October 26, 2023
WRITTEN BY: NICK
Although I’ve had the chance to virtually cover this festival in the past, this was my first time attending Toronto After Dark in person. It won’t be my last. The fanbase for this festival is rampant, and it felt like a more controlled Midnight Madness screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. Plus, the Q&As were more fan centric, even featuring some of the participants giving away merchandise from their films. It helped create a very special vibe.
Due to time constraints, I was only able to attend the Opening and Closing Night Screenings, but this did allow me to see Late Night with the Devil, which I’d missed at this year’s Fantasia Fest, as well as a strong collection of short films.
It was a good time, not a long time… but here is my wrap-up of Toronto After Dark 2023.
THE LAST EXIT
The Last Exit (aka Little Bone Lodge) is quite the ride. What starts off feeling like a run-of-the-mill home invasion thriller soon becomes something far more interesting. Director Matthias Hoene isn’t afraid to take big swings, and while they don’t all pay off, the attempts should be commended. The film is more than just the sum of its twists, however, as Joely Richardson and Neil Linpow are the ones who really sell the somewhat convoluted script with honest performances. The Last Exit isn’t without flaws – it’s low on re-watch value and drags a little – but it’s bound to keep your attention.
IT'S A WONDERFUL KNIFE
No question, there are moments in It’s a Wonderful Knife that work – Justin Long’s over-the-top mayor is ridiculous enough to be funny, for example. However, where the film falters is in its unwillingness to go full spoof. The comedic aspects of the film are its strongest facets, but they’re bogged down by a desire to be taken seriously. You could still have the entertaining horror moments, such as the strobe sequence, and maintain the tone of a parody, but by not going that route, It’s a Wonderful Knife becomes a slightly below average horror flick that feels destined to be forgotten.
LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL
Late Night with the Devil is an impressive feat. The film not only transports you back in time to the 1970s, but it does so while seamlessly blending its timeline into our actual past. This smart directorial decision makes everything feel authentic to the period. David Dastmalchian plays the host of the proceedings, and he channels the squeaky-clean cheese of yesteryear with an era-perfect performance. You feel as if you’re sitting in the audience of this supposed pivotal moment in time, and it makes for a special theatrical experience. Go out of your way to catch this one when it releases wide.
Although we only cover feature films and series with our patented bitesize reviews, with a festival like this, it only seems fair that we give somewhat equal time to the 10 short films I was able to check out, just with an even smaller bite… a nibble so to speak…
BYE-BYE is a short that feels like a teaser trailer. It’s a nice little snippet of horror, like a nightmare you dozed into.
BIRD HOSTAGE is ridiculous in the best way possible. Not quite a horror, this quirky tale of a housesitter and a bird is a good time. Oh, and the bird is voiced by Jay Baruchel. Need I say more?
POOL PARTY spends the majority of its runtime setting up a finale that it doesn’t earn. It’s an interesting premise with lacklustre execution.
GAMESMANSHIP was a highlight of the short films. It’s a clever premise (which I won’t spoil) that is well executed thanks to some quality humour and effects. I’m glad I got to see this one with an audience.
MYSTERY BOX is a poorly acted short that fails to build the suspense it necessitates. Its cliff-hanger conclusion is neither satisfying, nor does it leave any interest in a continuation.
FORGOTTEN LAKE feels more like a TV ad or an SNL horror-themed skit than anything that should be taken seriously. That said, it is self-aware, so that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
CAMP doesn’t do anything to make itself stand out; it plays like a singular scene from a movie instead of being a fully fleshed-out idea.
DEMON BOX is a documentary about the making of a film, so it’s like watching a film with the director’s commentary on. A personal story for the director, he goes over the reality of growing up a Jewish child who fears Nazis.
SOUL PROPRIETOR flips the exorcism trope on its head in this comical short with just enough legs to stretch into a feature.
THRIVING: A DISASSOCIATED REVERIE is another winner from the duo of Nicole Bazuin and Andrea Werhun! Much like their prior shorts Modern Whore and Last Night at the Strip Club, this is a well-done character study featuring sharp directorial decisions.
Photo Credits: Toronto After Dark