Fantastic Fest, the largest genre film festival in the U.S., specializing in horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and just plain fantastic movies from all around the world, starts here in Austin tomorrow! Over the next several days, I’m previewing the movies I plan on seeing and blogging about over the course of the week long festival.
South Korea’s very first animated film to screen at Cannes, THE KING OF PIGS is a time-tripping, soul-shattering mystery about the scars that make us, and the secrets we bleed to keep. Kyung-Min has just killed his wife, but it didn’t make him feel any better. His business is failing and he can’t stop thinking about his middle school days, back when he was one of the lowly, bullied “pigs”, the rock-bottom caste of the social animal kingdom, at the mercy of the popular “dogs”. His old school friend, Jong-Suk, agrees to meet, and each man tells the other polite lies about his wrecked life. But both of them have one thing on their minds: Chul-Yi, their old class comrade, the quiet, deadly boy in the hoodie who fought back against the bullies and became, for one blazing moment in time, The King of Pigs. “Be my friends,” he offered, “and you will never cry.”
THE KING OF PIGS animation style evokes memories of the great Satoshi Kon (PAPRIKA), sinuous yet rippling with organic textures that mimic the flesh and failings of real, flawed human beings, with every tear, bruise and knuckle to the face meticulously rendered. One thing the film never allows us is too much room to breathe: these kids are suffering, and so must the audience. Every moment is tripwired, every scene is a time bomb. In keeping with the film’s thematic resonance, the adult and child Jong-Suk are voiced, respectively, by Yang Ik-June and Kim Kkobbi, the stars of NYAFF 2009’s harrowing, BREATHLESS.
Inspired by his own experiences in middle school, director Yeun Sang-Ho also drew upon recurring dreams to tell his dual-narrative story about the cycles of abuse and the bullied who become the bullies. THE KING OF PIGS is a meditation on the impotence and violence in the world of young adults, and the cancer of memory. In Yeun’s dark vision, Korea today is bound by an invisible web of resentment, classism, and persecution from birth to death, where souls are trapped by their hidden sins. The only way to break free is to face the ugly truth about where we’ve been and where we’re going. (NYAFF)
It has been done so many times now that it has become cliché, eyes simply rolling and glazing over when the ‘Based on a true story’ tag scrolls across the screen to add gravity to the latest Hollywood concocted tale of demonic possession. But THE EXORCIST IN THE 21ST CENTURY really is the true story, a detailed and nuanced documentary of highly specialized priests – real life Vatican-approved exorcists – and the people who seek out their services.
Filmmaker Fredrik Horn Akselsen has been granted a remarkable degree of access to tell this story, presenting information and first hand experiences in a steady, even hand that leaves the audience free to draw their own conclusions. He meets with believers in the phenomenon as well as skeptics, both inside and outside of the church. But mostly he tells his story through two people.
First, there is Father Jose Antonio Fortea, a Roman Catholic priest based in Madrid. Father Fortea first rose to prominence as the author of Summa Daemoniaca, a treatise on the history of demonology throughout Catholic history including, yes, a manual of Catholic rites of exorcism. Father Fortea has become known around the world as an expert on the topic, traveling to speak about demonology around the world and – as one of a small group of Catholic priests approved by the Vatican to perform exorcisms – he very definitely practices what he preaches.
And then there is Constanza – an articulate, university educated Colombian woman who sincerely believes she is demon possessed and is seeking out the help of Fortea or any other priest who may free her of her affliction.
Akselsen tells these stories with a minimum of fuss and bother, choosing to let the day to day life of the men who live out this very unusual vocation be the story rather than attempting to embellish for shock value. It makes for fascinating viewing. (Todd Brown)
When two young filmmakers select a crazed conspiracy theorist as the subject of their new work, the task seems simple enough: Befriend him, gain his trust, and let his theories speak for themselves. But things prove much more complicated than that. Despite his wild street preaching, their subject proves to be an articulate and intelligent man; one prone to seeing patterns others don’t, sure, but hardly the expected lunatic. Listen long enough and his arguments even start to make a certain sort of sense. It’s enough to make you wonder if maybe, somewhere, there’s some basis to what he’s saying…
And then he simply disappears. No word. No trace. Just gone.
