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 in just six days! 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.
Nami (Kumi Takiuchi) is a young woman with numerous hangups sprouting from a dysfunctional childhood. She inherits a small fortune that allows her to pursue various interests, many of which are highly abnormal. For example, Nami loves to spy on people who, not unlike herself, have gone crazy from loneliness. She calls these people “solitarians.” Perhaps due to a father fixation, her favorite spying targets are old men with stiff boners. One fateful day, Nami spies on an elderly gentleman (Takashi Sasano) watching porn DVDs at home. She soon transitions from a peeping tom into a full-fledged stalker.
GREATFUL DEAD—the latest film from director Eiji Uchida (LAST DAYS OF THE WORLD)—is a character-driven black comedy that uses dark humor to explore otherwise serious themes such as religious zealotry, aging, and mental illness. The plot takes numerous twists and turns, always leading the viewer to unexpected places. The result is a film that’s alternately touching and disturbing. (Rodney Perkins)
The story that would become ON THE JOB began innocently enough with some idle chatter between veteran Filipino director Erik Matti and his driver, who spun a tale of the time he was imprisoned and employed as a killer by a consortium of corrupt prison officials, dirty cops and gangsters. He’d be sent out on day pass to eliminate the targets they set for him. After all, being a prisoner in jail, he had the perfect alibi.
It was the sort of outlandish story that couldn’t possibly be true, except shortly afterwards a major scandal broke in which a sitting politician eliminated a rival employing using exactly such a hit man during the lead-up to an election. It was very real… and Matti knew he had his next film.
Selected as part of the Director’s Fortnight program in the 2013 edition of the Cannes Film Festival, ON THE JOB tells the parallel stories of two killers – the older grooming the younger to take his place with his parole looming – with a pair of cops. One officer is a grizzled veteran, the other a young up-and-comer discovering his own connections to the scheme as they try to bring the killers down.
A stylish, character-driven thriller that invites comparison to the work of Johnnie To, ON THE JOB’s depiction of Manila’s gritty streets is an engrossing entry in the canon of Asian crime film that immediately marks its creator as a significant talent to watch. (Todd Brown)
On her way home from the doctor’s office one morning, expectant mother Esther is brutally accosted by a mysterious, hooded attacker. Disturbed, she retreats into a solitary life, keeping a safe distance from the outside world. As time goes on, she decides to make efforts to re-assimilate herself into society. She seeks comfort in a local support group and it’s there that she meets Melanie, a sweet woman from the neighborhood. Forming a new bond, Esther is hopeful that she can move on and start a new life with new connections. This of course falls apart one day when she makes a startling discovery that will change everything. But as the layers are slowly peeled back on these characters, it becomes clear that everyone in the narrative is far from perfect, or even well intentioned. Playing with shifting perspectives, Parker treats the audience to an unpredictable thrill ride.
With plot twist on top of plot twist, PROXY contains one of the most complicated, unexpected and truly crazy stories ever seen at Fantastic Fest. Told through a web of character development, the film featuring a series of incredible performances from a group of recognizable faces that includes Alexia Rasmussen, Alexa Havins and indie icon Joe Swanberg, in a wholly different kind of role for him. Punctuating the film’s brutal psychological landscape with some gorgeous, memorable slow-motion imagery, Parker creates a sadistically unstable world, one in which you feel anything could happen at any moment. And it does. Best experienced with a fresh eye, PROXY is one of those films that will hit you with an unexpected jolt to the system. (Michael Lerman)
Sigurd Svendsen (Pål Sverre Hagen) is a Norwegian archaeologist who is fascinated by a viking ship found at the Oseberg burial mound. He believes that a runic inscription on the ship, which translates to “man knows little,” holds the key to understanding the Norse myth of Ragnarok: the day when heaven and earth are destroyed. After finding similar inscriptions on a stone in Northern Norway, Sigurd, along with his kids and a colleague, begins an expedition to uncover the secret of the day of doom.
RAGNAROK is a rousing action adventure film in the style of ‘80s Hollywood summer blockbusters. All the traditional adventure tropes are at play here. However, instead of simply aping American movies, director Mikkel Brænne Sandemose (COLD PREY 3) and writer John Kåre Raake pave a decidedly Nordic path to adventure. The use of Nordic myths and culture in this story injects fresh life into a familiar format. Much of the film takes place in the mountainous border regions between Norway and Russia. The filmmakers use these locations to great effect. Once the story moves the characters from the city to the Norwegian countryside, RAGNAROK takes on a majestic, epic feel. RAGNAROK is visually arresting, emotionally engaging, and most importantly, a whole lot of fun. (Rodney Perkins)
Rookie Mumbai cop Adi spends his first day on the job watching his boss, Khan, execute some suspects and being ordered to stage an escape attempt to cover up the infraction. Such is life on Adi’s beat, where the streets are ruled by a violent criminal known only as “Slum Lord,” who employs a hitman by the name of Shiva. Pushed by Khan to do whatever it takes to stop the killings ordered by Slum Lord, Adi comes face to face with a man he believes to be Shiva one night during a monsoon downpour. With his gun drawn and the suspected cold-blood killer mere seconds from slipping away, Adi must make a choice that will have drastic ramifications for many people.
