Fantastic Fest has become probably the most important genre film festival in the United States since its inaugural year of 2005. It certainly doesn’t hurt that its hosts and organizers, the same people behind the Alamo Drafthouse brand, have become a major force in independent distribution over the last decade. As always, this year’s lineup is stunning, with dozens of features and shorts making their U.S. debut and probably dictating what cinephiles will be raving about for the next year or more.
This is the first year I’ve been able to attend the festival, and I’m extremely excited about it. Maybe too excited, actually–the idea of being in the same room as Nicolas Winding Refn nearly gives me a panic attack. Here are my 10 most anticipated films screening at this year’s Fantastic Fest (in alphabetical order, with the “Brief Summary” from their Fantastic Fest site listings) and a few other things I’m looking forward to.
1. ANOMALISA (USA, dir. Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman)
BRIEF SUMMARY: Charlie Kaufman’s newest story, a revolutionary and emotional stop-motion animation, follows an unhappy customer service guru looking for an escape from the monotony of his life.
WHY I’M ANTICIPATING THIS: After Charlie Kaufman’s collaborations with Spike Jonze and his own incredible directorial debut SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, I’m basically on board with whatever he does for life. So there’s that, AND this is a stop-motion animated feature. I’d be in line for this right now if I could.
2. DARLING (USA, dir. Mickey Keating)
BRIEF SUMMARY: A young woman slowly goes crazy after taking a job as the caretaker for an ancient New York home in the new film from writer/director Mickey Keating.
WHY I’M ANTICIPATING THIS: As a general rule, I’m on board for anything with Larry Fessenden’s name on it, and this film is one of the latest from his production company Glass Eye Pix. Writer/director Mickey Keating’s film POD played SXSW earlier this year and garnered some positive notices from horror fans, and now his latest is hitting the big screen at Fantastic Fest. I’m a huge fan of the kind of REPULSION-styled psychological horror that DARLING seems to be specifically invoking, and lead actor Lauren Ashley Carter was great in JUG FACE.
3. EVOLUTION (France, dir. Lucile Hadzihalilovic)
BRIEF SUMMARY: Lucile Hadzihalilovic (INNOCENCE; ENTER THE VOID) returns to directing with a surreal tale of a young boy on a remote island who develops a mysterious illness and is subjected to sinister medical treatments.
WHY I’M ANTICIPATING THIS: INNOCENCE is one of my favorite films of the last 15 years, and I’ve been hoping Lucile Hadzihalilovic would be getting behind the camera again someday. As if that wasn’t enough to get my expectations sky-high for this film, at least one reviewer on Letterboxd refused to rate it because they walked out of a recent screening of the film at the Toronto International Film Festival. I absolutely can’t wait for this one.
4. GREEN ROOM (USA, dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
BRIEF SUMMARY: A struggling punk band gets more than they expected at a gig infested with backwoods neo-Nazis in Jeremy Saulnier’s ultraviolet and accomplished siege thriller.
WHY I’M ANTICIPATING THIS: Jeremy Saulnier’s MURDER PARTY is one of the best horror/comedies of the last decade, and his amazing follow-up BLUE RUIN still completely blindsided me with its brilliantly mundane take on the revenge-film formula. I’m excited to see what he does with the “siege thriller” (as the Fantastic Fest site calls it) in GREEN ROOM. If it’s anywhere near as unique as BLUE RUIN‘s take on revenge, this is going to be something very special.
5. HIGH RISE (UK, dir. Ben Wheatley)
BRIEF SUMMARY: Laing, a young doctor, joins a community in a luxury building in Thatcher’s England, who exile themselves from society and gradually divide into violent tribes.
WHY I’M ANTICIPATING THIS: Ben Wheatley has proven with his previous four features to be one of the UK’s most interesting filmmakers. Each of his films has been wildly different, from the harrowing KILL LIST to the blackly humorous SIGHTSEERS and, most recently, the unclassifiable A FIELD IN ENGLAND. The fact that his new film–an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same name — sounds once again totally different from his previous work is fitting.
6. KLOWN FOREVER (Denmark, dir. Mikkel Norgaard)
BRIEF SUMMARY: Five years have passed since the first KLOWN, and with their friendship at risk of fracturing forever, Frank must follow Casper to America… with typically disastrous results.
WHY I’M ANTICIPATING THIS: Simple. I thought KLOWN was pretty easily one of the funniest films of the last decade, and I’m eager to see what its demented creators have in store this time.
7. THE LOBSTER (Ireland/Greece/UK/France/Netherlands, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
BRIEF SUMMARY: Somewhere in the near future, single people face a choice: Join a program to find a mate in 45 days or be transformed into an animal.
WHY I’M ANTICIPATING THIS: Yorgos Lanthimos’s DOGTOOTH was a fascinating, bizarre character study that got him a lot of attention here in the States. His follow-up, ALPS, was perhaps equally strange but less engaging. Despite running on Netflix Instant for some time, it seems most audiences missed it entirely. However, while ALPS may not have lived up to the expectations set by DOGTOOTH, it’s tough to imagine what could have. Hopefully his new film — his first in English, with a strong and unexpected cast including Colin Farrell and John C. Reilly — is back on the level of DOGTOOTH. And even if it isn’t quite, it’s at least guaranteed to be unlike just about anything else out there.
