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.
The beloved Austin-based Fantastic Fest takes place each and every year at the now super famous Alamo Drafthouse. Head honcho Tim League has put together a group of programmers and dedicated film-lovers to bring a group of films that surprise, gross out, blow minds– the whole nine. When you go to the website, take a peek under each film screening at the fest; they are categorized with tiny graphics that indicate what you are in for– including ghosts, head trauma, full frontal, alcohol abuse, automatic weaponry, and even afro is a subcategory.
The point being is there is an eclectic mix for everybody, some films are juggernauts like Ridley Scott’s THE MARTIAN, while others are movies we like to call “Fantastic Gems”– these are movies you most likely would have never heard of or seen screened in this country otherwise. And who can forget the annual secret screenings? Last year it was the Austrian psychological thriller GOODNIGHT MOMMY, which League never uttered the title in his introduction. Having no prior knowledge of the film, you sit in a dark theater for two hours, asking a fellow festivalgoer, “What was that movie called?”
There’s no experience like it in the world. It’s like living in a bubble for a week with the happiest movie fanatics on planet Drafthouse. But, the excellent curation of films is just the tip of the iceberg, there are comedy shows (THE COMEDY MELTDOWN: WITH JONAH AND KUMAIL), karaoke parties, “Fantastic Debates” (filmmakers and critics choose a topic, debate and then go toe-to-toe in the boxing ring), barbecues– you name it.
For the sake of brevity, Fantastic Fest is Disney World inside of a movie theater. It can be overwhelming to look at the lineup, so let us help you with that. Here are six films to keep your eye out for while venturing to the Texas capital.
THE WITCH is the type of film for which you cannot prepare someone, no matter how much time and effort is spent laying the groundwork.
Since its January premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, THE WITCH has caused much of a stir, especially now that its nightmarish first look has hit the web. The film marks the feature directorial debut of Robert Eggers, previously a production designer and director for various projects– and now he has won the Sundance’s coveted best director award.
The film takes place in 1600s New England, following a family as they leave their settlement to live alone in the wilderness. Once a witch steals their youngest child, however, wickedness enters their lives, making their brave new life a grave mistake.
Eggers’ trailer, slowly building a sense of dread with string chords and drums, warrants his skill as a filmmaker while also personifying our basest fears.
It’s said that a good horror film is one that sticks with you, one that you can’t shake for days, possibly even years. A good horror film makes you scared to turn off the light, and makes you run when you could have walked. Something tells me Eggers’ THE WITCH will be one of those films.
– Preston Barta
THE WITCH screens on Sunday (9/27) at 5:15 p.m. and Tuesday (9/29) at 8 p.m.
OK, check this synopsis out, it’s pretty incredible and according to film festival lore it is supposed to be taken in complete earnest. IMDB says “In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in 45 days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods.”
Lobsters are disgusting little beasts as far as this guy is concerned, and the prospect of seeing Collin Farrell slowing, or quite rapidly change into a crustacean has an ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU feel to it mixed with a bit of dry wit. Keep in mind, by design I personally have not watched the trailer to the film, so this is just speculation and hear-say with a little bit of expert knowledge thrown into the mix.
Filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has been making the festival circuit with THE LOBSTER, which is his follow up to the deeply disturbing yet incredible film DOGTOOTH. Lanthimos is a talented mind who isn’t afraid to put some macabre images up on the screen, and this will most likely not disappoint when it screens opening night.
– Cole Clay
THE LOBSTER screens on Sunday (9/27) at 5:15 p.m. and Tuesday (9/29) at 8 p.m.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Academy Award-winning film BIRDMAN. It won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Cinematography for its daring yet bold illusion of a movie filmed in one, continuous shot. It was, of course, a mere illusion – virtually no one in the film industry has worked out the logistics of a one-take movie. Enter German filmmaker Sebastian Schipper.
Schipper put together the ultimate, immersive film featuring you in the driver’s seat. His powerhouse of a film titled VICTORIA follows a runaway party girl, Victoria (Laia Costa), who runs into a friendly quartet of men (Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit and Max Mauff) who invite her on a journey around town. Little did she know, she would become the wheelwoman of a bank heist before the night was through.
VICTORIA is an undeniable technical achievement – you will be completely floored by its style, wondering how the hell they pulled it off. It’s quite the storytelling achievement as well. Unlike previous one-take films, VICTORIA is not a “look what we did” technical demonstration reel. The film gives audiences the before, during and aftermath of a bank robbery, which only adds more fuel to the tension shown through this particular lens. You’ll easily find yourself caught in the web VICTORIA spins.
– Preston Barta
VICTORIA screens on Friday (9/25) at 10:45 a.m. and Tuesday (9/29) at 8:30 p.m.
Jeremy Saulnier changed the neo-noir game last year with his breakout movie BLUE RUIN. It’s a solid, very solid film that opened many doors and drew connections to the works of the Coen brothers, and anytime your name pops up in a sentence next to that moniker you know you’re in good hands.
GREEN ROOM contains punk rockers and horrific violence that can’t be unseen, so there’s no telling where this story is going to go. As the film develops, it becomes a battle between the punks vs. the skinheads, and with Saulnier’s adept skills at crafting violence with a slight sense of humor, seriously, who knows how this is going to turn out. Well, at least we know which side star Patrick Stewart is fighting for.
– Cole Clay
GREEN ROOM screens on Friday (9/25) at 8:45 p.m. and Tuesday (9/29) at 5:15 p.m.
Ben Wheatley is no stranger to Fantastic Fest; his 2012 comedy film SIGHTSEERS was a secret screening that year. HIGH-RISE follows a doctor played by the exhaustively-charming Tom Hiddleston who takes up residence in the titular building. Being seduced by the lifestyle that goes a long with the living on the top floor, he becomes privy to the social injustices of the institution and all hell breaks loose.
– Cole Clay
HIGH-RISE screens on Saturday (9/26) at 5:45 p.m. and Monday (9/28) at 5:15 p.m.
The scariest thing about this film is that its director, Marcin Wrona, was found dead in his hotel over the weekend while preparing to screen this very film at another film festival. On top of that, the film hinges on the idea of a dybbuk, which in Jewish mythology is believed to be an evil spirit of a dead person that haunts the living.
The odd parallels are not easy to swallow here, especially upon learning that Wrona got married not too long ago, a lot like the protagonist in DEMON. The trailer sets up a pleasant, romantic film, but it takes a 180 turn quickly and dives into the kind of material that haunts our dreams.
While on paper this reads as a cliché-ridden tale of a demonic possession, there is more than meets the eye. It’s a refreshing and unique take on an all-too-crowded genre.
– Preston Barta
DEMON screens on Thursday (9/24) at 5:15 p.m. and Tuesday (9/29) at 2:15 p.m.