The Cinema Scope Top Ten of 2020 Interviews The Girl and the Spider *En plein air: Denis Côté on Hygiène
By Adam Nayman
Let’s get it right out of the way: by any non-subjective metric—which is to say in spite of my own personal opinion—the Canadian filmmaker of the decade is Xavier Dolan, who placed six features (including two major Competition prizewinners) at Cannes between 2009 (let’s give him a one-year head start) and 2019, all before turning 30. Prodigies are as prodigies do, and debating Dolan’s gifts as a transnational melodramatist and zeitgeist-tapperis a mug’s game, one that I’ve already played in these pages. If the five years since Mommy have seen our proudly quétaine (anti-)hero humbled a bit, it has as much to do with his lightning-rod persona as the qualitative decline (such as it is) embodied by the misbegotten English-language salvage job The Death and Life of John F. Donovan (2018), a movie that inadvertently self-allegorizes as what one of its characters calls a “First World mishap.” One point for your consideration: on Donovan, Dolan had the guts—and the bottom-line creative control—to snip no less than Jessica Chastainout of the final product. Good luck finding another working Canadian director (short of, say, James Cameron) with the stroke to even cast that level of actress, much less leave her on the cutting-room floor.
Youth, they say, is wasted on the young, and Dolan’s impending battles with his own encroaching maturity will undoubtedly figure into his (likely exclusively en français) 2020s output. But when taking a wider look at the past decade in Canadian cinema, the common denominator uniting exciting and vanguard work across a variety of regions, modes, and film-industrial contexts was a youth movement—one that placed the contemporaneous struggles of ex-vanguard veterans and comfortably subsidized lifers in sharp relief. Of the seven individuals with films from 2019 tapped for this year’s Canadian Screen Award Best Director prize, only one, Antigone’sSophie Deraspe, is over 41. Add in Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open), Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis (White Lie), Matthew Rankin (The Twentieth Century), and Kazik Radwanski (Anne at 13,000 ft)—the latter three considered at greater length in Cinema Scope 80 and 81—and it’s got to be the youngest Best Director crop in history, and not just dating back to the mid-decade inception of the CSAs as a new name for the Genies, an angular statuette last seen wielded fatally against Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars (2014).
God willing, Maps won’t be David Cronenberg’s last directorial credit (and he was robbed of an acting nomination for his Ursula Andress-inspired cameo in Albert Shin’s Disappearance at Clifton Hill ). All in all, the 2010s were not too shabby for English Canada’s greatest living filmmaker: underrate the late-stylin’ trio of A Dangerous Method (2011), Cosmopolis (2012), and Maps at your peril (I did, and in print, to boot) while noting that with the exceptions of the indefatigable Alanis Obomsawin (whose monumental We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice  was a late-career peak), the incorrigible Guy Maddin (maintaining his postmodernist mojo with the help of the Johnson brothers, Evan and Galen), and the incomparable Michael Snow (who called back to La région centrale  with the IMAX-subsidized Cityscape ), DC was the only major Canadian director with significant credits in the 20th century to do anything like hold serve in the 21st.
There are myriad factors that have made us a filmmaking nation of slowly fading auteurs, series-television sellouts, hard-luck one-and-doners, and otherwise marginalized outliers—everything from the vagaries and favouritism of our funding systems to Hollywood’s colonizing of mainstream multiplex and quasi-arthouse screens, to a critical class wary of cheerleading even as it faces its own obsolescence (RIP Toronto Star movie section), to the universal law of diminishing returns that makes a half-century run like Cronenberg’s (or Obomsawin’s, or Snow’s) so genuinely rare and valuable. Said issues have been inventoried on and off in this very magazine, which itself subsists, in the Oscar-ratified parlance of our times, parasitically within Canada’s film culture. That Cinema Scope survived a decade that was unkind to independent cinema publications and staff-jobbing entertainment journalists alike is a feat unto itself; to paraphrase a certain non-Canadian masterpiece, the magazine gets older but the freelancers stay the saaaaaaame age.
