Fantastic Fest Day 1 Recap: ‘THE LOBSTER’, ‘THE KEEPING ROOM’ Kick Off Fest On Right Foot

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Preston Barta // Editor

There really isn’t anything quite like Fantastic Fest. I know that’s a phrase that is tossed around a lot on the festival circuit, but Fantastic Fest is an event that begins the second you roll into Austin. Going down the Lamar strip you’ll see filmmakers and cinephiles pumping gas, cramming snacks and water bottles into their already overflowing bags. Everyone who’s anyone and a whole lot of people who definitely aren’t anybody converge every year upon the city in hopes of getting noticed, boosting their profile, or snagging some indie cred. Sometimes it works and other times… Well, in a place where the party doesn’t seem to stop, I’m sure you can do the math.

Going into its 11th year, Fantastic Fest continues to showcase the best genre films from around the globe. Audiences are expected to have several guest appearances and a plethora of incredible films to cover over the week-span of movie binging, all taking place at the scenic and comfortable Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar.

From Left to right John C. Reilly, Ben Whisaw and Collin Farrell (photo courtesy of Picturehouse)

L-R, John C. Reilly, Ben Whisaw and Colin Farrell star in THE LOBSTER. Photo courtesy of Picturehouse.

Day 1’s main attraction was THE LOBSTER, a rather peculiar plunge into an alternate universe where people are forced to find a soul mate withing 45 days or they’re transformed into an animal forever. Now, this sounds absurd already, I know, but it more than likely also has you curious.

I urge you to talk about the premise alone with friends or colleagues and see how it goes– you might eventually find yourself wanting to see this Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz-starring weird-fest stat, which is slated for a 2016 theatrical release. It’s an easy conversation starter amongst the fest crowd, I’ll say that much.

The silly premise undoubtedly had audiences feeling a bit mixed going into the U.S. premiere last night, but the cast and uniqueness didn’t stop fans from selling out its two theaters. This was a film we praised because of its bold and perpetual inventiveness (see our full review here). You won’t be able to shake what it leaves you with, trust me.

THE LOBSTER made a great pairing with DEMON, a twisted spin on the familiar from late director Marcin Wrona. The film hones in on the spirit of a dead person who haunts the living, according to traditional Jewish belief.

While on paper this reads as a cliché-ridden film of a demonic possession, there is more than meets the eye here. It’s a refreshing and unique take on an all-too-crowded genre.

Now, it would be a little unrealistic if there weren’t some stinkers in this festival’s lot. It’s just unfortunate that it happened to be a movie featuring the talents of Emma Roberts (SCREAM QUEENS) and Kiernan Shipka (ONE & TWO).

Somewhere inside FEBRUARY‘s forward yet deviant world is a good movie. It’s got an interesting enough story about demonic possession (again) at an all-girl school during the cold month of, you guessed it, February. It also has the proper hat tips to classic horror, skin-crawling silences, and a potent score composed by Elvis Perkins. But where the story loses the reins is by adopting this ineffective PULP FICTION style of narrative structure and by establishing ideas that are later abandoned. The film is a frustrating game of tug of war that is as cold as the snow that falls on screen. Even though director Oz Perkins paints a grim picture, no startling revelations rise to the surface.

L-R, Brit Marling and writer Julia Hart of THE KEEPING ROOM. Photo by Preston Barta.

L-R, Brit Marling and writer Julia Hart of THE KEEPING ROOM. Photo by Preston Barta.

Peripheral screenings for the night included THE KEEPING ROOM, a well-mannered western exploration with Brit Marling (I ORIGINS), Sam Worthington (AVATAR) and Hailee Steinfeld (TRUE GRIT). The film follows three women as they fight against two rogue soldiers during the American Civil War.

What could have been a by-the-numbers kind of tale actually digs deep by displaying the strength that can be found during the troubling times of life. It’s an unrelenting film to loose yourself in over the weekend– which is now out in limited release.

Other screenings that invaded the Day 1 roster were THE ASSASSIN, a transfixing action flick about an assassin’s mission to eliminate political rival; THE WAVE, a gripping disaster-piece following the horrors of an 85 meter high violent tsunami; and a goofy-action comedy by the name of LAZER TEAM.

Friday has a crowded schedule with appearances by director Jeremy Saulnier (GREEN ROOM), Mickey Keaton (DARLING) and Isaac Ezban (THE SIMILARS), and notable screenings of VICTORIA and the much anticipated “Secret Screening.” We’ll report back tomorrow!

All ticket and screening information can be found at fantasticfest.com.

About author

Preston Barta

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.