One of my favourite things to do in the city every October is attend Toronto After Dark, the most outrageous and spooky film festival in the city... and maybe the world?
This year alone, TADFF screened ten feature films and a number of shorts in a variety of genres. The festival boasts a few high profile gems such as The Cairnes Brothers' Late Night with the Devil, Joe Lynch's Suitable Flesh and Teresa Sutherland's Lovely, Dark, and Deep. But which were hits and which were misses? What films can we expect to see hit streaming and what shorts can we see becoming something more? Find out below!
Below are a few films featured on the 2023 line-up.
Directed By: Tomas Morrison
Written By: Marko Pandza & Jason Kerr
Mystery Box is the kind of horror that stays with you... whether you like it or not.
Mystery Box is genuinely scary. It didn’t feel tropey or kitschy. Due to its well-crafted realism, there is tangible horror within these few minutes that lingers beyond its credits. One terrifying thought will cross your mind while watching: This could happen to me.
The film could do without its opening scene. Instead of the main character being a total d**chebag and ordering a mysterious box off the black market, it might've been scarier had the box just randomly appeared. This would've cemented the ‘this could happen to anyone’ feeling the short capitalizes off of, instead of this creepy thing happening to a guy who quite literally asked for it! He entered his address and sin number to a sketchy database on the dark web... What did he think was going to happen?
Directed By: Abby Falvo
Written By: Abby Falvo & Lar Simms
666* is a terrifyingly tasty treat with effortless style and a genuine scare.
Three young girls hold a seance in order to contact Satan and although he answers, things don't go at all as they planned.
A perfectly styled film. The cinematography and editing make *666 one of the most endearing films on the line up this year. Short but satisfying. Genuinely scary. A fresh spin on a very old genre, with a cheeky ending I'll remember forever. The perfect appetizer to enjoy before your horror movie marathon this Halloween!
Written & Directed By: Nate Pantumsinchai
Wayward Gods is a masterpiece and the most impressive short film at Toronto After Dark 2023.
A vigilante in the distant future defends his city against a cyborg army and their fleet of AI dragons. This is an absolute monster of a short film. This feels like a brief taste of a massive world sci-fi fans will be eager to gobble up and consume. Wayward Gods is as epic as it is visually astounding.
Brilliantly told and beautifully designed, this is science fiction I wish I could keep watching. This short film is proof that one doesn't need feature length to weave a deeply layered world that'll move audiences. I'm fascinated by this project and cannot wait to see where Pantumsinchai takes it next.
Daniel's Gotta Die
Directed By: Jeremy Lalonde
Written By: Matthew Dressel
Daniel's Gotta Die is a fun rendition of a well known trope we all love to see on screen.
Daniel's Gotta Die is more of a comedy than it is a horror movie, but it's not necessarily funny. The film follows the children of a wealthy late patriarch who will only pass down his fortune if his bickering children can survive a weekend bonding together at their family lake house. Three of the four children are greedy and egotistical, knowing they must attend the weekend getaway otherwise their portions of the inheritance will all go to their saintly brother—and daddy's favourite son—Daniel. Naturally, these already rich siblings are eager to get richer by killing Daniel during the weekend and absorbing his inheritance. Although, things don't go as planned.
There may have been a handful of moments that made me laugh, but this movie isn't exactly a riot. Viewers will sense the cast reaching for surrealist humour with their dialogues and deliveries, but either the direction or the script keeps them from opening that box of hilarity. Instead, the movie runs with a genuinely fun concept but delivers it mediocrely. Had I not been keen to review this movie, I likely would've turned this off halfway through.
Written & Directed By: Scott Riopelle
Soul Proprietor is a brave and fresh twist on the 'exorcism' sub genre, with a fascinating father-daughter dynamic and a creative concept.
Soul Proprietor follows a father and priest who exorcises powerful demons from his daughter in order to trap and destroy them. Her innocence lures their wickedness in and with his holy orders and lethal confidence, he vanquishes them. Together, they aim to slay all demons from Hell.