So again, youth: as our septuagenarian patriarch would say, Long Live the New Flesh! (Including, I guess, Cronenberg 2.0, Brandon, whose body-swap thriller Possessor got mixed reviews this January at Sundance.) It was, above all, a decade of breakthroughs, yielding an array of promising talents who, if there’s any justice and/or luck, will parlay said talents into actual mortgage-paying careers without fleeing to make television in the US à laJeremy Podeswa, Vincenzo Natali, Kari Skogland, Sudz Sutherland, and other now middle-aged festival-circuit mainstays of the 2000s. It’s too early to say for sure, so consider this essay relatively provisional even as certain trends and tendencies have become clearer in the (relatively) long view.
To begin, for convenience’s sake, in the centre of the universe—that’d be Toronto, sorry, haters—the symbolic passing (or grabbing) of the torch from the stragglers of the Toronto New Wave to what Jason Anderson correctly if perfunctorily designated the “New New Wave” could be traced to a trio of movies released between 2010 and 2012: Bruce McDonald’s concert-film-slash-city-symphony This Movie is Broken (2010), a would-be triumphal vision of Torontopia; Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz (2011), a love triangle set against the same rainbow-hued backdrop; and Radwanski’s Tower (2012), a character study attuned to a more broken social scene. Whilst gamely trying to recapture the hippified spirit of the ’60s and their own unkempt ’90s glory days (both united in Broken Social Scene’s boho aesthetic), McDonald and his co-writer Don McKellar ended up with a glorified EPK whose docufictional conceit yielded one accidental coup: the garbage bags piling up around our bland hipster protagonists serve as a dual record of the divisive 2009 Toronto garbage strike and its role in kick-starting the cult-of-personality mayoral campaign of Rob Ford, a celebrity casualty of the 2010s resurrected in the ’70s-style political docudrama Run This Town via a mugging Damian Lewis.
Although considerably more absorbing as relationship drama courtesy of its imported movie star—with Polley ably directing Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen—Take This Waltz is similarly off-target as a civic portrait, starting with its fractured local geography (a rickshaw ride from Parkdale to the Royal Cinema is comically circuitous) and extending to its generally cloistered, socioeconomically cozy point of view. The subtextual cleverness of having Williams’ desirous, married copywriter thirst for Luke Kirby’s sexy rickshaw driver to the strains of “Video Killed the Radio Star” on the Centre Island Scrambler (a song about trading in an old model for something new) is undeniable, but as an expensively licensed pop cue, it can’t compete with seeing not-even-almost-famous Derek Bogart bopping in a Beau travail (1999)-style trance to Jamaican dancehall star Serani’s “No Games” in Tower—the most mysterious scene in a movie that adopts the jagged shape of a question mark.
A studiedly realistic, deceptively digressive comedy released and reviewed in counterpoint to the American mumblecore craze—its north star being Ronnie Bronstein’s down-in-the-mouth Frownland (2007)—Tower’s skeletal narrative about a stifled computer animator wasting away in his parents’ Riverdale basement had a generational aspect. Frustrated at his stalled ambitions and gently condescended to by various adult authority figures (i.e., a dentist who makes some very metaphorical comments about wisdom teeth), Derek is a post-millennial man-child several degrees more realistic than Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly’s Step Brothers (2008): a privileged non-entity anxiously squandering a comfy birthright. The international exposure granted to Radwanski’s debut was deserved, and over the course of several similarly shot and themed shorts and features—amongst them Tower’s spiritual sequel How Heavy This Hammer (2015) and the brisk, elliptical Scaffold (2017)—he and his producing partner Daniel Montgomery have come to find themselves at the epicentre of Toronto’s film scene as producers, distributors, and ad hoc arthouse exhibitors (all via their production/distribution company MDFF). Their modest but real success has also inspired or contextualized the emergence of DIY-style directors of similar vintage from coast to coast, from fellow Torontonians Thomas and Lewis (whose lovely coming-of-age entry Amy George played alongside Tower at TIFF in 2012) to Vancouver’s Antoine Bourges and Kevan Funk to Nova Scotia’s Ashley McKenzie, the latter two of whom have, like Radwanski, competed in recent years for the Toronto Film Critics’ Association’s Rogers subsidized $100,000 Best Canadian Film prize.
