Fantastic Fest Day 3 Recap: ‘RATS’, ‘THE CREW’, ‘BUSTER’S MAL HEART’ and more

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Preston Barta & James Cole Clay // Film Critics

Every festival has their weak days. It happens.

When programmers put down the money for crowd drawers – such as ARRIVAL and today’s regional premiere of MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN – they also have to find smaller films to fill in the remaining slots. Sometimes they’re gems waiting to be discovered or the type of films you wish you didn’t order food during because the exit door couldn’t sound sweeter.

It’s all good fun, however. Even when the day’s slate doesn’t deliver the goods, there are still good conversations waiting to happen in the lobby or that VR experience you dismissed by the doorway.

Another great thing about bad films is, as the saying goes, they make the good ones and even the average ones that much better. And yesterday we saw two truly great films whose material were elevated by the mal-hearted ones.

Morgan Spurlock's RATS infests the Discovery channel on October 22. Courtesy of FantasticFest.com

Morgan Spurlock’s RATS infests the Discovery channel on October 22. Courtesy of FantasticFest.com

Documentarian Morgan Spurlock’s polished persona has made him one of the premiere voices in American doc filmmaking today. He made it big in 2004 with SUPER SIZE ME, which documented Spurlock consuming McDonald’s three times a day for 30 days.

Debuting on Discovery on October 21, his latest film RATS is groundbreaking in terms of the innovative filmmaking style. Spurlock – who is not seen or heard in the film – takes us on a journey across the world to encounter rat infestations in New York City, New Orleans and Mumbai among other locations. Shot and scored like a horror film with the feel of a David Fincher mystery, Spurlock creates an atmosphere that’s as much terrifying as it is hilarious. This is the must-see documentary of the festival.

The other shining feature of Day 3 was a French crime thriller. If you like the rushing feeling of anxiety that comes with watching a hard-edged heist film, you’ll find THE CREW to be a well-made crime procedural to applaud.

Some heist films frontload their narratives with too much exposition. THE CREW, on the other hand, cuts to the chase and unloads a lean and exciting feature. It’s a classic case of bad men versus worse men, but how everything unfolds is what takes the story above the familiar gunplay.

Like GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS – where Nic Cage and Giovanni Ribisi play brothers who work on the other side of the law – the story’s younger brother gets mixed up with the wrong folks and it forces his older, more mature to complete a dangerous job to save their necks.

Bullets fly and blood is splattered all around, THE CREW is a no-nonsense great time at the cinema. It may not feature the standard Hollywood ending you may be craving, but it gets in and out and gets the job done.

Courtesy of FantasticFest.com

THE CREW. Courtesy of FantasticFest.com

Sometimes films can have an ambiguity that causes you to ask questions and mine for the gold within– a notion that’s incredibly hard to achieve.

In BUSTERS MAL HEART you have a leading man in Rami Malek, who has made a name for himself playing a tortured character in MR. ROBOT. Sarah Adina Smith’s film about a mountain man (Malek) haunted by his past realizes that he is one man trapped in two bodies.

The premise is magnetic for the first hour, yet Smith apparently isn’t interested in allowing us to get too close to her characters. So when revelations are exposed, instead of a conversation mounting all you can muster is a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Coupled with a committed performance from Malek, Smith does succeed in settling a mood with expert camerawork and lighting. However, BUSTER’S MAL HEART never gives audiences a dark and emotional payoff.

The last two films we attempted to give our time to were THE DWARVES MUST BE CRAZY and WE ARE THE FLESH.

The former was one of those titles you see for all the wrong reasons because it was made for all the wrong reasons. Think of SHARKNADO or Fantastic Fest’s ANOTHER WOLFCOP: They’re ridiculous, over-the-top movies made for laughs.

Before THE DWARVES MUST BE CRAZY started, one of the festival’s programmers introduced the film and mentioned how it was “the best butt-munching movie you’ll see at 11:45 in the morning.” Odd sounding, I know, but sometimes you just want to iron out the festival’s darker and emotionally rich titles. But what shakes out is a boring, laugh-a-half-hour movie about a village of Thai dwarves who are attacked by evil, butt-munching floating heads with attached intestines.

What’s funny on paper is quite the contrary on screen. DWARVES never gets crazy or absurd enough to mark it a good time.

WE ARE THE FLESH. Courtesy of FantasticFest.com

WE ARE THE FLESH. Courtesy of FantasticFest.com

The last, most disappointing and disturbing feature was WE ARE THE FLESH, a Mexican horror film set in a ruined city where a demented man offers a pair of siblings food and shelter in exchange for helping him build a room.

Now, sometimes, you enter festival screenings blindly (at least that’s what we try to do). We don’t even bother reading a plot description most of the time, as we tend to operate off of word of mouth and the talent involved. We may not have known the filmmakers or actors attached to WE ARE THE FLESH, but the film’s still photo on Fantastic Fest’s website (seen here) was enough to lock our interest. The man just looks scary. So we gambled on it and lost.

In no way does WE ARE THE FLESH provide any meaning for the things the characters do in the film, most notably the man at the center. He bangs on drums (in a dizzy sequence where the camera spins around) and forces the siblings to have sex with each other (which may or may not be actual penetration). It’s not our definition of fun. So we abandoned ship and slept better because of it.

Day 4 has the festival’s best lineup (RAWDOG EAT DOG and MISS PEREGRINE’s to name a few), so hopefully we’ll have kinder things to report.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.