The second day of Fantastic Fest got off to a running start, quite literally, in an attempt to make the press screening of DARLING. I may have overdid it the night before, but as of yet, no hangover was present. Black coffee… stat.
DARLING is a very cool slice of Polanski-esque horror. Filmed in black & white and filled with quiet dread and big, loud, scares, DARLING tells the tale of a young woman who becomes the caretaker of a historic mansion in New York City. As is prone to happen in ghost stories, our heroine discovers that the previous caretaker committed suicide and strange phenomena begin to occur around every corner. DARLING lures the viewer in with its expressionistic lighting, as well as its quiet, deliberate tone — the film owes quite a bit to Roman Polanski’s REPULSION — and Lauren Ashley Carter carries the film. Much like Polanski with Deneuve, director Mickey Keating knows the power of casting a stunningly beautiful woman. Carter is mesmerizing, and for the most part carries the film on her own with her big, expressive eyes and style of dress that gives the film an out of time quality. At a brisk 78 minutes, DARLING delivers on it’s slow-build with some terrifically gory payoffs.
After breakfast tacos and some more coffee at Café Medici, it was off to the press luncheon at Tim League’s house, featuring BBQ and plenty of Shiner Bock. It was certainly the first time I saw a backyard decorated with a Turkish JAWS poster, and watching Nicolas Winding Refn enjoy fried chicken in Texas is surreal for this writer. How did I end up here?
After lunch, it was time to retire to the hotel to actually get some work done before heading over to the Mondo Gallery, where Refn was signing copies of his new book, THE ACT OF SEEING. THE ACT OF SEEING features reproductions of exploitation posters from Refn’s personal collection, with commentary from film critic Alan Jones on each one. The book really looks fantastic, but it’s ridiculously big and would cost just as much to bring it back to Chicago with me as it did to buy. (Southwest Airlines is going to get their money, come hell or high water.) The gallery had several of posters on display, and featured plenty of good beer from Austin Beerworks.
Up next was Luke’s Inside Out — no, not a movie, but a groovy little food truck where I had BBQ rabbit for the first time. Spoiler alert: It was delicious.
While most everyone else was clamoring to get into the secret screening (it ended up being Guillermo Del Toro’s CRIMSON PEAK) I made the decision to check out Jeremy Saulnier’s follow up to BLUE RUIN, GREEN ROOM. Judging from the rumblings I heard — punks versus skins, the presence of Patrick Stewart — I was expecting a sort of KILL BILL take on England, perhaps in the 1970s. I was way off. GREEN ROOM features Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat as members of a shitty little punk band, The Ain’t Rights, on a tour that’s going nowhere. Desperate for money, the band takes a gig at a skinhead hangout in the Pacific Northwest, with the promise of $300 to help make their way back to Washington, D.C The show doesn’t go as planned, and our heroes find themselves thrust into a violent confrontation with an army of skinheads and literally no way out.
GREEN ROOM is already a front-runner for my favorite film of the fest. You don’t have to have been in a band to relate to the characters in the film, but it certainly helps. I’ve played in bands for years, and spent time on the road in cramped vans playing shitty shows. I truly understood the camaraderie amongst the band members. They’re drawn with broad strokes which helps the audience cast their own perceptions of perhaps people from their own lives and ending up in a situation that you wouldn’t even comprehend at the beginning of your day. As with BLUE RUIN, Saulnier cribs quite a bit from the Carpenter playbook — particularly ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 — but whereas Carpenter always seemed to have just a touch of tongue-in-cheek humor, a sense of “don’t worry, it’s just light and sound,” in GREEN ROOM the tension is merciless and unrelenting. That’s not to say there isn’t some levity — and it’s quite necessary — but overall the film is absolutely brutal in the best possible way.
Patrick Stewart does not overpower the rest of the younger cast, but his portrayal of the skinhead leader is menacing and completely terrifying in its subtlety. It’s not necessary to make Nazis more evil than they already are, but Stewart pulls it off. Saulnier came from the punk scene in Washington D.C. in the ‘90s and said he was “afraid of Nazis,” — he and his team get everything right with the look and demeanor of the skinhead subculture, which adds a air of authenticity to the proceedings. The screenplay is air-tight, the cinematography is gorgeous, and on top of all that, the practical gore effects will make even the most jaded film fan wince.
I closed out the night with a perfect midnight movie, IN SEARCH OF THE ULTRA-SEX. Think of it as an X-rated MAD MOVIES WITH THE L.A. CONNECTION. Nicolas Charlet and Bruno Levine combed through over 2500 adult films and cut together some of the most explicit — and stranger — scenes and cut them together in an oddly coherent plot with newly dubbed dialogue. ULTRA-SEX is porn from another dimension, featuring plenty clips from STAR TREK porn parodies as well as STAR WARS (a pink TIE Fighter unleashes a dildo that looks infinitely more dangerous than a rocket-firing Boba Fett.) Any more information would ruin the spectacle, as this film definitely needs to be believed. IN SEARCH OF THE ULTRA-SEX is a bizarre good time that would appeal to the more perverted TIM & ERIC fans.
Coming up on Day 3: Tom Hiddleston in HIGH-RISE, a documentary about mentally-challenged Japanese wrestlers, and much more.
Tags: Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Austin, Booze, Bruno Levine, Film Festivals, guillermo del toro, Jeremy Saulnier, Lauren Ashley Carter, Mickey Keating, Nicolas Charlet, Nicolas Winding Refn, Patrick Stewart, Punk, Rabbits, Screenings, Texas