2024 Fantasia Fest Preview Guide: 10 Movies to Watch For

Fantasia Fest logo 

Montreal prepares itself once again to host the biggest genre film festival in North America. Now in its 28th year, Fantasia Fest boasts international films from all over the world, all packaged nicely for the lovers of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and the absurd. 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 previous years' festival 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 10 picks for the can't-miss movies of this year's festival. All movies are in English, unless indicated otherwise.

Screenings will be held July 18, 2024 – Aug 4, 2024, at Concordia University’s Hall, J.A. de Sève and York Cinemas, as well as the Montréal’s Cinémathèque Québécoise, Cinéma du Musée, Théâtre Plaza, and BBAM! Gallery. To purchase tickets, go here

A man holds an axe in front his house in the woods
Kit Harington in THE BEAST WITHIN

The Beast Within, directed by Alexander J. Farrell (horror)

Description from Fantasia Fest: Kit Harington (GAME OF THRONES) is a father with a secret that he is desperately trying to keep under control. His mysterious excursions at night leave his ailing daughter (Caoilinn Springall, THE MIDNIGHT SKY) plagued with questions. The old, timeless house in the woods that she lives in with her caring mother (Ashleigh Cummings, NOS4A2) and absent father feels more like a haunted castle than a loving home. As she investigates her father’s bizarre and dark behaviour, a monstrous figure emerges from the shadows, terrorizing those who encounter it. Supported by her grandfather (James Cosmo, BRAVEHEART), she attempts to unravel the mysteries of the creature, and the revelations that she discovers will rock her family and leave her forever changed.

A long, long time ago: Daniel Katz’s cinematography drew me in with the production photos and trailer. This family lives in a secluded home in the forest where beasts and nature lurk. The setup of mother, daughter, father, and grandfather remind me of a dark fairy tale. Plus, with all of reborn interest in reliving the Universal monster movies of the past, I’m hoping for another take on werewolves.  

A gothic looking photo of a man in the streets of France

Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, directed by Alexandre De la Patellière and Matthieu Delaporte (thriller) [French language]  

Description from Fantasia Fest: It's 1815 in Marseille, and young Edmond Dantès has just been promoted to captain and is preparing to marry his sweet Mercedes. Unfortunately for him, the treachery of certain jealous peers leaves him to rot in the dismal dungeon of the Château d'If for 14 years. There he meets Abbé Faria, who schools him in languages, history, sciences, and weaponry, as well as divulging the location of a lost Pharaonic treasure, so that one day he can even the score for the affront he has suffered. Dantès manages to escape and seize the Templars' fortune before returning home to orchestrate his ruthless revenge.

It’s not revenge, it’s justice: It’s been 22 year since someone made an adaption of this seminal revenge thriller, and I’m intrigued by the premise of the film demonstrating its common DNA with comic book heroes, such as Batman. It’s always risky to adapt a classic, but early reviews have me eager to give this version a try.

A man in gray smock stands inside a cube
Julian Richings as ALDERSON in CUBE

Cube, directed by Vincenzo Natali (thriller)

Description from Fantasia Fest: A handful of very disparate characters, from a twenty-something math genius and a master escape artist to an aggressive cop and an autistic savant, find themselves trapped in a gigantic cube containing a maze-like arrangement of interlocking rooms. Their struggle to figure out the cube’s secrets and escape, without being killed by its horrific traps—or each other—is the basis of this jolting debut feature from director/co-writer Vincenzo Natali. It was visually unlike anything the genre had previously seen when it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1997 and hit theaters the following year.

