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!
BASKIN (Turkey, dir. Can Evrenol)
A team of bullying cops get a mysterious call for assistance and end up fighting something much more sinister than their standard criminals in an abandoned police station. BASKIN, like a lot of movies at Fantastic Fest, takes quite a while to get going, and unfortunately the more time we spend with its pointedly unsympathetic leads the less we’re inclined to worry about them. The film is getting a good amount of buzz from horror fans, and it does deliver plentiful gore and weirdo imagery, but its pacing feels slack and it’s tough to get too involved with what’s happening when there’s not really anyone to care about. It looks slick, and the garish Argento-esque lighting gives it something of an unexpected psychedelic flavor, but overall BASKIN is too familiar to be really exciting.
LIZA, THE FOX-FAIRY (Hungary, dir. Károly Ujj Mészáros)
Lonely Liza is the caretaker for the widow of the former Japanese ambassador to Hungary. Six years ago, the ghost of Japanese pop star Tomy Tani started to visit Liza and they would sing and dance together. But when Liza reaches her thirtieth birthday without finding true love, Tomy sets into motion a devious plan to keep her all for himself by eliminating all potential competition from Liza’s life. LIZA THE FOX-FAIRY is a massively entertaining fantasy comedy, packed with beautiful images and a wall-to-wall soundtrack of faux-’60s Japanese pop tunes that are utterly convincing as products of that era. The film is hilarious and sweet without getting too dark, even though Tomy’s plan revolves around causing a whole lot of people to die. It’s tough to imagine anyone stone-hearted enough to resist the charms of both Liza and the film that bears her name. This one was a huge surprise, and seemingly came out of nowhere to end up as one of the best films at the fest.
TIKKUN (Israel, dir. Avishai Savan)
Yeshiva student Haim Aaron’s devotion to his studies is driving him to the brink of death. When he has an accident that nearly kills him, Aaron’s father stubbornly refuses to accept the paramedics’ insistence that the young man is dead and violently fights to bring him back to life. But the Aaron that emerges from the incident is a different person, and his father is given a vision that tells him saving Aaron’s life was an act of defiance against the will of God. TIKKUN is visually striking with its elaborate lighting and shot in black and white, but for too much of its running time it is also dramatically inert. There’s just not a lot going on in this film, and even figuring out that Haim Aaron is behaving differently after the accident requires a lot of inference from context since by all outward appearance nothing has changed. TIKKUN climaxes with a scene of a graphic transgression that does not feel earned by its narrative at all. Instead, it comes across as a moment of gross exploitation in a film that otherwise feels like an almost comically self-serious black and white drama. In other words, it seems like Oscar Bait with a penetration shot. It comes as such a shock when the film veers so far into transgressive territory, but it also feels like a desperate attempt to inject some kind of dramatic content into a film that is otherwise sorely missing it.
THE MIND’S EYE (USA, dir. Joe Begos)
Powerful telekinetic Zack Connors is lured by research scientist Dr. Slovak to the remote campus where Slovak is investigating telekinesis. Slovak is holding Zack’s ex-girlfriend Rachel, and Zack quickly learns that Slovak is not the benefactor he initially appeared to be. Zack plans a jailbreak with Rachel, but Slovak has engineered a treatment that gives him telekinetic powers, and a violent conflict is inevitable. THE MIND’S EYE, like director Joe Begos’s debut feature ALMOST HUMAN, takes place in the early 1990s and feels very much like a lost film from that era. It occupies a sometimes uncomfortable space between homage and parody, although that may be largely due to the fact that it’s always kind of funny to watch two guys staring at each other intently and yelling instead of physically engaging in a fight. Begos plays on that a lot throughout the film, which pleasantly calls to mind influences like SCANNERS and THE FURY but with even more ridiculously gruesome violence. Packed with a cast of independent horror favorites (including Lauren Ashley Carter, who also plays the lead in Mickey Keating’s DARLING), THE MIND’S EYE is a fun, gore-drenched ride perfect for midnight viewing with plenty of beer.
GREEN ROOM (USA, dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
Struggling punk band The Ain’t Rights drive 90 miles out of their way for a show promised by a young kid with a podcast, but the gig is canceled. With no other choice, they take the kid’s offer of another paying gig at an isolated club frequented by skinheads. The band arrives and plays their set, but when they’re loading out bassist (Anton Yelchin) stumbles upon a crime scene that club manager (Macon Blair) is trying to cover up. The situation rapidly escalates until the band is trapped in the club’s green room fighting for their lives against a violent neo-nazi group trying to force them out and eliminate all evidence of the crime. Jeremy Saulnier’s previous film, BLUE RUIN, upended revenge film conventions and garnered huge critical acclaim that set expectations impossibly high for GREEN ROOM. Almost unbelievably, GREEN ROOM absolutely meets and very possibly exceeds those expectations. The cast is excellent, and the amazingly detailed production design brings the world of low-rent punk clubs to absolutely convincing life. There’s a lot of violence, but like BLUE RUIN, GREEN ROOM treats its characters and their chances of survival realistically. Saulnier also takes time to draw all the characters well, giving an unexpected twinge of sympathy for even some of the skinheads. Everyone’s stuck in an impossible situation, and compelled to act according to their own personal loyalties and ethics. On top of all this, GREEN ROOM is fast-paced and fun, with plenty of gruesome black comedy. This is one of the best films of the year, period.
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, Avishai Savan, Can Evrenol, Fantastic Fest, Film Festivals, Ghosts, Horror, Hungary, Israel, Jeremy Saulnier, Joe Begos, Károly Ujj Mészáros, Lauren Ashley Carter, Macon Blair, Patrick Stewart, Screenings, Texas, Turkey