Mercenaries and demonic encounters featured in some of the most interesting films that played at this year’s TIFF.
If you are looking for the most kick-ass and boundary-breaking films on the festival circuit, you can never go wrong with the Toronto International Film Festival. Even outside of its famed Midnight Madness selection, the festival is known for introducing audiences to films outside of their comfort zones. Despite the hybrid online and in-person programming approach, this year’s selection of films proved no different.
Many viewers might have been disappointed that high-profile films such as Dune or Titane were only available for in-person screenings, but this set the perfect stage for international genre movies to make a much-deserved splash for both online and in-person attendees. Four such films, three of which were helmed by first-time directors, were highlights in an already-promising lineup. Here are a few of the most unique and daring movies that caused a stir at TIFF this year.
Set against the backdrop of Guinea-Bissau’s 2003 coup d’état in Senegal, director Jean Luc Herbulot spins a twisty tale of folklore and mysticism. A group of mercenaries called the Hyenas (Yann Gael, Roger Sallah, and Mentor Ba) find themselves stranded on the Sine-Saloum Delta. Upon discovering that the land harbors dark secrets, they enlist the help of a mysterious Deaf woman (Evelyne Ily Juhen) to figure out how to leave their new personal Hell. The film maintains a balance between action and horror in an effortlessly stylish way, while the frantic camerawork and impressive digital effects could even make Quentin Tarantino blush.
This South African horror satire centers around the reunion between young mother Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa) and her mother, a maid named Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe) who cares for the ailing Diane (Jennifer Boraine). Immediately, both Tsidi and the audience know that something is sinister within the Madam’s estate, and a malevolent entity has taken control of Mavis for years. While tensions are appropriately heightened thanks to the eerie cinematography and intense performances, the fact that the film had 12 credited screenwriters shows with its sometimes clumsy dialogue. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating and inventive look at the lingering effects of Apartheid.
Coming to terms with your sexuality is already hard enough, but what if the threat of a mysterious creature loomed in the background? This is the idea behind Agustina San Martín’s stunning debut feature. To Kill the Beast centers around the coming-of-age of Emilia (Tamara Rocca) who goes to a town on the Argentinian-Brazilian border to look for her missing brother. There, she is thrust into a hunt for a mysterious and seductive man who can shapeshift into animals. San Martín’s direction elevates it from a simple story to an experience that merges sapphic desire, Gothic aesthetics, and creepy imagery.
The combination of science-based skepticism and religious faith go hand-in-hand in Arsalan Amini’s debut feature Zalava. When a series of demonic encounters terrorizes a village in Kurdistan, doubting officer Masoud (Navid Pourfaraj) finds himself tested by beloved but mysterious exorcist Amardan (Pouria Rahimi Sam). As anxieties and curiosities heighten, both men’s lives are put into jeopardy. Thanks to the compositions by Ramin Kousha and wonderful camerawork by Mohammad Rasouli, a persistent eeriness haunts the entire film, affecting you as if you too are involved in the unfolding events. While the story does end up meandering in its second part, its final act provides the dark culmination you’ll be waiting for.
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