The Cannes Film Market’s Fantastic 7 sidebar returned this year for a pitching session showcasing some of the best genre film projects from emerging talent around the world.

Mònica Garcia Massagué, the general manager of Sitges Intl. Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, and the lead organizer of Fantastic 7, noted that “folk horror” was a recurrent theme in this year’s seven selected projects. The subgenre, which has gained wider popularity in recent years through the success of Ari Aster’s films “Midsommar” and “Hereditary,” typically involves stories inspired from traditional tales and set in natural or rural settings.

In Cannes, the Fantastic 7 initiative connects representatives from seven film festivals around the world who each select a project from their region that befits the Fantastic 7 frame; the project is then pitched to industry members, and the talent is able to connect with potential business partners for funding or co-production purposes.

“The idea is that each festival has an overview of their territory, and they choose the best project that more or less anticipates the new trend of horror movies,” Garcia Massagué told Variety.

The film festivals this year were from seven different countries and almost every continent in the world: Sitges Intl. Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia (Spain), Bucheon Intl. Fantastic Film Festival (South Korea), Cairo Intl. Film Festival (Egypt), Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara (Mexico), New Zealand Intl. Film Festival (New Zealand), SXSW South by Southwest Film Festival (U.S.), and Toronto Intl. Film Festival (Canada).

In her presentation of the pitch session, Garcia Massagué highlighted the strong female presence in this year’s talent cohort, with four out of the seven directors being women. Apart from the emerging talent, this year’s Fantastic 7 also had a female director as the godmother of the initiative, one who’s become an inspiration and an example to many in the horror-thriller genre: Canadian filmmaker Mary Harron, known for writing and directing “American Psycho” and “I Shot Andy Warhol.”

Harron mentioned in her video-recorded introductory talk how recent successful films such as “Parasite” and “Get Out” have helped bring wider acceptance and understanding of the fantastic genre to mainstream audiences – inciting this emerging group of filmmakers to follow suit in redefining the structures and limits of the genre.

Under the “folk horror” label, two of the seven films stood out for Garcia Massagué: “The Passenger,” which is already in production with a 3 million-euro budget, and fuses sci-fi with a characteristically Spanish style of aesthetic horror in a story taking us through a dangerous road trip across northern Spain, as well as the Canadian film set for the Toronto Film Festival, “Polaris,” produced by Epic Pictures and directed by Kirsten Carthew – pitched as “Mad Max set in the Arctic,” with an all-female cast touching themes of friendship, hope, and a return to nature.

Other notable highlights at Fantastic 7 included a Chile-Peru-Brazil co-production directed by Elisa Eliash. Her new film “Fiebre” (Fever), set for Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival, sees a child being absorbed into the world of a painting as he enters a maze of images that mixes animation and real-life filming, both in color and black-and-white. The film has a budget of $450,000 and is in the final stages of post-production, soon ready to start worldwide distribution.

Another highlight came from an original project by the young Korean director Yu Eun Jeong in her new film “Lay the Ghost,” scheduled for the next edition of Bucheon Intl. Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea. After her 2018 debut feature “Ghost Walk,” the filmmaker returns to the world of ghosts to evoke themes of death and disappearance. This new film delves deeper into fantasy-horror tropes while blending the political in a family story tied to historical events in Korea in which a corporate firm mysteriously killed hundreds of innocent people. Producer Doohee Park said they are still looking for investors and are soon ready to start shooting now that they have finalised the 12th version of the script for this Guillermo Del Toro-influenced project.

The Fantastic 7 pitching session also unveiled promising works from New Zealand, Egypt and the U.S. on themes typically recurrent in the horror genre such as isolation and dying, through tones sometimes humorous otherwise petrifying. On the attendance – although a representative from the Guadalajara Festival was the only non-European from the list of special guests to make the event in Cannes, many at the session were thrilled to be finally back in an in-person pitching session at this year’s Cannes Film Market.