Fantastic Fest First Half: Deer and Brawls and Parents

Day two of Fantastic Fest was an early one: with a wake-up call of 6:00 AM and a screening of Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest a few hours later. And while these early hours were muggy ones, that humidity was quickly replaced by Lanthimos’ cold, satirical bite. I didn’t know what to expect from this Grecian auteur’s latest, but man was it quite the unique way to start my day!

Today’s unifying theme is unique takes on classic tropes. I know that feels sounds like a cop-out, but during a time when every film seems to follow a specific formula, uniqueness is something that deserves to be pointed out and celebrated. Whether it’s an offbeat tale of revenge or a zombie Christmas musical, all of today’s films have their own, unique voice. And today’s first film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (hereby Killing), was the perfect way to begin.

Those familiar with Lanthimos’ previous work know about his signature style. His oddly straightforward dialogue is to be delivered as dryly as possible, and fans of his wouldn’t have it any other way. This, and a brilliant performance by Colin Farrell, is the only shared trait between Killing and Lanthimos’ last film The Lobster. Otherwise, Killing is actually a much darker tale — if you can believe that.

One of the things that surprised me most about Killing was Barry Keoghan’s performance as troubled sixteen year old Martin. He handles Lanthimos’ style beautifully, and actually ends up stealing the show. He brings a sort of charming madness to the character and I doubt the movie would have been as effective without him.

Second and third on the list were Hagazussa and Let the Corpses Tan, respectively. Both definitely have their moments — with Corpses being the more entertaining of the two — but Hagazussa suffers from pretty sever pacing issues. The first half of the film is a pretty effective and creepy tale about a witch and her young daughter. The second half, however, can’t sustain the level of eeriness . The whole film is basically all imagery and no dialogue, which wouldn’t be an issue if what we were being shown was interesting. It’s gorgeously shot — first time director Lukas Feigelfeld got his start as a photographer — and the landscapes are beautiful, but the story that’s being told leaves a lot to be desired.

Corpses, on the other hand, is both gorgeous and entertaining. Directors Héléne Cattet and Bruno Forzani are known for their giallo style, and they bring that to a more bare-bones, pulpy story. If you’ve seen any of the duo’s previous work, you understand how distinct — and insane — their style is: and it’s on full display here. It’s a visually stunning picture about a group of thieves hiding out after a robbery, but like you’d expect, things don’t go according to plan. Cattet and Forzani are having fun with purpose; utilizing time jumps and fantasy sequences to create a truly unique and entertaining piece of grimy goodness.

Next up was one of my most highly anticipated films playing at the fest: Anna and the Apocalypse. I was sold the moment I read the words “zombie Christmas musical”, and while it didn’t fully live up to my expectations, it was still an amazingly fun time.

Photo by Jack Plunkett

There’s a lot Anna gets right: most of the jokes land, all of the main actors are great, and it actually has a few surprises up its sleeve. The only thing I was underwhelmed by was the music. It wasn’t bad — not at all. I believe it had to do with how high my expectations were. I was expecting something along the lines of The Last Five Years or Sing Street whereas the film was going for an R rated High School Musical. What I mean by that is: the music — more so the instrumentation than the lyrics — reflected the budget. It sounds like it was created on a computer instead of with actual instruments, which is only a problem for me because of personal preference. The lyrics and performances were great however, with each actor nailing the tone and having a lot of fun doing so.

The final two films for day two were Aussie director Luke Shanahan’s twin mystery Rabbit and Bradford Baruh’s midnighter ApplecartRabbit is one of those movies that grows on you the more you think about it, while Applecart almost does the opposite. Shanahan’s directorial debut is almost two movies in one, with an almost complete shift in focus halfway into its breezy 99 minute run time. It’s not as jarring as I’m making it out to be (though it’s impossible to miss the shift when it happens) and it actually works really well. I’d compare it to Get Out, but I actually think Rabbit handles it better. Applecart, however, hasn’t stuck with me as much. It was definitely a fun watch, with good performances from Barbra Crampton and Brea Grant, and it had an entertaining true crime show framing device, but a predictable plot keeps it from being a new cult classic.

Day three’s theme turned out to be “sacrifice”. Whether it be the sacrifices one makes for their family or the complete opposite, each of these films dealt with this idea of giving something up in order to get ahead. The first film of the day, Aaron Katz’s LA noir Gemini, deals with the consequences that come with celebrity; mainly the loss of privacy.

Gemini is a pretty safe film. It’s funny and the performances are good enough for it to not be boring, but anyone even half paying attention will figure out it’s “twist” after about the first twenty minutes. The journey getting there is entertaining, with Lola Kirke being as charismatic as always. The rest of the cast is also great: Zoe Kravitz and Nelson Franklin are also standouts in their respective scenes. But there isn’t anything being said in this movie that we don’t already know, so I can’t see myself seeing, or even really thinking about, it ever again.