Look for a way out: This year, Fantasia honors director Vincenzo Natali with the Trailblazer Award, with CUBE being their retro film. At every festival, I look for a throwback film I can visit for the first time. This escape room horror has spawned a subgenre of projects such as THE PLATFORM, THE CIRCLE, and even SQUID GAME, pitting strangers against each other in deadly challenges. CUBE is definitely an honored retro film I will be glad to check off my bucket list.

a brunette woman on the city streets

The Dead Thing, directed by Elric Kane (horror, thriller)

Description from Fantasia Fest: Alex (Blu Hunt of THE NEW MUTANTS) is trapped in a downward spiral of shallow hookups and tepid connections, but she is caught off guard when her dating app swipes lead her into the arms of a mysterious, charming young man Kyle (played by stuntman Ben Smith-Petersen). Despite their passionate night, when the sun rises, the mystery man is nowhere to be found. Alex then sets out to find the one person who made her feel alive. Through her investigation, she reconnects with Kyle, but also digs up a ghastly supernatural secret. The pair quickly descend into a whirlwind of obsession, dependence, lust, and infatuation that has grave consequences.

Swipe right to watch: After the delightful Mimi Cave film FRESH, I will try any dating app horror I can find. These days it’s rare to make a true connection, so the lure of doing so is a wonderful setup for anyone who feels destined to never meet “the one.”

Three children gather in the barn

Párvulos, directed by Isaak Ezban (dystopian) [Spanish language]

Description from Fantasia Fest: Award-winning Mexican filmmaker Isaac Ezban (THE INCIDENT, THE SIMILARS, PARALLEL) returns with his fifth and most personal feature, a nightmarish vision that he’s spent the last seven years bringing into light. PÁRVULOS is a dystopian coming-of-age horror story, set in a near future after a grim viral calamity, that begins with three young brothers living alone in a remote cabin. Hidden in their basement is a terrifying secret that they’ve adapted to... and have been living with for some time. Where it goes from there will pull the breath from your lungs, as the children’s hermetically sealed world is forcefully expanded—and invaded—by monstrous elements that are gut-wrenchingly beyond their control. What can they do to protect each other? Can this family save itself in a world they no longer recognize?

Why I chose it: I saw Ezban’s PARALLEL a few years ago and enjoyed his homage to Twilight Zone episodes of the past. I sense this newest film will veer in more personal territory. The hint of a plot centering on families facing horror together also reminds of the Mike Flanagan television series that I adore. 

Two men sit across from each other at a table

Penalty Loop, directed by Shinji Araki (experimental) [Japanese language]

Description from Fantasia Fest: When his girlfriend was murdered, part of Jun’s soul died with her. Since then, his only thought has been to take justice into his own hands. Having tracked down the murderer, Mizoguchi, the time has come to execute his meticulous plan to exact revenge. The problem is that the next morning, he's plagued by a feeling of déjà-vu. Worse still, Mizoguchi is back at work as if nothing had happened. Jun resumes his Machiavellian plan, but something goes wrong as his target seems far more suspicious than the day before. Jun has to face up to the fact that he is trapped in a hellish time loop in which every day, he will have to kill Mizoguchi, who is becoming increasingly difficult to kill.

I’ve got you, babe: I’ve always enjoyed time loop films that have anti-heroes living one hellish day over and over again, but this idea has never been paired with a revenge thriller. Plus, in this case, the intended target learns from their errors and proves to level up along with the killer. Finally, the trailer promises some interesting visuals.

A samurai faces off against villagers

A Samurai in Time, directed by Junichi Yasuda [Japanese language]

Description from Fantasia Fest: In a quiet lane in Kyoto, as the Edo period draws to its dramatic close, two pro-shogunate swordsmen ambush a political foe. The ringing of clashing steel is interrupted by a flash of lightning, heralding a bizarre paranormal event. Aizu clansman Kosaka Shinzaemon awakes to find himself... in a quiet lane in Kyoto. Shinzaemon has been flung a century and half into the future, landing right in the middle of a jidaigeki (period drama) television production. Fleeing the set, he finds himself adrift in a modern city where nothing makes sense. As the truth of his circumstances dawn on him, Shinzaemon is devastated. What place is there, here and now, for an honourable, old-fashioned samurai?

And action!: After the Hulu smash hit Shogun, I must admit I’m craving more samurai on screen. What will a samurai do when he’s a fish out of water? The only way to find out is to watch this film.  Plus, this might offer a blast of comedy to shake up my mostly bleak picks.

