2023 Fantasia Fest Preview Guide: 12 Movies to Watch For

O, Canada, prepare yourself for the biggest genre film festival in North America. Now in its 27th year, Fantasia Fest boasts international films from all over the world, all packaged nicely for the good people of Montreal and its visitors. As the first film festival I ever covered as a film critic in 2020, Fantasia Fest holds a special place in my heart. Go here for all of my Fantasia 2023 coverage. 

While general audiences will need to attend in person to catch these groundbreaking films, never fear – I have been lucky enough to score a press badge again this year. Having seen the schedule of films, here are 12 picks for the can't-miss movies of this year's festival – a dozen donuts from a donut lover like me. All movies are in English, unless indicated otherwise.

Screenings will be held July 20, 2023 – Wed, Aug 9, 2023, at Concordia University’s Hall, J.A. de Sève and York Cinemas, as well as the Cinémathèque québécoise, Cinéma du Musée, Cinéma du Parc, and the McCord Museum. To purchase tickets, visit the website

My Top 12 Fantasia Fest Pick


Blackout, directed by Larry Fessenden (Horror)

Description from Fantasia Fest website: In a small upstate New York town, artist Charley Barrett (Alex Hurt) checks out of the motel that’s been his recent home and sets out on a series of personal missions. These include exposing the corruption of ruthless developer Hammond (Marshall Bell), and reconciling with former lover Sharon (Addison Timlin), Hammond’s daughter. Another is connected to his tragic secret: Charley is a werewolf, recently infected with the curse and responsible for a series of gruesome murders. The local residents have scapegoated one of the Latino workers on Hammond’s construction site for the killings, and as a full moon rises, their desire for justice hits a fever pitch while Charley succumbs to his transformation once more.

What got my attention: Having just seen Fessenden in Ted Geoghegan's Brooklyn 45, I'm anxious to see how he does in the director's chair. Plus, the lack of werewolf movies in the world needs to be remedied, and I'm here to support this subject matter. A self-proclaimed fan of Universal Monster movies, Fessenden is sure to treat this lycanthropic topic with the same care he gave vampires in Habit (1995) and weird science Franken-men in Depraved (2019).

Taya Radchenko as HERA in EMPIRE V

Empire V, directed by Victor Ginzburg (Fantasy), [Russian language]

Description of from Fantasia Fest website: In modern-day Moscow, disaffected former journalism student Roman (Pavel Tabakov) follows a cryptic invitation to join “the elite” and finds himself forcibly transformed into a vampire. But not your typical creature of the night. Thanks to a parasitical worm known as the Tongue, Roman has become part of a ruling class of vampires who exercise an “anonymous dictatorship” over humans based not on a thirst for blood but the hunger for money. As various instructors school him in the ways of their elite breed, he begins a tentative relationship with another newly turned vampire, Hera (Taya Radchenko). His desire for more knowledge about this intoxicating world also leads him into potentially deadly conflict with Mithra (Miron Fedorov), his mentor who becomes his nemesis.

Why it got my attention: This film has been banned by the Russian Ministry of Culture. As a librarian, I'm against such things by nature. But I'm also intrigued by the sociopolitical themes explored in the film, featuring vampires with a thirst for wealth, rather than blood. Vampires depicted in movies always do seem to carry loads of cash though, so perhaps economic success comes with the territory. Either way, the imagery in the trailer gives me Interview with a Vampire vibes.


Insomniacs After School, directed by Chihiro Ikeda (Romance) [Japanese language]

Description from Fantasia Fest website: Suffering from chronic insomnia that makes him irritable and distant, Ganta Nakami struggles to fit in at Kuyo High School. Assigned by his classmates to fetch a stepladder from the supposedly haunted observatory, he meets Isaki Magari, a cheerful student suffering from the same nocturnal condition as himself. Having herself spread the rumour about the near-abandoned place, Isaki invites Ganta to share her haven. However, an overly well-intentioned teacher discovers the ruse and urges them to resurrect the astronomy club if they want to keep their little paradise.

Why I chose it: Coming-of-age angsty drama with a dash of romance? Yes, please. Based on a popular slice of life manga, Insomniacs features that misfits united trope I love. As a misfit myself, there's nothing better than seeing awkward, isolated teens find that feeling of belonging. While I adore edgy genre cinema like horror and psychological thrillers, sometimes a gentle story can be a blessed palate cleanser. Make sure your festival schedule includes at least one.