8. LOVE AND PEACE (Japan, dir. Sion Sono)
BRIEF SUMMARY: Fantastic Fest staple Sion Sono returns once again with a deeply personal (and expectedly odd) film about a lonely businessman with dreams of punk rock stardom and his best friend, a turtle.
WHY I’M ANTICIPATING THIS: Keeping up with Sion Sono’s output and living in North America is a full-time job. He had three films making their North American premiere at this year’s Fantasia festival in Montreal, only one of which is making its way to Fantastic Fest. LOVE AND PEACE follows up Sono’s WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? and TOKYO TRIBE in hitting U.S. screens, and that’s a damned tough act to follow. Sono is one of the most consistently interesting directors in Japan, even if his films are themselves pretty inconsistent. LOVE AND PEACE seems set to continue the “fun” streak of those previous two U.S. releases, which were two of his most purely entertaining films yet.
9. SENSORIA (Sweden, dir. Christian Hallman)
BRIEF SUMMARY: Caroline Menard is a woman in her thirties who has lost everything. As she moves into a new apartment searching for a new start, she’s unaware that something ancient is waiting for her.
WHY I’M ANTICIPATING THIS: Uh, see #2, basically. This sounds like another female-centric slow-burn horror, and from its description and stills it puts me in the mind of the excellent LEFT BANK, one of the most criminally underseen European horror films of the last decade.
10. YAKUZA APOCALYPSE (Japan, dir. Takashi Miike)
BRIEF SUMMARY: After a yakuza vampire boss is struck down, his most loyal disciple takes it upon himself to avenge his mentor’s death and eliminate the assassins and their giant plush frog leader in Miike’s classic yakuza tale turned inside out.
WHY I’M ANTICIPATING THIS: Takashi Miike is a legend in crazy cinema, but it feels like it’s been quite a while since he’s done anything really bonkers–not that I’m complaining when he’s doing stuff like 13 ASSASSINS. YAKUZA APOCALYPSE sounds like a welcome return to form, an anarchic genre-smasher combining crime, horror, and sheer insanity.
Three major horror films playing that I’m excited to see but have already been picked up for U.S. distribution are BASKIN (Turkey, dir. Cam Evernol), THE INVITATION (USA, dir. Karyn Kusama), and THE WITCH (USA, dir. Robert Eggers). BASKIN was picked up by IFC, Drafthouse Films is releasing THE INVITATION and THE WITCH has been announced as hitting theaters in 2016 coming from A24. While I may try to catch them, as of this writing they’re slightly lower priority than the films in my top 10.
As I mentioned earlier, Nicolas Winding Refn will be attending the fest and is screening two films while I’m there: FAREWELL UNCLE TOM (Italy, dir. Gualterio Jacopetti & Franco Prosperi, 1971) and MY BODY HUNGERS (USA, dir. Joseph W. Sarno, 1967). Refn will be introducing the films and doing a Q&A after each film. These are my two most anticipated repertory screenings at the fest by far, both because it will be quite an experience seeing FAREWELL UNCLE TOM with a packed house and because I’ve never seen either film on the big screen before (or at all in the case of MY BODY HUNGERS). Having Refn on hand to talk about the films is going to be amazing.
There are also a number of shorts that look like they’ll be worth checking out, but I’m most excited for WORLD OF TOMORROW (USA, dir. Don Hertzfeldt) and DIVORCED DAD : HOME IMPROVEMENTS (Canada, dir. Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, & Conor Sweeney). Don Hertzfeldt’s feature IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY was one of the best animated features I’ve ever seen, and while WORLD OF TOMORROW has been available on VOD for a while, I was hoping to get a chance to see it on the big screen. DIVORCED DAD is the latest short from Canadian comedy geniuses Astron-6, whose giallo tribute/parody THE EDITOR was just released on home video in the States by Scream Factory last week. Their work has been consistently amazing and unique in its blending of absurd humor and soul-chilling terror, and anything new from them is required viewing.
I’m beyond excited for this fest. I’m also pretty jazzed about the breakfast tacos in Austin, which people keep raving about. If you happen to be a regular reader of the site and want to say hello, I’ll be the fat guy with the beard and glasses in the black t-shirt with a design based on a horror movie. See you there!
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Tags: Adam Brooks, Animation, Astron-6, Austin, Ben Wheatley, Charlie Kaufman, Colin Farrell, Conor Sweeney, Denmark, Don Hertzfeldt, Fantastic Fest, France, Glass Eye Pix, Greece, Ireland, Italy, J.G. Ballard, japan, Jason Coffman, Jeremy Saulnier, John C. Reilly, Karyn Kusama, Larry Fessenden, Lauren Ashley Carter, Matthew Kennedy, Netherlands, Nicolas Winding Refn, Patrick Stewart, Robert Eggers, Sion Sono, Stop-Motion, Sweden, Takashi Miike, Texas, Turkey, Yayan Ruhian