This year’s Fantastic Fest
is being held from September 24th through October 1st. This is the eleventh year for the festival, which has become one of the biggest and most important genre film festivals in the world. This is the first year I’ve been able to attend the festival, and I’ll be covering it by sending a dispatch breaking down my views for the films screening each day. Here we go!
DANIEL’S WORLD (Czech Republic, dir. Veronika Lisková)
In 2014, Luke Malone published a harrowing piece on Medium entitled “You’re 16. You’re a Pedophile. You Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now?
” In it, Malone talks to a young man who has joined an online support group of pedophiles. Needless to say, it’s a tough read, but it raises serious questions about a subject that people really don’t want to confront. Similarly, DANIEL’S WORLD
is a documentary about a man who is a pedophile but, like the people in Malone’s piece, has accepted that he will never have any kind of real relationship with someone to whom he is attracted. Daniel has friends he met online with the same sexual orientation, and they offer each other support and camaraderie. Daniel is intelligent but deeply lonely, and director Veronika Lisková presents a picture of his life that is both painfully sad and inarguably disturbing. Like Malone’s piece, DANIEL’S WORLD
provides a look at a facet of humanity that is too often hidden away. The most remarkable achievement in this documentary may be that it may not be possible to identify with Daniel’s sexuality, it’s equally impossible not to identify with his constant struggle against his own nature and his intense loneliness. This is an uncomfortable but compassionate look at a world that will be mercifully alien to most viewers, and of a man who has to fight more than most of us to feel human.
FEBRUARY (USA, dir. Osgood Perkins)
Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton) are stranded at their all-girls school when their parents fail to show up to take them home for a February break. Rose is asked to watch over the younger Kat, but has her own agenda that doesn’t include babysitting a weird freshman girl. Meanwhile, a woman named Joan (Emma Roberts) arrives at a bus depot near the school where she meets an older couple (James Remar and Lauren Holly) who are visiting the area and offer Joan a ride to a nearby town. FEBRUARY is an extremely slow-burning horror story that steadily builds an atmosphere of oppressive dread and takes some very unexpected turns even up until its final minutes. It’s very difficult to talk much about it without giving away too much, but suffice to say that FEBRUARY becomes something that I can’t remember ever having seen before in its final minutes. All the performances are great, and the sound design and scoring are excellent in contributing to the film’s strange mixture of creeping terror and an underlying sadness. A seriously creepy and unexpectedly touching take on some familiar genre territory, FEBRUARY is one of the best horror films of the year.
THE INVITATION (USA, dir. Karyn Kusama)
Will and his girlfriend Kira are invited a dinner party at the house where David used to live with his ex-wife Eden after Eden and her new partner David return from a two-year absence in Mexico. Eden and David have invited along several of Eden’s estranged friends, as well as a couple of new friends they met during their time at a retreat affiliated with a self-help group called The Invitation. As the evening progresses, Will begins to suspect that Eden and David are planning something sinister. But how much of that is real, and how much is it David having to deal with returning to the home where he and Eden lost their young son? Karyn Kusama’s follow-up to the seriously underrated JENNIFER’S BODY
could not be more different than that film. This is a serious and seriously unnerving examination of shared grief and repression, and its repercussions among people who care for the people who have lost the most. THE INVITATION
is somewhat reminiscent of COHERENCE
in that it wrings a lot of mileage out of a premise based on a simple gathering of friends thanks to a great cast with the convincing chemistry of a group of old friends.
LOVE & PEACE (Japan, dir. Sion Sono)
Ryo, a former musician now working an unsatisfying office job, impulsively buys a tiny turtle one day and names it Pikadon (a Japanese term for the atomic bomb). This momentarily inspires him to dream big dreams of rock ‘n roll success again. When his coworkers find out about the turtle and ridicule him, Ryo flushes Pikadon down into the Tokyo sewers and is immediately wracked with guilt. Pikadon meets a magical bum who takes in unwanted toys and pets. He accidentally gives Pikadon a wish-granting candy, and Pika’s wishes cause Ryo to be struck with musical inspiration that lead him to stumbl into a music career. Meanwhile Pikadon grows larger and larger in accordance with Ryo’s ambitions. LOVE & PEACE
is, once again, a massive curveball from Sion Sono even after the wildly entertaining TOKYO TRIBE
. This is the sweetest film he’s ever made, a sometimes touching and genuinely heartwarming and hilarious story of rags to rock ‘n roll riches that just happens to include talking animals and toys and an adorable ever-growing turtle. It’s almost impossible to imagine the same guy who made NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE
is responsible for this! As always, it will be very exciting to see where Sono goes next.
SENSORIA (Sweden, dir. Christian Hallman)
Following a traumatic event and the end of her relationship, Caroline moves into a new apartment building. Like any new place, her flat will take some getting used to with its weird neighbors, odd sounds, and creepy attic storage. But those odd noises keep getting more insistent, and her sleep is troubled with disturbing nightmares. SENSORIA is another in a recent string of slow-burn psychological horror films detailing the breakdown of a female lead character, but as the story progresses it leans more toward the supernatural. The performances are solid, the film looks good, and the score and sound design are great, but ultimately the payoff doesn’t quite feel as dramatic as it should after the glacial first two acts. It’s a well-made but not otherwise all that distinctive, but SENSORIA will no doubt find fans among people who love quiet, claustrophobic urban horror.
KLOWN FOREVER (Denmark, dir. Mikkel Nørgaard)
Five years after their disastrous, life-changing “fishing trip,” old friends Frank and Christian are in very different places in their lives. Frank and his now-wife Mia have a young daughter and a newborn baby, while Christian and Iben are divorced and Christian has transitioned to a hard-partying single life. Christian decides to move from Denmark to Los Angeles, leaving Frank hurt and confused as to why his oldest friend would suddenly move halfway around the world. Determined to fix their friendship and bring Christian back home, Frank flies to Los Angeles, where things naturally spiral wildly out of control. The first KLOWN feature was one of Drafthouse’s early acquisitions, and for good reason: it was absolutely hilarious and was comedically audacious. The sequel is a bit less of a surprise, but takes the same sensibility to some unexpected places. When they inevitably do stupid, thoughtless stuff, the stakes feel higher now that Frank is married with kids and both men are a bit older and more settled. The trip to the States gives them a lot of new territory to mine for deeply uncomfortable humor, but KLOWN FOREVER never feels mean-spirited. An absolutely worthy follow-up to one of the best comedies of the last decade.
Unrepentant cinephile. Contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly. Member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. Co-director, Chicago Cinema Society. Attempted filmmaker. Proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's GURU, THE MAD MONK and Zalman King's TWO MOON JUNCTION.
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Tags: Austin, Christian Hallman, Czech Republic, Denmark, Documentaries, drafthouse films, Emma Roberts, Film Festivals, Horror, James Remar, japan, Karyn Kusama, Kiernan Shipka, Lauren Holly, Los Angeles, Lucy Boynton, Mikkel Nørgaard, Osgood Perkins, Screenings, Sion Sono, Sweden, Texas, Veronika Lisková