It’s arguable that the TFCA prize, more than the just-getting-with-the-program CSAs, charts this hypothetical youth movement. (Another good source of intel: David Davidson’s blog Toronto Film Review.) “Canadian Cinema’s New Hope” was the headline for a September 2016 Globe and Mail feature by Barry Hertz, which opened with a Breakfast Club-style publicity photo of Radwanski and several other peers (including Andrew Cividino, Chelsea McMullan, Pavan Moondi, and Matt Johnson) leaning against a Matthew Good-style symbolic white wall: “bold brash millennial filmmakers here to change the game.” A few months later, the sight of 2017’s surprise Rogers honouree Hugh Gibson (a long-time friend whose presence in the category led to my abstention from voting) standing onstage at the TFCA ceremony with Polley, Maddin, Atom Egoyan, Jennifer Baichwal, and a pre-Blade Runner but still very famous Denis Villeneuve (who had the second-best decade artistically of any French-Canadian director named Denis while making approximately a gazillion more dollars than Monsieur Côté) was surreal as well as a bellwether of shifting tastes, if not necessarily a connection between critical acclaim and commercial prospects. Gibson’s fine, vérité-style harm-reduction doc The Stairs was subsequently self-distributed despite earning the richest and most-publicized cash prize in Canadian cinema—not so much “changing the game” as being forced to play a different one.
A few years earlier, in the same banquet hall, Matt Johnson—from a certain angle the Anglo Xavier Dolan, except crucially with a sense of humour about himself in person and in his work—explicitly clowned the aforementioned New Wave cohort during an acceptance speech for an award for emerging talent named after Jay Scott (a critic who covered those filmmakers in real time, i.e., before Johnson was born). It’s interesting that the other winners of the Jay Scott Award since its inception in 2009 could double as a roll call of the best-received, most prestigiously programmed Canadian directors of the period irrespective of age: Dolan (naturellement),Daniel Cockburn (a rare selection of an experimental video artist), Ingrid Veninger (straddling indie and industry and forever young at heart), Nicolás Pereda, Albert Shin, Anne Émond, Ashley McKenzie (who also won the $100,000 prize in 2018 for Werewolf),Molly McGlynn, and Cinema Scope 79 cover subjects Sofia Bodhanowicz and Deragh Campbell (the eponymous Anne in 13,000 ft), both in their way fixtures in Toronto’s film community as much as the MDFF team (MDFF having distributed their co-directed MS Slavic 7 in Canada).
One of the more “established” directors to win the TFCA award since it ballooned tenfold from its original sum was Baichwal, in tandem with Edward Burtynsky and Nick De Pencier for Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (2018). In a surpassingly classy gesture, the team split the proceeds with fellow nominees Bohdanowicz and Sofia Foroughi (the director of Ava ), as, in her victory speech, Baichwal made the kinds of insightful, specific references to her peers’ work that indicated that 1) she actually saw the films in question (unlike some other establishment figures who’ve handed similar trophies to up-and-comers) and 2) that she genuinely liked them. No get-off-my-lawn bitterness here. There was precedent for Baichwal and Co.’s largesse in Gibson’s decision in 2017 to split his award with Johnson and Radwanski, a premeditated all-for-one move that doubled as a statement of purpose on behalf of an unbroken social scene—a show of solidarity amongst a trio of differently styled and yet in certain ways suggestively interrelated filmmakers. As random as it might seem to reconcile the attenuated, middle-aged downward spiral of How Heavy This Hammer with the playful De Palma-isms of Johnson’s Operation Avalanche (2016) and the empathetic survivor-portraiture of The Stairs, they are all, like Werewolf, Anthropocene,and The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open—and, while we’re at it, Ava, Maison du bonheur (2017), Firecrackers (2018), Wexford Plaza (2017), and the majority of recent Rogers Prize finalists and winners—movies made under the sign of “realism:” minimally scripted, if conventionally “written” at all, and intended as reflections of some real, recognizable world rather than escapes into fictional realms. The one big-money exception: Maddin, Johnson, and Johnson’s dizzying, vertiginous, and altogether brilliant The Forbidden Room (2015), a wonderful entertainment that slots in nicely and concisely alongside such international mega-movies as Arabian Nights (2015)and La Flor (2018)as a celebration of storytelling for its own sweet, Scheherezadean sake.
