enduring a painfully on point dinner party with their friends with horribly misbehaving children, Don’s penchant for pillow talk involving a “dirty dinosaur”, the couple’s hilariously misguided GP (Brian Thomas Smith), to Jeff’s overly affable boss (Lucas Malacrino), who comes off like an overstimulated Jason Schwartzman. Nor is the cast ever less than excellent, making the most of Friedlander’s antic and engrossing script.

If there’s any real shortcomings with Babysplitters at all it might be that it’s full to the brim with almost too much to say (one or two subplots could be dropped, but they all get a laugh so why bother?), like a fantastic and satisfying meal that has maybe one too many courses. That’s not a bad thing if you’re really hungry or just want to roar with laughter for a couple of hours. It gets a little sappy, as the genre often does, but Babysplitters is also sharp, satisfying, and funny as hell. Recommended.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

Deerskin – VIFF 2019 Review

Georges has a real killer look in writer/director Quentin Dupieux’s latest film, a batshit-beyond-all-reason black comedy/character piece called Deerskin. Dupieux, the deranged genius behind such wonderfully weird films as the absurdist horror tale Rubber (2010), and the irreverent comic mystery Wrong (2012) is no stranger to bizarre backroads and crackpot detours into the ludicrously far-out and terminally fucked-up. And based on such curious criteria as this it’s possible that Deerskin is some kind of eccentric chef d’oeuvre.

Starring French luminaries Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Adèle Haenel (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Deerskin takes what’s essentially one pretty good gag, and milks it for everything it’s worth and with deliriously rolling results.

Georges (Dujarin) is a graying middle-aged man who has recently walked away from a ruined marriage and, in a disordered emotional state, acquired a tasseled deerskin jacket for a bargain 8,000 euros (give or take a few hundred euros). From that point on Georges obsession with the buckskin jacket grows darker and more dangerous as does his alienation from a society clothed in inadequacy, or so Georges discussions with his new coat theorizes. For his jacket wants to be the only one in the world, and Georges the only one fit to wear it.

Bent on realizing this dream, to rid the world of all jackets but his, Georges dupes an affable bartender named Denise (Haenel) into joining his cause, under the auspices that it’s for a film he’s making. Denise, who has her own aspirations as an editor, is happy to get into cahoots with Georges, even if his only worldly possessions appear to be his venerated jacket, his tin lizzie, and an old digital video camera.

Surprisingly, when things take a nasty and blood-flecked corner, Denise is oddly even more compelled to their strange ill-starred destiny.

At a nimble and skilled 77 minute runtime Deerskin doesn’t waste a second. Consistently strange and delightfully droll, there’s something utterly admirable about Georges self-possession given his, let’s say anvil chorus. And Dujarin deserves plaudits for his self-effacing and gelastic performance. He’s something like a French Travis Bickle and Barton Fink with a stitch of Norman Bates and though his inevitable slide into the abyss is a pitiable one, it’s a knee-slapping one.

Sure to annoy as many people as it enamors, Deerskin is a confidently stylish and thoroughly diverting achievement from one of the most curious contemporary filmmakers around. To miss it might be a fatal mistake.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

Scarborough – VIFF 2019 Review

Adapted for the screen by director Barnaby Soutcombe (I, Anna [2012]) from Fiona Shaw’s 2008 play, Scarborough is a smart and slippery inquiry into two problematical student-teacher romances over three days in the eponymous coastal town of Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

As the film opens we are greeted, along with Liz (Jodhi May) by a chatty hotel concierge (Daniel York) and then pulled into the expansive lobby of the Scarborough hotel, and it all seems to forebode some kind of mischief. Cut to Liz guiding a young man, Daz (Jordan Bolger) easily half her age to her room and one wonders if we aren’t in for a frisky comedy of manners?

It’s revealed that Liz and Daz are teacher and student and they’re barely in their room before they’re pawing on each other and making love. Daz rather humorously finishes way too early and is on his phone in a blink as Liz is left to soak in the surroundings, including the lull of the ocean just outside their luxurious suite.

