Fantastic Fest 2018 was one for the books. A blur of films, fun, and memorable experiences, it was the best 84 hours I’ve spent at a film festival yet. My time in Austin was limited, but I got a lot done: I saw eleven films, wrote four full reviews and sat for three interviews. The “quick takes” below are capsule reviews for a bite-size run down.
Covering a festival means you have to split your time and put focus on what you feel is important and worthwhile. The brevity of each of these does not mean they aren’t worth seeking out. They totally are. I mean, if I didn’t like something, I’m not going to waste my time writing something negative.
Anyway, enough rambling. Here are GoSeeTalk’s thoughts on the following genre films which played at Fantastic Fest this year…
The Quake –
When The Wave came through Fantastic Fest in 2015, it made more than a splash. Pun very much intended! Norwegian genre veterans Kristoffer Joner and Ane Dahl Torp brought so much emotion to the film that was easily on par with The Impossible. In this sequel, The Quake follows the same characters, now three years removed from the catastrophic events in their little Norwegian town of Geiranger, as an earthquake is on the cusp of rattling Oslo to its core.
The Wave left us as emotionally drained as the characters, and this sequel does the same. Only it’s less about the seismic activity tearing through Norway and more about the fissures in the family trying to move on. It’s heartbreaking to see how an event that brought them together, over time, broke them apart after the father’s mental breakdown.
The visual damage is astounding and bone-chilling. In situations like the film depicts, most people would likely retreat to safety, but Joner is determined to save his family (again) from turmoil and harrowing life-threatening situations. The film pales a little to the 2015 story, but not when it comes to the emotion; you’ll find yourself holding your breath until the credits roll.
G-S-T RULING: 3/4
This WWII movie from Bad Robot and producer J.J. Abrams is probably the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Wolfenstein movie, but if that’s the case, you won’t get any complaints from me. It’s a big budget, bombastic bullet storm that action junkies are going to eat it up. Directed by Julius Avery, the film is balls out awesome yet is does stop short of delivering more.
The story leading up to the secret Nazi lab in the film takes its time opting for more character development between the American paratroopers, only it has too many characters to work with. The result of which is that the entire middle act is just biding its time – exposition and character development is overlong, the jokes are forced (admittedly, some are well-placed) and the thin plot is stretched out until all hell breaks loose in act III.
Beyond that, as a studio pic, there are times when the film plays it safe and goes tame when it should have been more raw. The good news is that Wyatt Russell channels his father (Kurt), and is well on his way to being a leading actor. And the film does has a series of truly thrilling scenes, with a finale that is pulse-pounding. And if you attended the Fest, attendees also got a sweet Overlord Mondo poster. That’s fantastic!
G-S-T RULING: 3/4
Writer-director Adrian Panek offers up a film that is less literal than its title would let on. There is no real shape-shifting monster in this 2018 narrative, yet it;s actually spot on for this tale of children who just survived the Holocaust and now find themselves preyed upon by a pack of wolf dogs. Trapped in a makeshift orphanage, the children, already quite feral from their time in Gross Rosen concentration camp, continue to breakdown mentally. So there is a sort of transformation happening.
The heavy in the film, the ferocious wolf pack, was set free from the camp at the end of the war. The children have diminishing provisions in the orphanage and no means of escaping the dwelling as the dogs descend on their location. A mix, of sorts, between Lord of the Flies and Cujo, it’s not a horror film in the normal sense, but it does get emotionally frightening. From their inability to read, to the infighting, jealousy, and delirium, the film tells a gripping story of survival.
Yet, inside all of that, there’s something magnetic about the film. It’s a sly powerhouse, and so much so that to say it is a masterpiece would be an understatement. Panek’s film is as beautiful as it is bleak, but the film offers something not often found in genre films: hope.
G-S-T RULING: 4/4
When I saw The Eyes of My Mother during Fantastic Fest 2016, I knew my life would never be the same. Much like how certain films scarred me from my youth (let’s face it, they made me the film fan I am today), I would never be able to unsee Nicolas Pesce‘s debut film. We had a very insightful interview (check it out here), and from there it was clear there would be much more from him in the future. As such, Piercing is a twisted cat-and-mouse story that is less about a narrative, and more a sadistic chess game.
Piercing is a clever and artsy endeavor, full of the same methodical style of shooting that you’d find in any of De Palma or Cronenberg’s films. Moreover, the film has a kind of restraint you rarely find in such a young director. Now instead of a revival effort, or even Pesce borrowing from those two masters, he crafts something original. His sophomore film stands toe-to-toe with any of their earlier works with the same strong and stunning style seen in his debut. It feels remarkably very fresh even if this retro-styled production – which includes period-specific miniatures of cityscapes – seems plucked right from the VHS era. A top drawer thriller, Piercing one oozes charm, sophistication and reverence. It’s just a bloody good time.
Pesce even included plenty of music from ’70s Italian films which helps flesh out this Giallo-inspired psycho-sexual affair. The young write-director really dials up the humor – a departure from the ’50 era American Gothic horror running through his last film. Both Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska do a fine job navigating this chamber-piece, but while the dark humor and groovy tracks are there in full force (fine examples of audio-visual counterpoint), you will never get too comfortable before Pesce’s crazy train of grotesquerie is full steam ahead.
G-S-T RULING: 3/4
A girl. A mixtape. And Armageddon. A uniquely honest portrayal of loss as a young woman struggles with the death of her best friend while dealing with the horrific Lovecraftian end of the world, driven by a beautiful indie music soundtrack.
Reading the above synopsis (from the Fantastic Fest website) might conjure all sorts of ideas and visions of what the film might hold, and none of them will align with what a filmmaker is trying to say when making something from their heart. It’s even more nebulous when it is done out of loss. As such, the journey is not literal, and Starfish is a lot more emotional than you’d expect going in. A deeply personal film from A.T. White (lead singer of the UK band Ghostlight), pay close attention to the subtext and you’ll likely get a lot out of it. That and the score and soundtrack really draws you in.
In the Q&A following the wold premiere, White said that when working with various effects artists during his creative process, he told them, “no idea is crazy enough.” Now the film does get crazy, and White has since learned that working through grief can lose an audience. Admittedly, I was lost because I was waiting for either a linear narrative thread or a cohesive finale. But that’s not how anyone copes with grief.
The film is gorgeous, with stunning cinematography where the dreamlike visuals reflect the cold despair after losing a friend. Starfish is an acquired taste and one that will open up after a second viewing. Don’t go looking for anyone to literally save the world – existing in it is the bigger challenge.
G-S-T RULING: 2/4
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek –
Whether at the Alamo Drafhouse during Fantastic Fest, or any other theater, you’d be hard pressed to find such a riveting story set in a small-scale setting. Over the course of one grueling night, a militia tears itself apart as it searches for the perpetrator of a mass shooting among its own. Very nearly a stage play, Henry Dunham’s debut feature has echoes of David Mamet while it takes on the best qualities of other genres, specifically ’40s era detective films.
The actors are fantastic, with gripping performances that continually sow seeds of distrust and misdirection while the audience tries to solve Dunham’s puzzle box. Add to that the stark visual palette of shadows and minimal color which heighten the tension as well as play up the intensity and doubt in every scene.
The result is an ultra cool, bare-bones, whodunnit that needs to be seen multiple times to take in all the style, mystery, and brilliant dialogue. And James Badge Dale (as always) just owns!
G-S-T RULING: 4/4