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Montreal Dead End
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by Jay Seaver

"Happily homemade horror."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I enjoy that "Montréal Dead End" opens near Berri-UQAM, near the bus station where I arrive for the city's Fantasia International Film Festival every year. This is, obviously, a complete coincidence, because as with much of what is produced by Québéc's film industry, it is an intensely local product, filled with references that may befuddle first-time tourists and probably don't travel well. But while a tale zombies, ghosts, and other horrors may seem like an odd love-letter to one's home town, there's a certain charm to it that transcends its DIY nature.

And, make no mistake, Montréal Dead End is very do-it-yourself project, with most of its 18 directors being credited with a few shorts prior to this feature, and clear limitations on budget and other resources. For the most part, the filmmakers choose stories that can be executed under those sorts of constraints, and there's some good work on showing the Montréal city-scape with mysterious green smoke hanging over it, but by and large this looks like the work of resourceful enthusiasts, rather than professionals working on a labor of love.

It gives the filmmakers a lot of freedom to do whatever they want, and the pieces where the filmmakers are free to get kind of loopy and play things out are often the best. I particularly enjoyed the ones about a girl and her jealous boyfriend who find themselves suddenly exchanging bodies in La Parc La Fontaine, an intern finding himself pulled into an alternate history when his boss takes him to a secret bar in Centre-Ville, zombies whose culinary tastes require more than raw flesh in Mile End, another cook who sees his food fight back near Marché Atwater, and a tour guide who learns more about Le Vieux Montréal than she wants to know. Most of them are simple ideas, but the filmmakers find entertaining twists on them and make good use of the framework given, creating a situation where anything can happen, but it is not necessarily tied to anything else in a meaningful way. It's a loose, but thoroughly effective anthology format.

Indeed, the film is at its weakest when it does take on its mythology; the film regularly returns to a First-Nations "Guardian" trying to collect a book of prophecies to fight against various "pro-apocalyptic" factions trying to incarnate a demon of some sort. Maybe it resonates for locals, but it often plays as brief stops designed to get as many neighborhoods as possible into the film for us outsiders, a generic sort of horror narrative that only references its setting in asides rather than tying the other threads together or saying some more basic thing about the city and the history that lurks beneath it.

Several of the other segments feel a bit vague or incomplete as well, and it makes me a bit curious about how the film came to be twelve segments (with all the "Guardian" ones combined per the credits) in 86 minutes, giving each filmmaker roughly seven minutes to work with - was it an intended constraint or the result of pulling a bunch of do-it-yourself projects together? For each that tells a complete story, there's one that feels like a piece of a larger work or something not fully-fleshed out, although that's not always a problem: The first stand-alone bit on Le Mont Royal is a solid-enough set piece that it could have a movie of its own built around it, and a ghost story in Ville Saint-Laurent works in large part because of its mystery (coincidentally or not, those two also hit similar beats and feel connected).

Besides, whether "Montréal Dead End" is some sort of broadly, "objectively" impressive story misses the point a bit - it's a project that is as much about getting people to make movies as getting people into a theater, and amusing its home audience is clearly far more important to them than having out-of-town critics (even those of us who love our visits) call the film some sort of masterpiece. It's fun, it's local, and making it an event may get some of the folks involved a chance to move up to the next level if that's what they're looking to do.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32400&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/02/18 02:56:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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