The last few years in horror have felt rather stale, but hot on the heels of watching the terrifying and refreshing 'The Babadook' at Fantastic Fest comes 'It Follows,' the sophomore effort from writer/director David Robert Mitchell. Similar to the lo-fi tone of his debut film, 'The Myth of the American Sleepover,' the comparisons end there for Mitchell's follow-up, which smartly and horrifically explores the politics of young adult sexuality.
Fantastic Fest - Page 2
'50 Shades of Grey' has officially been put on notice by 'The Duke of Burgundy,' the gorgeous and glorious sophomore effort from British director Peter Strickland, the vivid mind behind 'Berberian Sound Studio.' A film which features not a single male actor and which examines the ins and outs of a dominant/submissive relationship, 'The Duke of Burgundy' is also an incredibly smart and surprisingly funny relationship drama.
There are brilliant and daring conceits that elevate and enhance the viewing experience of a film, and then there are shameless and hollow gimmicks that do little more than hook the viewer in and fail to deliver anything meaningful. 'The Tribe' both promises and delivers on the former with a premise and a narrative concept unlike anything in conventional cinema: a story told from the perspective of a Ukrainian boy attending a school for the deaf where everyone speaks in sign language, and we're given no voice over or subtitles to hold our hand.
The Fantastic Fest film festival in Austin provides us with tons of genre films every year, and as such, we’re often treated to some grim and violent narratives -- narratives which can typically include violence perpetrated against women and can sometimes skew a bit on the masculine side of things. But this year’s festival was wonderfully diverse and filled with some incredibly fierce female-oriented features, ranging from smart and terrifying horror to darkly comedic and biting family dramas, and a seriously brilliant satire on gender politics.
It's become increasingly rare for horror films to make an effort to truly scare us these days, but Jennifer Kent's 'The Babadook' gets under the skin in ways that are both visceral and highly emotional. A mediation on a mother's grief and the displacement of that grief onto her son, the film echoes Stephen King's 'The Shining' in many ways, while lead actress Essie Davis gives a chill-inducing performance evocative of vintage Sissy Spacek and Mia Farrow.
Fantastic Fest is a film festival like no other -- it’s rowdy and teeming with avid fans of genre films, all determined to see as many films as they can over the course of an intense seven days. Your typical film festival usually places the more provocative genre films in the midnight slot, but Fantastic Fest is nothing but genre from the time you wake up to the time you stumble back to wherever it is you’re staying for the week. These films are proving that genre doesn’t need to be singular or defined by one word (horror, action, sci-fi), and as such, they’re surprising and totally unique. The less you know about a film at this fest before going in, the better, and the more likely you are to discover something truly great.
Keanu Reeves seriously does not get the credit he deserves. Over the years it seems like he's just been accruing knowledge from project to project, figuring out what works for him and what doesn't, and now he's distilled and perfected something that's almost hard to define. Last year he brought the crazy, crowd-pleasing martial arts flick 'Man of Tai Chi' to the Fantastic Fest film festival, and this year he returns with 'John Wick.' It's a ridiculous action thriller in which Reeves plays a former hitman-type out for revenge because some obnoxious Russian gangster's son steals his cool muscle car and kills the puppy his dead wife sent him as a present -- yeah, really.
Renowned pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) comes out of retirement for one night only to play a classical concert in honor of his late mentor. What is already a pressure-filled evening for the stage fright-stricken musician quickly devolves into a nightmare when a mysterious man threatens to murder Selznick's wife if he makes a single mistake. Drawing inspiration from Hitchcock, De Palma and Italian horror, 'Grand Piano' is a surprisingly fun and snappy little thriller.
Spanish filmmaker Alex de la Iglesia wowed audiences a couple of years ago with his dark comedic tragedy 'The Last Circus.' He returns this year with 'Witching and Bitching,' an overloaded tale of a group of male criminals who run straight into the mouth of madness when they seek refuge in a town of witches. The film is a comedic, outlandish exploration of the battle of the sexes told through the lens of de la Iglesia, whose everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach does his story a disservice.
'The Sacrament,' Ti West's follow-up to 2011's 'The Innkeepers,' feels like a more mature -- albeit still slightly flawed -- outing. A trio of reporters from bad boy news brand Vice head to a cultish compound in Africa to investigate when one of their sisters sends a mysterious letter beckoning him to visit. Inspired by Jonestown (as well as the Branch Davidians and numerous other cults), 'The Sacrament' isn't quite what you expect from West, known for his slow burn horror and sharp, stinging third acts ... and that's a good thing.