Previewing Fantastic Fest 2021

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Seriously, what good fortune lucky charm did I pick up this year? Gearing up to attend another film festival and Fantastic Fest, held yearly in Austin, TX is one that’s always coming up in conversations on almost everything I read and listen to. Named one of the “25 film festivals worth the entry fee” and on numerous “best of” festival list rankings, this festival has grown by leaps and bounds every year and has hosted a number of World Premieres and special screenings annually. Directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, André Øvredal, Ben Wheatley, Mel Gibson, Pedro Almodóvar, Tim Burton, The Wachowskis, Eli Roth, Alfonso Cuarón, and more have shown their new films in various forms of completion to enthusiastic audiences. The in-person event is held at an Alamo Drafthouse and in 2021 the festival is reformatting its structure to comply with the ongoing health crisis. If you can’t attend in person, the virtual portion of Fantastic Fest, FF@HOME, will take place on Alamo On Demand after the on the ground event has completed its run.

That means I’ve been getting ready for a few days now and will be dropping in occasionally at the main Fantastic Fest page over the first seven days of the festival starting on Thursday after the premieres to let you know the titles you’ll want to check out if you are attending the event in person as well as the offerings with virtual availability you can fire up from the comfort of your own home. Not every film is available in both programs but thankfully quite a lot of them are — a big win for all that attend Fantastic Fest in any form. More information is available here so get your tickets now and make some time — these programmers have been working hard to make this festival truly fantastic!

First things first, because some festival programming has overlap there are several movies playing at Fantastic Fest that I’ve already had the opportunity to see at an earlier date. While you can do your own sleuthin’ on this site and find my thoughts, I’m still going to hold off re-publishing anything formal for two of the movies that I see are playing again here. However, let me strongly suggest you get your tickets for THE BETA TEST and HELLBENDER. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Let’s start our look at the fest with some of the films that I think look like absolute treats but might be a little easier to get at after the festival due to either their stars/filmmakers, their commercial prospects, their country of origin, or a combination of all of the above. High on my list is THE BLACK PHONE, a Blumhouse production about a teenager abducted by a killer that looks good and scary. It’s not available virtually so you’ll have to see it in-person but miss it and my guess is you won’t have to wait long to catch it in wide release. This might wind up being for bragging rights only. Same for SILENT NIGHT, a Keira Knightley holiday entry that could be a nice antidote for those that can’t stand Love, Actually. Knightley’s a multiple Oscar nominee so this one will see the light of day in some shape or form. A good alternative might be BARBARIANS, another UK production about two brothers and their significant others whose pleasant dinner turns ugly. Personally, I can’t wait to see THERE’S SOMEONE IN YOUR HOUSE, a Netflix film based on Stephanie’s Hawkins fairly freaky YA novel. It’s available to stream on October 6 so if you have a subscription, why spend the time here when you could be seeing the intriguing South African remake of ‘80s slasher classic SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE?

If you are a hardcore film aficionado, you’ve likely already heard about Julia Ducournau’s shocking and disturbing TITANE, which won the Palme d’Or, at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Only the second female director to ever win this top prize, Ducournau’s film isn’t going anywhere as the road to the Oscars heats up so we’ll have time to take this one in. That’s why I’ll likely lean toward something like KING CAR, a Brazilian political sci-fi thriller with a man who can “be one” with cars as our central hero. Directed by Renata Pinheiro, I missed this one at Fantasia and was kicking myself ever since.

COP SECRET, an Icelandic action drama following a reckless male police officer in Reykjavik who is paired up with his equal in another department. When the two men fall in love, all bets are of. Directed by a professional Icelandic football player, this one is described like a Michael Bay produced gay comedic version of Lethal Weapon. Um…sold. I’m also on the watch for BLACK FRIDAY which is about, you guessed it, the famous day after Thanksgiving when employees at a toy store have to face down bargain-hunting shoppers that have turned into bloodthirsty monsters.

