The fine people over at Fantastic Fest threw us a curveball on Tuesday when they announced the second wave of programming for this year’s film festival. Instead of sticking to their usual three waves, they combined the final two and announced a whopping forty-six titles (and one secret screening) in one fell swoop: and boy was there a lot to unpack. Condensing those forty-six films down to ten proved more challenging than previously anticipated, but I decided to ignore the bigger titles like Alexander Payne’s Downsizing and Angel Robinson’s Professor Marston & the Wonder Woman and focus on some of the smaller stuff. So without further ado, let’s jump on in!
Director: Brad Baruh
Actors: Barbra Crampton, Aj Bowen
Fantastic Fest always does a great job when it comes to highlighting new talent in the genre business. Applecart is Brad Baruh’s feature directorial debut, and he seems to have made quite the impression.
Starring Barbra Crampton and AJ Bowen, Applecart actually appears to be doing something new with the classic “cabin in the woods” scenario. Told in a non-linear fashion with a true crime show used as a framing device, the film revolves around a family taking a much needed holiday to their nice, secluded cabin. But when they come across a woman passed out in the woods, things begin to go terribly wrong. Well, terrible for them, entertaining for us.
Director: Nattawut Poonpiriya
Actors: Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Eisaya Hosuwan
Bullshit standardized tests seem to be a universal problem. But we haven’t seen many films like 2004’s The Perfect Score come out of our friends over in the East. But fret no more! Thai director Nattawut Poonpiriya heard our cries and has delivered the goods!
Bad Genius follows Lynn as she discovers an easy way to make some money using nothing but her own genius. She helps her classmates cheat. But what starts as a quick way to make some dough slowly turns into a reflection on what it means to be in school during a time where students are nothing but statistics. The higher you place (and the more you pay), the better off you will probably be. All Lynn wants is to level the playing field a bit.
Blue My Mind
Director: Lisa Brühlmann
Actors: Luna Welder, Zoe Pastelle Holthuizen
Like Hagazussa from my first wave coverage, Blue My Mind is another film that was someone’s graduation feature. Director Lisa Brühlmann acted for eleven years before she decided to go to film school to learn more about the craft, and Blue My Mind is the product of her studies.
The film follows fifteen-year-old Mia who, after passing out during some sort of game with her friends, begins to notice some changes with her body. What those changes are, we don’t know yet. All I know is that this film looks like a gorgeous tale of friendship, a coming-of-age allegory for puberty, and how something these girls cannot control has so much control over them.
Director: Fenar Ahmad
Actors: Dar Salim, Stine Fischer Christensen
We live in politically charged times. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that. But born out of these dark times is the need and desire to hear voices we don’t normally get a chance to listen to. Danish-Iraqi filmmaker Fenar Ahmad is one such voice.
Darkland is Ahmad’s take on the classic revenge fantasy story. Here, the film follows a Danish-Iraqi doctor who begins his descent into violence after his brother is beaten to death. The movie looks like it will be an unsettling dissection of what overwhelming grief and guilt can do to a man who’s spent his entire life working harder than most to make a life for himself, only to have it destroyed by an entirely avoidable act of violence. Darkland is definitely one I do not want to miss.
Let the Corpses Tan
Directors: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Marc Barbe, Bernie Bonvoisin
On the seemingly opposite side of the genre spectrum is Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s newest film, Let the Corpses Tan; a love letter to all things pulp mixed with their own visual style.
What began as a seemingly simple heist turns into a bloodbath as our protagonist Rhino and his gang are visited by some uninvited guests while they are hiding out. Described by Evrim Ersoy as “perhaps the most cinematic of all experiences at this year’s festival”, Let the Corpses Tan looks to be a fun, inventive piece of pulp perfection.
Mom and Dad
Director: Brian Taylor
Actors: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair
Like many Fantastic Fest attendees, I love the Crank movies. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have since gone their separate ways —at least for now— but Brian Taylor is back with what looks to be an insane romp with a healthy serving of Nicolas Cage to boot.
Taking place over the course of a night, Mom and Dad follows two kids as they attempt to survive a mass plague of psychosis that seems to only affect parents. And all Mom and Dad want to do is murder the children. So yes, this is a sophisticated and intimate study of the modern family dynamic. And I can’t wait.
Director: Luke Shanahan
Actors: Adelaide Clemens, Alex Russell
Australian genre films always have a sort of raw power to them. We saw it last year with the stellar comedy Down Under (featured in my Best Of Fantastic Fest 2016 list), and it’s even more apparent this year with films like Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome and Damien Power’s Killing Ground making waves all around the festival circuit. But with his feature debut, Luke Shanahan has created something a bit more atmospheric.
Maude is still distraught a year after her twin sister Cleo was kidnapped. Plagued with visions of her sister still being alive, Maude recruits a local detective, Henry and Cleo’s partner Ralph, to accompany her on a journey into the Australian outback. But will Maude find closure? Or will she stumble upon something more sinister? A mixture of sci-fi, thriller, and familial drama, Rabbit looks to be one of the highlights of this year’s fest.
Director: Coralie Fargeat
Actors: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Kevin Janssens
Everyone knows to look to France when they want their genre film served with a dash of the avant-garde. Whether it’s something like this year’s superb Nocturama or something more extreme like Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension. The French aren’t afraid of really taking on subjects that more mainstream audiences don’t find as … appealing. Coralie Fargeat seems to be taking a page out of Gaspar Noé’s book for her first feature, Revenge.
When rich douche Richard — a nickname I just came up with — takes his mistress Jennifer with him on his yearly hunting trip with the boys, he and his friends quickly discover that they shouldn’t mess with a woman without her consent. A lesson that shouldn’t be so necessary at this point in history, but is sadly more important than ever. Fargeat has played with classic genre tropes in her previous short films, so I’m very excited to see what she does here.
Director: Joachim Trier
Actors: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins
Readers of this website need no introduction to Norwegian auteur Joachim Trier. His films like Oslo, August 31st and Louder Than Bombs are beloved all around the globe. This year, Trier is back with his very first genre film. And it looks incredible.
Thelma is a new university student who comes from a conservative family. On her own for the first time, she begins to come into her own in this strange new world. But after suffering from an inexplicable seizure, Thelma discovers she may have some supernatural powers. Part romance, part sci-fi, and part thriller, Thelma seems to be another fantastic entry to Trier’s incredible filmography.
Director: Hoon-jung Park
Actors: Dong-gun Jang, Peter Stormare
South Korea has been producing tremendous pieces of cinema for years now, with film makers like Chan-wook Park and Joon-ho Bong becoming directors whose names alone are enough to sell me on a film. Hoon-jung Park is another filmmaker of that caliber, with his first screenplay I Saw the Devil being one of my favorite South Korean films ever. He’s back this year with a new thriller, and it’s easily one of my most anticipated films of the fest.
Described as a neo-noir political thriller, V.I.P. follows multiple factions of Korean law enforcement as they scramble to find a notorious serial killer. But once the killer is found, who gets final jurisdiction? Sure to be a blood-soaked commentary on the current political state of South Korea, V.I.P. will hopefully bring Hoon-jung closer to the worldwide acclaim he so clearly deserves.
Thus concludes my pre-fest coverage! Twenty films that I think are must-sees, which leaves about ten open spaces for you to expand your horizons even more. Be sure to check back in when Fantastic Fest begins on the 21st of September! And if there are any films you think we should check out, be sure to leave a comment down below.