Toronto After Dark 2013 - Day 1

By: Heather Seebach

Well, after too many hours of planes, buses, and trains, I finally arrived at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival for my first day of genre films. Firstly, I finally got to meet my buddy and Dead Already co-host Jeff Konopka of The Liberal Dead. Our night of TADFF movies involved two VERY different kinds of "bug" movies and two opening short films. Unfortunately, I had been up for something like 30 hours straight and found myself fading in and out, so I had to skip the after-party festivities. Here are my thoughts on Friday's night's films:

Short: The Last Video Store (d: Cody Kennedy & Tim Rutherford)

This Edmonton-made short is a love letter to the bygone days of VHS. When a video store comes under threat of "digital assimilation, " the clerk (who is totally channeling Nicolas Cage) and a delivery man face off against a VCR monster. It has the hyperkinetic feel of a Jason Eisener flick, or that of the filmmakers' friends at Astron-6. The short is funny, full of 80s-inspired cheese, and a blast for fans of video nostalgia.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Feature: Big Ass Spider! (d: Mike Mendez)
(Toronto Premiere)

When a military experiment goes wrong, a giant spider wreacks havoc on Los Angeles and it's up to an exterminator (Greg Grunberg) and his wise-cracking sidekick to save the day. Mike Mendez's creature feature pays homage to monster movies of the 1950s. It's certainly a step-up from SyFy Channel crap that won't stop winking (looking at you, Sharknado), but it's unfortunately a pretty boring flick. It begins with promise (namely a bizarre but beautiful intro set to a Pixies cover) but too much of the humor is sitcom-y or outright racist. And of course there is a forced, pointless love story. On the horror side, it's littered with loud jump-scares and bad CGI. I'm sure many of these flaws are intended, as tribute to the cheese of drive-in films, but after a point homage bleeds into laziness. As a plus, we do get veteran character actors Lin Shaye and Ray Wise stealing scenes as always. Tonally, Big Ass Spider! reminded me of Iron Sky, but I enjoyed the latter so much more because it was visually interesting and the humor more varied.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Short: Bless You (d: David Barlow-Krelina)

This strange animated short involves a man on a subway sneezing. Doesn't sound like much, does it? Via stunning animation, David Barlow-Krelina's two-minute film shows the act of sneezing in a way you never imagined. It is wickedly funny and I can't even describe why! It simply must be seen.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Feature: Eega (d: S.S. Rajamouli)
(Toronto Premiere)

I confess, I'm not a big fan of Indian cinema. Like most people, I imagine it's nothing but musical numbers and corny love stories. If you feel the same way, prepare to have your mind changed by Eega. Yes, it still has a love story and a musical number BUT it will then make you cheer and laugh like few other films can. This may very well be my gateway drug to Indian cinema. Specifically, Eega comes from Tollywood (not Bollywood) and director S.S. Rajamouli who is known for making wild blockbusters. His latest is about a man who is reincarnated as a house fly and exacts vengeance upon the man who killed him. How could a litte fly possibly hurt a full-grown man, you ask? You'll be surprised at how effectively and brutally it can do just that. But Eega is not a horror film - it is a batshit bonkers action-fantasty-romance-comedy starring a freaking FLY. It is hilarious, surprisingly violent when it wants to be, and all-around fun. The visual effects are extremely elaborate (and often laughable). The villain of the piece is portrayed by Kiccha Sudeep, who delivers a manic slapsticky performance. I can't always tell when Eega's ridiculousness and over-the-top melodrama is being serious or ironic, but frankly, it doesn't matter. This is perfect midnight movie material. From the opening PSA (?!) to the most epic intermission card ever, this revenge tale is exactly my brand of crazy.

Rating: 4 out of 5
(for sheer entertainment value)

Day three of the festival (day two for me) is zombie night, with features including Stalled from the UK and the acclaimed indie, The Battery. Click here to see my coverage of that!

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