Horror is relative at Toronto’s Indie Horror Festival

The short film festival opted for suspense and thrills over guts and gore
Experience stress and terror from something besides midterms. DESIGN BY LAURA HENNESSEY, COURTESY OF TORONTO INDIE HORROR FEST
Experience stress and terror from something besides midterms. DESIGN BY LAURA HENNESSEY, COURTESY OF TORONTO INDIE HORROR FEST

Toronto’s Indie Horror Fest was held from November 9–12 and showcased a wide range of interesting short films. Of the eight shown, I was lucky enough to catch a couple films myself. The free festival took place in D-Beatstro, located at 1292 Bloor Street West, which prides itself on being “a community driven vegan cafe and DIY/DIT event space” that offers “art, music, food, treats and coffee.”

The aroma of fresh popcorn and baked treats greeted me at the door of the cinema and provided a cozy and welcoming environment to watch the films. It almost felt like I was at home. The cafe had rows of chairs set facing a projector where the movie was displayed. My friend noted that it definitely had a ‘hipster’ vibe.

The first film I caught was called Good Tidings. Luckily, the friends I was meeting with managed to secure three chairs together near the back. Straining our eyes to see the projector screen, we watched the film which is about three psychopaths who, dressed in Santa suits, decide to wreak havoc on a homeless community in an abandoned courthouse.

The trio use the courthouse for a sadistic game bent on hunting homeless residents down and slaughtering them. A war veteran who had been living on the streets is thrust into the chaos and forced to muster up the courage he had kept buried inside.

I thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack throughout the film, especially the ’80s synth-pop reminiscent of indie ’80s Troma films. Pairing holiday cheer with a trio of psychotic slasher-Santas had me merrily shaken to the bone.

I had the opportunity to chat with the film’s writer, Stu Jopia, who also played Curly, one of the three psycho Santas. Jopia chose to create a holiday horror film because “I love the thought of there being an evil Santa Claus,” he said. “And to be honest, there’s something a little weird and terrifying about Santa Claus. He sits off all year deciding who gets presents and who doesn’t. A bit cruel really.”

Jopia was also inspired by the fact that there is just something about that time of year that “makes people want to watch a good horror movie.” I couldn’t have agreed more. The coziness of the holidays mixed with a truly unsettling horror film on the television spelled perfection.

On the overarching theme, Jopia explained that it touches on a deeper issue that plagues our nation today: that of rampant homelessness in our cities during the holidays. “All around the world people suffer at this festive time,” he said. “It’s not all smiles, family, and presents and we in the UK totally understand this and I wanted to weave this story into our own.”

The theme of marginalized individuals during the holidays is prevalent throughout the film. The homeless are seen struggling to defend themselves against the twisted manifestations of holiday cheer.

The next film I saw, Cage, was thrilling and suspenseful. The plot centres on a call-girl who wakes up to find that a client has locked her in a cage. It felt like more of a psychological thriller rather than a traditional horror film but it was terrifying nonetheless.

The premise had me sitting on the edge of my seat for the entire viewing. I especially loved that this was a single-cast film. This kind of approach can sometimes be intimidating for viewers, but Cage pulled it off. There was never a moment when I felt there should have been additional roles. The film and story were presented beautifully.

Speaking with director Warren Dudley, he said that his inspiration came from “wanting to create something cinematic and beautiful” despite their small budget. On the creative process of the film, he said: “Initially the girl was going to be held captive in a basement room but quite late in the day we came up with the idea of a cage [which] made lighting and camera work so much more interesting.”

Dudley agreed that the film does not fit into the stereotypical horror movie mould. “I’m not sure Cage is really a horror film,” he said. “I think a viewer expecting blood, guts, and jump-scares may be disappointed.” Instead, the effect is that the viewer feels deeply disturbed as the film attempts to infiltrate their psyche using suspenseful tactics.

Due to its success in drawing interest, Toronto Indie Horror Fest will continue being hosted annually. It will also host monthly screenings at D-Beatstro called “Horror Night” which will premiere one feature film and one to two shorts.

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