Toronto After Dark 2015: ‘Tales of Halloween’ and ‘Synchronicity’

Tales of Halloween (DIR. Darren Lynn Bousman, Axelle Carolyn, Adam Gierasch, Andrew Kasch, Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Mike Mendez, Dave Parker, Ryan Schifrin, John Skipp, Paul Solet)


By: Shahbaz Khayambashi

Let me get two simple facts out of the way: I love horror anthology films and, even with this love, I can easily admit that there are very few truly good ones out there.  They do exist, but for the most part, horror anthology films fall into two categories: half-good and disappointing.

Tales of Halloween, the new horror anthology which is comprised of ten short films which all take place on Halloween, firmly falls into the half-positive category, because the good films are absolutely great!  The film, as a whole, has many problems: the stories share little to no connections, making me wonder why these shorts were even packaged into a feature when some of them work so well on their own.  Furthermore, many of the stories don’t really include much in the way of plot;  they’re perfect examples of “this is a thing that happened” tales, where point A leads to point B and that is it.

Despite the shortcomings of the feature, Tales of Halloween can still be appreciated if it is looked at as a program of shorts.  Some of the highlights include Axelle Carolyn’s atmospheric and gothic “Grim Grinning Ghost” (a legend of a woman’s ghost who plucks out your eyes if you turn around to look at her), Andrew Kasch and John Skip’s modern day retelling of Norman McLaren’s Neighbours, “This Means War”, Adam Gierasch’s psychologically complex “Trick”, and Mike Mendez’s irreverent, multi-genre “Friday the 31st“.  The segments by Paul Solet, Darren Lynn Bousman and, unfortunately, Lucky McKee, would be better to forget.

And, I would be remiss if I did not mention the saviour of modern day horror, Neil Marshall and his segment, which did its best to hold the whole feature together with call backs to earlier segments and other films – making the biggest impact with the silliest premise.  Leaving behind his serious roots present in films like The Descent, Marshall goes all out into nonsense with this tale of a killer Jack-o-lantern which goes on a killing spree on Halloween.  In anyone else’s hands, this may have been absolutely absurd;  in the hands of Marshall, it is an absolute good time full of hilarious jokes and gruesome imagery (like a child being consumed whole by a pumpkin) which almost saves an uneven film.  There was certainly a reason why it appeared right at the end.


Synchronicity (DIR. Jacob Gentry)


By: Shahbaz Khayambashi

Synchronicity starts off looking like something unique, but that facade unravels within minutes of its beginning and continues to fall apart, revealing the same old story once again;  I have never seen a film before that better exemplifies the concept of paint-by-numbers.

The latest work by festival alumnus Jacob Gentry follows a group of scientists as they attempt to complete an experiment whose results could hold the key to time travel.  Along the way, our hero finds an arch enemy, a femme fatale and lots of neo-noir pastiche, while the director fails again and again at creating a low-budget Blade Runner.  On top of that, it commits the ultimate sci-fi sin: it’s exceedingly boring;  I have seen a lot of time travel films and, as such, I have seen a lot of bad time travel films, but never before have I wanted a film to end this badly!

The film is not without merit: the screenplay frequently has hints of genius, particularly in the ways it deals with temporality, as the hero travels in time and ties up a variety of loose ends for the audience (these scenes may have worked brilliantly in a comedic short).  Unfortunately, none of the people involved seem to know how to work with those moments.  The music seems insipid at the best of times, the set design is charmless and the majority of the actors cannot speak the scientific dialogue without sounding like they are reciting Shakespeare in a foreign dialect.  Perhaps I would not have hated the film so much if it did not waste a very interesting concept (as well as the talents of Michael Ironside) in favour of shoehorning in ill-fitting neo-noir elements, but as it stands, Synchronicity is an unpleasant mess that could have been so much more.


For more information on the festival, visit the official TAD webpage here.

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Toronto After Dark: @TADFilmFest
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