Fantastic Fest: Days 3 & 4

Howdy from rainy Austin, Texas!  I am here for the entirety of Fantastic Fest and will be putting up these mini-reviews every two days for the next week. – See more at:



Howdy from sunny Austin, Texas!  I am here for the entirety of Fantastic Fest and will be putting up these capsule reviews whenever I can.


Howdy from rainy Austin, Texas!  I am here for the entirety of Fantastic Fest and will be putting up these mini-reviews every two days for the next week. – See more at:
Howdy from rainy Austin, Texas!  I am here for the entirety of Fantastic Fest and will be putting up these mini-reviews every two days for the next week. – See more at:
Howdy from rainy Austin, Texas!  I am here for the entirety of Fantastic Fest and will be putting up these mini-reviews every two days for the next week. – See more at:


Vic+Flo Saw a Bear (dir. Denis Côté)
After getting released from prison, Victoria (“Vic”) heads to live with her infirmed uncle.  She does not have close family; though she does run in to her brother he does not offer her a place to stay.  Rather, he hands her some cash and takes off.  Vic seems to be tolerating her life on the outside when her girlfriend, Florence (“Flo”) arrives to live with her as well.  The women fall back into their affectionate, long term relationship.  Flo has a criminal past as well, though the nature of both her and Vic’s crimes is never revealed.  They begin to have some issues with their plans for the future, while their past catches up to them.  The majority of Vic+Flo Saw a Bear’s running time is quiet and reflective.  Both women’s performances are excellent, and the setting of rural Quebec is serene. Though I would typically not enjoy the pacing here, it does serve a purpose and it is worth waiting out the time.  Lulling you in to a sense of stillness makes the ending, and the events leading up to it, a striking contrast.

LFO (dir. Antonio Tublen)
Few movements in cinema have gotten me as excited as what we are seeing now in independent Science Fiction.  The films of Shane Carruth (Primer, Upstream Color), and OXV: The Manualhave shown us that speculative fiction does not exclusively exist in outer space, or in the future.  Groundbreaking stories can be found here on earth today by just asking “What if?”  These films are smaller, quieter, and ultimately explore better science fiction concepts that any of the bloated-budget films that have gotten wide distribution lately.  LFO is squarely in this innovative filmmaking category and it is clearly going to help define the new sub-genre.  The Swedish film’s “What if?” asks “What is you could control other actions and thoughts with sound?”  Ponty Pool and OXV have explored the invasive nature of sound.  And just as Chronicle showed us a realistic version of powers getting into less than altruistic hands, LFO shows us what an average man with a crush on his neighbor would do with the powers of mind control.  The film does turn dark occasionally, but for the most part it is upbeat and really funny.  Patrik Karlson’s performance of Robert keeps the film light and quirky, despite its ultimately nihilistic view.   LFO shows that an innovative science fiction film does not need an enormous budget, it just needs to be willing to ask “What if?”

Miss Zombie (dir. Hiroyuki Tanaka)
Though the title suggests a zombie beauty pageant winner, Miss Zombie is an entirely different film than that.  The film is set in a world where zombies exist but are not a plague.  People fear them, but no one fortifies their home or carries a machete to the grocery store in case of an attack.  There seem to be different levels of zombie, the most docile of which can be kept as a worker.  Not unlike a mogwai, they come with instructions of what they can and cannot eat.  Meat will turn them feral, but fruits and grains are acceptable.  The plot of the film follows one family as they are given a zombie to look after until a friend come to claim it.  The zombie must have been a beautiful young woman, and has not rotted much in her turning.  She does not seem interested in biting humans, and is decent in scrubbing floors, so she is kept busy with that.  As she is introduced to the fill household, the estate’s horny groundskeepers find other uses for the zombie, which ultimately leads to the family losing all control.  Miss Zombie is a stark black and white film.  The film itself is beautiful as Tanaka uses the unique attributes of the medium to his full advantage.  And while the plot is essentially a mix of Fido and Dead Girl, the world created here and the trajectory of the characters seems fresh.  

