Director: Quinn Monahan
Cast: David Bertolino, Tom Savini, Alice Cooper, Jay Leno, A.J. Danna
Synopsis: A wild, wonderful, and too-weird-to-be-anything-but-true story, SPOOKTACULAR! shines a light on America’s first (and foremost!) Halloween Theme Park and its spectacular, one-of-a-kind founder David Bertolino
Thoughts: It’s become a legend in our family, the tale of waiting in line with my parents for what seemed like hours at a neighborhood haunted house as a tiny six-year-old, only to turn on my heels and skedaddle like the Road Runner when a vampire jumped out at the ticket booth. I’ve since gotten over my haunted house phobia (and worked at one!), and that’s likely why Spooktacular! was such an appealing, easy watch early on at Fantastic Fest. I didn’t realize Spooky World originated on an abandoned farm in Berlin, MA, or grew from a simple haunted hayride into a tricked-out scare lovers’ playground. Nostalgia is a crucial ingredient to the persuasiveness of director Quinn Monahan’s documentary, which can feel disjointed in the overall timeline but remains focused on its intent to showcase the good times shared by the creators, employees, special guests, and patrons. Could it use a little polish, a tighter edit, and a tad more objectivity? Probably. However, a clever sprinkling of Vincent Price clips provides good contrast/commentary to history as it unfolds before you, and that alone rounds off any rough edges. And who doesn’t love any film’s inclusion of a no-holds-barred Tom Savini answering every question as honestly as possible?
Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez
Cast: Victor Clavijo, Ruth Diaz, Manuel Moron, Luis Callejo
Synopsis: What looked like the opportunity of a lifetime turns into a macabre descent to hell for a hunting estate keeper who takes a bribe from a veteran hunter.
Thoughts: No one, but no one, does slow-burn horror like the Spanish, and the dry sizzle of The Wait proves the point once again. Award-winning director F. Javier Gutiérrez may have struck out in the States attaching himself to Rings, the final sputter of a dying franchise, in 2017, but returning to his home, he’s delivered a twitchy thriller that wastes little time in drawing you close and rattling you good. In the 1970s, a groundskeeper (Victor Clavijo) is hired to look over the country estate of a wealthy man, ensuring the popular hunting season is handled correctly. Desperate for the money and with his wife and young son in tow, the man moves onto the property and establishes himself as a trustworthy worker for the next three years. As another hunting season approaches, his son wants to continue his shooting lessons, his wife laments their life in the isolated locale, and the man is approached by an unscrupulous friend of his employer with an underhanded deal. If he takes it, he can make more money, but he’d go against his boss, who is rarely there. Refuse, and he risks the ire of men he frequently encounters. His choice has immediate consequences, setting off a series of deadly events leading to the man’s doorstep. Gutiérrez packs a lot of surprises into The Wait, and even if you can sniff out where the first or second one may be headed, the ambiance created by the secluded site and barren grounds sets an ominous tone that is hard to shake. Operating solo for most of the movie, Clavijo is a force and a commanding one at that. Keep this one in your back pocket – it’s a guaranteed winner of a watch.
The Coffee Table
Director: Caye Casas
Cast: Estefanía de los Santos, David Pareja, Josep Riera, Claudia Riera, Eduardo Antuña
Synopsis: Jesus and Maria are a couple going through a difficult time in their relationship. Nevertheless, they have just become parents. They decide to buy a new coffee table to shape their new life. A decision that will change their existence.
Thoughts: There are moments when you must decide to move forward. Like stepping onto an escalator, onto the glass floor of a high-rise looking down eighty floors, or off a bridge as you are bungee jumping off it. While it may not be as extreme, there are often points in movies where you must decide if it’s worth it to keep going and moving forward. Cutting and running is easier with many streaming options and our home libraries, but the decision can be difficult with festival films, too. About fifteen minutes into The Coffee Table, I faced a dilemma when the major event that shaped the entire movie happened. I can’t talk about it because it would spoil the whole thing, and, truth be told, I’m trying to fill out this review the best I can, NOT talking about it. I will say that when the thing (that I can’t speak about) happens, I instinctively reached for my remote because I was going to tap out…I couldn’t continue. However, my interest to see how director Caye Casas and leads Estefanía de los Santos and David Pareja as exhausted new parents who quarrel over a tacky coffee table would work things out over the next hour kept me involved. While it’s filled with far too many contrivances and, frankly, silly plot mechanics that make little sense even now, there’s something to the performances that give the movie perhaps more weight than even the script deserves. Pay attention to the commitment de los Santos is showing if you can pry your mind away from some of the things that go on in this, at times, jaw-droppingly brazen film. I’m honestly unsure if the movie is good, but the performances can’t be missed.
