10 must-see thrillers and horror films playing at TIFF 2017

Every program in this year’s festival boasts a streak of weirdness

I’ve always loved thrillers and horror movies genre cinema can liberate a filmmaker, and allow him (or her) to chase an idea to delirious highs or shattering lows. Baroque visuals, achingly tense suspense, cockeyed laughs everything is possible when you’re telling a story that isn’t necessarily bound to the natural world.

Similarly, genre cinema isn’t necessarily bound to Midnight Madness any more. Here are the 10 genre movies I’m most eager to see at TIFF 2017.

The Shape Of Water 

Guillermo Del Toro is one of my favourite artists, and his films – Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim often feel like they were made just for me. His new movie is a period drama about a woman (Sally Hawkins) who forms a kinship with some sort of aquatic gill-man who’s being studied in the laboratory where she works. Also, Michael Shannon is in it. So, yeah. Made just for me.

Sep 11, 9:30 pm, Elgin Sep. 12, 3 pm, Elgin Sep 15, 9 pm, Elgin Sep 17, 6:30 pm, Elgin.


The Cured 

I love a zombie movie with a novel premise – last year’s The Girl With All The Gifts being an excellent example – and this film, set in a world where science has found a way to reverse the process and return the infected to normal, certainly offers that. Ellen Page stars as a woman who welcomes her brother-in-law (Sam Keeley) home after his restoration, only to suspect that he hasn’t come all the way back.

Sep 9, 9 pm, Ryerson Theatre Sep 10, 8:45 pm, Scotiabank 12 Sep 16, 9 pm, Scotiabank 1.


Mom And Dad

There’ve been a number of recent horror movies about kids stalking adults – Ils, The Children, Cooties and so forth – but this year Midnight Madness offers the reverse with Mom And Dad, which imagines a global plague that turns parents against their own children. Now picture that scenario playing out with Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair as the eponymous crazies, and you’ve got yourself a party. (Director Brian Taylor last collaborated with Cage on Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, so let’s hope they find a better tone this time around.)

Sep 9, 11:59 pm, Ryerson Sep 10, 10:15 pm, Scotiabank 2 Sep 16, 9:15 pm, Scotiabank 13.



I am led to understand that Darren Aronofsky’s new movie (a) stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as suburbanites whose home is invaded by strange people one night and (b) is some sort of stealth reworking of an acknowledged genre classic. I’m doing my best to avoid learning anything else about it, because why would I want it spoiled?

Sep 10, 9:15 pm, Princess Of Wales Sep 11, 11:30 am, Elgin Sep 13, 9:30 pm, Princess Of Wales.


Vampire Clay

“Japanese director and master makeup artist Soichi Umezawa gives life to a plasticine demon that subsequently devours the denizens of a rural art school.” Honestly, guys, you had me at “plasticine demon.”

Sep 16, 11:59 pm, Ryerson Sep 17, 6 pm, Scotiabank 13.



One of two period dramas at TIFF focusing on young siblings in spooky old houses, Marrowbone marks the directorial debut of Sergio G. Sánchez, who wrote The Orphanage and The Impossible for director J.A. Bayona. The cast includes The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy, Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton and A Cure For Wellness’ Mia Goth, and I’m intrigued by Sánchez getting the chance to make an Old Dark House movie of his own.

Sep 14, 6 pm, Ryerson Sep 15, 3:15 pm, Scotiabank 1 Sep 17, 12:15 pm, Scotiabank 2.


The Lodgers

The other Old Dark House movie – set in Ireland in the 1920s – stars Charlotte Vega and Bill Milner as twins living under a curse: they must be in bed by midnight, they can’t allow outsiders into their remote mansion, and if one of them ever attempts to flee, the other will die. It just better not turn out they were dead all along, is all I’m saying.

Sep 8, 7:15 pm, Scotiabank 4 Sep 9, 4:15 pm, Scotiabank 3 Sep 15, 3 pm, Scotiabank 11.



Paco Plaza, co-creator of the [Rec] cycle, goes solo for the first time in a while with a thriller about a troubled teen (Sandra Escacena) whose well-meaning experiments with a Ouija board lead to a spiritual crisis of the non-metaphorical kind. The Contemporary World Cinema slot suggests a more slow-burning horror than the frenetic [Rec] films… but that doesn’t have to be a negative.

Sep 8, 10 pm, Scotiabank 2 Sep 10, 9:45 pm, Scotiabank 10 Sep 17, 6:45 pm, Scotiabank 11.


Valley Of Shadows 

In a little Norwegian village, a young boy sets out to find the monster he believes is eating his sheep – a premise that could play out as a fable or a nightmare. I’m curious to find out which path first-time director Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen has chosen for his Scandinavian Gothic drama.

Sep 8, 9:45 pm, Scotiabank 14 Sep 10. 11:15 am, AGO Sep 15, 8:30 pm, Scotiabank 8.



Six young people are pinned down on a lonely stretch of road by a sniper in Ryuhei Kitamura’s new thriller, which – if his previous Versus, The Midnight Meat Train and No One Lives are anything to go by – will be very vivid, very bloody and very much made for a Midnight Madness audience.

Sep 15, 11:59 pm, Ryerson Sep 16, 11:45 am, Scotiabank 13 Sep 17, 3:45 pm, Scotiabank 11.

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