The second film of the day (and first of two Stephen King adaptations at the fest) was Zak Hilditch’s 1922. Thomas Jane plays a farmer in 1920’s America who makes a rather

1922 Carpet_FF2017_HighRes (2)
Photo by Waytao Shing

extreme decision in order to keep his farm and his son. Obviously this does not turn out well for both father and son, and what we get as an audience is a rather grim tale about what happens when a man values his pride above all else.

The movie’s strongest asset is Jane, who is almost unrecognizable as farmer Wilfred James. I’ve never seen him in anything quite like this, and his performance alone is reason enough to watch the film. Everything else, from the sets and costumes to the supporting actors, is also great. You never think you’re watching actors on a set because the world seems so fully realized. This is definitely one I’d recommend adding to your Netflix queue once it becomes available on October 20th.

The last film I saw this day that’s worth talking about was S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99. This is probably the biggest crowd pleaser so far; with it’s bone-crunchingly gory kills and Vince Vaughn being as charismatic as he’s ever been. Those familiar with Zahler’s previous film Bone Tomahawk (reviewed here) should already be excited for Brawl, but for the uninitiated: be prepared for a darkly funny, relentlessly brutal good time. Vaughn stars as a down on his luck good guy who, in order to provide for his family, becomes a drug runner. When a pickup goes wrong, he’s sent to prison. Here, he soon finds out his job may not be finished yet. It’s a bit grimmer than Tomahawk, but that’s like saying the 6th circle of hell is worse than the 5th. Neither are “feel good” movies, but grab as many friends as you can afford and go out to see this movie.

Sunday turned out to be a day of movies about humanity’s resolve. This could range from a character’s will to live to a character having to go against their natural instinct to flee. Either way, they were tested. And yes, it is getting harder to find links between these films.

My day opened with Takashi Miike’s one hundredth feature, Blade of the Immortal. I know this may not sound like a good morning movie, but oh man was it the best way to start the day. The film follows a young girl who hires an immortal samurai to be her bodyguard as she embarks on a quest of revenge. It’s actually more insane than it sounds, with wound repairing blood worms and an endless supply of sleeve weapons. The action is sprawling and superbly shot, with gorgeous wide shots and minimal cuts. You’re clearly watching a master at work here, as the daunting two and a half hours flies by. Yes it could be a bit shorter, but this is a world you never want to leave once you’re in it.

Up next was the South African western Five Fingers for Marseilles. The film follows Tau, a good guy criminal who returns home after many years to find the town he grew up in still covered in corruption. The film wears it’s western influences on its sleeve, but it never feels forced or out of place. Director Michael Matthews knows what he’s doing as he’s basically breathing new life into old tropes by transporting them to a completely different and exciting setting. The characters feel real, and watching them grow from children to adults is as satisfying as it is heart-wrenching. These are people trying their best in a really unfortunate situation, and you really get where each one of them is coming from. And while it could use some trimming, this is still an impressive debut and an exciting peek into a culture we don’t get to see enough in film.

This evenings big premier was the second Stephen King adaptation: Mike Flanagan’s take on a previously considered unfilmable book, Gerald’s Game. Fans of the book know why bringing this to the big (or since Netflix is behind this, small) screen was a challenge. But I’m happy to report that this film works, and it works well. Carla Gugino is incredible as Jessie, a woman handcuffed to a bed and unable to escape. She goes through every

9.24_Geralds Game_Photo Credit Waytao Shing-4
Photo by Waytao Shing

emotion in this film, and you buy all of it. Bruce Greenwood plays her husband, Gerald, and it’s almost impossible to keep your eyes off of him. The hour and forty minutes goes by in a flash, with plenty of suspense and intrigue, making this one you have to watch with friends.

Day four’s final two films were both fun and thrilling in their own ways. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson return to Fantastic Fest with The Endless, a story of two brothers who return to a cult they escaped from ten years before, in order to get some much needed closure. Fans of Moorhead and Benson’s previous films (though more specifically, Resolution) are sure to love this fun and mind-bendy film that actually sort of creates an indie cinematic universe. Cool? Very cool.

Last was Brian Taylor’s Grindhouse inspired romp, Mom and Dad. Starring Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair, the movie depicts what would happen if some sort of disease broke out which causes parents to want to kill their children. It’s as bonkers as it sounds, and allows Cage to go full Cage. This was a perfect midnighter, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and an equal serving of delightfully gory kills. Cage has a lot to play with, and he delivers his most unhinged performance in years. Selma Blair is also great, but it really is Cage who steals the show. And how could he not? This is the role he was made for.

That’s it for the first half! I’m equal parts exhausted and excited for the next four days, but there are plenty of great films coming up that I can’t wait to watch. Be sure to check back here for more Fantastic Fest features as well as reviews coming out of BIFF.

Javier Gonzalez

Freelance writer and winner of multiple awards including "Most Improved Player 1999" and "Best Defensive Player 2001"

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