2014 Fantastic Fest Recap: The Best and the Rest of the Best Damn Fest There Is

Fantastic Fest 2014Any film festival that you are lucky enough to attend as Press will find you struggling with, among other things, 1. seeing as much as you can, 2. writing about as much as you can, and 3. somehow finding time for sleep so you can keep doing both. Ah, tis a wonderfully viscous circle if ever there was one.

Well, as with the best of intentions, sometimes your review aspirations have to yield to personal health (and sanity). You’re there to enjoy the fest after all, so the main thing is that you don’t get burned out. Pace yourselves dear friends, pace yourselves.

In 2012 I learned that sometimes a festival like Fantastic Fest can be overwhelming, even in a small and intimate venue such as the South Lamar Drafthouse. Yet, for all there is to see and do, like meeting writers from big time websites, or literally rubbing elbows with celebrities (the lines to get into each screening can be very tight you unintentionally touch funny bones), there’s still work to be done. So, aside from our 12 proper reviews, and 6 interviews (click this link to read all of our coverage), here are some final passing thoughts about films that are worth your time and attention. Only difference here is that thanks largely to time constraints, a capsule review will suffice in getting the mostly favorable points across.

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If you had kept up with Twitter, you may have noticed that FFX (Fantastic Fest 10) drew some big talent like Kevin Smith and Keanu Reeves who came through Austin to promote Tusk and John Wick respectively. Hell, even Edgar Wright and “Dancing Baby Groot” himself James Gunn was on hand to enjoy this one-of-a-kind festival experience. But as those kinds of films would undoubtedly get a wide release in tandem with (or soon after) the Fest, we decided to focus on the breed of films that may never (ever) find distribution outside the festival circuit.

Out of all the films we saw, Tombville (capsule review below), High Five and The Babadook (reviews here and here) certainly took the cake as “the best of the Fest” for a variety of reasons. But there were still plenty of great frights, and delights in this year’s line up.

Anyway, enough rambling. Here are our thoughts on the best and the rest of the best damn Fest there is…


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BLIND

This debut gem from Eskil Vogt follows Ingrid who, having recently lost her sight, lives a soulless existence in her apartment. Her thoughts are her only means of escape. It’s a dream-like narrative about the loneliness from not only being blind but also losing her husband on a number of levels. Blind is powered by a hauntingly somber performance from Ellen Dorrit Petersen as Eskil Vogt’s film focuses on four pained characters dealing with their own problems.

Among them, it touches on many overlapping issues (marital infidelity, depression, quality of life, etc.) and much so that blindness seems like the lesser of all the misfortunes and socially destructive habits explored. This is like Cronenberg-lite, but it just so happens to be as gripping and impacting as anything Cronenberg proper. 3/4


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BROs BEFORE HOs

One of the biggest surprises of the 2012 Fest was, without doubt, New Kids Nitro (we should know, we were there!) but this production takes shock humor and raunchiness to an all new level. In the film, two brothers from different mothers make a promise to each other at a young age – they vow never let a woman split them apart. But, as time goes by, the boys leave their childish ideals behind and become hormone-crazed young adults looking for sex at every turn. One of the friends meets a girl and all bets are off, especially when both brothers take a liking to her. It sounds cute, but don’t be fooled, not in the least.

From the same team as New Kids Nitro and New Kids Turbo, things aren’t even remotely close to expected, or wholesome, or safe. This movie is sick but you probably won’t mind because you’ll be laughing so hard. This, this right here is the kind of film destined to screen at Fantastic Fest. 3/4


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ABCs of DEATH 2

For many people, fans of horror and casual viewers, the first ABCs of Death was highly hit and miss. But the production team really got their act together for this one. Save for maybe two segments, this, far and away, is the superior alphabetical anthology. They are funnier, yet even more gruesome at times, and, best of all, kept to a time limit which helps with pacing. Brevity, as they say, is the soul of wit, right? Anyway, the film starts and ends with a bang (A and Z are two of the very best segments and make fitting bookends) but everything in between also makes for both memorable and irksome scenarios.

There’s way more to take away this time, as 26 filmmakers (from Nigeria to UK to Brazil and everywhere in between) participated to give us new, gruesome, and yet wholly satisfying ways to kick the bucket. There are a lot of standouts, sure, but if you ask us, A, E, G, M, R, S, V, W, and Z lead the pack (we scored interviews with four of the 26 directors – check them our here). 4/4


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CLOSER TO GOD

It’s an uneasy film, but the tension is subdued by a non-linear plot that mixes flashbacks and present day situations. This film is about a man who creates the first human clone, but it’s not his first creation…dun, dun, dun! It doesn’t glorify or condone the idea of cloning, but it takes a humble middle-ground allowing the story to play out letting us chose our side. That said, the result is that we see the doctor overly demonized for his efforts. From a production aspect, Closer To God is a very simple film – shot in close quarters, has no known actors, even the dialogue and acting is very underplayed. But it’s effective and becomes much more interesting when it’s revealed this film puts a modern spin on the framework of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”.

