The best thing about Fantastic Fest is the movies; that should be pretty obvious. But the second best thing is the people. Everywhere you turn there are groups of people discussing films. Not just the ones that appear at the festival, but any and all films. And not just fans! Filmmakers, actors, and press all intermingled discussing the thing that they collectively love. I’ve had discussions about how bad Interstellar was. I staunchly defended M Night Shyamalan to a bunch of strangers. I got put in my place a few times by some people with way more knowledge than me. And I’ve loved every second of it. Fantastic Fest is my nirvana.
All that being said my favorite conversation happened at around 11:30 last night while waiting for a film to start:
Random Dude: “Excuse me do you know what day it is?”
Me: “Yeah it’s…uhh…”
Random Dude: “You don’t know either!?”
Me: “Apparently not”
Like 30 seconds later I remembered it was Wednesday September, 30th, but that’s not the point. At Fantastic Fest there is no time, only movies (that’s a Ghostbusters reference for you). So while somewhere in the back of my mind I know that this was the second to last day of the festival, nobody here is focusing on that.
There is no time, only movies.
My first showing of the day was a French film titled L’Affaire SK1. The movie, written and directed by Frederic Teller, is a police procedural about the 10 year investigation into the infamous Paris serial killer titled “The Beast of The Bastille.” This case was one of the first in France to use DNA evidence to find and catch a serial killer (SK1 stands for Serial Killer 1 – what the DNA was titled before a match was found) and helped establish the French national DNA database. The movie is great, anchored by the lead detective on the case, Frank Magne as he obsessively hunts down the serial killer for over a decade. The most remarkable thing about L’Affaire SK1, however, is that it refuses to inject any emotion into the investigation. In most films the point of view of the writer/director tends to come through on screen, intentionally or not, but not in this movie. Teller presents the case in cold hard facts. He refuses to paint The Beast as a monster, and only reenacts a crime when there is sufficient evidence to support exactly what happens. There are times throughout the film when it begins to feel like you’re watching a documentary, but the film is always engaging and dramatic.
Next up was a film called Lazer Team by the people at Rooster Teeth (Red vs. Blue). The film is an 80s throwback comedy about a group of idiots that stumble upon some powerful space weaponry and end up being the only ones who can save the world from an alien invasion. It’s a movie that is definitely aping Ghostbusters pretty hard. So much so in fact that there’s a scene that grabs some music straight out of the ‘80s supernatural comedy. Lazer Team is frequently funny and I enjoyed watching it, but the problem with setting out to recreate a classic is that the classic always ends up being better. If I’m in the mood to watch a hilarious buddy sci-fi comedy about a bunch of idiots who save the world…I know who I’m gonna call.
Third on my list was a thriller called The Passing, described as the first ever Welsh language genre film. If this film is any indication, it will not be the last. In The Passing a lonely man living in the Welsh countryside discovers a young couple who have crashed their car into the nearby river. The man takes them back to his house to nurse them back to health. It becomes clear very quickly, however, that both the young couple and the man have dark pasts that are still haunting them. The Passing is a slow burn, gradually revealing itself over the 90 minute runtime, but despite this I found myself fully engaged throughout. The film is beautifully shot, taking full advantage of the Welsh countryside to fill the frame with a chilly kind of serenity which perfectly ties into the themes. If I love this festival for anything, it’s for letting me see films like The Passing, a movie that I probably never would have gotten to see otherwise.
There are so many different reasons to go to the movies. Sometimes you go to use your brain; to be forced to think about complicated themes and messages. Sometimes you go to learn something new about the world and yourself. And sometimes you go to see guys with psychokinesis blow each other’s heads up by thinking really hard. My fourth film of the day, The Mind’s Eye is that last kind. The film is a ridiculous B movie; intentionally over the top with some absolutely absurd scene-stealing performances. Clearly paying homage to Cronenberg’s Scanners the filmmakers set out to do a very specific thing and they achieved their goals spectacularly. I don’t know if I could really recommend The Mind’s Eye, but I did enjoy the hell out of it.
If you had asked me what one film I was most looking forward to seeing this week, I would have told you Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. His previous film Blue Ruin was one of my all time favorites of 2013 and I could only imagine what seeing his latest with a crowd like Fantastic Fest would be like. Unfortunately, everyone else who came to the festival had the same idea and the screening filled up before I was able to get into it. But the Fantastic Fest gods are merciful, and a second screening was added last night at 11, which I got to attend. When I say that Green Room is the best movie I’ve seen at the festival, know that I’ve seen 14 amazing movies in the past 3 days, and will see 4 more on the final day. Green Room beats them all. The film tells the story of a traveling punk rock band who gets a gig at a white supremacy bar in the middle of the Northwestern wilderness. Things go wrong (cause neo-nazis) and they end up stuck inside the green room of the venue, fighting for their lives. The film perfectly ratchets up tension from the moment the band enters to the bar til the dramatic climax. It’s a fist pumping, action-filled roller coaster, but it’s smartly centered around our four main characters. The film expertly lets us spend about half an hour of screen time with the band before they even get to the gig. We learn all about them, their personalities and goals. We like these characters and are therefore rooting for them as shit starts to hit the fan. Also, Patrick Stewart plays a Nazi and that is amazing. Green Room will most likely get a wide release and I encourage you to take the time to see it. Also see Blue Ruin. Also see any other movie Jeremy Saulnier makes.
It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the last day of the festival already, but it’s sure as hell going out with a bang. Kurt Russell will be at the fest showing off his new movie Bone Tomahawk, which I got a seat for because I am amazing. Four more movies and an epic closing party with Snake Plissken himself. Check back tomorrow to read all about it!