Fantastic Fest – Review Round-Up #1

Fantastic Fest Review ~ Everyone Will Burn

Synopsis: A mysterious young girl interrupts María José’s suicide attempt, offering the power to take revenge on the villagers responsible for her son’s death.
Director: David Hebrero
Running Length: 114 minutes
Review: I’ll share with you one film festival edict I set early on that I try to abide by at all costs. Choose your first movie wisely. It can often set the tone for how the next several days will go, not just in your general mood but in the types of films you’ll gravitate toward. I thought director David Hebrero’s Everyone Will Burn might be a solid place to start, and I’m happy to report I was spot-on. This entry from Spain feels like a hearty meal for fans of supernatural revenge, finding a woman (a hot-wired Macarena Gómez) still mourning the loss of her son years earlier, unable to forgive her neighbors for turning a blind eye to the likely culprits. Outcast from her small village, she’s poised to end her life when Lucia (Sofía García) appears with the power to give her the sweet retribution she seeks in increasingly gruesome manners. Hebrero has firm control over the movie 2/3 of the time; it’s the final 1/3 when it spins off the tracks and gets disjointed, piling a half dozen endings on and losing its way in the editing room. Until then, Everyone Will Burn is hard to look away from and breathless in its wicked plot to avenge the dead.

Fantastic Fest Review ~ Unidentified Objects

Synopsis: An internet sex worker convinces her reclusive neighbor to road-trip across North America for a rendezvous with visitors from a distant galaxy.
Director: Juan Felipe Zuleta
Running Length: 100 minutes
Review: It’s hard to put my finger on it, but there’s a little magic in the first few minutes of dialogue in Juan Felipe Zuleta’s Unidentified Objects that compels you to keep watching. The conversation isn’t anything we haven’t heard before. One dreamy free spirit on the hood of a car is recounting the solar systems to a disinterested passenger on a clear evening. Yet it establishes chemistry between stars Sarah Hay and Matthew Jeffers we’ll come to rely on when the script by Zuleta and Leland Frankel begins to sag in the home stretch. Jeffers is terrific as a gay loner who agrees to rent his car out to Hay, a neighbor he’s never spoken to, as long as he can come along. She needs to get to Canada by a specific time for reasons we’ll find out later, and he uses the road trip opportunity to fulfill a promise he made to a friend. As far as road trip movies go, this covers all the bases but does it with sweet regard for humanity and respect for how real (Canadian) people behave. Often riotously funny, it steers clear of some obvious mean-spiritedness (Jeffers has a rare form of dwarfism), instead reserving its judgment at personality faults instead of physical limitations. An excellent, satisfying ending too.

Fantastic Fest Review ~ A Life On The Farm

Synopsis: An often-macabre deep dive into the inspiring legacy of the long-lost home movies of a filmmaking farmer’s life in rural Somerset, England. 
Director: Oscar Harding
Running Length: 75 minutes
Review:  All I can say is ‘thank goodness for YouTube’ because without that site, who knows if the world at large would ever have come to know eccentric amateur filmmaker Charles Carson. Living an otherwise unspectacular life on Coombes End Farm, his rough quality videos were initially made as gifts for neighbors and to document, well, his life on the family farm. Filmmaker Oscar Harding lived close to Carson and recalled his household receiving one of these videos around Christmas and how uneasy it made his parents. That memory stuck with him until adulthood. By the time he decided to revisit it, Carson’s library of VHS tapes had already found its way onto the web, attaining a cult following from found footage fans. While watching A Life On The Farm and witnessing Carson’s colorful behavior, you keep bracing yourself for the turn into something darker, but this is a documentary more complex than that. It’s got secrets up its sleeve and buckets of eyebrow-raising surprises, but there’s forward-thinking care to it (and for its subject) that keeps it from being a reductive glance backward.

