While the rest of the Fall fests busily unleash their big Oscar contenders, Fantastic Fest offers a rejuvenating week of counter-programming, turning Austin, Texas into a breeding ground for independent genre film.
Founded by Alamo Drafthouse’s Tim League, Fantastic Fest celebrates its 10th birthday this year with 80 films in eight days, with a surfeit of world and North American premieres. The festival kicks off Thursday, September 18 with the US premiere of Kevin Smith’s turn to horror “Tusk,” which met applause in Toronto earlier this month. And Fantastic Fest will close, red carpet and all, with Dan Gilroy’s wildly acclaimed “Nightcrawler,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a nocturnal LA journo, another film out of TIFF.
Comb the festival schedule and you’ll find hidden gems that have been quietly making their way along the festival circuit, and films that will be seen for the first time.
Writer/director Jennifer Kent’s Sundance gothic creeper “The Babadook,” one of the best films you’ll see at Fantastic Fest, turns its screw on a lonely single mother struggling to cope with her ominously precocious only child. Matters worsen when they crack open a deeply disturbing folk tale one night during story-time. The film’s classic haunted-house premise chills the spine, but the film’s real draw is its believable depiction of a broken woman slowly going insane. Think “Repulsion” meets “The Innocents”– but with a terrifying stop-motion ghoul thrown into the pot.
Also look out for the uncut, five-and-a-half hour version of “Nymphomaniac,” Lars von Trier’s gift that keeps on giving. This time, the package arrives in all its genitally mutilated glory. As usual the Danish filmmaker wants to make sure we don’t forget this film, a powerful but flawed opus of sexual addiction and self-destruction.
Peter Strickland’s “The Duke of Burgundy” is yet another button-pusher. At TIFF, the lurid S&M/lesbian romance floored and mystified critics, who were also warm to the Brit helmet’s giallo throwback “Berberian Sound Studio” back in 2012. Where that film was essentially contained in one dweeby little man’s head, “Duke of Burgundy” is entirely made up of, and about, women.
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s Ukrainian Oscar shutout “The Tribe” met thunderous applause at Cannes, where it won a Critics’ Week prize. But the film itself is silent, supplanting sign language for verbal dialogue to tell its story of disenchanted teens coming-of-age in a boarding school for the deaf. The cast is comprised entirely of non-professional, deaf actors. At the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Anne Thompson found the film “moving, disturbing and horrifying.”
Takashi Miike returns to his true horror roots with “Over Your Dead Body,” a reinvention of a classic Japanese ghost story involving betrayal and murder and jealousy. The Fantastic Fest website promises decapitation, cannibalism, domestic violence and “head trauma,” among other horrors. The film looks to be more along the disgusting lines of Miike classics “Audition” and “Gozu.”
One up-and-comer in the world of horror is director Adam Wingard, who’s bringing “The Guest,” his first solo feature since “You’re Next,” which gleefully flayed the rules of the slasher film. “The Guest” Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey” as a dangerous, handsome soldier whose past haunts the present of family who lost their son in action (our interview with Stevens is here). Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are dedicated genre buffs who, not that long ago, both participated in the chilling “V/H/S” omnibus, and the original “ABCs of Death.”
Speaking of, new installments in those short film anthologies will also play Fantastic Fest. “V/H/S Viral” gathers genre shorts from Fantastic Fest alums Nacho Vigalando (“Timecrimes”), Marcel Sarmiento (“Dead Girl”) and more into a terrifying whole. Meanwhile, 26 international directors join forces in “The ABCS of Death 2,” featuring crazy little vignettes from EL Katz (“Cheap Thrills”), Rodney Ascher (“Room 237”), animation whiz Bill Plympton and more.