Notes from Toronto After Dark: Poor Agnes, The Endless & Tragedy Girls

With Toronto After Dark sliding into its final days, it’s important to make the most of your final film choices. See them all, if you can! But if you need to be choosy in your selections, here are my recommendations for the final three days.

WEDNESDAY

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Tonight, TAD will be screening Navin Ramaswaran’s Poor Agnes (2017), a Canadian serial killer drama about the rarest of true crime unicorns, the female psychopath and sadistic serial killer. Filmed in a naturalistic style, Poor Agnes focuses particularly on the relationship that forms between Agnes, the eponymous murderer, and a hapless victim that she decides to keep for a while. If you’re looking for deadly mind games played out in a dank basement, then Poor Agnes is an excellent choice for your Wednesday evening.

It’s refreshing to see a portrayal of a female killer that isn’t overtly sexualized or filmed for the male gaze. While sexuality is certainly one of the tools that Agnes uses to manipulate her victims, it’s done on her own terms and often dispassionately — it is purposeful and the scenes are not filmed for titillation. The only time we see an expression of anything close to passion on Agnes’s face, it’s when she is dispatching an early victim — she clearly loves her work.

The look inside of the mind of a psychopath is always fascinating to me — Agnes’s attempts at rationalizing her behaviour are more complex and unpredictable than those of Dexter Morgan, our most popular mainstream psychopath. Lora Burke captures the disturbingly empty and narcissistic psyche of the sadist with a unsettling éclat. When baiting the trap, she can be charming and persuasive, even as the discerning viewer can sense an unsettling lack behind her smile. But when the mask drops, she becomes a terrifying and ruthless force, sure to unnerve even the most seasoned horror viewer. Bravo to Ms. Burke for creating a convincingly soulless killing machine while still keeping her compelling. Robert Notman turns in an effective and sympathetic performance as her victim Mike, who must make some difficult decisions of his own.

Much of the film can be read as an intimate exploration of domestic violence, addressing both the cycle of abuse and Stockholm Syndrome. Even without the serial killing element, the film would be a strong character study and domestic drama. The final 30 minutes are particularly gripping in this regard.

Poor Agnes is screening tonight at 9:30, following the low-budget but stylish Game of Death.

THURSDAY

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The Endless (2017) is the third effort by two-man filmmaking dream team Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (Resolution, Spring). This inventive and suspenseful SF/horror hybrid centres on a pair of brothers (played by Benson and Moorhead) who, after escaping from a “UFO death cult” called Camp Arcadia 10 years prior, are dissatisfied with their lives as poverty-stricken house cleaners. When one brother starts to romanticize their former cult life and wonder if life would have been better had they stayed, they return for a visit, only to discover that the group’s bizarre beliefs may not have been so crazy after all. The story takes several unexpected turns as the two try to both solve the mystery that draws them to this place and to reconnect with one another. The script is often laugh-out-loud funny and the charismatic performances are an effective anchor within some increasingly bizarre world-building.

My full review of The Endless can be read here (I had the great pleasure of seeing it at this year’s Fantasia Festival, where it was one of my top picks). The Endless screens Thursday at 9:30 following Lowlife at 7:00 (Michelle’s review of Lowlife is coming soon!), and will feature a Q&A from the writer/director team of Moorhead and Benson.

FRIDAY

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Tragedy Girls (2017) is a deliciously sharp horror-comedy that takes aim at the narcissism of the social media generation, centring on two engaging female antiheroes with incredible chemistry. Would you turn to killing in order to boost your Twitter audience and clout? The Tragedy Girls sure would, and the result is a riotous and stylish carnival of blood, gore, and witty one-liners delivered with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

I was able to catch Tragedy Girls recently at Salem Horror Fest, and you can read my full review here. While the earlier screening is now sold out, there are still tickets to the midnight screening available! Don’t sleep on this one!

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