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In Review: Fantastic Fest 2016

October 10, 2016

Film

Fantastic Fest has come and gone and – as always – it was a damn good time.  Below you’ll find mini-reviews (divided into various categories) of the 18 films I saw this year.  Make some notes and then seek out what sounds interesting to you!

PS – Austin Film Fest is up next.  Look out for that recap soon.

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NO, NO, NO
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The Greasy Strangler

Plot:  “Brayden fears his first love affair is turning his father into a bloodthirsty monster who’s covered in grease and has an 18-inch penis that looks like a dead chicken.”  This is Fantastic Fest’s description.  It’s super accurate, so I figured it was best to just lift it.

Mini-Review:  I went into The Greasy Strangler under the assumption that it would be wildly dumb but fun.  Well, it’s certainly a dumb movie, but I didn’t find it to be particularly fun.  It’s an obtuse film, one that’s obnoxious just to be obnoxious, and the one time I did laugh I immediately felt like I had turned my back on all that’s good in the world.

We Are The Flesh

Plot:  Two young adults find their way into an abandoned warehouse.  Or so they think it’s abandoned.  There’s actually an older fella inside who is up to … well, I never quite figured that out.  Anyways, the three of them eventually engage in a whole lot of really weird shit.

Mini-Review:  About 30 minutes into We Are The Flesh the guy next to me hopped up and never returned.  I don’t blame him.  It’s a bizarre film and I couldn’t at all figure out where it was going or what it was doing.  Hell, I’m not even sure why I bothered staying.  You should skip this one unless you’re one of those people who likes films that no one else does.

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STRONG START, WEAK FINISH
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My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea

Plot:  An aspiring journalist finds himself in an interesting predicament – his high school has broken off from the mainland and is drifting out to sea.

Mini-Review:  Throughout the first half of this animated flick (the first from graphic novelist Dash Shaw) I was fully charmed and entertained by its big name voices – Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Susan Sarandon, Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph and John Cameron Mitchell – and their dry-witted characters.  Then things started to stretch on for far too long and eventually I found myself not really paying attention at all.

A Dark Song

Plot:  A woman recruits an occultist to perform a ritual.  It’s not any usual ritual though, it’s one that will take months and months to complete.

Mini-Review: A Dark Song does a good job of creeping along and making you feel as anxious and impatient as the woman who’s waiting for her ritual to be completed, but where it should reward you with a glorious (or at least scary) payoff, it pulls its punches and whiffs on delivering anything memorable.  Too bad.

The Bad Batch

Plot:  Set in what appears to be the future, a young lady is left in a cannibal-infested desert after being designated as “bad batch” by society.  While there nothing good happens.

Mini-Review:  Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch is her follow up to the well-received A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.  I went in hoping for a fantastically disgusting cannibal flick, and as I watched the very pretty Suki Waterhouse get a couple of limbs graphically hacked off, it seemed as though I was going to get what I wanted.  Unfortunately, Amirpour quickly ditches the horror angle for some kind of coming of age, love story thingy, and I stopped caring before the halfway mark.

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YEAH, OK
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Belief: The Possession Of Janet Moses

Plot:  Some time ago a woman named Janet Moses was killed during an improved exorcism ceremony.  Time to find out why such a thing happened!

Mini-Review:  This documentary covers a wildly interesting set of events, but it does so in a fairly mediocre way.  I actually think it would have been a lot better had there just been talking heads and some photos, but instead the director, David Stubbs, uses actors and dialogue based off of transcripts.  This really gives the doc an unfortunate made for TV feel.  Still, it’s one hell of a story, and therefore I think it’s worth seeing.

Headshot

Plot:  A guy wakes up in a hospital and can’t remember who he is or how he got there.  Eventually he discovers that he’s really good at punching and kicking people, and this leads to a lot violence.

Mini-Review:  When I saw that Headshot had Iko Kuwais (from The Raid flicks) in it, I got really excited.  He’s awesome!  This film, however, is not particularly great.  Sure, it has some entertaining spots and a handful of martial arts bits that made me want to cheer, but overall it’s just got a flat feel to it.  Seek it out if you’re a Kuwais fan, but keep your expectations in check.

Science Fiction Volume One: The Osiris Child

Plot:  Set on a far off planet, an officer must abandon his post on a safe and super comfy space station in order to get to the surface so that he can save his daughter from a group of rampaging monsters and the enormous bomb that’s meant to exterminate the group of rampaging monsters.

