It’s been a long and arduous festival season — TIFF Midnight Madness, Salem Horror Fest, Toronto After Dark, Toronto Indie Horror Fest, and now the Blood in the Snow Film Festival, affectionately known as BiTS. (The Bloody Mary Film Festival is also upcoming — stay tuned for our coverage at the end of the month.)
Not that I’m complaining!
Each festival holds a special place in my heart for different reasons — Toronto’s BiTS is noteworthy for showcasing the works of outstanding independent Canadian genre filmmakers. Without further ado, let’s assist them in that mission.
Red Spring (2017)
The Walking Dead meets I Am Legend, Red Spring is an under-the-radar gem that belongs on any indie horror fan’s To Watch list, boasting satisfying character development and a strong, full-blooded script. The film was written and directed by Jeff Sinasac, who also plays the leading role of Ray in a low-key but effective performance.
The film follows a group of survivors struggling to out-run and out-strategize the horde of vampires who have taken over most of the world. The film doesn’t devote any of its precious run-time to investigating the source of the infection or any self-indulgent philosophizing about the infection as a self-perpetuated punishment for human ills — Red Spring is a simple, down-and-dirty, bloody vampire romp with a compelling narrative and excellent performances that more than offset the very occasional (and entirely forgivable) cheesiness of the low-budget special effects.
While the film opens in downtown Toronto (represent!), the action very quickly moves out of the city as our ragtag band of survivors searches for safer pastures, eventually winding up in rural Kincardine after a thrilling rescue mission adds a new player to their party. This deceptively bucolic setting provides a perfect juxtaposition to the bloodshed to come.
While, at first, the group exhibits the same level of conflict that you could anticipate in any survival situation between a group of complete strangers, as the film progresses the characters settle into an easy and respectful camaraderie. The team never quite transforms into a well-oiled machine, but that is to the benefit of the audience who are able to enjoy several spirited strategizing sessions between the strong-willed characters. The group features tough and competent women, which I always greatly appreciate, and the dialogue is imbued with gentle humour throughout — particularly in the lovable character of Carlos (Jonathan Robbins). A series of scenes involving a recording of a decades-old ballet rehearsal were a particularly endearing highlight, as was an unexpected love connection. Don’t worry, the film also offers genuine thrills — watch out for an especially chilling basement scene that sent shivers up my spine. The bloodthirsty horde’s discovery of a clever workaround to the traditional vampire rules of engagement makes for a bonkers final act.
In survival situations, you rarely have time to dig deep into personal backstories or wax poetic about your hopes and dreams. Despite this limitation, Red Spring manages to deliver characters that demand your goodwill and investment. In addition to Sinasac’s strong performance as Ray, I really enjoyed Andre Guantanamo’s stoic yet charismatic portrayal of the vampire leader, as well as Elysia White’s sardonic slayer Vicky, Lindsey Middleton’s tough and pragmatic Bailey, and Reece Presley’s unexpectedly corrigible Mitchell.
While I’ve had the opportunity to watch many films for my BiTS festival coverage, Red Spring is the one that my mind returns to the most often. So much so, in fact, that I watched it twice in the same night and am looking forward to seeing it again on BiTS’s opening night, Thursday, November 23rd at The Royal Cinema, 9:30 pm sharp.
Why don’t you join me?
Red Spring will be preceded by the Toronto premiere of Ariel Hansen and Christopher Graham’s short film Paint the Town Red (2017). Beware of cities that claim to have a killer nightlife! A winning performance by Allison Klause brightens this dark tale of peril in a goth nightclub. The short’s soundtrack includes the pulsating industrial track ‘Fashion Kills’ by Black Magique, which I would love to hear while on a dancefloor in the near future.