The affair of Liz and Daz runs parallel another hot for teacher affair in the same hotel, this one between 40ish Aiden (Edward Hogg) and “barely sixteen” Beth (Jessica Barden, great in the role that somewhat echoes her recent enfant terrible character on the excellent Netflix series The End of the F***ing World).

Initially, with the steamy shenanigans and off-season resort town vibe, it almost feels like we’re in for a Rohmer-like sex farce, but that’s a misdirect.

While these characters show questionably loose morals and one wonders if the teachers, clearly manipulating their younger companions, don’t deserve the inevitable schism that these sorts of affairs, at least in the movies, inevitably lead to. And their student-lovers, while doe-eyed at times, aren’t pushovers, either. Complicating matters more is that these are a likeable, lovely, even commendable bunch. Their lives are complex, and while they may have spouses or professional careers put in danger, Barnaby doesn’t want to punish them.

At one point Aiden and Beth enjoy some midway rides and devour cotton-candy, to which Beth eagerly confesses: “This is my favorite food!” Aiden, with a diverting roll of the eye points out the obvious, “it’s just sugar,” and this seems to underscore what the adult halves of these twin relationships are abiding; an ultimately empty-calorie affair that will result in a spoiled gut.

The effectively intrusive camerawork, largely hand-held, makes the film more provocative and voyeuristic, and that’s a definitive plus, and while the end twist is a tad too predictable, it’s clear to see why this fine if slight tale makes for a sweet amusement.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

Paradise Hills – VIFF 2019 Review

Vivid colors and chic camera choreography are beautifully bound together in the initial scenes of Alice Waddington’s feature length directorial debut, the erratic yet always elegant sci-fantasy Paradise Hills. But it’s a film that opens perhaps too big; Waddington playfully presents a richly imagined world that’s part musical, part mystery, and overfull with intrigue and possibility. Like the illusory love child of Dhonielle Clayton’s “The Belles” and William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s “Logan’s Run” it hits the viewer hard and fast. A neon-lit, Mediterranean swayed Shangri-La that, before long exasperates the audience.

Yes, there’s a story amidst the eye-popping production design from Laia Colet, a rather convoluted and cloudy one from Waddington, Brian DeLeeuw, and Nacho Vigalando. Though it all begins rather simply––a shame the story didn’t stay more simplistic, as the dazzling visuals can only carry so much––with Uma (Emma Roberts), after a brief operatic preface, suddenly awakens with no provocation, on a lush island called Paradise.

Instantly understanding she’s a prisoner here, she soon finds that her rose garden-addled and Escher-inspired environs is actually a rehab-like facility for young women, headed by The Duchess (Milla Jovovich). Uma has been placed in this odd but opulent facility at the behest of her busy-body parents who want their daughter to be up to snuff and marriage material for Son (Amaud Valois), who belongs to the same snooty upper-crust royalty as they, even though Uma is in love with a poor boy (of course!) played by Jeremy Irvine.

Other young women reluctantly kept at Paradise include Amarna (Eiza González), Chloe (Danielle Macdonald, and Yu (Awkwafina), and before long they’ve bonded and suspect all sorts of sinister deeds that of course are unfolding behind the scenes. When the Duchess first meets Uma she sort of gives it all away when she says: “Some people complain that rose bushes have thorns, I rejoice that thorn bushes have roses.”

There’s some fun to be had in the fairytale-like unfolding of Paradise Hills. And many of the calore-rich and completely crackpot visuals are a sight to behold. The costume design from Alberto Valcárcel is decadent with retrofuturism and gothic minutiae, duly matched by Alfonso Mancha’s ostentatious set decoration and the shifting cinematography from Josu Inchaustegui. But after an hour or less (decidedly less) Paradise Hills becomes overcooked. A classic case of too many ingredients in the stew, each overpowering the other resulting in gaudy goop.

The acting is fine, if a little over-the-top in the case of Jovovich, but she’s the villain, so that’s okay. Her Duchess is campy on occasion, and that works best considering the steep cliffs Paradise Hills throw the viewer down. It’s a real tragedy that a film that begins with such high concept designs and such jaw-dropping study should become such a mixed bag of bland.