Foreign entries are robust this year and I couldn’t be happier since a number of these European contributions often take big risks leading to satisfying payoffs. THE EXECUTION is a serial killer thriller from Russia that has a recently promoted cop having to go back and re-investigate an old case that might not be as closed as he thought. I happened to catch the trailer for THE INNOCENTS the other day and was already adding it to my list for the future but seeing this creepy looking Norwegian film that appears to be about a group of children with psychic powers show up at Fantastic Fest could mean I see it a little earlier than I had hoped. Two exorcism films stand out in the line-up, one out of Iran (ZALAVA) and the other from Mexico/Venezuela (THE EXORCISM OF GOD) and both look to be nice and nerve-jangling. Then there’s KNOCKING, from Sweden, and this is one I’ve heard good things about in previous festival runs. A woman is tormented by a strange knocking sound inside her apartment? Is she going insane or is something far more sinister happening to her?

I’ve already mentioned a few serial killer films but the theme seems to be a popular one this year, as evidenced by titles such as LIMBO (from Hong Kong), MIDNIGHT (South Korea), and NAME ABOVE TITLE (PORTUGAL). While this subgenre can become a bit rote, these actually look like moody riffs on a well-worn premise. I’ll be doing my best to catch all three.

There is some fun to be had at the festival too…how about two documentaries on popular bands that have cult followings? THE UNITED STATES OF INSANITY documents the rise of the Insane Clown Posse while THIS IS GWAR shows how a group of artists from Virginia collaborated on a rock ‘n roll band that consistently surprises its audiences. I also get the feeling that SOME LIKE IT RARE may have some comedic, uh, chops to it, what with the tale of a butcher that kills a vegan activist and then uses the body for profit. Sounds very tongue and cheek to me. I’m also interested in what tone AFTER BLUE (DIRTY PARADISE) finds. The French film takes place on a planet populated entirely by women, two of whom go after a dangerous villain.

Rounding out the crop of films I’m excited for Fantastic Fest to feature, there’s a 4K restoration of the much-loved but rarely available folk horror film EYES OF FIRE (which was a VHS that was always either checked out or missing at my local video store) and a rare chance to view the infamous 1981 film POSSESSION starring Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill. I don’t think I’ll be able to see it, but A24’s LAMB is screening at the fest and that movie looks all kind of messed up. A fourth chapter of the longstanding V/H/S series appears with V/H/S/94 and there’s a thriller from Senegal, SALOUM, that looks mighty impressive.

I’m intrigued to see THE TIMEKEEPERS OF ETERNITY. An experimental film in which the 1995 TV miniseries The Langoliers is transformed into a different movie entirely, this wild endeavor could either be a major hit or an exercise in boredom. Norway’s THE TRIP sounds familiar, with a husband using a planned weekend getaway to murder his wife, but the unexpected developments could keep it edge-of-your-seat fun. LET THE WRONG ONE IN is an Irish vampire sibling drama if you’re into that sort of thing and HOMEBOUND is a small film from the UK featuring a newly married couple paying a visit to his children during a doomed weekend at an isolated country home. The Austrian offering LUZIFER could be a good choice as well, with a man and his mother being threatened with expulsion from their home and the deadly consequences that arise because of it. Finally, ALONE WITH YOU’s description as a lesbian ethereal drama could come off as stuffy but I’m hoping it has more haunt to its horror aspects.

So there you have it — enough selections as a jumping off point and I’ll be back with reviews of many after they have premiered between now and October 11 (and even after!) Make sure to head over to Fantastic Fest and grab your tickets for in-person events as well as the at-home portion — both have exciting options for you!

One comment on “Previewing Fantastic Fest 2021

  1. […] At his website, Botten reviewed “Prisoners of the Ghostland,” “Lady of the Manor,” “The Starling,” “The Nowhere Inn” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” Botten also wrote a preview of Fantastic Fest 2021. […]

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