#TBThursday Review: 5 Great Films That Premiered at Fantastic Fest


fantastic_fest_turkish_logoPreston Barta // Editor

The 11th annual Fantastic Fest commences tonight in Austin, Texas. The festival brings together many different, shocking, great, weird, bloody and fun titles to cinema lovers– and we are expected to have a plethora of incredible films to cover over the next seven days of movie hopping, all taking place at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar.

But, before we kick it off tonight, let’s look back at some of the gems that were uncovered in the festival’s past. For this week’s Throwback Thursday, here are five films that premiered at Fantastic Fest that still hold a special place in our hearts and minds.

Blue-Ruin-Main-ReviewBLUE RUIN (2013)

Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Cast: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray and Amy Hargreaves

Premiering at this year’s Fantastic Fest is Jeremy Saulnier’s GREEN ROOM, a story of punk rock and blood– two ingredients of cinema success. Before Salnier rocked out with Patrick Stewart, however, he gave us a bloody slice of Americana with BLUE RUIN.

BLUE RUIN may have fell completely under the radar when it was on the festival circuit in 2013, but its quiet indie release came crawling out of a very strong Spring 2014. Violent, isolated and dejectedly humorous, the film offers a look at a misguided loner, played by the marginalized star Macon Blair. He is a bearded vagrant named Dwight on his last leg of resources, sleeping in a disheveled ol’ hooptie of a car. He doesn’t seem to mind this simple lifestyle, until his world falls into a black hole when he is informed that the man who murdered his parents 20 years prior is being released on a plea bargain. Disoriented and wide eyed, Dwight hits the road out for blood.

BLUE RUIN has a ferocious narrative momentum that is as relentless as it is subtle. As the story unfolds before our eyes we learn things may not be as black-and-white as once thought, and Blair embodies this with pin-point precision by encapsulating all the virtues of an anti-hero. He is stoic, determined, ruthless and every bit as engrossing as any leading man to hit the screen. The film veers away from being a cheesy Liam Neeson punch-fest without relying too much on its high-concept revenge conceit.
– Cole Clay

coherenceCOHERENCE (2013)

Director: James Ward Byrkit
Writer: James Ward Byrkit
Cast: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling and Nicholas Brendon

COHERENCE is one of those rare films that proves that you don’t always need a 100 million dollars to build a gripping sci-fi film. Just look at MOON and ANOTHER EARTH— both are thought-provoking and entertaining pieces that were made on a shoestring budget, and that’s exactly what COHERENCE is.

Taking place over a single night, a group of friends gather for a party when a comet is expected to pass really close to Earth. BOOM. Phones start breaking, power goes off, strange knocks at the door– some crazy stuff happens, and it doesn’t let up one bit.

One of the great things about Fantastic Fest is how it always seems to find these films that have a great balance of making you think while also entertaining you, a quality COHERENCE undeniably has. It’s a trippy, mind-bender of a movie that sparks debates among friends and will have you thinking for days.

maxresdefaultROOM 237 (2012)

Director: Rodney Ascher
Cast: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks and Juli Kearns

Fantastic Fest doesn’t come without its engaging documentaries. In 2012, festivalgoers got a taste of a quality doc filmmaking with Rodney Ascher’s sweeping essay film ROOM 237.

What makes ROOM 237 stand out above the rest is its unique approach. The film doesn’t bother with the talking-heads formula. Instead, Ascher shakes things up by using footage from Kubrick’s films and playing it under the voices of film theorists who believe they’ve decoded the hidden messages in THE SHINING (1980).

Now, if you have ever feasted your eyes on THE SHINING– and I’m talking CLOCKWORK ORANGE style – you may have often wondered what the hell some of it actually means. The story is rather simple, yes, but there’s no doubt there’s much more mystery found within the walls of the Overlook Hotel– such as the hotel’s layout, film’s intentional (?) continuity errors, and so on.

Ascher is definitely no stranger to the horror genre, especially if you’ve seen his other documentary titled THE NIGHTMARE this year. You can clearly see his admiration and understanding of horror in his films. Perhaps one of the most compelling things about Ascher is how he tries to make his documentaries more than just documentaries. As you know, it’s not news that documentaries don’t quite garner the same attention as feature films. However, documentaries can provide us with the most interesting of stories, especially ROOM 237.

We-Need-To-Talk-About-Kevin-StillWE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2012)

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writer: Lynne Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear
Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller

This Tilda Swinton-starring feature is a wicked movie that certainly takes time to digest. While it may not be the easiest movie to watch, you certainly won’t forget it– and that’s the truth.

School shootings are dark and hard-to-sell movies to dig into, just look at Gus Van Sant’s ELEPHANT (2003). However, instead of putting the lens on the gritty violent act itself, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN focuses more on the before and after, where a family is trying to function with their disturbed child (a terrifyingly good Ezra Miller) and his ill-thought choices.

When it comes to reading about school shootings, we very rarely think about the family of the shooter. Often people are quick to dismiss them as the family that raised an “evil” being. But WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN shows that sometimes no matter what we do to try and raise our children right, things happen that are beyond our control.

youre-next-1YOU’RE NEXT (2011)

Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
Cast: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg

Now that I have you all in a down mood after reading about WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, let’s talk about a horror movie that is equal parts scary and funny. Filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, who made last year’s entertaining hell-ride THE GUEST, put their genre-bending heads together in 2011 to create an absorbing and tremendously unique piece of work with YOU’RE NEXT.

Setting up a story that may sound familiar – a family shares a reunion to celebrate their parents’ anniversary – quickly gets bloody when a gang of mysterious killers start picking the family off one-by-one. Stay with me here because this is where it gets good, but little did these masked killers know, one of the family members know how to kick some major butt.

Every year Fantastic Fest has the one (or more) film(s) that’s just a blast to watch with a crowd. Last year it was JOHN WICK and THE GUEST, and in 2011 it was most certainly YOU’RE NEXT. This year, my money is on GREEN ROOM.

To know more about this year’s lineup at Fantastic Fest, visit their website here.

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.