Waddington’s film looks absolutely astounding, it’s a drop-dead gorgeous production, worth a recommendation for those merits alone. But the eye candy is all empty calories and upsets the tummy. For all the visual spectacle there’s just as much that galls and grates. For instance, Waddington ends it all with a cliché crane shot to force an emotional response that’s sadly too close to retching.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

Greener Grass – VIFF 2019 Review

A pair of antiseptic and ever-competing soccer moms chitchat on the bleachers as their kids chase and kick balls around the grassy sport’s field when Lisa (Dawn Luebbe) looks closer at her frenemy Jill (Jocelyn DeBoer) and exclaims through thinly veiled contempt: “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t even notice, you have a new baby!” By the end of their creatively clipped and arish exchange, Jill, almost as if on a whim, has given her baby, Madison, to Lisa, for keeps (only to show some regret later on, though mostly because she renamed her Paige).

This is the strangely surreal suburban hellscape of Greener Grass, a world of pastel-colors, intensely manicured-lawns, accidental spouse-swapping (everyone looks similar at just a cursory glance), overly friendly barbecues, pool parties, gross kissing and the odd murder scene.

Written and directed by co-stars DeBoer and Luebbe, Greener Grass is their debut and demands a demented frame of mind to fully appreciate its strange glamor. It plays out like the Stepford Wives as reimagined by John Waters, with the odd episode here and there unraveling like an enjoyably elaborate and overlong Mr. Show sketch. For instance, a popular TV show aimed at children, “Kids with Knives” upsets the neighbourhood parents every time it’s on, and it seems to be on an awful lot.

Jill and Lisa have been waging a passive-aggressive battle since forever, and Jill, now pregnant with a soccer ball, begins to suspect that Lisa has a more active war strategy on her mind, like perhaps moving into her home. In the periphery of all this, the town, wherein everyone drives around in day-glo colored golf carts by the way, is in a tizzy over the recent murder of yoga teacher, and the psycho suspect who so far has elluded capture.

Playing out with an episodic, shaggy dog style––one story arch involves a precocious child literally and inexplicably turning into an adorable golden retriever––Greener Grass often feels like a Twilight Zone/Desperate Housewives mashup. There just aren’t many if any films that are as side-splittingly silly and idiosyncratic as the fever dream that DeBoer and Luebbe have conjured up here.

The often ominous synthesizer score from Samuel Nobles gives Greener Grass the distinct vibe that some kind of holy evil is at play, giving this satirical, lysergic-tinted, kitsch-coated, and extremely off-center film yet another layer to dig into. All the regressive elements and gut-busting affectations that oscillate around Jill and Lisa ensure that the film will be a cult classic, of that we’re absolutely certain. Is this a film for all tastes? Absolutely not. Is it a messed-up and gooey good time? You bet it is.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

Parasite – VIFF 2019 Review

Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho (The Host [2006], Snowpiercer [2013]) is back and more brilliant than ever with Parasite, his so-very-deserving Palme d’Or-snatching socio-political critique that goes from slapstick comic hijinx to outright angry class rage and back with alacrity and ease.

Co-written along with Han Jin-won, Bong presents a full-flavored bravura delicacy about a family of four, the Kims, under very dire circumstances. They struggle to remain just above the poverty line in a slipshod semi-basement apartment, and as the early scenes of Parasite enumerate, often rather amusingly, they’re a greed-driven yet extremely resourceful bunch. Then, via a school contact and some spurious documents from his teenage sister Ki-jeong (Park So-dam), Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik), the son, cleverly cons his way into a gig as English tutor to the daughter of the extremely affluent Park family.

Almost right away Ki-woo sees the golden opportunity for his entire family’s endowment from the Park’s unsuspecting coffers and a scheme is set to one-by-one replace the Park’s entire domestic staff by first his sister, than his father Kim Ki-taek (Bong regular and South Korean acting legend Song Kang-ho) and then his mother, Choong-sook (Jang Hyae-jin).