A man holds a toilet plunger up in self defense

Scared Shitless, directed by Vivieno Caldinelli (horror, comedy)

Description from Fantasia Fest: Meet Don (Steven Ogg, THE WALKING DEAD, DARK MATCH) and Sonny (Daniel Doheny, BRAND NEW CHERRY FLAVOR, DAY OF THE DEAD), a father and son dealing with the loss of Sonny’s mother. It hasn’t been easy for them, and Sonny’s grief manifests as germophobic tendencies. Don’s a plumber, and to help Sonny work on his newfound fear, he insists that his son tags along on a job for a little unofficial exposure therapy. They head to the Palmer Estates Apartments, also home to Professor Robert (Mark McKinney, KIDS IN THE HALL, SUPERSTORE), a government scientist who has smuggled a top-secret—and live—experiment into the residential building after an explosion destroys his clandestine lab. The blue-collar duo thinks this crapper call is a one-and-done, but when Professor Robert’s pet project escapes and starts to eat the residents, this routine job becomes a total shit-show!

Don’t forget to flush: I have to admit that dirty bathrooms are one of my true phobias. Whenever I go into a public restroom, I always push open the door as if Ghostface is waiting on the other side, just dreading what I might find. So you might think this film would be last thing I would want to subject myself to, but sometimes you just have to face your fears.

A woman holds up a photo of a missing person
Camille Sullivan as MIA in SHELBY OAKS

Shelby Oaks, directed by Chris Stuckmann (horror)

Description from Fantasia Fest: Who took Riley Brennan? That's the question asked by millions of devoted, even obsessed fans of the popular YouTube series Paranormal Paranoids, which ceased production when Brennan and her three co-hosts disappeared near the deserted town of Shelby Oaks, Ohio in 2008. Conspiracy theories have run rampant over the years, but none are more determined to get to the truth than Riley's sister, Mia (Camille Sullivan), who has finally agreed to telling Riley's story to a documentary film crew (Emily Bennett and Rob Grant) in the hopes of finding closure. Closure, however, refuses to be found as a series of shocking events opens the door to a deeper mystery surrounding Riley, one that leads Mia to follow her ghost-hunting sister's footsteps down a path to confront demons of the past and get answers that can only be found somewhere within the darkness of Shelby Oaks.

Time to get Stuckmann-ized: Okay, real talk. I think Chris Stuckmann was one of the first YouTubers I ever subscribed to (the first being Grable424, shout out). He’s been reviewing films for 13 years, and I’m fairly certain that almost every modern film YouTube channel has modeled themselves after him. The concept of his mockumentary film certainly sounds up my alley, and I think most critics feel hopeful at one of this generation’s best-known reviewers having his day in the sun.

A man in a yellow hazmat suit sits near a lake

The Silent Planet, directed by Jeffrey St. Jules (science fiction)

Description from Fantasia Fest: Theodore (Elias Koteas, CRASH, CHICAGO P.D.) is alone. Far from the Earth’s surface, he's a miner in the Capillian Star System on penal colony planet #384, sending extraterrestrial minerals to Earth via an interplanetary delivery system. Ailing and half-sane, his life is routine, with journaling, watching TV show reruns, and taking comfort in memories of his life on Earth. When a young woman named Niyya (Briana Middleton, SHARPER, THE TENDER BAR) is sent to planet #384 on terrorist charges, her tragic past follows her. Adopted by an alien race called “Oieans,” her resistance to prejudice towards the aliens and the history of their massacre lands her on this planet with Theodore. As they learn more about each other, Niyya suspects an ugly truth lies deep in Theodore’s deteriorating mind.

Why I chose this: Science fiction often helps us witness the consequences of social ills by taking an extreme view. Here, finding common ground with films such as DISTRICT 9, the issue of xenophobia towards immigrants plays out by including aliens in the “immigrant” category. Will these two outcasts find common ground and become reluctant allies?