There’s an constant level of uneasiness that lingers throughout the runtime. Further, all the elements presented build like a volcanic horror movie patiently waiting to erupt. It’s sly, but you just never know how close you are you having all hell break loose. Closer To God smartly puts story ahead of effects in this well-paced narrative and it works fantastically. 2/4


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THE HIVE

In short, The Hive takes a very interesting premise (zombie-like pandemic where the infected are linked though a collective group consciousness) and makes it way more complicated than it needed to be. The result is an outbreak film that echoes Christopher Nolan’s Memento and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 yet doesn’t know which parts to emulate so it assumes both. That’s just one reason this just lags, and lags and lags. It looks good (although the hyper-stylized and saturated effects may wear out your eyes) and even has Gabriel Basso and Sean Gunn (hey, we’re happy they’re getting more work) but it’s just a pity this feels so needlessly heavy. The themes and content make this quaint movie feel three times longer than it really is. 2/4


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TOMBVILLE

A series of jagged, unevenly paced, and claustrophobic cuts make this nightmarish trek through a young boy’s memory all the more intense. Tombville is an unrelenting exercise in uneasiness presented in a near dark setting. Further, it’s compounded by the less than helpful and very dangerous people that the main character David encounters. You see, David is in his own personal hell trying figure out why he’s there…and it’s seriously messed up. Truth be told, it’s quite ingenious because sometimes, the scariest thing you may ever have to face is the truth (and yourself).

It’s a good bet that if you buy into the mood and the story, you’ll be hooked in the first few minutes. Tombville is thrilling and chilling, and even more so because you don’t really know what’s going on. Non-directional, non-linear and mostly (but intentionally) nonsensical, this complete and utter version of an inescapable nightmare is so real you’ll probably try to pinch yourself. Yet, like a rotten onion, there are more layers revealed and things go from hopeless to abysmal. It’s only an hour long but feels longer due to the presentation and strong visuals which are visceral, vivid and very tough to watch (not for the content, but for the things implied). A head trip of sorts, first-time Belgian feature director Nikolas List knows exactly what he’s doing and he nails it. After seeing this he’s already got my ticket money for whatever his next feature will be. 4/4


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EVERLY

Imagine if you will, a female-led version of Die Hard inspired by Lars Von Trier and cinema of Takashi Miike…granted that’s a lot to wrap your head around, so it might take you a while. But, first and foremost, it’s a bad ass actioner; as long as you know that, you’re good. As such, it’s Christmas time and Everly (Salma Hayek) has decided that enough is enough. She’s done being a call girl, and so, to be free of her trade, she needs to be free of her boss…only he’s not letting her go easily. The result is, more or less, a one room action flick that is like the last ten minutes of Leon (The Professional) spread out over 90 minutes.

Try as she might, Everly just can’t get out of the apartment. And when she’s not running and gunning for her life (her boss put a healthy bounty on her head) she’s trying to save her family who has been unfairly brought into the middle of this mess. The bodies continue to hit the floor as the endless stream of killers learn they’ve entered the wrong room in this high-energy Holiday actioner. From the mind of Joe Lynch, this is as crazy as you might expect. Merry Christmas ya filthy animal! 3/4


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But movies weren’t the only thing happening in Austin during the Fest. As we’re huge fans of Mondo, and the fantastic film scores they release on vinyl (click here to see the releases exclusive to this convention), we were extremely excited to head to the first ever MondoCon to see what events/panels we could sit for.

Yet, upon arrival, we saw the mob of people that had descend on the all too small Marchesa Hall & Theatre (imagine the exterior of The Winchester in Shaun of the Dead) and realized this would be no quick-and-easy task. So we hung around just long enough to pick up every vinyl release they had (got some cool variants too – see photo below) and raced back to the Drafthouse to catch our screenings. I tell ya, there’s just not enough time to be a fan and cover this event as Press. Well, not in 4 days anyway.

Still, for the people who attended the panels, MondoCon attendees were able to the meet the artists behind their favorite prints which is worth the price of admission right there. That said, the guys at /Film have two really great write-ups about that and more. Check them out here and here.

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And so ends FFX – celebrating 10 years of being the largest genre festival in the U.S. It was a blur, but it’s some of the best and most intense fun you can have at any film festival. They’ve already announced the dates for next year. So, if you have never been, or have and are in desperate need for your next genre fix, then mark you calendars for September 24 – October 1, 2015. That’s Fantastic!