Review by Sean Boelman
The Fantasia Film Festival has always had a strong focus on Canadian genre cinema, and while this results in plenty of exciting discoveries that cinephiles may not have otherwise had the chance to see, it also gives certain movies an unearned advantage. Although the message of the Quebecois zombie comedy Brain Freeze is certainly strong, it’s an otherwise uninspired entry into a worn genre.
The film follows a teenager and his baby sister as they attempt to escape their quarantined hometown when a fertilizer used on a golf course results in people infected by it being mutated into zombies. Julien Knafo’s script desperately wants to be edgy and cool, but it hits so many familiar plot beats that it quickly starts to feel generic.
Even the comedy in the movie falls significantly flat. There are too many one-note jokes that think they are saying something interesting (joking about a teenager who only drinks soda) but really have the intelligence of a middle schooler. It’s a film seemingly written to meet the lowest common denominator of comedy.
Knafo uses the movie to lampoon the selfishness of the upper class, but does so in a way that isn’t especially groundbreaking. We all know that a majority of the rich are selfish assholes who care more about golf than the greater good of the world, and the commentary of the film doesn’t bother to go much deeper than that.
The protagonist having his little sister to look after is enough for us to root for his survival, but it’s not a movie that is strong on emotion. The rest of the characters are equally underwhelming. An older survivalist who partners up with the protagonist should be charming but feels like a mere archetype. Even the assassin antagonists are dull.
Young actor Iani Bédard does a good enough job in his leading role, but he is unable to carry the entire film on his shoulders. So many of the actors are lacking in comedic timing, which implies less-than-stellar directing moreso than a lack of talent in the cast, giving performances that feel more fit for a straight-faced B-horror flick.
The movie is mostly fine on a technical level. There are a few scenes with gore effects that are solidly impressive, although nothing on display is especially memorable. A couple of strongly-crafted moments don’t make up for a script that is largely lacking in anything satisfying for horror or comedy.
Brain Freeze is definitely a disappointment. Although it shows a lot of potential, the film’s lack of horror or comedy makes it struggle to entertain in a way that will prevent it from joining the canon of the genre as it had hoped.
Brain Freeze screened at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 5-25.