From there Parasite’s multi-layered anarchic spirit and Bong’s confidence trickster temperament hits full tilt. The satirical cuts and occasionally cruel comedy align with brilliant design as the Parks go on an overnight camping trip and foolishly entrust their mansion into Choong-sook’s questionable care. It’s here that the encroaching cloudburst and the destinies of both families becomes more gravely enmeshed and the somewhat upbeat farce gets undeniably cold-blooded.

Equal parts artful and urgent, Bong’s masterful pisstake on class politics (after and even before all the blood and thunder, just who exactly are the eponymous parasites?) is a dark thriller loaded with laughs as well as a socially astute melodrama.

Like his finest work, and Parasite easily ranks alongside Memories of Murder (2004) and Mother (2009), this is a film that defies easy genre-classification. Here the shifts of tone and sometimes breezy bits of horseplay often startle with stabs of frenzy and sorrow. Parasite is certainly one of the year’s finest films and a feather in Bong’s already well-anointed cap.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

The Lighthouse – VIFF 2019 Review

“Swab dog!” sputters a dour and drunken Thomas Wake (Willem DaFoe) to a puerile and seriously shook up Epharim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) in one particularly memorable moment in Robert Eggers’ entrancingly controlled psychological horror film, The Lighthouse. Ostensibly a chamber piece set in an isolated lighthouse along the enraged sea off the North American coast in the 1890s. It’s here that two desolate “wickies” (lighthouse keepers) must survive four impossibly long weeks before their relief comes, or rather, if relief ever comes.

Eggers easily surpasses his inventive jailbreak of a debut, 2015’s The Witch, with this windswept rush of madness and confusion as chaos crumbles the minds of our two protagonists. And of DaFoe and Pattinson it really must be said, they deliver a pair of brine-mottled and mesmerizing performances.

With his peg-leg and mariner-appropriate pipe, Dafoe’s Tom is a barnacle-backed composite of deliberate salty dog clichés. His fondness for alcoholic drink, sea shanties, and terrible cooking are all the more annoying for Pattinson’s greenhorn Epharim. A Canadian expat and former logger, he’s got his own demons, least of which being Tom’s terrible and incessant bullying.

As if Tom’s constant and often literal pissing contests weren’t enough for Epharim, there’s also a one-eyed seagull with a vendetta against him as well, making it near impossible for the young lad to elude the slapstick and heady horrors that lurk in wait for him.

The barren and forsaken island in which their lighthouse stands is photographed handsomely, thanks to Jarin Blaschke’s black-and-white lensing. Eggers also shows a fondness for close-ups and a gift for cinematic portraiture, all shot in a compact 1.19:1 aspect ratio. At times this give The Lighthouse a very vintage feel, particularly some dream-like visions of mermaids that recall the prestige horror of James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

The dialogue sparkles as well, often adding to the tizzy as these two men gnash their teeth and beat their chests at one another. Having been in close confines for what might as well be an eternity, Epharim’s at his wit’s end when he spits back to Tom: “I’m sick of your farts! Your goddamn, goddamn farts!” It’s funny but also grotesque in the dim light of where they, and us along with them, have gone with them. Ah, these luckless, run down wickies!

The Lighthouse is a poetic study of guilt and mania, Colin Stetson’s aptly discordant score gives further emphasis to this viable and all-consuming hysteria. Eggers has fashioned a deep, and wonderfully disheartening tale, and one as provocative as the siren call that has brought so many seafarers to such lovely ruin.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

20 Films You Should Not Miss At VIFF 2019

Now in its 38th year, the 2019 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival (September 26th – October 11th, 2019) just may be the brightest, most eclectic and engaging cinematic celebration yet. Among the five largest film festivals in North America with screenings from 70 countries, VIFF promises to have something intriguing and exciting for everyone from genre fans to arthouse enthusiasts, animation fiends, short film aficionadas, documentary dreamers, and so much more.

Yes, the lengthy queue for so many screenings can be intimidating, at least from the periphery, and with such diverse and dynamic offerings to choose from, knowing what to prioritize can be a big job unto itself. So once again, please allow Taste of Cinema to suggest our 20 top selections for can’t miss sensational cinema at VIFF 2019. Let’s do this!