You’re Not Me
Director: Marisa Crespo & Moisés Romera
Cast: Roser Tapias, Pilar Almería, Álvaro Báguena, Anna Kurikka, Pilar Martínez, Jorge Motos, Yapoena Silva, Alfred Picó
Synopsis: After a long absence, Aitana returns home for Christmas and finds that her parents have replaced her with a stranger who wears her clothes, sleeps in her room, and is treated like a daughter.
Thoughts: Coming off like a blend between a Christopher Pike book and a Lifetime TV movie, You’re Not Me was one of the entries at Fantastic Fest with a real pep in its step. Now, maybe making that comparison comes off as pejorative, but I’m a massive fan of both, and I immensely enjoyed this smoke and mirrors mystery that is always headed where you think it’s headed, even though it goes to creative lengths to send you on brightly lit alternate routes. Making an early surprise visit to her parent’s home for Christmas with her wife and newborn son, Aitana is surprised not just by their chilly reception but also to find they have welcomed a woman named Nadia into the house. Stirring wounds of rejection long since closed, Aitana sees the parental fawning over Nadia as a further sleight by her mom and dad. Aitana should have called ahead because she arrived on the evening of a special dinner party being thrown by her parents for a group of new friends with a sinister history. Co-directors Marisa Crespo and Moisés Romera make intelligent use of the primarily one-setting grand estate of Aitana’s parents, giving the inner sanctum a claustrophobic feel but also keeping it expansive simultaneously. I could do without any baby in peril situations, but thankfully, Aitana is the one that gets into the most trouble with Nadia and an increasingly weird group of mature adults that like to get their party on. Roser Tapias makes for a convincingly bewildered Aitana, waffling between not knowing what’s happening in her head and not wanting to believe her parents might be involved with possible depravity. If the conclusion is easy to call, it’s only because we’ve heard this song sung before (and better), but this tune is also worth a listen.
Director: Junta Yamaguchi
Cast: Riko Fujitani, Manami Honjô, Gôta Ishida, Yoshimasa Kondô
Synopsis: In Kibune, Kyoto, visitors and workers find themselves trapped in a time loop that resets every two minutes.
Thoughts: On one of the last days of Fantastic Fest 2021, I took a chance on a movie I’d heard good things about, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, and came away with my brain turned sideways in my head. (That’s a good thing). Once I readjusted my noggin’ and realized how fantastic it was, I’ve been a full-time supporter of that ingenious 70 minutes of entertainment and how it puts most time travel films to shame. (Please don’t sleep on that one; it’s worth every second.) I was thrilled to see that same team back this year with River, another time loop experiment in which the same two minutes are repeated throughout a movie, with different results each round. This time, it’s less of a caper comedy and more of a Smörgåsbord of genres that center around a tiny inn in Japan next to a river where suddenly time starts to repeat itself. Our starting point in River is always with waitress Mikoto (Riko Fujitani) and director Junta Yamaguchi, and Makoto Ueda give her multiple routes to take, people to meet, and tasks to accomplish, all in real time. Eventually, we come to understand the purpose of the loop and how to end it…which is coincidentally when the film starts to lose its steam. There’s no doubt that this collective is working at the top of their craft, but lightning hasn’t exactly struck twice. River is entertaining in spurts, but the supporting characters aren’t as colorful or engaging as they were in the previous film. A disappointingly long sag is right around the ¾ mark, leading to a convoluted and rushed finale. All that being said, if you haven’t seen Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, I would still recommend River as a solid introduction to Yamaguchi’s creative vision for filmmaking.