By Paloma Pacheco
Altered States has been a staple of VIFF’s programming for the past four years, showcasing genre films that run the gamut from edge-of-your-seat horror to biting satire, and a whole lot of fun and weirdness between. Now entering its fifth year, the series has expanded from its traditional late-night slots to include some earlier screenings, reflecting the diversity of programming that now shapes it.
Here are five Altered States films not to be missed at the festival this year:
Director Seth Smith’s second feature film promises to be one of the highlights of the Altered States showcase this year. A “Maritime Gothic” tale about a mother and her toddler son who retreat to an isolated Nova Scotia beach house after a traumatic loss, and who are assailed by an increasingly creepy outside world. The film boasts an impressive array of practical effects and a visual aesthetic that looks to be an intriguing mix of both minimalist black-and-white cinematography and 70s-inspired psychedelia. VIFF Associate Director of Programming and Altered States series programmer Curtis Woloschuk has described The Crescent as a “truly singular film”, with “astonishingly beautiful” visuals, and one of the best performances he’s seen by a toddler on celluloid. We can’t wait to take it in on the big screen.
Billed as “Heathers-meets-Scream for the Instagram era,” Tragedy Girls may just be the blood-and-guts social media satire you never knew you needed. Sadie and McKayla are two Midwestern teens who, like most others high schoolers, are desperate to be liked. As is the way, they turn to their social media accounts to attempt to boost their popularity… by reporting on a local spat of gory murders that they themselves are perpetrating. Mix in a whole lot of gristle with some acerbic wit and biting social commentary, and Calgary-native Tyler MacIntyre’s movie has all the makings of many cult classics that have come before it.
Written, directed by and starring Scottish-American actor Marianna Palka (whom you may recognize from roles on Netflix’s GLOW, or as Jessa’s half-sister on Girls), Bitch has been described as a cutting satire of domesticity and traditional gender roles, as well as a family drama and horror film—yes, please! Jill (Palka) is a wife and mother whose psyche has been torn apart by the demands of her family. Finally pushed over the edge, she retreats to the basement of her home, where her feral instincts and repressed rage are given full reign. Co-starring Jason Ritter as Jill’s meek and fish-out-of-water husband, Bitch has been hailed by Screen Anarchy magazine as a “hilarious and vicious bite at the patriarchy” (maybe literally?). A crowd favourite at many of the festivals it has shown at, our bet is that it will go over well with VIFF crowds.
Altered States programmer Curtis Woloschuk sold this one when he began describing it with “anyone who is feeling a withdrawal after Twin Peaks finished up…” Described by Woloschuk as “Lynchian in its time loops and doppelgängers” and “an odd but also lyrically beautiful film,” Animals also gives a nod to everything from Roman Polanski to Lars Von Trier and Hitchcock himself. The story follows a couple that set off for a vacation in the Swiss Alps only to have things go awry after a fateful collision with a sheep on the highway. Director Greg Zglinski was a disciple of the late art-house filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski, so this film promises to be as aesthetically pleasing as it is knuckle-bitingly terrifying.
American director Ryan Prow’s Lowlife trailer just about sums it up in four words: “Monsters. Fiends. Thugs. Lowlife”. This film doesn’t look to be for the faint of heart. Described as akin to early Tarantino fare in its commitment to no-holds-barred bloody carnage and full-throated vengeance, Lowlife appears to revel in its “rampant badassery.”A host of colourful, deranged and disgraced characters (a la Tarantino) pepper this feast of interlocking underworld vignettes, including a tainted ex-luchador, and an ex-con with an unfortunate swastika tattooed across his face. Throw in a splash of guns, organ harvesting and human trafficking, and you’ve got yourself a genre film of the best kind. Having wowed audiences at Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, Lowlife promises to deliver a host of unexpected delights when it screens at VIFF.
Get tickets to any of the films in the Altered States series here.