It’s that time of year again. Time to get ready for thrills, chills and scary creatures roaming the night. No, I’m not talking about Halloween. I’m talking about the 12th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, taking place on October 12th to 20th at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto. Just like in years previous, Geek Hard will be there to take in all the horror, sci-fi and genre delights. To get you ready for the event, we’ve got a handful of reviews of some of the films playing at this year’s fest. The first of which is playing on opening night at TADFF17: the Canadian action thriller, Sixty Minutes to Midnight.

Directed by Neil MacKay and starring Robert Nolan, Sixty Minutes to Midnight focuses on construction worker and former soldier Jack Darcy, a man of few friends who decides to spend New Year’s Eve 1999 by himself at his secluded home in Dallas, Texas. Little does he know that he’s been chosen to be the next contestant of a deadly game show that hunts and kills its players for the benefit of a rabid audience that’s out for blood. Jack has 1 hour to stay alive. If he does, he receives One Million Dollars for his troubles. But Jack is a skilled individual with more than a few tricks up his sleeve to keep from getting killed.

The film is a period piece of the not too distant past. Setting the story in 1999 is an intriguing choice. The threat of Y2K looms and Jack’s character is one of the “prepared” individual who’s ready for all hell to break loose. And it does…just not for the reason Jack was thinking. Director Mackay also cleverly uses the time period to his advantage with his choice of shooting style. This film has an authentic look and feel to a lower budget action film that one would’ve found on the shelves of their local video store on a cable channel in the late nineties. The pacing, the aesthetic, the score, all of it is reminiscent of action movies from that time. It creates an interesting backdrop for a story about isolation and survival.

For a film that references time in its name, it starts out very slow. There’s about 15 minutes of set up. We see Jack in his regular life as a down on his luck construction worker who’s lost faith in humanity. It’s all standard introduction and development scenes to set the stage for the coming action romp. When the “game show” aspect is introduced, the film becomes much more heightened and lively. We get a steady pace of action sequences with just the right amount of time in between for the viewer to catch their breath.

Through it all, we stay with Jack and see the events play out from his perspective. The host of the game show, Bud Carson (played by Terry McDonald), is only seen on television screens throughout Jack’s home. We do not see any “behind the scenes” at the studio. We only see what “a viewer at home” would see on their t.v. set. Jack is our only window into this world. We’re with him as he comes up with new ways to stay one step ahead of his attackers.

Robert Nolan has a tough job in this film as he’s in every scene. Jack is always on screen and more often in tight spots where the camera is inches away from his face. With no real co-stars to play off of (unless you count the nameless gunmen who he has fire fights with or Bud on the screen taunting him), Robert has to convey a lot of this story through facial expressions and body language. His emotions need to be on display in order for the viewer to really invest in his story. He pulls off a passionate performance that ramps up throughout the film and presents a hero that you want to see make it to the end of the hour.

While the film does a great job of presenting a high concept idea on a limited budget and keeps excellent pacing throughout, there is one thing that stands out as odd. During the game show, there are multiple commercials for menthol cigarettes. Some are prominently featured and others are heard in the background. By 1999, tobacco ads were long since banned from television. It’s unclear if the inclusion of these ads was to further drive home the illegal nature of the game show or to underline Jack’s attempts to quit smoking. Either way, the ads felt a bit out of place. Thankfully, they do not stand out enough to have any real negative effects on the film.

If you are in Toronto on Thursday, October 12th, you should check out Sixty Minutes to Midnight. It’s playing at 9:45PM at the Scotiabank Theatre as one of the opening films of Toronto After Dark 2017. It’s a fun action flick that pays tribute to classics like Die Hard and The Running Man with indie flavour. Tickets are available at the Cineplex website.

Keep checking back here for more Toronto After Dark 2017 Reviews and Previews.

If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!


Sixty Minutes to Midnight plays opening night at TADFF17, on October 12th.