Wow! What a concept. This idea has the legs to be an entire feature film or series. The most entertaining aspect of this short had to be the revolving door of demons, each using this young innocent girl as their vessel. I would've loved to meet even more denizens of the dark! These characters are endearing and there’s an exciting backstory with tremendous potential for growth. The tone, sound and the colour grading were each perfectly suited to the film. This felt very fresh and interesting—I'd love to see what this concept evolves into should Riopelle revisit it!
Directed By: Paul Furminger
Written By: Paul Furminger & Wilson Tang
Watching Xtemplar feels like holding lightning in a bottle... then setting it free.
Another gem in the lineup, Xtemplar serves up a captivating story world led by a mysterious yet compelling main character. What seems to be a fun sci-fi twist on the Knights Templar, it should be evident to all of my readers that this is certainly something I would loyally watch—either as a series or feature film. The lore within this film is so well crafted that by the end, I was eager for more. I'm eager to see if Furminger and Tang plan to take their knight any further. And if so, where?
Written, Directed & Shot By: Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy
Forgotten Lake is a film that knows how to have fun with tropes and stereotypes. My favourite!
Passion bleeds through the screen while watching Forgotten Lake, a project that undoubtedly comes from a lover of the summer camp slasher sub genre. The short film follows a group of camp counsellors as they're hunted by Blueberry Boy, a serial killer who I personally would love to see up against Jason Vorhees himself.
The tone was clear, enjoyable and the cast's commitment to it made the film quite funny. The way Forgotten Lake plays with common tropes is exciting! But the product placement is inarguably the best part. What an innovative, creative and downright awesome way to make a commercial. I hate blueberries, but will definitely be trying Lake of the Woods' Blueberry Ale.
Directed By: Sean Wainsteim
Written By: Sean Wainsteim & Aurora de Peña
Demon Box is what every horror movie should be: endearing, personal and horrifying.
Demon Box is bravely poetic and deeply moving. A daunting story with a tether that pulls your heart through the screen and into this story. This horror is personal and visceral, bringing audiences in and making them scared of something they may have never found frightening. This short film embodies what this art was created to do; it allows us to understand something we otherwise might've never understood.
When a young Jewish boy is seemingly haunted by Nazi ghosts, his grandfather gives him a box containing an ancient demon for protection. But the box isn't at all what it seems and this young boy may just have to face his greatest fear of all.
An outstanding work of art that deserves copious recognition. A love letter and suicide note wrapped into a brilliant short film with timely commentary and loads of heart. And also animatronic deer monsters.
Lovely, Dark, and Deep
Directed & Written By: Theresa Sutherland
Lovely, Dark, and Deep is unnecessarily convoluted and tiresome, leaving little to be afraid of other than the film's pace.
Lovely, Dark, and Deep is slow, even for arthouse. This seems to be Sutherland's style, as depicted by her recently adapted screenplay for The Wind. Although slow burns can be entertaining, more often than not they're actually quite boring. This movie in particular trudges along at such a glacial pace that it ends up inhibiting the movie's final payoff, which would hit audiences harder had Sutherland trimmed down the story—and the run time. It's clear the film is supposed to, like the woods, feel never-ending. And boy, did they ever succeed!
Lennon begins a new job as a park ranger in order to track down a girl who went missing in this very wilderness years ago—her little sister. It's evident there are paranormal forces at work within this massive park, exhibited by strange occurrences and clues. Once Lennon finds and rescues a lost woman from the park, Lennon becomes trapped within the woods and unable to escape until she offers up another soul in exchange for the one she saved.
This is an incredible concept with the opportunity to expand in a hundred different directions. Instead of leaning into horror, Sutherland pens a character drama revolving around themes of PTSD, guilt and abandonment. Despite the story being well written, it felt as though we barely explored what the woods were capable of and what happens to the souls who remain trapped there.
This film took two sittings for me to complete. The mystery is potent but fleeting, only there in moments. In between them is what feels like senseless fluff, enough to have audiences check out of the story and back onto their phones. The essence of this film felt half-hearted. I would've loved to have seen more drama unfold between Lennon and her sister, or amongst other Rangers. Had her younger sister been older, perhaps a conflict between them would've made Lennon's guilt at her disappearance more believable. Other seeds were planted for conflict to blossom, but remained unexplored. I wish less time had been spent on her strolling through the woods and more time had been spent on the evil forces at work in the park.