MONSOON SHOOTOUT combines gritty exploitation tropes with clever “what if?” fantasy to create a swift-moving and entertaining look at the rippling effects of choice. Each of Adi’s potential decisions made in the moment he points his gun at the suspected murderer have varying consequences, and first-time feature director Amit Kumar is happy to explore them in shocking detail. Corrupt cops, ruthless hitmen, tragic prostitutes, long-lost love interests, gun-wielding children bent on revenge and more make MONSOON SHOOTOUT a genre cocktail tailor-made for Fantastic Fest. (Brian Kelley)
Robert Bogerud has all the signifiers of a private eye: a trench coat, a hat cocked over his forehead and a cigarette dangling from his lips. He also has Down Syndrome. DETECTIVE DOWNS weaves a twisty noir tale complete with femme fatales, shocking conspiracies, stunning betrayals and a headstrong hero who will do anything to get to the bottom of his case.
When a famed speedskater (and notorious con artist) disappears, his family hires Robert to investigate because they simply don’t want the victim found. But it turns out that Robert’s special method—using his immense empathy to discover the missing man’s secret life, which involves penis pumps, cross dressing and fetish models—is the key to the case.
DETECTIVE DOWNS skillfully sidesteps both exploitation and schmaltz, largely thanks to the soulful and sweet performance by Svein André Hofsø Myhre as Robert. And Myhre isn’t just a fine actor, he’s a great hoofer as shown in one of the most unexpected dance scenes this year. Short and adorable, it’s easy to see Robert as childlike, but the movie never condescends. It treats him like the grown man he is, complete with a grown man’s sexual urges.
DETECTIVE DOWNS maintains noir cred while giving us one of the most unique and likable P.I. protagonists in movie history. Make room, Sam Spade and Jef Costello; Robert Bogerud has joined the club. (Devin Faraci)
NARCO CULTURA is a surreal and tragic documentary that compares and contrasts the lives of people dealing with mass drug terror in Mexico with the lives of musicians who document—and arguably exploit—the terror. Since 2006, the drug war has claimed at least 10,000 lives. Cities like Juarez are literally under siege by narco criminals. People, including politicians and police, are randomly kidnapped. Many disappear forever. Those who are found are often dismembered, decapitated or mutilated. Most people see the drug gangs as villains, but some view them as romantic figures worthy of admiration and praise.
The cultural elevation of narco criminals into heroes manifests itself most prominently in a style of music known as narcocorridos (drug ballads). These catchy polka-inflected tunes feature lyrics from the drug dealer’s point of view. Groups like Bukanas de Culiacan and El Komander sell tons of albums and fill up concert venues all over the U.S. and Mexico. Like gangster rappers from the 1990s, these musicians embrace the style and swagger of the criminal they sing about—members of Bukanas de Culiacan even brandish bazookas on stage. Although it is clear that these musicians are—to some extent—posturing, it is also apparent that there are substantive links between them and the smugglers.
Director Shaul Schwarz and his crew talk a wide swath of people—musicians, civilians, drug dealers, politicians, and police—to tell this story. They ride along with the police who live in fear of being assassinated. Gory crime scenes are visited. Families who’ve been torn apart by random violence are interviewed. They travel with musicians as they seek inspiration—and approval—from drug cartels in Sinaloa. The end result is a highly disturbing documentary that provides a window into a surreal world where brutal reality and popular entertainment intersect. (Rodney Perkins)
Ben Wheatley is both one of Fantastic Fest’s most cherished sons and one of the world’s most exciting filmmakers. Ben’s wonderful work was launched into the world in 2009 with an FF world premiere when his debut film about a dysfunctional crime family, DOWN TERRACE, played through the roof and subsequently won the Next Wave award. He followed that up in 2011 with his thriller KILL LIST, which debuted at SXFantastic. It delighted the audience and sparked a distribution bidding war that emptied scotch bottles and shattered dreams. His next film, the black comedy SIGHTSEERS, didn’t debut at Fantastic Fest but the Alamo crew was at the crowded Cannes premiere and joined the bidding war for distribution; more scotch, more broken hearts. In fact, the film may or may not have secretly played at the fest last year. Finally, don’t forget Ben’s memorable horror segment in Alamo’s first production, THE ABCs OF DEATH. With A FIELD IN ENGLAND, Wheatley and his producer Andy Starke return to Fantastic Fest with their bravest and most astonishing film yet.
If you ask Ben what A FIELD IN ENGLAND is about, and if he’s being friendly, he will simply be vague. He’s compelled first and foremost to recreate a setting where science isn’t driven by hypothesis and data, or by measurements and experiments. He’s establishing a world where wonder and the unknown were explained by the miracle of imagination. It’s a magnificent place to be, as what you’re seeing, hearing and experiencing is only limited by where you allow your mind to go. (James Shapiro)