I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
As the the movie industry continues to shift, Fantastic Fest remains a place where genre movie fans can party all day and night, watch cool movies and careers be born, and soak in memories that will last forever. Fantastic Fest champions horror, sci-fi and fantasy films, and many of them will make their way to Dallas-Fort Worth cinemas.
This year’s edition starts Thursday in Austin and runs through Sept. 27. Here are 10 movies I’m looking forward to that could make a serious impact.
Note: All screenings will take place at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on South Lamar in Austin, TX.
What better way to kick off a film festival than with HALLOWEEN? While it shares the same title of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic starring Jamie Lee Curtis, this HALLOWEEN is a continuation of what Carpenter established 40 years ago, ignoring the seven subsequent sequels (though, HALLOWEEN 4 is pretty great in my book) and Rob Zombie’s remake films. It supposedly shows Michael Myers like you’ve never seen him before (brutally crushing skulls) and Curtis’ Laurie Strode taking it to TERMINATOR 2 levels to play HOME ALONE with the boogeyman. Director David Gordon Green (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS; JOE) may seem like an odd choice, but according to reports from the Toronto International Film Festival, Green captures the spirit of the original and makes Michael Myers scary again. It’s an opening night film that cannot be missed.
Remember that silly movie M. Night Shyamalan directed a decade ago, THE HAPPENING? It starred Mark Wahlberg and came off as an horror movie made by Al Gore, about the plants getting revenge against people. THE WIND seems like the good version of that story, though a bit more mysterious and terrifying. Set in the western frontier of the late 1880s, the supernatural thriller sees the forces of nature playing tricks on its central character, Lizzie (Caitlin Gerard of INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY). The trailer gives off this tone that resembles THE WITCH, with the ambiguity of IT COMES AT NIGHT. A slow-burn movie that appears to be a surefire.
Netflix has really been stepping up its game lately. I have swooned over their romantic comedies (TO All THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE and SET IT UP) and salivated over my anticipation of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma (being hailed as one of the very best movies of the year) and Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN. APOSTLE, a WICKER MAN-esque tale about a kidnapping and a religious cult, goes for crowds who favor some red-soaked insanity. Netflix dropped the trailer earlier this week and we learn it’s crafted by Gareth Evans (director of the RAID movies), stars Dan Stevens (LEGION series; THE GUEST) and has more than enough images to make you grind your teeth from its intensity. There’s one shot, in particular, of Stevens’ character be pulled into a body cruncher. Hardcore, no doubt.
For those still burning over the emotions felt during Steven Yeun’s departure from THE WALKING DEAD series, get ready to feel even more emotions in his new film, BURNING. According to Slashfilm writer Chris Evangelista, it’s a “haunting mystery that lingers.” BURNING is a romantic thriller about two people competing for the affection of a young woman. What so easily could become a run-of-the-mill type of story supposedly uses subtlety and patience to make it one of the most gratifying movies of the year. I believe it, too.
A few years ago, there was this horror comedy called THE FINAL GIRLS. It aimed to poke fun at horror tropes and churn out an engaging horror entry of its own. That movie, while effective at times, ended up being underwhelming by winking at its audience a little too hard. YOU MIGHT BE THE KILLER may do the same, but there’s more promise with the storyline and talent attached. Starring Fran Kranz (the stoner from THE CABIN IN THE WOODS) and Alyson Hannigan (BUFFY; HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER), the film tells of a killer on the loose at a sleepaway camp. Instead of calling the authorities, the head camp counselor (Kranz) calls his slasher film expert friend (Hannigan stepping in for SCREAM’s Jamie Kennedy) to help him survive the night and be ahead of the massacre curve. But to the film’s originality and as the title suggests, maybe he’s the killer?
I will follow filmmakers Jeremy Saulnier (director of GREEN ROOM) and Macon Blair (writer of I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THE WORLD ANYMORE) anywhere. They always take familiar narratives and steer it in an unconventional direction. HOLD THE DARK, also a Netflix release, stars Jeffrey Wright (CASINO ROYALE) as a retired wolf expert who is hired to find a six-year-old boy in the Alaskan wilderness, but encounters something more terrifying. For a Saulnier film, it’s best to know as little as possible going in, because he will take you on a memorable cinematic journey.
I don’t think there’s a better home for the J.J. Abrams-produced OVERLORD to celebrate its release than at Fantastic Fest. The action-packed trailer shows U.S. troops (including Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell and John Magaro) fighting against Nazi-engineered zombies during World War II. There’s plenty of machine gun fun and mangled zombies chowing down on the unfortunate to go around. So brace yourself for some R-rated gore and excitement.
Some of the most fascinating movies you’ll catch at a film festival are the titles that shed light on unknown worlds. CHAINED FOR LIFE fits the bill. It’s not necessarily a scary movie, but it’s a movie about scary movies. More specifically, it takes us through the experience of people (Jess Weixler and UNDER THE SKIN’s Adam Pearson) with physical differences. Perhaps you’ve seen a horror movie that features someone with a frightening or unnatural appearance. You may think they are covered in prosthetics, but in some cases not. CHAINED FOR LIFE seems like a movie that’s going to make me super emotional and alter the way I watch horror movies. However, I trust that it’s worth the plunge.
One of my favorite genre films is SUNSHINE. It leads you to believe it’s an intense drama about a space crew assigned to reignite the dying sun; however, about three-quarters of the way through, it turns into a horror movie. THE BOAT gives off the same kind of vibe. It involves a fisherman who encounters a seemingly empty boat, but soon finds that he’s fighting for his life against an unknown enemy. It’s a simple story that uses mood, tension and the visual language of film to reel you in.
Another exciting release that is sure to make you flock south is closing night film BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE. Like OVERLORD, this movie also has Fantastic Fest written all over it. It’s got the perfect amount of bizarre, horror and recognizable talent (including a shirtless and dancing Chris Hemsworth) to win your attention. Though its title may say one thing, Drew Goddard (director of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS) is destined to have fashioned a film that’s anything but a bad time.
Other events to consider: Secret Screening (this is probably the most exciting ingredient of the festival: seeing a movie that is unnamed until the title credits come up), LUZ (a demonic possession movie that looks like it was plucked straight from the early ‘80s and thrown into the present), THE PERFECTION (the filmmaker behind DOM HEMINGWAY directs Allison Williams in a disturbing twisted midnighter) and THE GUILTY (a LOCKE-style thriller about an emergency responder helping a kidnapped victim).
For the full line-up, showtimes and ticket information, visit fantasticfest.com.