New horror comedy Brain Freeze brings zombie chills to the Hamilton Film Festival

For Montreal-based filmmaker Julien Knafo, bringing his feature film Brain Freeze – a satirical zombie comedy set in the chill of winter – to screen this week at the 2021 Hamilton Film Festival comes with a lot of ‘firsts.’

Not only does this film mark Knafo’s directorial debut on a solo feature despite years working in the Canadian film industry as a composer and musician, but it will also be the first time he will get to see the French language film screened for audiences in English Canada.

“As of today, I haven’t had the chance yet to see and hear – up close and personal – the reaction of the English Canada outside of Quebec,” says Knafo, who will be in attendance at the Hamilton Film Festival’s screening of Brain Freeze this Friday, November 12th at 9:30 pm at the Westdale Theatre.

Knafo – a graduate of Concordia University’s School of Cinema – expresses how curious he is to see how audiences in Hamilton will react to the film’s unconventional tone and sense of humour, which he says feels markedly different from any other feature film he’s seen in Quebec.

Brain Freeze – which marries comedy and genre thrills with incisive social commentary – takes place in a Montreal community where the local golf course is being treated with an experimental fertilizer that melts the snow in winter and keeps the grass green so that affluent residents can continue playing golf year-round.

However, that experiment comes at a price, contaminating the local water supply and gradually turning more and more residents into zombies. A local teenager, André, takes care of his baby sister Annie and teams up with survivalist Dan as they venture out to track the source of the contamination and stop its rapid spread; and maybe fight off a few zombies along the way.

Knafo’s film – which he wrote, directed, and composed the original score for- has already seen some strong success along the film festival circuit, even being featured as the opening screening at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival.

One doesn’t need to look too hard to see how a film like Brain Freeze would be particularly resonant in today’s social and political climate. A story about the viral-like spread of a disease turning people into zombies feels all too timely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the film clearly has something to say about the ways in which humanity’s interference with our natural resources can, and often does, comes with catastrophic consequences.

Despite the heavier implications of some of this film’s themes, it’s hardly a heavy affair; in fact, the idea was born of Knafo’s desire to dive in a project he could have fun with, in a similar vein to other influential horror comedies such as Shawn of the Dead.

“Not being a horror fan I still could appreciate a good ‘zom-com,’ especially if it was dark and gritty,” Knafo explains. “So at that moment where I was feeling I was trying too hard to write something serious and personal, the idea came as a little funny flash.”

With grant funding that allowed Knafo to dive in on crafting his screenplay, the filmmaker was initially held back by a feeling that he was trying to dabble in an overdone genre. However, he quickly realized that using zombies as a central piece of his narrative allowed him an excitingly limitless amount of creative freedom to find his own singular take.

Flash forward to today, and the final product – being distributed in Canada by Filmoption International and by Wazabi Films internationally –  is readily making a splash at film festivals around the world, earning strong critical response and audience praise along the way.

It bodes well for Brain Freeze as it screens this week at the Hamilton Film Festival, offering a fresh and timely take on the zombie genre while introducing Knafo to local audiences as a Canadian filmmaker to watch.

“This is not a gratuitous genre film, but rather a committed film that is in tune with the times and carries a message of hope and openness to others,” adds Knafo.

Brain Freeze screens at the 2021 Hamilton Film Festival on Friday, November 12th at 9:30 pm at the Westdale Theatre. For more information and tickets, click here.

Lead image credit: Marion Parage

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