Late Night with the Devil, directed by Cameron & Colin Cairnes (Horror)

Description from Fantasia Fest website: It’s Halloween evening in 1977 and late-night talk show icon Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) has a live broadcast planned that’s going to be unlike anything anyone’s ever experienced. He downright needs it to be, as he faces declining viewership. And tonight, Delroy’s going to deliver on levels his worst nightmares can’t imagine. Among this evening’s guests will be parapsychologist and author Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon), currently on the circuit promoting her new book, Conversations with the Devil. With her will be young teen Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), the sole survivor of a Satanic church’s mass suicide, and the subject of said book, its title stemming from the fact that she claims to be demonically marked — and intermittently possessed. The studio audience fills the room as a multi-camera setup prepares to bring the event into living rooms across the country…

Here's Johnny: Promising a fresh take on a found-footage horror, Late Night screams potential future cult favorite. Set during the 1970s in a late-night broadcast TV set, the Cairnes duo will have fun playing around with decade-appropriate clothing, hairstyles, and culture. And while we have seen Dastmalchian tackle many macabre roles, this will be his first go in the lead actor's chair. Both Pontypool (2008) and Prime Time (2021) were riveting films that all took place on a network television set. I look forward to discovering if Late Night can join their ranks.

Georgina Campbell as LENNON in LOVELY, DARK, AND DEEP

Lovely, Dark, and Deep, directed by Teresa Sutherland (Horror)

Description from Fantasia Fest website: Robert Frost’s immortal lament to the woods is blasted into the cosmos in Teresa Sutherland’s feature debut Lovely, Dark, and Deep. The enigmatic Lennon (Georgina Campbell; Barbarian) is granted a long-awaited position as a park ranger in an isolated outpost. Immediately, the woods tower ominous and great, and are strangely shrouded in mystery and conspiracy theories pertaining to bizarre disappearances. Once Lennon settles into this minimalist life, visions quickly start to manifest, blending the past, present, and perhaps something even more sinister lurking in the serene, writhing landscape. Steadily, Lennon descends further and further into the horror that lays dormant at the roots of this landscape. As these mysteries arise and blossom, the lines between reality and dream quickly begin to blur, twisting and turning like vines.

Why you might like it: Sutherland was one of the writers on Flanagan's lauded Netflix series, Midnight Mass. In addition, horror in the woods is a grand tradition that goes all the way back to Grimm's fairy tales. The mystery and isolation of woodland settings offer the perfect playground to explore our connection to the wildness of nature. Also, Campbell's performances in both Black Mirror and Barbarian prove she's an actress to watch.

A still from PHANTOM

Phantom, directed by Lee Hae-young (Mystery, Thriller) [Korean language]

Description from Fantasia Fest website: The 1930s were truly a dark time in Korean history. During the Japanese colonization of Korea in 1933, anti-occupation groups resisted the oppression of the ruthless Imperial government. After a failed assassination attempt on the newly appointed governor-general, security chief Kaito leads an investigation to hunt down the “Phantom,” a spy who’s part of a resistance group called the Shadow Corps. Five people are suspected of possibly being the Phantom, and Kaito locks them inside a remote hotel. Time is ticking away and there are listening devices in every room in the hotel. The suspects must prove their innocence and find out who’s the so-called Phantom among them.

Why should you care: Locked room mysteries are having a heyday ever since Rian Johnson's Knives Out debuted in 2019. Also, the cast are a veritable Who's Who of Korean actors, with familiar faces from Parasite, Squid Game, and Decision to Leave. With gorgeous cinematography and moody backlighting, this cat-and-mouse game promises a roller coaster of stylish thrills.

Andrea Mohylova in RESTORE POINT

Restore Point, directed by Robert Hloz (Thriller, Science Fiction) [Czech language]

Description from Fantasia Fest website: Prague, 2041. The world is on the cusp of crossing a threshold into a new era of human existence, because death has been eliminated. Those who die can be resurrected, and the population is consistently signing in and uploading their memories to a corporate cloud. On the eve of the corporation going public, one of its founding members is brutally murdered with his wife, and restoration is impossible. Now, a detective with an axe to grind (Andrea Mohylová) must infiltrate the extremist group The River of Life, luddites who believe that death is sacred, and uncover the corporate scandals and dirty secrets that lay at the centre of restoration. Accompanied by David (Matej Hádek), a flawed carbon copy of the murdered man without memories, revived through new experimental restoration, the detective must unearth a mystery that is sure to shake the dystopian world to its foundation.

Why it grabbed my attention: Drawing inevitable comparisons to Minority Report and Blade Runner and perhaps less overt comparisons to recent dystopian hellscapes like Infinity Pool and Crimes of the Future, Restore Point is noteworthy for being a rare science fiction film from a Czech director. Plus, who can ignore the allure of an XYZ FIlm?

[L-R] Ariane Castellanos as ARIANE, Marc-André Grondin as STEPHANE in RICHELIEU

Richelieu, directed by Pier-Philippe Chevigny (Thriller) [French/Spanish language]

Description from Fantasia Fest website: Still reeling from a recent break up, Ariane (Ariane Castellanos) is close to losing her condo if can't keep up with her mortgage payments. Jumping on the first opportunity she is offered by a friend, she finds herself working for Stéphane (Marc-André Grondin), insensitive and rigid both as a man and an employer. Within her functions as an interpreter for the plant’s seasonal Guatemalan workers, Ariane has little to no influence over what befalls them, and must bear witness to their horrible treatment. Despite herself, she bonds with the men over their shared heritage, and she will have to face the limits of what she is willing to do in the name of justice.