Moebius (Ki-duk Kim)
Moebius is the type of film that I am glad someone took the care to put such care into it, and I’m equally as glad that I will never have to watch it again.  The film is entirely without dialogue.  It is not silent, rather just mute.  Never at any point do you need to hear what these characters have to say.  All of the performances as well as the direction make it very clear what the relationships are between the characters are and what each character is going through at any moment.  Given the success of the experiment in filmmaking, I am glad that I saw Moebius.  My hang-up comes from the theme of the film, as almost the entire plot revolves around fear of castration.  The film has a teenage son getting castrated by his alcoholic mother, and it just spirals from there.  His father is constantly looking online for solutions to the penis problem, including one masturbation method that involves rubbing your foot raw with rocks.  Because so much of the running time is dedicated to how you can possibly live without a penis, I think it is understandable that being part of the population that has never had one, I had trouble relating.  This castration fixation overtakes the story and all of the character’s lives.  With the interesting film structure Moebius was able to keep my interest, even though the subject matter was less than interesting for me.

Blue Ruin (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
Of all of the films I have seen at Fantastic Fest, Blue Ruinhas been the best surprise.  The film is a revenge flick, and given the prevalence of those films, I was looking forward to a solid entry into the sub-genre.  What Blue Ruin turned out to be was a brilliant portrayal of a man enacting his revenge on his parents’ killer and the fallout that occurs in his life after that.  Macon Blair’s portrayal of Dwight, the vengeful son, is subtle and nuanced, and it completely blew me away.  The character clearly has a long history, and has ended up in a complicated place in his life when he finds out that the murder is released from prison.  Blair takes us through Dwight’s arc as a hurt, broken down man forced into trying to commit crimes of his own.  He is lost and confused, but passionate.  The quiet character shows us his journey, rather than having dialogue tell us.   A well-paced, well written, and surprisingly poignant film.


My one criticism of Fantastic Fest* so far is that there haven’t been many fun films.  Films that make you laugh out loud, or root for the killer.  Many of the films are quiet, and slower.  Thank goodness for Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, which was easily the most fun film at the fest so far.  The film has a bit of an involved plot, but the basic version is that an amateur film crew is recruited by the yakuza to make a film of their latest gang war to impress the boss’s wife upon her discharge from prison.  Now there are many flashbacks and intersecting characters along the way, but you can tell that they are just cursory to the big ending.   The amateur film crew is a clear stand-in for the director of the actual film, and they in turn act as a stand in for everyone in the audience who still feels cinema is magic.  Their passion and enthusiasm, no matter how misguided, remind you of how exciting the movies are.  That, and the kick-ass yakuza show-down, makes this a fun film that gave the Fantastic Fest audience a chance to cheer and applaud for both the good guys and the bad.
*I can’t say if this is due to the programming of the fest, or current trends in filmmaking, or a combination of these factors.

Chanthaly (dir. Mattie Do)
Laos is not a very cinematic country.  It has produced nine films so far.  Total.  It has two theaters, though a third is on the way.  Even with the industry being still in its infancy, director Mattie Do has managed to create the country’s first horror film, and it does not feel like a first in any capacity.  Chanthaly is a haunting film where a young woman, Chanthaly, is convinced her dead mother is trying to send her messages.  Her father has told her that the mother died in child birth.  When Chanthaly is visited by a ghost and told that her father has lied to her Chanthaly is put in between the living and the dead and tries to discover the truth.  The film’s look at generational clashes, as well as spiritualism versus the secular Marxist ideology in Laos comes across very clearly.  Though not overbearing, these themes drive forward the plot.  Chanthaly is by no means the greatest ghost story ever told, but considering that is comes from a country with no real film market, it is an impressive entry into the international cinematic field.

