Ah, October. Harbinger of brisk weather, artificial pumpkin flavouring, and the spooky. Naturally, it’s the perfect time of year to gorge yourself not only on the plentiful Hallowe’en candy available in every grocery and dollar store, but also on the more frightening cinematic fare that tends to pop up in theatres around this time.

The 14th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival begins on October 17th and runs until October 25th this year. As usual, I’ve scoped out the program beforehand to highlight some female-directed films for AOAS readers to watch out for!

Paradise Hills (2019)

Rebels reign in Paradise Hills, Alice Waddington’s lush, dark fairytale with a science fiction twist. The lone female-directed feature at this year’s TADFF, Paradise Hills offers a star-studded cast (including Emma Roberts, Akwafina, Danielle McDonald, and Milla Jovovich) and beguiling production design in this tale of a group of young women whisked away to an island to learn how to better conform to societal ideals of how young women should act. Naturally, this endeavour does not work out well for anyone involved, and the squad soon decides that they need to discover a way to escape their fate—or take a stand. The film pairs its feminist message with exquisite styling and a darkly dystopian narrative. 

Best Friends Forever - Girls on Stairs

Best Friends Forever (2019, dir. Emily Gagne and Josh Korngut)

Showcasing an exquisite understanding of period style, this 1996-set horror short features not only side ponytails and yin-yang chokers, but the ubiquitous Best Friend necklaces that could make or break a BFF-ship. When four teenage girls gather for a night of scary stories and casual bullying, a local urban legend turns out to be a little more real than anticipated. A tale of toxicity and trauma, the short gives nods to horror heavyweights including Carrie, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Evil Dead, and ends with a deliciously catchy original tune.

Gina O James and Tevin Wolfe in Imagine A World

Imagine a World (2019, dir. Joanna Tsanis)

No one loves a door-to-door salesman. For most people, their visits are only a momentary irritation. For the brother and sister duo at the heart of Joanna Tsanis’s Imagine a World, a fleeting fancy to upgrade their internet connection quickly spirals out of control when a pushy salesman refuses to take no for an answer.


Foyer (AKA Hearth, 2019, dir. Sophie B. Jacques)

In the Airbnb age, both hosts and guests put a lot of trust in each other—occasionally, that trust turns out to be dangerously misplaced. In the skillfully-edited Foyer, a woman named Emilie rents out her home to complete strangers, with some disturbing results.

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Barbara-Anne (2019, dir. Kat Webber)

You thought that Dexter was a charming killer? You’ve never met Barbara-Anne. Classy, clever, subversive, and anachronistic, Barbara-Anne offers a stylish new take on time-worn tropes (and some killer costuming and set design), and amply showcases the true horror of mid-century party cuisine. Katelyn McCulloch’s Barbara-Anne is a femme fatale in the classic mold; as enticingly portrayed as she is deadly. A true delight.

Additional female-directed shorts to look out for include: Far Horizon by Sara Martins, Kakatshat by Eve Ringuette, Down the Rabbit Hole by Ali Froggatt, Flip by Jessica Grace Smith, Maggie May by Mia’kate Russell, Duelling Samurai by Kara Qring, and Alaska by Chris Wilson, Brianna Templeton, and Gwynne Phillips.