Why I care: I need these kinds of movies to slap me in the face on occasion. From the description, this sounds like Ariane is confronted with some nasty truths while taking on a new position. She then must choose to turn a blind eye and stay safe or stick her neck out for someone else and risk loss. Films can serve as a wake up call and cast a spotlight on injustice that happens in the shadows. Also the trailer features a long-take shot, and since we are seeing the misfortunes of others through an eyewitness account, I'm curious if the majority of the film will be shot in this manner.

Alexa Barajas as MADDIE in ROMI

ROMI, directed by Robert Cuffley (Horror)

Description from Fantasia Fest website: Maddie (Alexa Barajas) is in trouble. She’s been in an accident, and her politician mother can’t have her careless daughter destroying the reputation she’s built, so she sends Maddie to a safe house — a state-of-the-art domicile boasting a fully operational AI system called ROMI. Hertig (Pavel Kríz), the property manager and owner, gives Maddie a tour of her new digs, complete with every convenience brought to her by ROMI. He’s a bit strange, and she’s wary of him, but there’s also the awkwardly charming A.I. tech Barkley (Juan Riedinger), whose genius built the artificial assistant from the ground up. Despite the occasional company, Maddie is scared she’ll be arrested and feels quite alone… and there’s something not quite right with ROMI. What lies ahead becomes an unsettling mystery for her, and surviving this lockdown instead of going to jail becomes her top priority.

I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave: ROMI promises a "crowd-pleasing, high-tech horror." Films like M3GAN and Upgrade have investigated the ways the invented can take revenge on the inventor. Another recent film, Inside, saw an art thief (Willem Dafoe) trapped inside a prison of his own making. And many Black Mirror episodes explore how technology can get the better of us. ROMI promises to combine all of these ideas into a chilling look into the possibilities of A.I.


The Roundup: No Way Out, directed by Lee Sang-yong (Comedy, Action) [Korean language]

Description from Fantasia Fest website: The brawny yet sympathetic Sergeant Ma Seok-do (Don Lee) is back with a vengeance, ready to let his fists remind the thugs who cross his path of every bad thing they’ve done since they were children. A double agent is shot dead during an undercover operation to blow the lid on the proliferation of a new drug that is ravaging local youth. Worse still, the man responsible is a crooked policeman aiming to rip off a yakuza gang for the benefit of Chinese interests with a large shipment... which he has stolen. The whole mess involves a lot of criminals to deal with, but the murder of a colleague and the chaos in motion make the case very motivating for Ma and his team. With a host of adversaries to contend with, including a Japanese assassin wielding a katana with surgical efficiency, our hero will be doing plenty of interior redecoration, using hapless gangsters!

Who would like it: Fans of action films, rejoice! Who doesn't want to see Don Lee battle would-be assassins, whether mortal or fantastical? I've been in his camp since Train to Busan released -- as any decent zombie lover should attest. This sounds to be a fun, crowd-pleasing delight – check your brains at the door.



She Who Must Burn, directed by Larry Kent (Horror)

Description from Fantasia Fest website: Set against the backdrop of a small mining town, with more than a suggestion that the community is at risk from industrial pollution, She Who Must Burn tackles the impact of the loss of tolerance and civility where reproductive rights/women’s rights are concerned. Angela (Sarah Smythe) tries to keep a counseling service afloat after the murder of the local clinic doctor, but soon finds herself the target of escalatory violence from the Baarkers, a clan of religious zealots. When the wife of Jeremiah Baarker seeks Angela’s help to escape her physically abusive spouse, storm clouds gather.

Why this got my attention: Canadian film pioneer Larry Kent is a featured filmmaker at this year's Fantasia Fest and will receive a Trailblazer Award. Of the four films that will screen, She Who Must Burn sounds like a scathing commentary on the politization of women's bodies and a hauntingly prophetic look at current events. The movie was labeled worst case scenario at the time of its 2015 release at the time, but the plot could be ripped from the headlines eight years later. You can see all of Kent's film selections here.


Sympathy for the Devil, directed by Yuval Adler (Thriller)

Description from Fantasia Fest website: Yuval Adler, the acclaimed director of Bethlehem, gives new meaning to “cruise control” as we follow two men one fateful night in Sin City, aka Las Vegas. On the shadowy, neon-lit streets where anything goes, we find a driver (Joel Kinnaman) at the end of his day, and he’s got a lot on his mind. His wife is in labor, and as he makes his way to the hospital, a passenger (Nicholas Cage) gets into his car with a gun. Dressed in a red satin jacket with matching fiery hair, this man has a serious agenda, and as the tension builds between passenger and driver, so does the danger.

Put the bunny in the box: As a Cage completionist, it's my honor and duty to watch all of his films, so for that reason – I'm in. And doesn't this seem like a less sane version of Michael Mann's Collateral?

: I previously reviewed With Love and a Major Organ and gave it a whopping 4 out of 5 stars. 

For more great selections, You can explore the full program here!