From its surprise New York Times shout out, to its virtual premiere with Kings of Horror, to its worldwide distribution via Terror Films – Godforsaken has taken the horror world by storm this month, transforming itself from the little-indie-that-could to a monster-fully successful future cult classic.
Written and directed by Film Production graduate Ali Akbar Akbar Kamal, the $40,000 film was picked by New York Times horror columnist Erik Piepenburg as one of five “unnerving” offerings that prove “it doesn’t take big bucks to scare people’s pants off” in his monthly Five Horror Movies to Stream Now column.
Piepenburg wrote that it was Kamal’s “fear of unknown beings that hold unlimited power over us” that inspired him to make this “unnerving found-footage possession film.”
“He’s channeled that terror…into a cautionary tale about blind faith, with zombies and occultism tossed in for kicks,” he wrote, noting the film “had” him in its opening minutes.
“I don’t know what’s in the water in Harriston, Ontario, where the film was shot and is set. But I’ll have what the locals are having – their enthusiasm as extras makes the film as playful as it is macabre.”
Filmed over the span of nearly three weeks in November 2019, Godforsaken follows an indie documentary filmmaker as he investigates the seemingly miraculous case of a childhood friend who rises from the dead with mysterious abilities that end up taking a sinister twist.
Produced by MaKama Films and Tailored Films, much of the film’s cast and crew was comprised of Kamal’s fellow Toronto Film School alumni – an experience the Afghanistan-born writer, director, actor and editor wrote about in a January 2020 guest article for Toronto Film School.
Godforsaken’s key team, he said, worked with a modest crew of eight, as well as nine main cast members, including: his fellow Film Production grads Mariah MacDonald (co-producer), Ho Che Anderson (cinematographer), Paul Viret (sound editor), Prasanna Paul (visual effects), Sara James Fargo (art director) and Delfin Jenn (assistant art director); Writing for Film & Television grad Danielle Fotheringham (production assistant); and Acting grads Chad Tailor (co-producer and actor playing ‘Chad Taylor’), Gloria Gift Nankunda (2nd assistant director), Mélie B. Rondeau (as ‘Lisa Harris’), Domenic Derose (as ‘Dom’), Katie Fleming (as ‘Katie’), Chris Kelly (as ‘Chris Laskin’), Angela Thomson (driver), and Mathieu Burdan.
Co-producers MacDonald and Tailor characterized Godforsaken’s recent string of successes as “surreal.”
“I remember (the New York Times article) happened on April 1, so I was a little hesitant to believe it at first,” Tailor laughed, also noting his delight that the film is now available to stream across many major platforms, including Google Play, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime (in the U.S.), to be followed within the month by Tubi and Prime Video here in Canada.
“Our goal has been reached and our movie is out for the masses to watch and be entertained by – that’s why we make films!”
Added MacDonald: “It’s an absolute dream to have our movie available worldwide. And to be featured in the New York Times has me speechless – it still hasn’t fully sunk in yet!
For 2018 Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre grad Melié B. Rondeau, who played the not-so-dead character of Lisa Harris in the film, Godforsaken marked a very memorable first-ever starring role in a feature.
And to have experienced it all alongside her Toronto Film School family, she added, only made it that much more special.
“For me, working with friends I met while studying at Toronto Film School and other former grads only reinforced the importance of networking. As an actor, you can certainly train and get better on your own, but ultimately, it’s all about the people you know,” she said.
“I had such a great time working with everyone involved on this film. I remember thinking, ‘If only our friends and family end up watching this film, I’ll still be happy and proud’ – so now, to see that two years later…our humble independent film is being distributed by Terror Films, an LA-based company, on multiple platforms such as Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play and more, is amazing.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Rondeau’s fellow TFS Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre grads and Godforsaken castmates Chris Kelly, who played townsperson Chris Laskin, and Katie Fleming, who played Katie, one of the film’s trio of documentary filmmakers.
“This project was so much fun – and surprisingly deep for a horror movie – so, we all knew as we were filming that we had something special,” Kelly said, hinting at his desire to participate in a Godforsaken sequel somewhere down the road.
“I’m happy it’s received a wide release, which ticks off an item on my bucket list. I’ve even received interest from talent agencies recently. So glad I can continue my love for acting, while I’m quickly becoming known for my work as a TV producer.”
For Fleming, the experience of filming Godforsaken was a creatively fulfilling one in which she got to experience the true range of the “beauty of acting” – from moments of sheer terror, to periods of laughter-filled humour.
“Ali really gave us a lot of creative freedom to truly be ourselves to bring these characters to life…everyone was able to give ideas and improve to what we felt was right for our characters in each situation. There were so many laughs on the set and, of course, screams and tears,” she laughed.
“Godforsaken will always hold a big place in my heart, because this was truly one of the best experiences in my life. Everyone involved deserves so much success in life, in whatever it is they all choose to do.”
As for the success of the film itself, Fleming said that, for her, it only solidifies how much the hard work of all involved is finally starting to pay off.
“The entire cast and crew really put so much love and dedication into Godforsaken – we all worked like crazy, so to know that it will be able to entertain people on such a big scale is heartwarming,” she said.
“Sometimes it takes a minute to click in that this film is actually circulating worldwide, that thousands of people are seeing it, and that it is a legitimate feature film, not just a class project. And it’s so great to hear all the reviews.”
You can watch the entire film, which Tailor dedicates to the memory of late Toronto Film School Instructor Rick Bennett, here: