Wrapping Up Another Year of Fantastic Fest
The Chronicle Screens staff looks at the Good, the Mad, and the Weird
By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Sept. 27, 2019
Fantastic Fest is (almost) over. The annual celebration of global genre and genre-tinged cinema wraps up this Thursday with a special screening of Rian Johnson's eagerly awaited murder-mystery, Knives Out, having kicked off with the local premiere of Taika Waititi's satire against hate, Jojo Rabbit. As always, there were the secret screenings, and attendees got an early peek at Eddie Murphy's acting comeback in the award-ready Dolemite Is My Name, and Robert Eggers' bold and claustrophobic follow up to The Witch, The Lighthouse.
Themes emerged in this year's programming, most of them accidental: chemically induced time travel (Synchronic, and Justin Long's surprise critique of business culture, The Wave); the damaging effects of religious indoctrination (icy psycho-horror The Lodge, end-of-life nightmare Saint Maud, and charismatic creepfest The Other Lamb); and, well, anal insertions (Butt Boy, The Death of Dick Long, "Butt Fantasia").
For full coverage of Fantastic Fest, including interviews, reviews, and news, head over to austinchronicle.com/fantasticfest: But for now, here's a quick look at some of our writers' favorite films from the fest.
D: Carlo Mirabella-Davis; Texas premiere
It's rare to experience a film that takes turns that are surprising, and Swallow manages to subvert expectations every step of the way. A film about grief and body autonomy, lead actress Haley Bennett plays Hunter, giving a delicately mysterious performance. She is able to flip a switch in tone from comedy to incredibly sad effortlessly so, giving the viewer space to process Hunter's very real and dire emotional baggage.
– Jenny Nulf
D: Lijo Jose Pellissery; U.S. premiere
The two major themes from the 2019 Fantastic Fest: movies that clock in at under 90 minutes and movies that need a little extra time on the back burner. Best described as organized chaos – the film features hundreds of extras and an inspired edit – Jallikattu requires a bit of distance to fully appreciate the political message at its core. Too many sounds, too many images; it's only with a little bit of hindsight that any sane person can hope to make sense of it all. But my God, what a ride.
– Matthew Monagle
The Vast of Night
D: Andrew Patterson; Texas premiere
It's not often that you see a remarkable new talent emerge fully formed, but that's kind of true with Andrew Patterson. A self-taught commercial director out of Oklahoma City, his debut feature – a UFO scare drama set in small-town New Mexico in 1958 – has already caught the eye of Jeff Nichols and Steven Soderbergh. No wonder: He tests every rule about what should make an engrossing film to breaking point, and it warps into magnificent new shapes. Naturalistic dialogue caught in almost impossibly long, dreamlike takes, and a storytelling sensibility that merges stage simplicity and Twilight Zone wonder.
Fifteen years in and Fantastic Fest is more fearlessly first-rate and formidably mind-blowing than ever. Jojo Rabbit took an improbable premise with contemporary relevance and proved that audacious satire is still the best way, artistically speaking, to combat xenophobic evil of the darkest sort. Richard Stanley's Color Out of Space absolutely crushed all preceding attempts to nail the Lovecraftian vibe, while Kung Fu Kicks and Iron Fists and Memory: The Origins of Alien revealed everything you'd ever want to know about their particular subjects. Now that's Fantastic.
– Marc Savlov