Fantasia Film Festival 2023 reviews: Femme and Insomniacs After School

Images of Femme and Insomniacs After School.
Images of Femme and Insomniacs After School. Pic credit: Courtesy of Fantasia

The films Femme and Insomniacs After School differ in tone and genre, but they offer intriguing insights into the human experience.

Femme is a powerful story that tackles the issue of homophobia and its impact on those affected by it.

In contrast, Insomniacs After School is a more lighthearted and whimsical film that explores childhood relationships.

Both movies made their premieres at Fantasia and instantly left an impression when the credits hit the screen.

And both of them were made with a skillful empathetic hand.

Here are our reviews of Femme and Insomniacs After School playing at Fantasia Film Festival.

Femme review

Femme is not the typical vengeance thriller. There is no Liam Neeson or angry fathers with “skills.” But what is prevalent in Femme is a complex character study with revenge as a focus. Not to mention it has two of the best performances one might see this year.

Directed and written by Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping (and adapted from their 2021 short film), Femme centers on a drag performer named Jules (stage name Aphrodite Banks).

After a performance, Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) is outside in his stage clothing when he spots a man from afar checking him out. As he walks to a convenience store to buy smokes, Jules becomes harassed by the same man who was previously gazing at him. When Jules defends himself, the man, revealed to be Preston (George MacKay), assaults Jules violently in the streets.

The result leaves Jules in a state of trauma and unable to perform on stage. That is until he finds his homophobic attacker in a sauna. Preston does not recognize Jules without his drag transformation and proceeds to try and pursue Preston in hopes of getting justice.

From here, the film becomes an engrossing con game of Jules slowly attempting to gain Preston’s trust. We learn more about Preston and how he became so toxic.

The movie organically enriches nuance within both characters, Jules and Preston. Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping’s script is a character-writing masterwork with complexity and affection for each side. They say becoming a writer takes empathy, and Femme is bathing in it, even within its more thriller-like ingredients.

Femme is an electrifying performance piece that showcases the talents of Stewart-Jarrett and MacKay. Their cat-and-mouse dynamic evolves throughout the runtime, providing a rich and engaging experience. Both actors deliver emotionally raw and layered performances that are truly exceptional.

The performances are out of this world, the writing feels authentic, and the film as a whole is an emotional tidal wave. It deeply explores the reasons behind homophobia and toxic masculinity, exploring its characters beautifully. Femme is simply unforgettable and one of the highlights of the Fantasia Festival.

Insomniacs After School review

Insomniacs After School is infectiously sweet. So much so it might cause a cavity; the film is a live-action adaptation of the manga series created by Makoto Ojiro. It takes the simplicities of the sentimental story and throws it into the real world.

This adaptation undoubtedly loses some of the visual splendor of the anime aesthetic. However, the filmmakers clearly understood the colorful nature of the source material was not a requirement. Removing it emphasizes how beautifully written these two characters are on paper.

The film begins with Ganta Nakami (Daiken Okudaira), an irritable teenager who struggles with sleeping at night. He is somewhat awkward around others because he does not rest and feels no one will understand his sleep disorder. Ganta encounters another young girl named Isaki Magari (Nana Mori), a tender-hearted student he finds resting in the observatory. After getting locked in the room, they get to know each other and discover they both have insomnia.

A genuine friendship between Ganta and Isaki starts, and they name it a “club” where they share their secret sleeping location. However, a faculty member discovers the hiding spot. Through sincere persuasion, the faculty member allows them to keep the observatory if they transform their sleeping club into an astrology club.

From here, Insomniacs After School becomes hugely heartwarming, and both Daiken Okudaira and Nana Mori possess insane chemistry. Childhood romance might be naïve romance, but it’s something we all can relate to. The relationship feels realistic through their performances and the empathetic script by Chihiro Ikeda and Izumi Takahashi. We can see how these two wonderful broken souls might find comfort in one another.

As a reviewer, typically, this writer has an aversion to teen romantic comedies or dramas. However, this particular one had a unique impact. It instills a sense of hopefulness and emphasizes the importance of connection during difficult times. It’s not aiming to sell magazines or promote the next teenage heartthrob. It’s an earnest story about childhood.

Insomniacs After School is a beautiful story that captures the essence of youth, similar to The Goonies and The Sandlot. It’s a great movie to watch if you need a pick-me-up and want to feel better about the world.

Be sure to read our Part 1 and Part 2 most anticipated films at Fantasia, our reviews of Shin Kamen Rider and Stay Online, our reviews of Lovely, Dark, and Deep, and Blackout, our review of River, and finally, Restore Point. Stay tuned for more Fantasia Film Fest reviews at Monsters and Critics.

Fantasia Film Festival continues until August 9.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments