POV: My Trip to Toronto After Dark

This past October, I had the opportunity to attend Toronto After Dark, a 9 day fantasy/horror/action/alternative film festival at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. After hearing such fantastic things about the show for the past several years (and even submitting one short film), I jumped at the opportunity to check it out. And although I was only able to attend a couple days out of the schedule, TAD was an awesome experience and a great time!

Unfortunately, for the most part, the actual experience of the festival (the people, the chaos, the atmosphere) was much more enjoyable than the films themselves. But please bear in mind that this opinion should in no way distort your view of the venue as a whole, since I can only speak for the two days I was in attendance. I thoroughly recommend TAD for both the aforementioned experience, as well as the content overall. Despite my not enjoying a good portion of the programming, this fest has screened films that I’ve wound up loving, Astron-6‘s Father’s Day immediately jumping to mind, so be sure to check it out next year! That being said, however, there’s a couple films they screened that you should probably just stay away from.

The first one I caught was Lloyd the Conqueror, a comedy revolving around LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) sub-culture. Lloyd is a well-made indie feature boasting great cinematography, soundtrack, and editing, but generally falls flat in terms of humour. It’s an archetypal plot with very predictable jokes and punchlines which fail much more often than one might expect. This, combined with the film’s being 15 minutes too long, makes the finale, while well-executed, difficult to stay involved with, and I found myself annoyed and frustrated with it by the time the credits rolled. There are many good aspects to Lloyd the Conqueror as well, and a handful of moments which had me laughing, but not enough to make me recommend this film. However, if you’re a Trailer Park Boys fan, it’s worth a watch solely for the sake of seeing actor Mike Smith in a more serious role.

The second film I caught was Universal Solider 4: Day Of Reckoning, the newest entry in the long-lived series. Although I have not yet seen the others in the quadrilogy, the film also works as a stand-alone, though nothing here will have you rushing to track down the others. Overall, the film was just “okay.” The action sequences are top-notch, there’s some fantastic cinematography (most notable being the film’s opening), and it’s very well acted, but aside from one or two especially brutal moments, there’s very little keeping this from feeling like generic action fare. There’s nothing especially horrible about the film though; it does what it sets out to do and will likely keep action fans content, but it’s extremely forgettable, and again, a tad longer than it needs to be. Nothing groundbreaking or innovative here, but if you’re a fan of the series or extreme cinema in general, you’ll be happy to see Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren involved in this installment, unlike US 2 and 3. For these types of people, I’d say it’s worth a watch, but for anyone else, I think it’s best you pass.

The third feature that I caught was After, a dark science-fiction piece centering around two people caught in a bus crash, who then find themselves stranded together in a dystopian future. This film was by far the most interesting and engrossing of the features I saw, mostly due to the fantastic acting and human drama, as well as a story which effectively keeps you in suspense as it unravels. There’s very little I didn’t like about this film; the acting was superb, the CGI (which was used sparingly and as a result, to great effect) is extremely well-executed, and as a whole, there’s very little to find fault in. Given the chance, I’d gladly watch this film again, and it’s the one feature I saw out of TAD that I can recommend. Not much else I feel the need to say, other than to check it out.

The fourth and final feature that I caught was Grave Encounters 2, the sequel to the wildly popular viral found-footage horror film from 2011. This film was most disappointing for me as it was the only feature I knew anything about going into, and it wound up being the worst horror film I’ve seen all year. The plot centers around a group of film students who set out to find the unknown mental hospital where the first film was lensed, and wind up falling into the same traps as their predecessors. The characters are cliche and annoying, the scares are tame and predictable, and the effects become extremely poorly executed by the end of the film. It’s so dull, one-dimensional and forgettable that I almost left it off this list since I actually forgot all about it while doing the majority of this writing. Clearly slapped together to capitalize on the success of the former film, my suspicions were confirmed by the Q&A following the screening where I learned it was assembled in, I believe, around 90 days to meet an October release date. Destined for the 3-for-$5 bin at Wal-Mart, Grave Encounters 2 is exactly what you’d expect from a quick cash-in on a successful feature. Stay away.

As a whole, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the shorts that were shown before each feature, much more so in fact than what followed them! Those which come immediately to mind are Malody, Annie and the Dog, and Bio-Cop, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed! Malody is a surreal film which I was going to try and describe, but after reading the IMDb plot synopsis, I realize that I clearly have no idea what it’s actually about… but I loved it! Annie and the Dog is a fun short about an attempted exorcism gone awry, boasting some gritty, but beautiful cinematography. But the highlight of the shorts, and what I saw, was Steven Kostanski’s Bio-Cop! Kostanski, a member of Canadian horror/comedy troupe Astron-6, directed this short in follow up to his feature Manborg, which played last year at Toronto After Dark with huge success. Manborg is currently undergoing a Canadian theatrical tour, but despite the chaos that comes with that, I had the chance to track down Kostanski and talk with him about his work on both Manborg and Bio-Cop! So stay tuned, an interview is coming soon…

So yeah, that’s what I saw at this year’s Toronto After Dark! While it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, I’ve heard great things of the other films that screened, so I’m definitely not judging the fest as a whole based on less than a fifth of what it has to offer. I’ll be back next year, and hope to see you there!