Coverage and Photos by Mark Saldana:
Eight days, twenty movies, three interviews, and multiple parties/events later and alas, my Fantastic Fest is over. Now that all is said and done, I still have much work ahead of me writing reviews and pieces for the festival. However, before I get into some slightly more detailed individual pieces, here’s a summary article that should more or less pick up where my “Over The Hump” piece concludes. As I stated in midway report, I returned to my day job which obviously limited my screening attendance to nighttime. Still, I managed to squeeze in a few more movies and the awesome closing party where festers toasted to another great year of Fantastic Fest.
Well, now that the festival is over, here is my top ten list of my favorite Fantastic Fest films for 2015.
(Synopses Courtesy of Fantastic Fest)
1. The Witch: (Sixty years before the Salem witch trials, a Puritan moves his family away from civilization to a homestead which shares its borders with inescapable evil.) This entry is not only an extraordinary, serious horror film. It is a superb example of exceptional filmmaking. Not since The Exorcist have I seen a straight-faced, dour horror film that builds the tension and suspense so beautifully and delivers when the horror gets unleashed.
2. The Invitation: (A haunted man attends a dinner party at the house he once called home and is gripped with paranoia that his ex-wife and her new husband are harboring an insidious agenda.) Before I watched The Witch, this movie had been my number one, but second place is not a bad spot at all for this great film. I will continue to sing its praises until nearly everyone I know sees it. This is one of those movies which I have already seen twice and know what’s going to happen, but would really enjoy watching it with first-time viewers just to see their reactions. Even after two viewings, there are probably some lovely, subtle nuances I have yet to discover which help make this one of the best thrillers this year.
3. Bone Tomahawk: (Kurt Russell stars in this character driven and at times horrific Western about a group of men, including Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins, who set out to rescue a local woman and a young deputy who’ve been kidnapped by a tribe of cannibalistic troglodytes.) The closing night film of the fest this year is definitely a memorable one. This suspenseful Western has all the usual elements that make classic John Wayne westerns great, combined with the genuine shocks and frights of a top notch horror flick. An awesome genre splicing that may have divided the festival audiences, but had me applauding.
4. La Granja: (The lives of a midwife, a young boxer, a mute child and a young couple collide unexpectedly in a story about the desperate pursuit of happiness on the streets of Puerto Rico.) Director Angel Soto’s feature debut is a powerful and disturbing portrait of the dark side of life in Puerto Rico.
5. Hard To Get: (Supremely confident ladies man TK may have bitten off more than he can chew when he sets his sights on Skiets, a township beauty with an edge who sets the pair off on a non-stop rollercoaster ride through the local underworld.) South Africa has produced another talented filmmaker in Zee Ntuli. This electrifying and incendiary debut indicates a promising future for the young auteur.
6. Assassination Classroom: (The most heart-warming, touching coming-of-age tale of 2015 just also happens to be the story of how one classroom of kids gets trained as assassins so they can kill their teacher before he destroys Earth.) This highly charming and thoroughly entertaining film from Japan turns manga/anime into live action and the results are beautiful. Despite how the title sounds, this actually may be the most kid friendly film to show at Fantastic Fest. Ever…
7. Zoom: (Three very different people — an aspiring comic book artist with body image issues, an action director trying to make a more meaningful film, and a model struggling with her first novel — find their stories intersect in earth-shaking ways.) This wild and hilarious film by Pedro Morelli puts an inventive twist on films with intersecting stories.
8. The Missing Girl: (Mort, a lonely and disillusioned owner of a comic book shop, has fallen for his new employee Ellen, a smart, aspiring graphic novelist. But a dark past and a missing girl will complicate their story more than anyone can imagine.) Fans of comic book-based stories like Ghost World and American Splendor will certainly appreciate a film like A.D. Calvo’s The Missing Girl. The characters may seem like ordinary, average people, but the relevance of their lives and problems make them fascinating and compelling.
9. Southbound: (Somewhere on a stretch of desert highway, five groups of travelers will find themselves confronting an ever-changing feeling of dread through five interlocking, horrific stories.) This horror anthology, which reminds me of shows like Tales From The Crypt, is the type of movie that keeps Festers returning annually. Dark, demented and surreal, Southbound ghoulishly fills the vacancy left due to the lack of a V/H/S and/or an ABCs of Death installment.
10. Camino: (A photojournalist gets more than she bargained for when she snaps a photo of a shadowy religious figure in the jungles of Colombia, triggering a flight – and fight – for her life.) Intense, edge-of-the-seat action and suspense make this another gripping thriller the festival had to offer. Zoe Bell once again proves that she is more than just a badass stuntwoman. She can actually act and carry a film in a lead role. Fantastic Fest regular Nacho Vigalondo also proves he is more than a colorful personality and a solid film director. He offers a charismatic and intense performance as the film’s antagonist.
Films I regretted missing: Green Room, Man Vs. Snake, Liza The Fox Fairy
After the film screenings concluded on Thursday night. Fest attendees either hopped in their vehicles or caught a shuttle bus to the closing night party held at a Western-themed ghost town in Bee Cave, Texas. Attendees had the opportunity to feast on barbecue, toss back some drinks at the local saloons, attend a service at the Church of the Devil’s Rain, or get into a slapshot showdown in the street. It was a fun and wild time; however, I couldn’t help, but feel melancholic as I hated to see everything come to a close. Once again The Alamo Drafthouse, the cinema mecca of the world, put on one hell of a genre film extravaganza and I cannot wait until the time comes for the next one.