Fantastic Fest Day 4 Recap: ‘THE WITCH’, ‘THE DEVIL’S CANDY’ and ‘SOUTHBOUND’

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fantastic-fest-2015-700x300Preston Barta & Cole Clay // Film Critics

The pace has been set, and hopefully you have stayed hydrated and have received enough sleep for the halfway point of the festival. In the meantime, it’s also very important to gorge your eyeballs on what has to come to pass, as the most eclectic line-up to date. This is the moment of truth, either you have the stamina to make it through, or you get burned out. And remember, this is a marathon, and proper training is required.

Nicolas Winding Refn has been on the prowl in his standard issue white button-up shirt, signing copies of his hella pricy but gorgeous book THE ACT OF SEEING. His enthusiasm is infectious– somebody should give this guy a reality show, for real.

One of the more exciting events that has now become a staple at Fantastic Fest is the comedy show THE MELTDOWN WITH JONAH AND KUMAIL, which packed the Highball to the brim with a one-in-one out policy that lasted for hours.

But let’s talk some flicks. It was a big day for the premiere films at the festival, including a very special screening of a Puritan horror spookfest.

Anya Taylor-Joy makes up the great ensemble in THE WITCH. Photo courtesy of A24.

Anya Taylor-Joy makes up the great ensemble in THE WITCH. Photo courtesy of A24.

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, it has caused much of a stir, especially now that its nightmarish trailer is released on the web. The film marks a well-crafted and impressive feature debut from Robert Eggers, who knows how to ferociously ratchet up dread, superstition and paranoia to a grand degree.

Many witnessed the wrath of this film’s trailer, which slowly built up fear within with its expert use of string chords, drums, and goat bleats. It’s one of the creepiest trailers I’ve ever seen, springing a whirlwind of curiosity amongst us all. In its full form, THE WITCH showcases Eggers skill as a filmmaker while also personifying the basest fears.

Set in 1600s New England, the film follows 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.

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. THE WITCH will undoubtedly be one of those films (read our full review here).

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Another dynamite feature was THE DEVIL’S CANDY, starring Ethan Embry (pictured above) and Shiri Appleby (UnREAL). This wonderfully twisted film tells a story that may sound familiar to your ears: a family buys a house in a remote location and craziness ensues. Yes, while that part of the story doesn’t necessarily cruise through the uncharted, where the plot detours and arrives is completely fresh and exciting.

With its rockin’ heavy metal tunes, exceptional performances from its cast (seriously, I cannot just talk about one person), and nerve-racking exploration, THE DEVIL’S CANDY is a real treat. It features a sharp script written by Sean Byrne (THE LOVED ONES) with visuals that vividly back his words. There is never a dull moment amidst its dark and disturbed nature.

A scene from SOUTHBOUND.

A scene from SOUTHBOUND.

Anthology films works quite well in the horror genre, but man, don’t tie each story together besides using a narrator or MC like the CryptKeeper to introduce each story. SOUTHBOUND ties together five short stories about weary travelers on the road at night, and it’s unpredictably twisted.

Directors Rozanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath and the directing group Radio Silence all work together to create one vision that coalesces naturally and is one of those perfect midnight showings. With a sick sense of humor, SOUTHBOUND works in its themes of fear and regret and pokes and prods at its subjects with fulfilling results.

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

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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.