10 must-see thrillers and horror films at TIFF 2019

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Sure, the Midnight Madness program is known around the world for gathering the wildest, scariest, messiest cinema to Toronto. But it’s not the only program that offers up auteur-driven nightmares; you can find genre works in pretty much every program except TIFF Docs.

Here are 10 genre or genre-adjacent pictures from all over the schedule that I’m especially excited to see. I’ll just note that since Jeff Barnaby’s Indigenous zombie thriller Blood Quantum appears on my Canadian list, it couldn’t be included here… so maybe think about it as the 11th entry.

The Antenna

An apartment complex slides into gruesome chaos after the installation of a new government-mandated satellite dish in Turkish writer/director Orçun Behram’s dystopian debut. Imagine Cronenberg’s Shivers without the sexual component – and with twice the chaos.

Sep 8, 9:30 pm, Scotiabank 4; Sep 10, 9:45 pm, Scotiabank 11; Sep 15, 6:30 pm, Scotiabank 10

Color Out Of Space

The promise of Nicolas Cage in an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation will be enough to most people in the door, but I’m especially excited for this one because it marks the return of writer/director Richard Stanley, who made Hardware and Dust Devil in the early 90s only to see his career derailed by the disaster that was The Island Of Dr. Moreau. I was in the Midnight Madness audience for Hardware all the way back in 1990. I’ll be there for this one, too.

Sep 7, 11:59 pm, Ryerson; Sep 9, 8:30 pm, Scotiabank 12; Sep 14, 5 pm, Scotiabank 12

Entwined

A doctor from the big city relocates to a remote village, where he meets a woman with a strange skin condition that turns her skin into tree bark – and an even stranger secret. Minos Nikolakakis’s debut looks set to tug on the same mythic-realist node as last year’s unforgettable Border, so if that’s your specific jam, grab your tickets now.

Sep 8, 6:15 pm, Scotiabank 10; Sep 10, 5:15 pm, Scotiabank 7; Sep 14, 5:45 pm, Scotiabank 8

The Lighthouse

How do you follow a film as distinctive and unsettling as The Witch? Well, Robert Eggers chose to make another black-and-white period piece, this one starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as 19th century lighthouse keepers dealing with strange phenomena, or possibly just losing their minds. Buzz has been building since Cannes. I am so there.

Sep 7, 9 pm, Ryerson; Sep 8, 7:45 pm, Scotiabank 12

The Long Walk

The latest from Laotian filmmaker Mattie Do (Dearest Sister) appears to mix ghost stories and time travel, dealing with an accidental death that echoes across fifty years of a man’s life. Given Do’s evocative, elliptical storytelling style, it’s probably unfair to call it a genre film… but it seems likely to come pretty close.

Sep 10, 8:45 pm, Scotiabank 8; Sep 11, 4:45 pm, Scotiabank 10; Sep 13, 9 am, AGO

The Other Lamb

There are a number of movies about young women trapped in cult situations at the festival this year, including Semi Chellas’s American Woman and Zaida Bergroth’s Maria’s Paradise, but Cameron Bailey made a point of referencing giallo cinema when describing Malgorzata Szumowska’s English-language debut, starring Raffey Cassidy (Vox Lux) as a girl raised in an all-female society founded by Michiel Huisman’s domineering male spiritual leader. So that sounds promising.

Sep 6, 9:45 pm, TIFF 1; Sep 7, 1:15 pm, Scotiabank 14; Sep 15, 9:45 pm, Scotiabank 10

Resin

Danish director Daniel Joseph Borgman’s latest stars Vivelill Søgaard Holm as a girl who lives an isolated existence with her parents (Peter Plaugbord, Sofie Gråbøl) on a remote island, never engaging with the outside world. Why are they hidden away? What awful things await them beyond their self-imposed borders? And why, exactly, is this film named after a highly viscous substance of plant or synthetic origin? (I have to admit, that last question seems most pertinent.)

Sep 8, 9 pm, Scotiabank 11; Sep 9, 5:45 pm, Scotiabank 9; Sep 14, 4:15 pm, Scotiabank 5

Saint Maud

After a string of memorable short films, British filmmaker Rose Glass’s feature debut is a two-hander starring Morfydd Clark as a somewhat overzealous palliative nurse determined to save the soul of her latest charge (Jennifer Ehle)… even if it kills her. It sounds like a combination of Misery and The Exorcist, and given its Midnight Madness slot, intensity is guaranteed.

Sep 8, 11:59 pm, Ryerson; Sep 10, 10 pm, Scotiabank 4; Sep 15, 1:30 pm, Scotiabank 4

Sea Fever

Having cut her teeth directing episodes of Happy Valley and Jessica Jones, Irish filmmaker Neasa Hardiman makes her feature debut with this waterborne thriller about a young marine biologist (Hermione Corfield) and a married pair of sailors (Connie Nielsen, Dougray Scott) who stumble upon a new lifeform and live to regret it. Or maybe they don’t. These things tend to get messy.

Sep 5, 9:15 pm, Scotiabank 4; Sep 6, 9:45 pm, Scotiabank 11; Sep 14, 7:15 pm, Scotiabank 7

The Vigil

Another Midnight Madness title built on limited spaces and escalating tension, the feature debut of novelist Keith Thomas hunkers down with a young man (Dave Davis) in Brooklyn whose overnight gig as a shomer – a Jewish tradition of watching over a deceased person until funeral preparations can begin – becomes a waking nightmare.

Sep 9, 11:59 pm, Ryerson; Sep 11, 9:30 pm, Scotiabank 4; Sep 15, 4:30 pm, Scotiabank 2

@normwilner