While one of the filmmaking duo is prepared to walk away, the other becomes obsessed. This should not be possible. People don’t just disappear. Not unless someone wants them to. What if he was correct? What if he was on the verge of exposing some greater scheme? And what if he was taken? And so begins an obsessive effort to reconstruct his work, an effort that points the duo to a hidden society, a high powered retreat and networking organization for the political and business elite.
A meticulously researched and cannily constructed bit of work, THE CONSPIRACY systematically blurs the lines between fact and fiction, deconstructing the distinction between facts and news, news and propaganda. Using one of the most persistent memes of our time – the conspiracy theory – to create a fact-based thriller, THE CONSPIRACY is more than just entertainment. It’s a sly commentary on a world in which the medium really has become the message, a world in which the most important question is not “What happened?” but “Who is telling us?” (Todd Brown)
Santos Trinidad (José Coronado) is a dirty cop with a violent streak and a serious thirst for rum and Coke. During a drunken binge, he murders three people in a bar. A witness escapes from the building before Santos can catch him. While Santos sets out to kill the witness and cover up his crimes, a judge and the police conduct a investigation into the murders. Santos’ hunt for the witness and the parallel police investigation slowly converge to reveal a massive criminal conspiracy that no one involved could have ever anticipated.
Enrique Urbizu’s NO REST FOR THE WICKED (NO HABRÁ PAZ PARA LOS MALVADOS) is a briskly paced thriller that deftly juggles intertwining plot lines with surprising and explosive results. The film swept the 2012 Goya Awards—the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars—with wins for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Sound. The accolades are well deserved because NO REST FOR THE WICKED is amongst the strongest thrillers to emerge from Spain—or anywhere else—in the past few years. The film’s secret weapon is José Coronado, who delivers an award-winning performance as a completely despicable cop. Focusing a film on such an unlikeable character is a risky move, but Coronado handles the role with menacing precision. An American remake of the film is already in the works—Sylvester Stallone has expressed serious interest—so now is the time to get ahead of the curve and experience the power of the original NO REST FOR THE WICKED. (Rodney Perkins)
Danny (Daniel P. Jones) is released from a Melbourne jail and immediately returns home to his girlfriend Leanne (Jone’s real life partner Leanne Campbell). Though his relationship with Leanne picks right back up where it left off, Danny’s attempts to reintegrate into society are met with resistance at every step of the way. Haunted by the mental and emotional demons of prison and the lifestyle that put him there, he soon resorts to the familiar crutches of alcohol and outbursts of anger to alleviate tension. Danny is able to maintain some amount of control until things begin to fall off the rails, triggered by a visit from Leanne’s heroin dealing friend Anthony.
HAIL is a startling and brutal hybrid film, a semi-autobiographical pastiche of events from Jones’ life and from those of his acquaintances in the criminal world he used to inhabit. Director Amiel Courtin-Wilson worked with Jones to piece together a narrative from his memories and cast Jones, Campbell and other real life characters to create HAIL. The result is a gripping experimental film full of a palpable reality. The narrative is as free-flowing and surreal as it is straightforward with scenes of intense grit inter-cut with those of arresting artistic beauty all coupled with an inventive and unforgettable score. It all works thanks to stunning performances from everyone, especially Jones who has spent his entire life preparing for this role.
We at Fantastic Fest certainly do love our crime dramas but HAIL is certain to defy attendees’ expectations of what a film of its kind can be. Like other ultra-realistic films coming out of Australia, HAIL will take you uncomfortably close to the mind and misdeeds of people who have actually lived the kind of lives most of us only see in movies. (Brian Kelley)
Day Seven preview