Fantastic Fest: First Wave Highlights

Every year during the last week of September, madness takes over a single Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. For eight days, Fantastic Fest transports it’s attendees to a magical realm of satanic marching bands, nerdy boxing matches, and the finest selection of genre films the world has to offer. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and it’s only a few weeks away! And with D-Day fast approaching comes the announcement of films that are to be shown at the fest. The first wave hit on the 8th of August, and hoo-boy was it a doozy. There was so much good I had a hard time picking just ten titles to highlight here. I made it work though, so let’s get to it!

Anna and the Apocalypse

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Holiday. Horror. Musical. Those three magical words, even by themselves, make my heart go all aflutter. But when a movie like Anna and the Apocalypse comes along and mashes them together well, to say my interest was piqued would be a severe understatement.

I can’t even tell you what the film is about. After I saw those three wonderful words I stopped reading. That was all I needed to know. I couldn’t be more sold. That may happen a lot in this list, but it’s only in the interest of allowing you (and me) to go in as cold as possible. That is the best way to experience a movie, after all.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

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2015’s Bone Tomahawk was the closing night film of that year’s Fantastic Fest, and it blew our damn minds. It’s rare that a film is able to be hilarious, touching, and gut-wrenchingly brutal all at once, but Bone Tomahawk does just that. So it goes without mention that I’m excited about his sophomore feature, Brawl in Cell Block 99.

Obviously I did end up mentioning that, but I shan’t be saying any more. I won’t even tell you about how Vince Vaughn is starring as, I’m assuming, our leading brawl boy! I shouldn’t have to. Yeah mostly because it says that up there in the picture, but also because you should already be sold.

The Endless

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Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson are a couple of talented directors who I feel really take advantage of working within genre. Their first film Resolution was a perfect example of effective and powerful no-budget storytelling. Their followup, Spring, was featured at 2014’s Fantastic Fest and ended up being a rather beautiful tale of falling in love and dealing with whatever baggage your partner brings along with them. And now the boys are back with their take on mysterious cults!

The Endless looks to be one of the more thought-provoking films playing at the Fest, seemingly dealing with religion and how what we believe effects how we see the world. Again, I don’t know much about the film (we can go ahead and assume that about every movie I’m highlighting here), but if it’s anything like Justin and Aaron’s past work; I’m ready to party.

Gerald’s Game

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It’s director Mike Flanagan’s (Oculus, Hush) adaptation of Stephen King’s supposedly unadaptable book. If you’ve read the book, you know why I’m excited about this one. And for those who are unable to attend the Fest, Netflix is releasing the film on September 29th!

Hagazussa – A Heathen’s Curse

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Here’s another film I’m interested in from concept alone: an almost completely silent film set in 15th century Austria where paranoia and superstition reigned king. Hagazussa (the Old High German word for “witch”) is German filmmaker Lukas Feigelfeld’s debut feature. In fact, it’s actually his graduation project from film school. And it looks absolutely gorgeous. If it’s as terrifying as Annick Mahnert says, it will definitely be a highlight of this year’s Fest.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster was Fantastic Fest 2015’s opening night film. I had no idea what I was in for, but it ended up being one of my favorite movies of that year. So obviously I have very high expectations for The Killing of a Sacred Deer. I’ve avoided any sort of information about this film like the plague. All I know is it stars Collin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, and Alicia Silverstone and I think Collin Farrell plays a doctor. It also created a substantial amount of buzz at Cannes, where it tied for Best Screenplay with Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here. So don’t miss it.

Maus

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“Yayo Herrero’s directorial debut is a couple’s nightmare journey into the heart of darkness. A superlative horror parable, this shocking film is an indictment of modern history, war and the difficulties of reconciliation. It is a story for our times.” That is all I need to know about Maus. Add that to the fact that Evrim Ersoy programmed it (the third one on this list) and we got ourselves a “must watch”.

The Square

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Ruben Ostlund has been exploring humanity’s base impulses for a while now. Whether it be self preservation in 2014’s Force Majeure or one’s need to stand up for themselves in 2008’s Involuntary, this Swede has been holding up a darkly comic mirror toward society for a while now. The Square seems to be his most ambitious film yet; an ambition which paid off with the film winning the  Palme d’Or this year at Cannes! Plus one of Fantastic Fest’s signature icons says there’s semen, so you just have to see it.

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

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After he burst onto the scene with 2008’s In Bruges, Martin McDonagh’s name has been a draw to many like myself who enjoy a little bit of gratuitous violence with their black comedy. We’ve been seriously lacking in McDonagh — his last film Seven Psychopaths came out five years ago — so Three Billboards is very high on my “Most Anticipated of 2017” list. Featuring an all-star cast of favorites including Francis McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and John Mother-Fuckin’ Hawkes, there’s little doubt in my mind Three Billboards won’t disappoint.

My Friend Dahmer

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Finishing off this list is My Friend Dahmer, the adaptation of Derf Backderf’s popular graphic novel of the same name. The main thing that separates Dahmer from the films listed above is that I’ve actually read the book. So if the film is anywhere near as unsettling as it’s paper counterpart — and the trailer suggests it is — mainstream audiences may now have a better understanding of what made Jeffrey Dahmer the way he was: for better or for worse.

So there you have it. Ten (hopefully) awesome movies announced in the first wave for Fantastic Fest with hopefully just enough information to convince you to check some of them out. For those unable to attend the Fest in Austin, don’t fret. The Alamo Drafthouse will be screening select Fantastic Fest films in San Francisco, Denver, and Brooklyn on the weekend of September 29th! Be sure to check the Fantastic Fest website for more information on badges, as well as the other first wave films I wasn’t able to highlight here. Also check out the shorts line-up for this year’s fest here! And remember to come back once the second wave is announced.

*Edited on September 1st to add Fantastic Fest Satellite Festival link and link to Shorts Announcement

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Javier Gonzalez

Freelance writer and winner of multiple awards including "Most Improved Player 1999" and "Best Defensive Player 2001"

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