TORONTO — Celebrity red carpets, Hollywood premieres and lavish parties dominate the Toronto International Film Festival, but many avid filmgoers will tell you the best part is finding a hidden gem.
Here are five standout movies that slipped under the radar at this year’s fest, but offer fresh, challenging and unforgettable experiences worth a spot on your must-see list:
“Thelma” — Given there’s no shortage of coming-of-age stories at film festivals, it’s telling that Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s haunting tale rose above the rest. Centred on a young woman who’s just starting to understand her newfound supernatural powers, the film carries with it an ominous and sinister tone that evokes the best traits of classics like “Carrie” and “Let the Right One In.” It isn’t until we learn exactly what this teenager is capable of that the pieces of her story begin to align to chilling effect. “Thelma” has been selected as Norway’s foreign language Oscar entry and is due in theatres later this year.
“The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches” — Quebecois filmmaker Simon Lavoie reshapes Gaetan Soucy’s narratively complex novel into a viscerally unsettling black-and-white film. Set on a secluded Quebec farm in the 1930s, two children confront their twisted upbringing after the sudden death of their emotionally abusive father. It’s a stark experience, but Lavoie’s masterful use of tone winnows under your skin and will fester long after the film ends.
“Beast” — Two riveting leads elevate this hypnotic British thriller to a higher level of effectiveness. Jessie Buckley is perfectly cast as a sheltered young woman who becomes transfixed on a rugged hunter, played by Johnny Flynn of Netflix’s “Lovesick.” Their partnership quickly ignites but the woman begins to question his mysterious past when a local teen goes missing, and all signs point to her beau. But she must also contend with her own violent past which threatens to derail her dreams of a perfect union. “Beast” is a twisty story about the monster that lies within all of us, and struggle to keep it contained.
“Mademoiselle Paradis” — Lush 18th-century visuals bring life to Austrian director Barbara Albert’s recounting of a real-life blind Viennese pianist Maria Theresia von Paradis, who puts her trust in a capricious doctor that promises to restore her sight. When the seemingly impossible fix seems to take hold, others begin to wonder if they aren’t the victim of a charlatan. Actress Maria Dragus takes the titular role and runs with it, almost single-handedly carrying this film beyond the realms of the usual period piece.
“Custody” — What first appears like a mundane divorce drama contorts itself into a troubling snapshot of a custody battle told from the perspective of a 11-year-old boy. After unsuccessfully asking a judge to grant her sole custody of her son — saying he needs protection from his abusive father — a court forces a joint arrangement. The facts are murky as the child bounces between parents, hearing different versions of who’s to blame. French director Xavier Legrand captures unsettling performances from his entire cast, especially the young Thomas Gioria as the child caught in the midst of turmoil.
Other films worth watching for: “Winter Brothers,” a Danish-Icelandic study of conflict in isolation; “Lean on Pete,” a heart-crushing story of a lost teenager and his horse by “Weekend” director Andrew Haigh; and “Revenge,” a hyper-violent tale of female vengeance against her rapist that’s bound to spark conversations as much as it will divide audiences.