So again, youth and realism, and yet not a ton of explicit politics outside the crisis of the self—a discontinuity called out by former film critic and current TIFF honcho Cameron Bailey in an attention-getting open letter to the Globe in early 2017. Bailey’s thesis played provocatively with the Canadian cliché of two solitudes, marking a divide not between English and French dialogue but rather the embedded social conscience of the country’s nonfiction heritage—the much-invoked, Griersonian “Documentary Tradition”—and the perceived precocious insularity of certain emerging festival-circuit favourites, never named but gestured towards in diplomatic language. “In Canada,” Bailey wrote, “our films live in separate worlds…our documentaries tackle climate change, indigenous rights, urban poverty and other pressing social issues…[while] our fiction films…tend towards the personal…as a result, the stereotypical Canadian feature film is a story of personal alienation.”
Bailey’s cri di coeur received a thoughtful rebuttal in the form of an essay, magnanimously hosted on TIFF’s own website, by Kevan Funk, whose feature debut Hello Destroyer (2017), besides functioning as a grim photo-negative of Mike Dowse’s glove-dropping, box-office busting, sequel-spawning Goon (2011), manifested a story of personal alienation par excellence in the narrative of a minor-league hockey enforcer marinating in a vat of toxic masculinity. It was a movie that Don Cherry would give two thumbs down, and worth a thumbs up for that. Funk was not just sticking up for himself and the idea that the personal is always implicitly political, but that the group of movies being impugned for solipsism represented a detour away from an “incentivized path to mediocrity.” “I can speak from experience, at length, about the radical disinterest that Canadian distributors and broadcasters generally have for the type of films you’re appealing to filmmakers to make,” he wrote. “The same indifference exists, to a more relative degree, within the nation’s cultural funding bodies.” (Funk might have added specific critics to his hitlist: I still wince recalling the Globe and Mail stringer who, capsule-reviewing Hello Destroyer, opined that the film’s lighting was too low, and that next time he’d like to “see more of the film and less of the director’s personal style.”)
The public discourse between the director of the country’s (and the continent’s) biggest film festival and a young(ish) filmmaker who recently had been programmed there was polite, articulate, and, in true Canadian fashion, only really polarized by a few degrees. Bailey’s piece already did due diligence in implicating “film schools, funders, distributors, festivals, and critics” in the purported malaise of navel-gazing cinema, while Funk agreed—I think earnestly and in good faith—that the kinds of diverse (in all senses of the word) narratives Bailey was looking to see made and celebrated were indeed scarce, and in need of institutional encouragement. In a way, their arguments were the same: that “Canadian cinema” as some unified yet nebulous entity was not all that it could be, struggling at the mercy of eternal, external factors like geographic proximity to the US, and in need of original creative voices, as well as champions who could sign cheques or write under bylines to amplify them.