20. The Lodge (directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, USA/UK)

This American-British horror film from Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala already has genre junkies pumping their fists in anticipation thanks to their previously well-played full-on psychological freakout from 2014, Goodnight Mommy. Their latest finds young new stepmom Grace (Riley Keough) growing all the more isolated in a remote winter cabin with her not quite right new stepchildren Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh). Sure to be a satisfyingly slow burn of mental anguish for fright fans, The Lodge is destined to be an unsettling stay, and that’s a ghoulishly good thing.


19. Knives and Skin (directed by Jennifer Reeder, USA)

Set in the rural Midwest, the latest film from writer-director Jennifer Reeder (Signature Move [2017]) has already drawn Twin Peaks comparisons as it concerns the disappearance of an enigmatic high school student named Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley). In the wake of Carolyn’s strange exodus a group of disaffected teenagers and their spooked parents must come to terms with their unspoken fears and troubling failings.

Considerable buzz surrounds Marika Engelhardt, who portrays Carolyn’s angry grieving mother in a storyline that, at least on the surface, seems to contain familiar genre tropes and ample neo-noir trappings, in what looks to be a cerebral mystery drenched in neon-hued atmosphere and startling revelations.


18. The Death of Dick Long (directed by Daniel Scheinert, USA)

At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival a quirky comical fantasy called Swiss Army Man netted Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert the Best Director award and now Scheinert is back in the director’s chair with a startling black comedy called The Death of Dick Long. Unspooling in the sticks of Alabama where a couple of hicks named Earl Wyeth (Andre Hyland)and Zeke Olson (Michael Abbott Jr.) try not to loose their shit as they try to cover up some sinister and strange events that led to the death of their eponymous pal, Dick Long (Scheinert).

As this inept duo dodge the local law enforcement, their families, and a very troubled medical examiner (Roy Wood Jr.) this white-trash crime drama is already drawing favorable comparisons to Fargo, and if the clever/crass trailer is anything to gauge by, this looks to be a severely sick and satisfying gambol.


17. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (directed by Kathleen Hepburn, Canada)

Back at VIFF 2016 we were thrilled by the assured directorial debut of Vancouver-based filmmaker Kathleen Hepburn’s Never Steady, Never Still and this year she returns in a film she co-wrote and co-directed with Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, who also co-stars.

This poetically titled and deeply personal tale of love, loss, and rejuvenation concerns Rosie (Violet Nelson), an impoverished pregnant First Nations teenager, barely getting by one the rain-slicked streets of East Vancouver, where she meets another First Nations woman, Áila (Tailfeathers, herself of Blackfoot and Sámi descent). And Áila knows the signs of domestic abuse when she sees them, and together these two indigenous women set about their own illuminating odyssey, staring back at societal inference, viewed as “at risk” members of the social order, and knowing Hepburn and Tailfeathers, certainly so much more.

Unfolding in real time, this small-scale, moving exposition promises the intimacy of Charles Burnett, with an urgent urban-themed relevancy that respects and poeticizes the modern aspects of life amidst squalor, conscious of pain and compassion. Wow, we can’t wait for this one.


16. Joan of Arc (directed by Bruno Dumont, France)

Philosopher-turned-filmmaker Bruno Dumont (Humanité [1999], Twentynine Palms [2003]) returns to VIFF with Joan of Arc, the sequel to his 2017 film Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc. This historical drama finds a fearless young Lise Leplat Prudhomme as the young Jeanne, who, having previously triumphed against the English is captured by the brutish Burgundians. A trial for heresy begins and in Dumont’s capable hands the results are certain to be unexpected and full of grace.


15. Blood Quantum (directed by Jeff Barnaby, Canada)

Astute genre fans might remember Indigenous Canadian filmmaker Jeff Barnaby’s startling “Rez-ploitation” directorial debut from 2013, Rhymes for Young Ghouls and wondered what kind of fucked up follow-up he’d cook up to top that doozy (seriously, Ghouls is a great grindhouse homage). Well, no need to wait any longer as Barnaby, who by the by hails from Quebec’s Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation, has a new viscera-sprayed nightmare for us to endure with his boldly reimagined zombie apocalypse movie, Blood Quantum.

