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!
THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT (Belgium, dir. Jaco Van Dormael)
God, as it happens, is real and lives in Brussels in an apartment building from which he created the world. He’s also a total asshole, inflicting nearly as much misery on his wife and young daughter Ea as he does on humanity on a daily basis. Ea finally decides to escape like her older brother JC. But first she uses her dad’s computer to tell everyone on Earth when they’re going to die, which ruins his entire system. Ea recruits a scribe—a dyslexic homeless man—and sets out to find six apostles and write a new book of the bible about their lives. THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT is one of the best, most original films I’ve seen this year. It’s poignant, hilarious, and completely unpredictable. The cast is excellent — especially young Pili Groyne as Ea — and the film has a look and tone reminiscent of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s collaborations but enough of its own identity that it never feels derivative. Instead, it feels more like a confident peer to those films.
THE MISSING GIRL (USA, dir. A.D. Calvo)
Mort runs a comic and toy shop where he currently has one employee, aspiring comic artist Ellen. After the car he inherited from his late father finally stops running for good, Ellen picks Mort up to drive to work. She drives him down a street he never goes down; when he was in high school, a girl named Missy went missing and her bloody clothes were found there. The same day, Mort runs into Skippy, a mean-spirited high school classmate who dated Missy. When Ellen gets a call from a New York publisher, she has to skip work but can’t get in touch with Mort, who begins to suspect foul play when she doesn’t report for her shift. This is a great, low-key film that quietly defies expectations of genre: it’s really funny, but it’s not exactly a comedy, and it has elements of mystery and crime but they don’t really dominate the proceedings. Instead, THE MISSING GIRL is based on a slate of fantastic performances from a great cast. Robert Longstreet, who has been on a hell of a roll the last few years, is perfect in the role of Mort. And Alexia Rasmussen, who had a pretty terrifying role in PROXY last year, is great as Ellen. THE MISSING GIRL takes such care with its characters that by the end it’s tough not to want to spend even more time with them.
THE TREACHEROUS (South Korea, dir. Kyu-Dong Min)
In medieval Korea, the young king has gone mad. In order to gain more power for themselves, a father and son team of royal court members concoct a series of elaborate schemes that use the king’s insane lust to their advantage. Soon they are sent out to scour the land for women, and they bring back thousands to serve the king’s insatiable desire. But the men aren’t the only ones in the royal court with an agenda and cold-blooded cunning. Will they be able to turn the king’s madness to their advantage, or will they be outmaneuvered and punished for their treachery? THE TREACHEROUS is mostly a fairly standard Korean political period drama, but dealing with the king’s insane lust gives it some very memorable new tweaks to the formula. There’s a lot of nudity, obviously, and the highlight of the film may be the montage of women attending classes to teach them how to sexually please the king. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s not too far removed from a number of similar period dramas of its type. In other words, it’s handsomely mounted (pun intended?) and if you’re a fan of this kind of film you’ll probably find a lot to like here. And if you’re looking to get into them, this would probably be a good place to start with its unusual sense of humor.
HIGH-RISE (UK, dir. Ben Wheatley)
In 1970s UK, successful doctor Laing moves into an ultra-modern apartment building where there is a strict class stratification: poor on the bottom, rich on the top. As the building experiences intermittent power failures on the lower floors, a class conflict inevitably arises and the building descends into anarchy. As an absurdist satire of capitalism, the class concerns that have been a part of all of Wheatley’s previous films are front and center this time around. However, more than any of his previous work — even the straightforwardly comic SIGHTSEERS — HIGH-RISE has a streak of jet-black humor running through it that helps ground its more surreal moments. And there are plenty of those moments, brilliantly designed and staged to underline the bizarre contrast between the 1970s fashions and retro-future look of the building and the increasingly brutal behavior of the occupants and mimicking the visual style of 1970s films. Wheatley continues his streak as one of the most interesting filmmakers working in UK genre cinema.
FOLLOW (USA, dir. Owen Egerton)
A few days before Christmas, painter Quinn (Noah Segan) wakes up to find his unbalanced girlfriend Viv (Haley Lu Richardson) dead from a gunshot and a gun in his hand. Uncertain of what happened, he panics and tries to figure out what to do while his life spirals out of control. FOLLOW has a predictably great lead performance from Segan, but otherwise this is not terribly compelling stuff. While Richardson does what she can, the writing makes it virtually impossible for Viv to be anything other than a “crazy girlfriend” character before she’s a corpse. The tone is frustratingly inconsistent, and a lot of the humor is uncomfortably mean-spirited. It’s tough to make a “dead girlfriend” movie work as anything but a creepy quasi-necrophiliac fantasy, and FOLLOW is no exception.
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: A.D. Calvo, Alexia Rasmussen, Austin, Belgium, Ben Wheatley, Catherine Deneuve, Fantastic Fest, Film Festivals, Haley Lu Richardson, Jaco Van Dormael, Jason Coffman, Kevin Corrigan, Kyu-Dong Min, Luke Evans, Noah Segan, Owen Egerton, Pili Groyne, Robert Longstreet, Screenings, Sonja Sohn, South Korea, Texas, The UK, Tom Hiddleston