“Follow the money,” rasps Hal Holbrook’s Deep Throat in All the President’s Men (1976), the kind of propulsive, principled political thriller that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore in the Age of Trump (except, weirdly, for Todd Haynes) and which Canada has never made at all prior to Run This Town. (Three years later, Holbrook was promoted to Commander-in-Chief for the schlocky, Toronto-shot The Kidnapping of the President ). In Pakula’s muckraking, All-American masterpiece, that prophecy means that graft goes all the way to the top; in terms of the trickle-down economics of Canadian cinema, it’s a phrase to explain the phenomenon that Bailey and Funk came at from their opposite angles and differently elevated film-cultural vantage points. If a lot of vital, acclaimed new Canadian features seem like small-scale personal studies, it’s because that’s what young filmmakers can afford while literally mortgaging their futures on credit cards (theirs or their parents’) or else scraping together some combination of civic or provincial arts-council funding and internet hat-passing.
In a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan, it was Matt Johnson—a self-styled, self-funded prankster whose Toronto-shot web series Nirvanna the Band the Show possessed zero socially redeeming value unless you believe being funny is a public good (which it is)—who ended up plunging deepest into the institutional fray, first flipping TIFF off for the perceived slight of not programming his Kevin Smith-approved school-shooting comedy The Dirties (2013)and slagging Telefilm for its fealty to enfeebled older-guard auteurs before being hired by the latter to devise and execute their cross-country, micro-budget “Talent to Watch” funding initiative, which threw several million dollars at filmmakers whose sole true prerequisite was a lack of experience. Having served on the first Talent to Watch jury, I can report that many of the young, untested, and theoretically promising applicants were indeed peddling stories of the sort hypothetically desired by Bailey—and that even if their Pinterest-style production mood boards were full of Denis Villeneuve rather than Denis Côté, the impetus for positive change exists in the hearts of aspiring artists. But when the dozens of conspicuously little movies kick-started by Talent to Watch come home to roost, what will they look like, what festivals will play them, and will anybody go to see them—meaning will they ultimately be distributed on a platform other than protected Vimeo link to programmers already deluged by submissions?
The issue of whether or not Canadians want to watch Canadian movies is long-standing and mortifying: go back to the pages of Cinema Canada in the ’70s to read anguished articles about the lack of national distribution for movies funded by the earliest incarnation of the CFDC. Recall also that in the early 2000s, Telefilm’s rallying cry under a cost-conscious Conservative federal government was for homegrown features—meaning by and large titles bearing their imprimatur—to command five percent of the national box office, a piddling figure made more embarrassing by the fact that it was and still never has been attained, even in spite of the glossy, self-consciously commercial ventures that followed in its wake. Could any title be more concisely, accidentally, damningly critical of such callow, mercenary plans as Foolproof (2003)? If one reason that we still hold the films and filmmakers of the Toronto New Wave in such high regard is that people actually paid money to see them in movie theatres, it’s not as if even these good old days were filled with giant hits; it was more, probably, that the landscape was smaller and the discourse narrower, so that a couple of Oscar nominations for The Sweet Hereafter (1997) registered as a seismic event. And while it’s possible to draw a line from Egoyan’s chilly, formalist critique of snow-capped small-town tragedy, grief, and paranoia to Hello Destroyer—or from I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987) to MS Slavic 7 or the comfy bourgeois satires of Denys Arcand to the scorched-earth activism in SimonLavoie and Mathieu Denis’ Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau (2016)—the fact is that the newer crop are even less visible or viable to a mainstream audience. That’s even true in Québec, where local productions at least have a fighting chance, but the subsidies for and successes of more commercial, genre titles still leaves arthouse-style directors comparatively imperiled.
