SXSW Interview: Director Riley Stearns strikes truth in dark comedy ‘THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE’


Preston Barta // Features Editor

AUSTIN – One of the best films that screened at the South by Southwest Film Festival this year, THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE (our review), is the latest film written and directed by Riley Stearns (FAULTS). It’s a story about an insecure man named Casey Davies (Jesse Eisenberg) who is savagely beaten on the street by a biker gang and decides to enlist in a loco dojo to take back his dignity.

What could best be described as a bloody cocktail mix of THE LOBSTER and THE KARATE KID, but sent through the filter of a Jody Hill film (OBSERVE AND REPORT), THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE is a downright side-splitting knock-out from Stearns. It pulls no punches and delivers a darkly funny film about a man wrestling with his own masculinity.

The film premiered on March 10, but if you have a SXSW badge (or are in the Austin, TX, area), you can catch the encore screening of THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE on March 15 at the Stateside Theatre at the Paramount at 7:45 p.m. Bleecker Street is to release the film later this year (likely summer), but it warrants the trip to see it early amongst fellow movie lovers.

Fresh Fiction sat down with Stearns to discuss his film. We talk about how the worst day of your life can also be the best, the matter-of-fact dialogue and dark humor, and Jesse Eisenberg not being able to keep himself from cracking up during a hilarious monologue.

Our SXSW interview with writer-director Riley Stearns

(The interview above is shot and edited by Chance Maggard.)

The official teaser trailer for THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE

For more information on the film’s screening at SXSW, visit

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 ( 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.