Mini-Review:  Despite its totally dumb title and a slight made for TV feel, I dug this film.  It does a good job of world building, the characters are interesting, and I walked out legit excited about where the story might go next.  So why didn’t I really like it?  Because it’s edited in a rather disjointed, distracting way.  Someone should re-cut it ASAP.

The Dwarves Must Be Crazy

Plot:  A bunch of dwarves eat some glowing bugs, and then their heads pop off.  This scares people.

Mini-Review:  Unsurprisingly, The Dwarves Must Be Crazy is one one of the odder films I’ve seen in a while.  Not only is it full of slapstick humor (hitting, farting, etc.), but there are all kinds of Thai spirits and stuff that I know nothing about.  So, it made me feel both like an immature kid and a uncultured fool.  Neat.

The Playground

Plot:  Two pre-teens do something real bad.

Mini-Review:  Bartosz M. Kowalski’s latest film features some really graphic, shocking imagery, and it isn’t for everyone.  Actually, I wouldn’t say it’s for anyone, as it’s not something that any normal person would ever want to watch.  I will say this though, long after the credits had rolled, I felt a tinge of support for the film and the way that it tries to remind you that less than ideal personal situations can drive people – even children – to do terrible things.

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YES, YES, YES
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The Young Offenders

Plot:  Two immature Irish teens decide to take a ride to the coast so that they can (hopefully) grab one of the many packages of cocaine that were lost at sea after a drug bust.

Mini-Review:  The Young Offenders is a charming film that’s both a buddy comedy and a coming of age tale, and I really enjoyed it.  The two leads – Alex Murphy and Chris Walley – have great chemistry, and director Peter Foott does a nice job of never letting things get too silly.

The Eyes Of My Mother

Plot:  A young girl witnesses something awful.  This leads her down a very dark path.

Mini-Review:  The Eyes Of My Mother, which is Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut, is a pretty straight up horror affair.  So, there’s no overall message or anything like that to be had, just a whole lot of well-honed creepiness.  By the way, this one is a must see if you’re a big fan of films shot in black and white.

The Handmaiden

Plot:  A young woman is sent to be an heiress’ new handmaiden.  She’s not who she seems to be though.  And neither is the heiress.

Mini-Review:  This one is the latest from director Chan-Wook Park (Oldboy, Stoker).  It’s sexy and whimsical and twisted, and I loved every damn minute of it.  Here’s hoping I get to see it again soon.

The Autopsy Of Jane Doe

Plot:  A coroner and his son are tasked with determining the cause of death of a mysterious body.  It doesn’t go as planned.

Mini-Review:  Director Andre Ovredal jumped onto people’s radar a few years ago with Trollhunter, and this is his follow up feature.  I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t make a splash when it gets released.  Both Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox are great in the film, and it has an interesting and original story.

Zoology

Plot:  A woman grows a tail.  Naturally, this changes her life.

Mini-Review:  I really liked this little Russian film.  It’s a coming of age story told with a neat twist (aside from the tail thing, the main character is also an older woman), and it carries a really positive message about disabilities, self confidence and the like.

Split

Plot:  A fella named Kevin, who happens to have somewhere around 23 personalities, kidnaps three teen girls.  He then interacts with them in a peculiar fashion.

Mini-Review:  This was the secret screening at this year’s fest.  To be honest, when I saw the name M. Night Shyamalan pop up on the screen, I groaned and contemplated running out of the theater.  Thankfully I stayed, because Split turned out to be great.  It moves well, has a slick story and is clearly the most fun Shyamalan has had in a long while.  Good for him.  Side note here, the little twist at the very end is going to delight audiences everywhere.

Colossal

Plot:  A giant monster suddenly appears in South Korea.  As if that wasn’t weird enough, a woman discovers that she has a distinct connection with it.

Mini-Review:  With its really creative/clever script and a couple of great performances by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, Colossal is definitely Nacho Vigalondo’s best film since Timecrimes (2007).  Genre films like this one are what keep me coming back to Fantastic Fest year after year.

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THE BIG WINNER
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Elle

Plot:  After she’s attacked and raped in her home, Michele continues on like normal as she attempts to figure out who did it.

Mini-Review:  Paul Verhoeven’s latest film is as challenging as it gets.  Not because it’s dense or slow or anything like that, but because it covers a very tough subject in an immensely entertaining way.  Every time I laughed I would wind down with a slight shake of my head because the oh-no-why-am-I-cracking-up part of my brain would flip on.  It’ll be very interesting to see how general audiences react to this film once it’s in theaters.  On another note, Isabelle Huppert’s performance in the movie is incredible.  Here’s hoping she gets every award out there.

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