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It’s been a crazy month so far. Two days after returning from the glorious Salem Horror Fest, I’ve been thrust back into festival life for Toronto After Dark, the city’s premier horror and SF celebration, featuring nine nights of incredible new short and feature-length genre films.

So, obviously, I’m not complaining.

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I eased my way into the mouth of madness by taking in the opening night gala selection, My Friend Dahmer (2017). Marc Meyers’s fascinating new biopic of infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was based on the graphic memoir by Derf Backderf. Disney darling Ross Lynch takes a decided departure from his previous wholesome roles by delivering a shockingly excellent and discomfiting performance as the teenage Jeffrey Dahmer in this intense and intimate exploration of his adolescent years.

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Through examining the dysfunctional family dynamics and social milieu in which Dahmer came of age, the film works to illuminate the complexity that lies behind the simplistic dichotomy of nature v. nurture often structuring discussions about how serial killers come to be. Powerhouse performances by Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts as Dahmer’s parents contribute to a heartbreakingly realistic portrayal of familial breakdown — the mirrored physicality of Roberts and Lynch is particularly poignant and fantastic work. Alex Wolff and Tommy Nelson are strong in the roles of Derf and Neil, friends of Dahmer who unintentionally contribute to his downward spiral. My Friend Dahmer is an unexpectedly beautiful film, a work of art that demonstrates a degree of empathy to its subject without excusing or glossing over his repugnant crimes. I highly recommend seeing it in theatres upon its release on November 3rd.

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Cult of Chucky (2017), my second screening of the festival, is decidedly lighter fare (though it still packs a wallop when it wants to). Gorgeously shot with exquisite care, Cult of Chucky is an extraordinarily good-looking film, even (or maybe especially) in its goriest scenes, of which there are a few. Fans of the series will be thrilled with the number of cameo appearances and familiar faces, but I won’t be the one to spoil them for you! Fiona Dourif returns as the resourceful and determined Nica Pierce, the role she originated in the previous instalment Curse of Chucky. This time around, Nica is being held in a psychiatric hospital and being treated for her schizophrenic delusions about a killer doll named Chucky. A Good Guy doll is delivered to the hospital and (beautifully lit) slasher hijinks ensue.

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Cult of Chucky is a film that celebrates queerness through normalizing, rather than sensationalizing. Horror, and mainstream film in general, need to feature more gay characters whose sexuality is just one aspect of their multifaceted lives and backstories. More people with disabilities who enjoy healthy sexual lives, without being fetishized or victimized. More characters whose gender identities and expressions fall outside of restrictive and heteronormative binaries and expectations. More people of colour in leading roles. In short, we need more representations of real people. The diverse cast and progressive characters deserve praise (although I’m not sure why Nurse Ashley needed to wear a mini-dress throughout. At the very least, it seems outrageously impractical for her profession). 

Cult of Chucky is now available for streaming on Netflix, and the unrated version is available for purchase on DVD and blu-ray.