A shrewdly observed sociopolitcal commentary on colonialism and the genocide of Canadian natives, Blood Quantum––the very title of which is a reference to inherently racist American laws regarding Native identity by percentages of ancestry, just Google that shit and try not to grit your teeth––is set in Red Crow, an isolated Mi’gMaq reserve where the effects of an undead uprising seem somehow stymied. It seems that the folks at Red Crow are immune to the zombie plague owing to their indigenous heritage.

This fresh take on the zombie craze is sure to showcase Barnaby’s signature stylistic flourish and ultra-violent outbreaks. A movie with brains featuring zombies who eat brains? Maybe there’s life in this overdone subgenre yet!


14. Greener Grass (directed by Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, USA)

The debut film from writer, director and co-stars Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe looks custom made to attract a midnight-movie cult crowd. Set in a day-glo colored suburban hellscape that’s equal parts John Waters and David Lynch, Greener Grass details the passive-aggressive relationship between rival soccer mom frenemies Lisa (Luebbe) and Jill (DeBoer). Theirs is a world of barbecues, pool parties, cooking shows, the occasional spouse-swap, and strangled yoga instructors.

Co-starring SNL alumnus Beck Bennett, Neil Casey, and John Milhiser, as well as comedian Mary Holland, the satire is sure to sting and the strange humor is sure to strike the right chord with the right kind of crowd, Greener Grass looks to be an unsubtle and outrageously surreal pisstake on Americana and the suburbs. Well, we’re sold.


13. Young Ahmed (directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, Belgium)

The Dardenne brothers are back with what looks to be the darkest and most dangerous film in their considerable canon. Recipient of the award for Best Director at 2019 Cannes Film Festival, this sure to be dazzling and distressing tale focusses on a deeply troubled 13-year-old Belgian boy, Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi) who plots to murder his “infidel” math teacher (Othmane Moumen) in the name of his religion.

It’s fair to say that the stirring sentimentality of the Dardenne’s previous films like The Child (2005) and Two Days, One Night (2014) is kicked to the curb in this tenuous tale of radicalization. Not to be missed.


12. Judy & Punch (directed by Mirrah Foulkes, Australia)

It’s very title suggesting a lot of sick slapstick violence and theatricality, Judy & Punch is set in the ironically named town of Seaside––there’s no sea to be found––puppeteers Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (Damon Herriman) try to resuscitate their ill-fated marionette show.

This whimsical whirlwind of black comedy and revenge is a live-action reinterpretation of the infamous 16th century puppet show––wherein Judy almost always falls victim to Mr. Punch’s violent slapstick––though here it’s put in a contemporary setting, aswell it marks the directorial debut of Australian actress Mirrah Foulkes, and it’s an ambitious one at that.

With vibrant visuals, a gifted cast of hot stars––Wasikowska has had a string of excellent roles in very cool projects including Damsel (2018), Piercing (2018), Crimson Peak (2015), and Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), and Herriman is hot off playing Charles Manson in both Mindhunters and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)––as well as considerable festival buzzing, here’s hoping that this is the beginning of a lengthy and prolific new chapter for Foulkes.


11. Harriet (directed by Kasi Lemons, USA)

American filmmaker Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou [1997] directed and co-wrote (along with Greogry Allen) what’s sure to be a riveting biographical period film about the legendary slave-turned-abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman. Cynthia Erivo (Bad Times at the El Royale [2018], Widows [2018]) portrays Tubman, and the film follows her escape from slavery and ensuing struggle that would lead hundreds of enslaved people to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

A passion project of Lemmons’, literally years in the making, bolstered by ravishing cinematography from two-time Oscar winner John Toll (Legends of the Fall [1994], Braveheart [1995]), Harriet has all the elements for a fittingly stirring tribute to a true American hero. Is it too early to predict Oscar buzz for Erivo?