To continue with politics—and stay in Québec— Ceux qui font les révolutions now looks, at least to me, like one of the more impressive French-language titles in a strong decade, less accessible (and superior to) Denis’ October Crisis-themed Corbo (2014), which succumbed a bit to period-piece stiffness where the more contemporary parable of activist ardour and narcissism smartly explored and exploited present-tense, post-Occupy semiotics. Lavoie and Denis’ incendiary view of off-the-grid rebellion in a French-language context would make a swell double bill with Philippe Falardeau’s more genteel, incisive, bilingual Harper-era satire My Internship in Canada (2015), which centered on an idealistic Haitian interloper who breathlessly narrates a series of Parliament Hill machinations to the folks back home, at once kidding and catalyzing the possibility that Canada can produce exciting, US-style political theatre. In 2011, Falardeau dined out on the Oscar-nominated pedagogical fable Monsieur Lazhar, which also dealt with the Canadian immigrant experience and would probably make any roll call of the decade’s most polished Québécois films, alongside solid, distinctive work from (of course) Denis Côté, Anne Émond (especially 2015’s very moving, Assayas-ish Les êtres chers), Philippe Lesage (whose work I wrote about in Cinema Scope 76), Maxime Giroux, Chloe Robichaud, and turn-of-the-century discovery Stéphane Lafleur, represented by the excellently deadpan black-and-white comedy Tu dors Nicole (2014).
Looking eastward and westward, a few of the most crucial films and figures have been mentioned already but bear repeating. Exhibit A: for The New Yorker’s taste-making Richard Brody to place his seal of approval on Werewolf—praising Ashley McKenzie’s superb junkies-in-love debut in rapturous terms usually reserved for Joe Swanberg—was a rare case of high-end American critical interest in a non-brand name Canadian feature, and there have been stirrings of similarly tough-minded, idiosyncratic indies emanating from those same rocky outcroppings: Winston De Giobbi’s Mass for Shut-Ins (2017); Seth A. Smith’s The Crescent (2017); Heather Young’s Murmur (2019); more to come. On the other coast, Hollywood Northwest didn’t yield as many notable efforts as one might expect, although it ended the decade with a hell of a double whammy: Helen Haig-Brown and Gwaii Edenshaw’s Edge of the Knife (2018) and The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, two co-directed, Indigenous-authored and -themed films that separately and together collapse the difference between past and present, pastoral and urban, and myth and realism while fulfilling Bailey’s mandate. Deliberately evoking no less than Edward S. Curtis’ 1913 travelogue In the Land of the Headhunters—a flawed primal scene of ethnographic cinema predating even Nanook of the North (1922)—Edge draws on Haida legend to mount a vision-quest-slash-backwoods-chase-movie to shame The Revenant (2015), ending up close to the visceral mythicism of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001), an inescapable point of comparison given Zacharias Kunuk’s producer credit. (Kunuk’s decade highpoint was probably his frostbitten 2016 remake of The Searchers, which was actually less explicitly critical of its John Ford source material than Quentin Tarantino was while making press rounds for Django Unchained .)
The tonal whiplash of Edge of the Knife—its exciting oscillation between intense fraternal melodrama, startling violence, and tossed-off humour—is contrasted by the bristling, mournful control of The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, which, at the risk of hyperbole, surely ranks among the most perfectly realized Canadian features of the decade. Shot by Norm Li on a 16mm camera via a series of unbroken, handheld shots, its style is exactly as good an argument for long-take, real-time cinema as the Oscar-winning stunts of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu or Sam Mendes are bad ones. The point here is not bicep-flexing showmanship or even some much-vaunted “immersion” as much as intimacy, which perfectly serves this story of two very differently situated Indigenous women (played by Tailfeathers and Violet Nelson) who meet on the street in Vancouver on separate trajectories a few minutes in and end up travelling and talking together for the remainder of the running time. It’s a beautifully choreographed, fantastically well-acted two-hander that addresses specific, granular realities of its featured city and community without sacrificing any compelling universal entry points. In interviews, the filmmakers referenced the give-and-take nature of their collaboration—the division (if not compartmentalization) of technical, dramatic, and cultural components—resulting in something like a utopian artistic space riddled with non-utopian images and ideas about flawed systems, imperfect people, presumptuous judgements, and good intentions gone bad: a world broken open, all the better to invite us in.
