As attendance picks up at 46th annual Toronto International Film Festival, so do the movies.

After making its debut at the Venice and Telluride film festivals last week, Oscar-nominated director Jane Campion’s new film “The Power of the Dog” screened in Toronto on Friday morning. The early buzz and hype for the dark western, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst, turned out not to be inflated.

THE POWER OF CAMPION

Shot in Campion’s home country of New Zealand, subbing for Montana in the mid-1920s, the film finds educated rancher Phil Burbank (Cumberbatch) struggling to accept his brother George’s (Jesse Plemons) new wife. Rose (Dunst) went from widowed, single mother surviving on scraps while working a restaurant to acquiring a last name that’s respected throughout the big sky state.

“I stink, and I like it,” Phil barks, refusing to mingle with his own parents and the governor when they come to pay a visit.

With cinematography that will rival any film competing in the same category, Campion’s precise direction overshadows even the performances, making her the true star of the unconventional western.

There are undeniable parallels to her Oscar-winning film “The Piano.” “The Power of the Dog” builds tension to a level that creates great anxiety for the audience. She's aided by composer Johnny Greenwood, rivaling his own nerve-wracking score from “There Will Be Blood.” His nerve-ending music tones will leave any who watch writhing in their seat.

Cumberbatch playing so against type is a test to his range, but he isn’t doing a showy Daniel Plainview with extreme close-ups. This is something more subdued and methodical. Aside from “Hidden Figures,” this is certainly one of the best films Dunst has been involved in, although I think award buzz for her performance is premature and a bit inflated.

“The Power of the Dog” hits theaters Wednesday, Nov. 17, and on Netflix on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

NOT YOUR DAD’S CAR FLICK

TIFF 2021 has done an excellent job of social distancing in public and press screenings. At least every other seat is spaced out, which doesn’t always provide you with the most convenient — randomly assigned — seat. That being said, film No. 5 in this journey was the most well-attended Press & Industry screening yet.

“Titane” won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and soared into Toronto with eager anticipation and excitement.

It’s been dubbed as the French film where the girl has “relations” with a car, and that’s not even the wildest part of the story. It's fitting to see “Titane” following “The Power of the Dog” because director Julia Ducournau was only the second female director to win the Palme after Campion in 1993 for “The Piano.”

Julia Ducournau is no stranger to sick and stomach-turning films — if you saw her 2016 feature debut “Raw,” about a young girl who likes to eat flesh, you can imagine what you’re in for.

Certainly the less you know about "Titane" the better, but prepare for gruesome images, body fluids, extreme violence and nudity galore. It would be shocking if France choose “Titane” as its Oscar submission for the international film category, but a film like this will find its cult following even without awards or universal acclaim.

The first 30 minutes have a horror genre element, and it’s refreshing to see a film break the mold the way this narrative does. As it shifts gears from full-throttle blood and guts to a swift cruise, the absurd is less intense but never dull.

“Titane” blasts into theaters Friday, Oct. 1.

EMOTIONAL ENCOUNTER

So here is an example of what makes TIFF — and film festivals in general — so rewarding. A film that isn’t extremely buzzy and low on radars packs the biggest wallop so far. The third film on Day 2 was “Encounter,” starring last year's best actor nominee Riz Ahmed.

What starts out as a “Bug”-type science fiction film slowly transitions into something else entirely. Without spoiling what’s going on here, I'll says “Encounter” is at its core an emotional father and son’s road trip thriller.

Ahmed’s performance here stands out among the year's best. He delivers the emotion that was lacking in last year's “Sound of Metal.” The film also stars Octavia Spencer in a limited but effective supporting role.

Director Michael Pearce (“Beast”) will have your skin crawling in some scenes and your eyes flooding in others. The way he manipulates genres, and the audience, is a risky direction, but it has the ultimate payoff. “Encounter” takes the top spot of best flick at the festival so far, and one of the year's best films overall.

"Encounter" will release in theaters Friday, Dec. 3, and on Amazon Prime on Friday, Dec. 10.

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