Fantastic Fest – Part 2

Today marks the conclusion of the on the ground event…but WAIT! There’s more!

A week of films for the in-person portion of Fantastic Fest held in Austin, TX wraps up tonight . Of course, yours truly attended virtually (bummer to miss a number of screenings only shown at the TX theater) and will continue the entertainment and reviews with Fantastic Fest @ Home (check HERE for more information) but here is a second batch of reviews to tide you over for now. Stay tuned for an update or two before everything is said and done!

Name Above Title

Oh what an easy target I am for films like NAME ABOVE TITLE.  This is a gorgeously shot film clocking in at just under an hour that has such a delicious little set-up it’s a shame most everything is pretty bland.  I wanted to be taken in much more by Portuguese director Carlos Conceição and his dialogue-free look at a serial killer being unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight after being the last to embrace a dying woman that has just lept off a building.  However, the more it twists under its own boorishness the less it tantalizes, so that by the time Conceição gets to making a gaudy crucifixion parallel it has fallen completely into audience tedium.  That’s a shame, too, because with a small cast playing multiple roles (took me a second or too to catch on completely) and the interesting way of telling a story without using words, Conceição shows a theatrical flair that’s hard to capture on camera…but it’s the narrative that needs a great deal of work if they are to get to that next level.  On the plus side, no dialogue is necessary to appreciate Matthieu Charneau’s goo-goo-ga-ga good looks as a sick man driven to kill that, for a brief moment, may have found a heart he’d lost long ago.  I actually liked constantly doomed starlet Joana Ribeiro the best though, chameleon-like in the way she disappears into several roles.  At 59 minutes, this isn’t a huge investment, but it gets long after a half hour.

The Found Footage Phenomenon

Here we go with another documentary, and I’m so thrilled to see the inclusion of more of these at festivals, providing a respite from straightforward narrative filmmaking and more of a look inside the different subgenres for the films we may be seeing or considering buying a ticket to.  As with Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror, THE FOUND FOOTAGE PHENOMENON takes a cross section of the horror genre and goes deep into its lore, finding a creative inroad to its origin story that could even be traced back to epistolatory novels like Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  While this feels less outwardly scholarly and more in the way of documentary as entertainment, that doesn’t mean directors Sarah Appleton and Phillip Escott have merely skimmed the surface of their subject.  There is a hefty amount of information gathered and reported on during the 101 minutes and you’re bound to come away with a title or two you’ll want to research further.  The closer we get to modern day the more familiar the films will be, so keep your eyes and ears peeled during the middle section when a whole host of rare finds will appear. 

Barbarians

Toxic masculinity and alpha males on parade seem to be the latest go-to topics used as a jumping off point for films that aren’t quite horror and just past the edge of straight drama.  At Tribeca, All My Friends Hate Me was a fun (?) little bauble that saw a straight white male experience a really horrible weekend (poor thing) when his overly aggressive friends decide to play a mean joke on him that goes too far.  Now, in BARBARIANS, another meek cis white guy (Iwan Rheon) is about to co-host a dinner party with his eclectic artist girlfriend (Catalina Sandino Moreno) for his blowhard friend (Tom Cullen) who is always getting on his nerves. Writer/director Charles Dorfman takes time to cleverly set-up BARBARIANS to be going in one direction, only to jerk the wheel and change course in the final act to something quite different.  It’s a well-made effort and the small cast of actors (filmed during the pandemic) carry it all off nicely, covering up secrets until they are ready to be shared and even then maybe not being totally truthful.  A big negative is that the lighting near the end is atrocious.  I’ve been in underground caves with a single match and been able to see better.  I’m not sure if this has been acquired for North American distribution yet but it’s a perfect one for IFC to add to their stable of films. 

The Beta Test

(reprinted from my Tribeca coverage) It’s hard to talk at all about the newest film from writer/director Jim Cummings without giving too much away so let me just say this: THE BETA TEST serves as both a cautionary tale of manhood run amok & a cinematic facial peel for wheelers and dealers in Hollywood. While the previous films from Cummings have enjoyed some under the radar cult status and grown in popularity with some grassroots word-of-mouth PR, I’d expect IFC to get this one out in front of people in a unique way. It’s a thriller for those that like something more intelligent and satirical than lowbrow and ordinary. Cummings is excellent as is the other players assembled, especially Virginia Newcomb as his hapless fiancée that has her eyes opened just a fraction of a second too late.

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It

(reprinted from my Fantasia coverage) Hailing from Russia, SWEETIE, YOU WON’T BELIEVE IT has a lot going on, with several oversized storylines happening at the same time before finally converging and even at a scant 84 minutes it feels like it takes a long time to get to that important crossing.  Three friends head out of town for a weekend of fishing, mostly an excuse for one of them to get away from his shrew of a pregnant wife (in his defense, she’s presented as pretty horrible) and happen upon a mob hit in a remote area.  With the bungling gangsters now in pursuit of the fleeing trio, all of them are about to feel the wrath of a one-eyed killer out for revenge.  Director Ernar Nurgaliev stages a lot of scenes of mayhem and gruesome gore that will send midnight audiences through the roof with cheers, but the goodwill wears off through repetition and it all grows tiresome before the killing has run its course.  Add in another wrinkle of crazy that I won’t reveal, and it’s just overstuffed to the brim.  I could see this getting a remake in the U.S. and I’d hope it gets pared down, removing some of that manic energy which robs the more sinister moments from their maximum impact.

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