Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival is typically one of the strongest programs of the festival and as such, serves as 10 holy days, or rather nights, for genre fans.
Programmed by Colin Geddes, whose taste has engendered such loyalty among genre press that he could start a Colin Geddes Presents label, the lineup launched with “Green Room” from “Blue Ruin” director Jeremy Saulnier, whose next “color” movie should have no problem finding financing now.
A siege thriller starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart, “Green Room” kicked off Midnight Madness with a snarling shotgun blast of energy while wearing its punk rock attitude firmly on its sleeves — what’s left of them, anyway. The film follows a punk band that stumbles into the wrong gig at a club frequented by Nazi-loving romper-stomper types who have fallen under Stewart’s twisted spell and are willing to not only kill, but be killed for him.
“Green Room” already made its debut earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, though it didn’t get the buzzy bounce in France that it had hoped to. Toronto likely helped its profile since the festival caters more to the genre crowd, who quickly proclaimed it a winner thanks to strong performances, excellent makeup effects and an overwhelming sense of dread.
“Green Room” entered Toronto as the only midnight film (other than “The Final Girls”) with U.S. distribution lined up in the form of dynamic distributor A24. The only Midnight Madness movie to sell during the festival was Can Evrenol’s “Baskin,” a bat-shit crazy but ultimately disappointing Turkish gore-fest that was acquired by IFC Midnight.
The foreign-language film boasts a strong set-up that falls flat and grows increasingly incoherent. The story follows a group of Turkish police officers who find themselves in over their heads when they respond to a backup call in a remote village. To say any more would ruin the sinister surprises, but needless to say, the gruesome effects were in service of a silly story. Evrenol may be one to watch — he was just signed by WME — but this one is strictly for gore hounds and horror buffs.
“Hardcore,” however, seemed to be the talk of Midnight Madness, based on its sheer audacity alone. Director Ilya Naishuller’s opening title sequence plays like the opening of a James Bond movie, if 007 was a complete psychopath. The entire film is shot from the first-person POV of a super-soldier who must kill hundreds of bad guys to rescue his wife with the help of Jimmy, played in multiple disguises by the gifted Sharlto Copley. The ultra-violent action movie has a nasty sense of humor and best approximates the feeling of playing a video game, which bodes well for its commercial prospects. There are whispers that several studios, including Paramount and Lionsgate, have made offers to release the film on over 800 screens.
Six years after “The Loved Ones,” Sean Byrne returns with “The Devil’s Candy,” which proved surprisingly effective thanks to a solid third act. Ethan Embry and Shiri Appleby play parents of a teenage girl who becomes the target of a psychotic man who hears Satan and used to live in their new house. Newcomer Kiara Glasco is very good, as is the villainous Pruitt Taylor Vince, though Embry also delivers in a rare leading role that builds on the career momentum he earned with “Cheap Thrills.”
“Green Room,” “Hardcore” and “The Devil’s Candy” medaled at Midnight Madness, but the rest of the field was a bit murky.
Todd Strauss-Schulson’s horror comedy “The Final Girls” is screening on the final night of Midnight Madness after debuting earlier this year at SXSW. The tongue-in-cheek slasher spoof stars Taissa Farmiga as a virgin who finds herself in the middle of a famous ’80s horror movie that starred her mother (Malin Ackerman). She and her friends, played by Nina Dobrev, Alexander Ludwig, Alia Shawkat and Thomas Middleditch, have to use their knowledge of the classic fright flick to survive past the final reel.
“The Final Girls” isn’t very scary but it’s a smart send-up of the horror genre, especially during a well-shot slow-motion scene in which the self-aware characters flee the Jason Voorhees-esque killer. Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions pre-bought worldwide rights in February and Stage 6 Films and Vertical Entertainment will release “The Final Girls” in select theaters and VOD on Oct. 9.
Nick Simon’s “The Girl in the Photographs” featured a satisfyingly gory third act but overall, just wasn’t original enough to resonate with the seasoned Midnight crowd. That said, it is the last film Wes Craven worked on — he served as an executive producer — and we could see buyers making a play for it based simply on its marketability. The film boasts an intriguing premise and was shot by the legendary Dean Cundey, who worked on the original “Halloween.” Kal Penn clearly has a blast with the B-movie material, but it’s creepy Australian actor Luke Baines whose performance cuts the deepest.
Tuesday night brought the premiere of Joe Begos’ “The Mind’s Eye,” which drew comparisons to David Cronenberg‘s “Scanners” and Brian De Palma‘s “The Fury.” The messy horror movie follows a group of psychokinetics who are forced to do battle with an evil doctor who has been harnessing their powers for himself. There are plenty of exploding heads but the storyline was too simplistic and the film felt like a missed opportunity for Begos, who might’ve been better served expanding its scope, though it certainly looks great for a low-budget indie and features a catchy ’80s-style synth score.
Elsewhere, the horror anthology “Southbound,” from several of the filmmakers behind “V/H/S,” was less successful than its predecessor despite wisely ditching the found-footage concept. While David Bruckner‘s “The Accident” was the standout segment thanks to a committed performance by Mather Zickel, and Radio Silence’s wraparound segments were both creepy, the other two segments fell flat, leading to an uneven film, however noble the intent.
“SPL 2 – A Time for Consequences” and “Yakuza Apocalypse” are also screening at Toronto as part of Midnight Madness, but unfortunately, did not screen in time for this article.
TheWrap welcomed the filmmakers and stars of “Hardcore,” “The Devil’s Candy,” “Southbound” and “The Girl in the Photographs” to its Interview Studio at London House, so be sure to watch those videos for a taste of Midnight Madness as soon as they’re available. In the meantime, enjoy some footage!
GREEN ROOM (clip)
THE FINAL GIRLS (trailer)
THE MIND’S EYE (clip)