Coming in just under the wire in 2019, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open is a viable candidate for Canadian canonization on both formal and representational grounds: by the time TIFF does its next all-time poll, expect it to receive more than a few votes. On that note, the futility of trying to name the best films of all time from any country is emphasized by how hard it is to even cover a single decade comprehensively, and rather than paper over my blind spots, I’ll state them directly. Despite having privileged access to a wide array of festivals and viewing platforms, I’ve not considered as many Indigenous features and shorts as I should have here. And while it’s not for a lack of wanting to, I’m less engaged with experimental material than I was ten years ago, although many of the features I’d consider putting on a hypothetical best-of-decade list are tilted in that direction, from Andrea Bussmann’s docufictional double-shot of Tales of Two Who Dreamt (2016, made in collaboration with Pereda) and Fausto (2018) and Luo Li’s beguiling, sui generis Emperor Visits the Hell (2013) and Li Wen at East Lake (2016) to Isiah Medina’s montage-driven, fully avant-garde 88:88 (2015) and the collected perceptual exercises of Blake Williams, who, like a lot of filmmakers mentioned above and throughout this piece, exists for me somewhere on a continuum between personal acquaintance and friend. Ditto Lina Rodriguez, Igor Drljaca, Amar Wala, and my former director Antoine Bourges, who are probably better grouped (along with Li, Pereda, Shin, and others) as filmmakers whose birthplaces and/or ethnicities and/or funding sources/shooting locations complicate the already vague baseline concept of a “Canadian filmmaker.” “I don’t know where I fit,” said the Colombian-born Rodriguez in a 2017 interview with Kiva Reardon. “And I kind of like it like that.”
I should make room for a few other favourites, including worthy works by directors I’m otherwise cool on. For instance, I much preferred Jeff Barnaby’s brief, savage, proto-Get Out dystopian short File Under Miscellaneous (2010)—about a Mi’kmaq man who undergoes surgery to become white in a dystopian future—to his heralded Residential schools revenge narrative Rhymes For Young Ghouls (2014), a movie many others cited as an auspicious debut. I haven’t kept up with Stella Meghie after Jean of the Joneses (2016), but she’s evidently made it in the States and stands as a potential case study in commercial success. I’ve picked on Atom Egoyan’s late output, and yet I can’t help but be interested—and intermittently sympathetic to—baroquely structured fables like Remember (2015) and the much-derided Guest of Honour (2019), a movie that, contrathe trendy hybridity practiced by the new kids on the block, expresses its maker’s faith in the principles and possibilities of narrative as a restless, ever-shifting experiment in architecture, and makes better symbolic use of bunnies than Jordan Peele’s Us (2019).
Speaking of scary movies: in the absence of a true classic of aughts-vintage like Ginger Snaps (2000), I’ll give it up for the skilfully engineered shocks of Adam McDonald’s grizzly-bear attack thriller Backcountry (2013) and witchcrafty Pyewacket (2017), and the collected retro-chintzy ephemera of the lo-fi Astron 6 collective, especially The Void (2016), with its marvellous Carpenter-style creature FX and Cronenberg-nodding cameo by Art Hindle. Creepiest of all, though, is (full disclosure alert: another friend) Victoria-born Sophy Romvari’s 2017 short Pumpkin Movie, a homemade companion piece to Unfriended (2014) featuring the filmmaker swapping harrowing tales of everyday misogyny with a friend via Skype during a mutual jack-o’-lantern carving session. As in her other smartly executed shorts, Romvari’s static web-camera set-ups foreground their own rigour while gently sending up genre conventions (the long knives in the characters’ hands are a nice touch). In its glancing way, Pumpkin Movie considers the meaning of stories we tell at least as affectingly as Stories We Tell (2013) and cuts to the heart of contemporary fears as deeply as the best horror movies are meant to. What was I saying about the new flesh?