The Congress (dir. Ari Folman)
Fantastic Fest, like most film festivals, has its own awards ceremony to recognize the best efforts at the fest.  This year The Congress won best picture, best screenplay, and best actress for Robin Wright.  I cannot fathom how this won all of these awards because I actively and categorically despised this film.  It is an extremely rare occurrence for me to leave a screening disappointed, let alone angry.  I can often rationalize that a film’s pacing was off because  of director still learning their craft, or that they had a good shot at making a decent film, but it’s clear that they didn’t know how to shoot within their budget.  With The Congress I was visibly upset- not because I was angry that my time was wasted- rather I was enraged that such an excellent concept for a film was wasted on pretentious and muddled crap.  The film’s concept is genius.   In the not-so-distant future actors are being phased out.  Studios are buying their rights, and scanning them so that they can be uploaded into any film of their choosing without having to bother with consent or ego.  Robin has been approached by her agent (Harvey Keitel) to be scanned, or to be completely forgotten about and never hired to work as an actor again.  After some threatening and coaxing, Robin signs away her rights to herself and is scanned.  The sets are gorgeous.  Both Wright and Keitel give impressive performances.  But unfortunately the film takes a turn just after Robin is scanned and uploaded.  A very sharp and frustrating turn.  The film jumps forward 20 years, when Robin’s digitizing contract is set to expire.  Rather than showing the ways that Robin’s image has been abused, or exploring the very interesting world that has been created, the film takes Robin to a world where she inhales a liquid, becomes animated, and must navigate the new frontier of their animated world which no longer has any semblance to reality. The barrier between the worlds is called “truth,” which was the nail in the coffin for me.  The film then becomes philosophical posturing with dialogue that is so abstruse it is impossible to tell if they are even trying to cobble together a story.  The Congress is based on a book that I am not at all familiar with.  Perhaps the film closely resembles the book, and that is where I should focus my frustration.  In any case, I was hoping that the film would play out like a high concept science fiction film (like LFO or Coherence), as first part of the film would have me believe.  I am angry because I would still like to see that film.  

Nothing Bad Can Happen (dir. Katrin Gebbe)
The title of this film is incredibly misleading.  Many bad, terrible things happen in this outstanding German film.  It follows Tore, a sweet but naïve “Jesus freak.”  Tore is trusting, and believes in following everything that his extreme Christian friends preach.  He doesn’t have a place of his own, and is couch hopping with his fellow freaks when he bumps in to a vacationing family.  Tore is socially awkward, and constantly bringing up the majesty of the Lord doesn’t help, yet he is clearly yearning for closeness. He loves people, and trusts them blindly, but most people are put off by his overly eager friendliness.  When his friend, whose couch he has been sleeping on, shows that he is not as Christian are Tore once believed, Tore takes up the friendly family he met earlier of their offer of a place to sleep.  The family is welcoming and friendly at first, but contrary to the title, this honeymoon does not last long.  As Tore gets more involved in the family’s life, their true nature emerges and Tore is subjected to abuse that he never deserved.  The peculiar thing about the film is that Tore stays with the family, and continues to return to them.  They are not his family, and he only just met them.  He is not being held captive.  There is no real motivation for him to keep returning, and yet he comes back again and again.  This logical gap is one of the character himself, and not a shortsighted mistake by the filmmakers.  It makes sense for Tore to not know better, and to put in faith in Jesus above all else.  Director Gebbe told the audience that this is actually based on a real case in Germany, where the victim illogically returns to his abusers.  This film is beautiful, haunting, and downright disturbing.  Absolutely a festival favorite.   

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (dir. Jonathan Levine)
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane’s reputation precedes itself.  The film was originally taken on the film festival circuit way back in 2006.  Since then its distribution has become a study in the issues with film distribution in this country, and it seemed like getting a release date was just as likely as Republicans finally accepting Obamacare.  To everyone’s relief and surprise the film was finally released this month.  Given its sordid history, it was exciting to finally see the film.  It is a solid version of the classic teenagers in the woods –or in this case, on a ranch.  The film has good performances, though true to the subgenre all of the characters are caricatures of teenagers.  The kills are generally good, though not ground breaking.  The music and editing are particularly well done and kept me engaged in the film for the entire running length.  Though not at all disappointing, the film is standard and formulaic.  Thankfully for the filmmakers, the  film’s long history will forever set it apart from the average reception it deserves.

Deirdre Crimmins

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Deirdre (Dede) lives in Chicago (via Boston and Cleveland) with two black cats. She writes for Film Thrills, High Def Digest, The Brattle Theater, Rue Morgue Magazine, Birth.Movies.Death., and anyone else who will let her drone on about genre film. She wrote her Master's thesis on George Romero and is always hopeful that Hollywood will get its head out of its ass.

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