Dec. 6–9, at the Projection Booth East. (1035 Gerrard St. E.)
Aiming for a slightly trippier vibe than the Toronto After Dark horror and sci-fi fest, the first Monsters and Martians International Film Festival arrives at the Projection Booth East with an ambitious if uneven selection of genre fare, including a variety of shorts and international features receiving local premieres. A thriftily produced American science-fiction film, The Last Push (Dec. 7, 7 p.m.) deliberately courts comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its story involves a privately funded space shuttle mission to Jupiter, where whale-like creatures have been detected swimming under sheets of ice. But director Eric Hayden smartly downscales the scenario by focusing on a lone astronaut (Khary Payton) who becomes isolated in a cramped “habitation module” following the ship’s collision with a meteorite.
The result is a film that feels like a deep-space gloss on Buried, except that instead of being trapped underground, the protagonist is floating through the gargantuan expanse of the solar system. Hayden, who has a background in visual effects work, smartly hides the seams of his threadbare production values. It’s hard, though, to disguise the fact that the film is made up almost exclusively of downtime. Some viewers may find themselves chomping at the bit even more ferociously than Payton’s increasingly desperate character.
A more dynamic example of micro-budget engineering can be found in Andrew Leman’s The Call of Cthulhu (Dec. 8, 9 p.m.), a genuine genre curio that finally gets its Toronto premiere seven years after its initial release in 2005. Cobbled together for $50,000 by members of an historical society from Los Angeles devoted to horror/fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft, the film hijacks the tropes of silent cinema to adapt his best-known short story. The received wisdom about Lovecraft’s writing is that its combination of intimate psychology and apocalyptically huge monsters rendered it “unfilmable,” but Leman’s ingenious visuals create just the right surreally stylized atmosphere. The film splits the difference between campiness and creepiness—a two-toned approach that some much bigger-name horror filmmakers would do well