Almost ten years ago, I attended Fantastic Fest at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX. A film festival dedicated to genre movies (mostly horror, fantasy, SF and action), it was quite an experience. Alas, in the times of Covid, large gatherings like film festivals were canceled. They did some virtual stuff, showing a few movies from years past online, but that’s obviously a pale comparison to the real thing. So I figured I’d watch a few movies that were shown at last year’s festival in honor of Fantastic Fest:
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 3 – Fantastic Fest
The Platform – The rules are simple. Two people per level. You change levels randomly every month. Your only sustenance is a giant platform of food lowered through the center of the level. At the top levels, the platform is full of gourmet food. There’s enough food for all levels, but only if everyone rations what they eat. At level 50, the pickings are sparse. At level 200 you might as well kill your fellow prisoner and eat them because no food makes it down that far. As blunt critiques of trickle-down capitalism go, it’s not especially trenchant and once the premise is established, the movie essentially has nowhere to go. As a result, the ending is less than satisfying.
Along the way, we’re treated to the standard single-location horror fare that is entertaining enough, just out of pure ridiculousness. The filmmaking craft is on point and it looks good. Er, as good as the brutalist architecture allows. The performances are fine (make sure you switch away from the dubbing that’s the default on Netflix though) and it’s paced well enough. Still, there are other movies that have done this sort of thing better, notably Cube. Which, like, isn’t a movie I’d call subtle or nuanced, but compared to The Platform, it’s an Ozu masterpiece. The central metaphor, with it’s zero-sum game and randomly assigned levels, is strained at best. I suspect even the most steadfast critic would find this heavy handed and didactic. Well, I certainly did. It’s got its moments for sure, but I don’t think it’s as important as it wants to be. *1/2
- WNUF Halloween Special (trailer)
- The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XXIII – Un-normal Activity (Disney+ link, sorry)
- The Last Exorcism (trailer)
VHYes – 12 year-old Ralph gets a VHS video camera as a gift. The movie consists entirely of a week’s worth of home videos and recorded clips of TV shows, all (accidentally?) taped over his parents’ wedding tape. It’s a pastiche of 80s TV tropes and found footage flicks. The horror bits only really emerge towards the ending, which takes on a more surreal bent than the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the episodic bits are uneven and disjointed. It tries to make some points about television and media, amongst other topics, but the whole thing is so jumbled that they don’t especially land. This is the sort of thing that works better as a short TV show, and indeed, it’s reminiscent of stuff like Wonder Showzen and Too Many Cooks… only it can’t quite reach those levels.
Clocking in at a mere 72 minutes, its hard to say that it overstays its welcome, but… maybe it does? The bits that work, though, are quite fun. I particularly enjoyed the true crime witch burning skit and the Antiques Roadshow parody. It’s also filled with a surprising amount of recognizable faces, ranging from the likes of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon to lesser-known talents like Thomas Lennon, Mark Proksch, and Charlyne Yi.
I suspect watching it as part of the Six Weeks of Halloween was a bit of a mistake. The horror elements are lacking and don’t show up until later. Even once we get to them, they’re rote found footage that barely scratches the horror itch. I might have been a little more receptive had I watched it with less horror expectations (even then, it doesn’t really compare to the best of this sort of thing). As nostalgic, found footage, VHS-based, 80s TV pastiches go, I think the WNUF Halloween Special does a better job and is obviously a better fit for the season. **
Come to Daddy – Hipster DJ Norval gets a cryptic letter from his estranged father and travels to his dad’s home to reconnect. Alas, his father has gotten himself into something of a pickle, and things go sideways rather quickly. Coming from consummate weirdo Ant Timpson and starring Elijah Wood, this is a fairly singular experience. Much like Wood’s unfortunate hair style and mustache, this is an unusual movie. Unlike the other films mentioned in this post, I wasn’t constantly reminded of better films doing similar things, which was nice. The opening of the movie is more of a character sketch, with two very different men basically trapped in a location and dealing with each other.
Things take a bit of a turn towards a more conventional thriller narrative about halfway through, but it still retains its own eccentric personality. Along the way we’re treated to some off kilter dialogue (“Got them little raisin eyes. Only evil men got them raisin eyes.” or “Semen contains more proteins and nutrients than an ear.”) and offbeat humor, as well as some well done violence and gore. Certainly the best movie covered in this post. Not exactly for mainstream audiences, but it could work if you’re in the mood for something edgy and weird. ***
So that covers a few picks from last year’s Fantastic Fest. Up next on the 6WH front is some horror TV, followed by the Horror of 1978. Stay tuned!