Fantastic Fest Review ~ Deep Fear

Synopsis: Three friends are caught between a skinhead gang and an otherworldly enemy after discovering a forgotten secret in the depths of the Paris Catacombs.
Director: Grégory Beghin
Running Length: 80 minutes
Review: Do yourself a favor and skip reading too much about this French-Belgian production because the plot summary currently available on IMDb and its original title give away a critical twist that will spoil some of the enjoyment to be had. More commercially entertaining and thus less interested in logic and follow-through, Deep Fear is nonetheless a solid 80 minutes of cramped claustrophobic scares below the streets of Paris. Lifting atmosphere from films like The Descent and As Above, So Below, director Grégory Beghin gives the film a traditional three-act structure, allowing the audience to feel the tension grow the deeper three friends traverse into the rarely seen Catacombs. For the first 45 minutes, it’s pretty effective and helped along by an appealing cast that gives the characters valuable stakes. It becomes rocky once the situation strays from reality into something….different. For genre fans, it represents a well-done distraction that is good for a few thrills but won’t stick around in your mind once you’ve decamped into the fresh air. 

Fantastic Fest Review ~ Lynch/Oz

Synopsis: Documentary filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe dissects director David Lynch’s lifelong obsession with THE WIZARD OF OZ.
Director: Alexandre O. Philippe
Running Length: 108 minutes
Review: I’ve seen my fair share of David Lynch films, but there are definite gaps waiting to be filled. Perhaps that’s why a large portion of this documentary by Alexandre O. Philippe felt like reading a novel in a foreign language I studied for three years in school. Picking up on bits and pieces, I could get the gist of what a handful of film experts/directors were talking about when discussing the ties Lynch has not just to the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz but also how it relates to their work and experience with the medium. Though it starts with a chintzy ill-advised intro that should be rethought ASAP, the yellow-brick road journey is primarily pleasant, as we hear from film critic Amy Nicholson and directors Karyn Kusama, John Waters, and David Lowery, among others. It’s interesting to have a segment with director Rodney Ascher, considering his Room 237 had a somewhat similar theme of dissecting interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, often straining to make a connection. Lynch/Oz will likely be a feast for fans of the director but taste like a home-cooked meal at the house of a person you just met for everyone else.

Fantastic Fest Review ~ Give Me Pity!

Synopsis: Sissy St. Clair’s debut television special, a variety show evening of music and laughter, quickly curdles into a psychedelic nightmare.
Director: Amanda Kramer
Running Length: 80 minutes
Review: I’m not, repeat not, going to mention the legendary parent of the star of Give Me Pity! in this review. Sophie von Haselberg’s performance as entertainer Sissy St. Claire is wildly bold enough to stand on its own without having that famous name attached to it. However, the multi-hyphenate von Haselberg is absolutely channeling them in this avant-garde fever dream. (Just look at the picture above if you really want to know who I’m talking about.) Certainly not for everyone, Give Me Pity! is part musical and part sketch show, springing from the mind of writer/director Amanda Kramer. Kramer has a great collaboration with von Haselberg, who throws herself completely in and doesn’t compromise, even as the movie careens totally out of control. I wish the second half were as strong as the first; a modestly talented director can convey even a gradual breakdown of the psyche without resorting to alienation and what amounts to lackluster performance art. The willing supporting players feel like they are stymied into caricatures instead of making bold choices. Even von Haselberg’s fire, so blazing hot during the film’s first few earworm musical numbers, goes to soft embers in just over an hour. Give me more of Sissy/Sophie and less of the open hostility toward the viewer.

