The Best and Boldest Genre Films From Fantastic Fest 2016
For over a decade, Fantastic Fest has been home to some of the most interesting genre films from around the world. It’s where fans of subversive, unique, and truly challenging cinema discover new and exciting filmmakers and share memorable movie experiences. Although the Alamo Drafthouse’s annual festival does include highly-anticipated studio films like Arrival and A Monster Calls, those films are deliberately programmed to coincide with the fest’s smaller genre offerings — these are the titles that remind us that original voices and stories are still out there, and the ones we’ll be urging fans to seek out and see over the next several months.
As with previous years, Fantastic Fest 2016 delivered another great lineup, featuring some of the coolest most interesting genre films from across the globe. Sure, Arrival is great (as our own Matt Singer will tell you) and if Elle doesn’t become an awards contender, I will most certainly start a riot, but it’s the smaller, independent titles from new and established filmmakers alike that are really exciting to discover and share. So that’s what I’m going to do. Below are a handful of the best genre films from this year’s Fantastic Fest, plus any pertinent info about when and how you might be able to see them for yourself.
The Eyes of My Mother
Nicolas Pesce is the latest filmmaker to emerge from Borderline, the collective that includes Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Antonio Campos (Simon Killer) and Josh Mond (James White). Pesce’s feature debut is an atmospheric and beautifully-shot horror film evocative of Alfred Hitchcock (particularly Psycho) and ’70s horror. Pesce’s film centers on Francisca (newcomer Kika Magalhaes), the daughter of Portuguese immigrants who live a practical life in the countryside — perhaps a little too practical, as we soon discover when a series of tragic events lead Francisca to equate companionship with death in dark and increasingly shocking ways.
Pesce exercises deliberate restraint in his approach to some of the more grotesque moments, which are inarguably horrific but never downright unpleasant. Presented in black-and-white (with some subtle tinting), The Eyes of My Mother is a sophisticated and heavy film with an intriguing point of view that feels like a prequel to a horror movie that doesn’t exist.
How to see it: The Eyes of My Mother will be available in theaters, On Demand, Amazon Video and iTunes on December 2.
We Are the Flesh
I don’t know that “I liked it” or “it was good” are appropriate ways to describe We Are the Flesh, the debut feature from Mexico’s Emiliano Rocha Minter. This movie is, for lack of a better word, pure evil. Imagine if Satan himself remade Eyes Wide Shut in an underground tunnel system and replaced Tom Cruise and every woman in Kubrick’s film with a brother and sister. It has all the bizarre and surreal qualities of an Alejandro Jodorowsky film with none of the joy or fun. This doesn’t seem like a recommendation, but We Are the Flesh is entirely original, for better or worse. The narrative follows a pair of sibling drifters that encounter an impish older man who offers them a place to stay in exchange for their help building a mysterious structure. That basic plot rapidly devolves into a deranged, graphic odyssey that could have easily been adapted from scripture in the Satanic Bible.
This is not a film you watch at home on your couch; this is a movie that you experience in a theater with a room full of strangers, collectively sharing the WTF that unfolds for 90 minutes. It’s a tasteless film that defies convention, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on John Waters’ year-end list of favorites.
How to see it: We Are the Flesh plays next on October 16 at the Chicago International Film Festival. Arrow Films has the distribution rights, but they have yet to announce a release date.
Bartosz M. Kowalski’s second feature is like a Polish remake of Antonio Campos’ Afterschool. Divided into a series of chapters, Playground introduces us to Gabrysia and two of her male classmates on the last day of school, efficiently establishing their troubling backgrounds before Gabrysia professes her love for one of the boys. As you can imagine, this isn’t going anywhere pleasant, but Kowalski subverts our expectations of that climactic encounter by taking the characters somewhere even more dreadful. Like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, Playground is an artful examination of the banality of evil and the hereditary repercussions of seemingly mundane politics. Kowalski shoots the final, horrific chapter with a voyeuristic approach that is as detached as the kids he’s documenting, surveying the climax with a practicality that makes it all the more real and terrifying.
How to see it: Playground plays next at the London Film Festival on October 12. It does not currently have a distributor in the U.S.
Buster’s Mal Heart
Sarah Adina Smith’s follow-up to The Midnight Swim (available on Netflix) is incredibly enigmatic and, in some aspects, an interesting companion piece to Mr. Robot. Buster’s Mal Heart stars Rami Malek in dual roles: One is the title character, a notorious hermit who lives in the mountains and breaks into upper-class vacation homes in the winter — not entirely dissimilar from Christopher Knight, aka the North Pond Hermit, the subject of a fascinating GQ profile from 2014. The other is Jonah, a father and husband struggling to make ends meet working the night shift as a hotel concierge so he can move his family out of his wife’s devoutly religious parents’ home. A somewhat surrealistic portrait of schizophrenia, Buster’s Mal Heart depicts mental health issues with empathy, sorrow, and humor. It may seem as though Smith is keeping the viewer at arm’s length with an elusive narrative and slippery allusions to the Biblical tale of Jonah and the Whale, but her fragmented style is apt for the characters within.
How to see it: Strangely enough, despite Malek’s role on one of the best shows on television, Buster’s Mal Heart doesn’t have distribution just yet. His recent Emmy win might change that.
Following its debut at TIFF (read Matt Singer’s full review), Nacho Vigalondo’s latest served as the closing night film at this year’s Fantastic Fest, offering a wildly inventive and surprisingly emotional experience. Vigalondo manages to find a truly original and exciting new take on the classic kaiju film by using it as a smart allegory for casual misogyny and male entitlement. Anne Hathaway is absolutely stellar in the role of Gloria, a woman with a disastrous drinking problem who moves back home after a break-up, only to find that she has a bizarre connection to a giant monster wreaking havoc in Seoul. Jason Sudeikis is wisely cast as her seemingly charming childhood friend, Oscar, who wants to help Gloria put her life back together — but his good intentions mask his own nasty issues. On its surface, Colossal holds an interesting metaphor for substance abuse, but as Gloria’s story evolves, Vigalondo’s film has a lot to say about the way some men perceive and treat women. Oscar is representative of the “nice guy”; the entitled guy who gets “friend-zoned” or the MRA internet bullies who torment women from the safety of their keyboards. It is a unique and deeply affecting film with big, important ideas, but one that still manages to be very entertaining.
How to see it: Colossal plays next at the Sitges Film Festival in Spain on October 7. Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League and Radius co-founder Tom Quinn’s new distribution company has acquired the rights for the film, though they have yet to set a release date.