It’s day two down here in Austin. Day 6 for some of these other people…and believe me, it shows. There are a few zombie movies showing here at Fantastic Fest this week, but the real zombies right now are the attendees.
Fun fact: Did you know Fantastic Fest was at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar? Did you also know that they have the full menu open during all of these films? Did you further know that in the past 2 days I’ve eaten more delicious Alamo food and consumed more delicious Alamo alcohol than I’m willing to share with you here. I’ve heard it called the Fantastic Fifteen, kind of like the Freshman Fifteen, but even more impressive as it happens in just one week.
Anyway, onto the movies!
First up for me today was Men & Chicken, a Danish film written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen. You might have recognized Mads Mikkelsen from the picture above, but I can promise you that you will not recognize the character he plays. Men & Chicken is a black comedy about two brothers who after their father’s death discover that they are adopted. They go searching out their biological family and end up finding their three brothers…as well as the horrible truth of their origin. The movie is weird and frequently hilarious, with each member of the deranged family having a distinct oddity that sets them apart from the rest. The most surprising thing about Men & Chicken, however, is that somewhere along the line it becomes a movie with a lot of heart. This is a tale of people who don’t fit into society and how they struggle to find meaning and happiness within their lives. Like many of the films I’ve seen here so far, Men & Chicken starts off strange, gets stranger, but ends up being brilliant.
Up next was a secret screening. Here at Fantastic Fest, there are two secret screenings during the week, where you sign up to attend a movie and have no idea what it will be until it actually starts. The first, last Friday, was Guillermo Del Toro’s new film Crimson Peak, in which the director surprised everybody with a visit and Q&A. I missed that one and I hate myself for it, so you better believe I made sure I was going to be in a seat for this one. The movie ended up being a newly acquired Drafthouse Films movie called Dangerous Men. And…guys…this movie. The pet project of an Iranian immigrant John Rad who left his home country in order to make the ‘perfect’ action film, Dangerous Men took over 26 years to make. Rad did everything: writing, directing, producing, editing, sound, music (he even gives himself a special thanks in the credits). And it’s awful. So terribly awful that it’s an absolute blast to watch. I laughed my ass off during the entire runtime of the film. That alone is worth the price of admission. But more than that, Dangerous Men is the living embodiment of a man who was willing to do anything and everything to get his movie made. And you know what, he did it… Check out the teaser and see this freaking movie.
My third film of the day also happened to by my favorite: Too Late written and directed by Dennis Hauck (who was also at the festival taking questions). Too Late is a classic Los Angeles Noir film with a slight twist: The film is just 5 ~20 minute scenes, each shot in one take. This means that the camera never cuts, just expertly moves around the scene. This is a gimmick to be sure, but one that works so well. I found the camera work absolutely absorbed me into the scene. The dialogue in the film stumbles a bit; you can tell it’s working towards a Tarantino-esque level of rhythm and flow, but it doesn’t quite get there. This is especially true in case where it’s obvious the actors totally flubbed their lines (one take, remember), but none of that seems to matter. I found myself enchanted by this film, led by a ridiculously strong performance by John Hawkes. The best of the fest so far.
Next up was the old American folk tale film The Witch, written and directed by Robert Eggars. The film takes place in 1600’s New England and begins as a devoutly Christian family, excommunicated from their village, sets out on their own to build a self-sustaining life. Things begin to go wrong almost immediately as an eerie presence from the nearby woods starts to affect the farm and the family. The Witch is a film that I have been hearing good things about since Sundance and I’m happy I finally got to see it. The film is unsettling, creepy, and dripping with scenery. Eggars shoots the New England wilderness as a terrible shadow constantly looming over the family. Light is used sparsely but with great impact. What’s more, Eggars’ story is based on real account and transcripts from supposed witch encounters from the time. In fact, some of the dialogue is taken directly from these documents. The Witch isn’t a standard horror film; you won’t get a lot of jump scares and hug your boyfriend moments. You will, however, be subjected to a constant level of unease that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
The final film of the day (which began at 11:15 at night) was another Danish film, What We Become. The film written and directed by Bo Mikkelson is a very standard zombie outbreak movie. It’s emotionally resonant and definitely pulls at your heartstrings, but this is ground that has been tread many many times before. It’s a very well made film, one of the better zombie movies I’ve seen, but I’m getting pretty zombied out these days.
After my last film I wandered into a party in the bar attached to the theater. There, Elijah Wood was DJing a dance party by playing what was apparently 1970’s Turkish Pop Music. Fantastic Fest is like no other place on Earth.
Tomorrow, I’ve got another 5 movies lined up and maybe I’ll actually start to talk to people I recognize from Twitter. I haven’t quite worked out how to make “Hi, I Tweeted at you once” sound not incredibly awkward.