Fantastic Fest Review ~ The Antares Paradox

Synopsis: An astrophysicist working for the SETI project risks her career and family to verify an extraterrestrial radio signal before her access is cut off.
Director: Luis Tinoco Pineda
Running Length: 96 minutes
Review: Pay attention to the words’ astrophysicist’ and ‘SETI’ in the plot synopsis because it should tip you off that The Antares Paradox isn’t your usual little green men sci-fi thriller but one that requires a good deal of focus throughout. More like a Contact and Arrival than, say, Signs, this film (made during the COVID pandemic) pretty much uses one location and is shot in near real-time. Alex (Andrea Trepat) is a determined astronomer assigned to the night shift in Spain’s branch of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) who has endured years of pressure from her family and colleagues to find a job that consumes her life less. This night, a thunderous storm is threatening to wash out roads, and dangerous winds could damage the equipment she protects. There’s also the matter of her elderly father, who is in the hospital and declining rapidly. Catching a signal that has never been found before, which could prove the existence of life outside of Earth, she’s faced with the predicament of staying with her work and risking a final goodbye with her father or putting family first and missing a discovery that could change the world. Writer/director Luis Tinoco creates a believable situation for Alex. While it gets convenient as it goes along (Alex opens emails/videos exactly when the film needs a new narrative push), most of The Antares Paradox rings true. Trepat more than capably carries the movie on her shoulders; if she misread the character an inch or so in either direction, it could have changed how an audience would respond to her. As it is, she’s landed in the right spot, which is largely why we get so invested in her dilemma.       

Fantastic Fest Review ~ Attachment

Synopsis: Maja and Leah’s relationship is off to a great start, but they face two perilous threats: the whims of a Jewish demon and Leah’s overbearing mother.
Director: Gabriel Bier Gislason
Running Length: 105 minutes
Review: Meeting the parents is hard, no matter what the relationship. There are a few added wrinkles for the same-sex couple at the center of Attachment. While studying in Denmark, Londoner Leah (Ellie Kendrick) falls for Danish Maja (Josephine Park), and their whirlwind romance (and an injury) leads Maja to follow Leah back to London, where they meet Leah’s overprotective Orthodox Jewish mother Chana (Sofie Gråbøl) that lives in the same apartment flat.   Despite sharing Danish heritage and the language, mother and new girlfriend clash over Leah’s care, with Chana wanting to keep things according to tradition and Maja preferring a more modern approach. The young women are barely settled when strange events begin to occur in their house, all somehow related to Chana’s presence. Digging further into Jewish practice and folklore, Maja understands that Chana may not want her daughter to heal at all…but how do you separate a determined mother that will stop at nothing to keep ahold of her child? Writer/director Gabriel Bier Gislason’s movie is scary as hell and gradually builds to several quaking climaxes that feel like satisfying conclusions. The performances, especially Park and Gråbøl, are terrific. The piece’s overall mood makes it well positioned to be one of those films that could be a significant calling-card hit if marketed correctly.

Fantastic Fest Review ~ A Wounded Fawn

Synopsis: Bruce is erudite, handsome, and charming… but he’s also a psychotic serial killer urged to violence by the gigantic red owl that lives in his head.
Director: Travis Stevens
Running Length: 91 minutes
Review:  Always looking for a good (new) horror movie to watch, I got interested back in 2019 when there was all this buzz on Netflix around Girl on the Third Floor, directed by Travis Stevens. Highly popular and much discussed, I never jumped in to watch it (I think that will change this Halloween) because of some off-putting situations I had spoiled for me. While I caught his follow-up, 2021’s Jakob’s Wife, I was less enamored of that rather low-brow vampire outing but was intrigued to see him turn around so quickly with A Wounded Fawn. Directed and co-written by Stevens, this film is full of winking twists and a willingness to reject far-flung artsy-fartsy in favor of homespun originality. Josh Ruben (Werewolves Within) is perfectly cast as a good-looking guy who likes to romance women and murders them violently at his stunning home in the woods. He can’t help it; a huge owl told him to. This examination of a serial killer is probably the least interesting aspect of A Wounded Fawn because it’s the road most oft-traveled. It’s what happens after where Stevens gets major mileage. When the ‘wounded fawn’ doesn’t go down completely and begins a harrowing night of vengeance on Ruben’s character, which could all be in his mind, or may be very real. Aside from Ruben, Malin Barr and Sarah Lind offer unique takes on the woman in peril role, each getting the opportunity to take control where they previously had none. Your mileage may vary on how successful Stevens is with sticking the ending, but there’s enough good packed into the front of the film to allow any iffy business at the end not to sting as much.

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