Blood-sucking clay, a plan for murder, and a nail-biting space mission kick off Day 1 of the best film fest in America.
I woke up at 6am. I think. My roommate during my 8th year at Fantastic Fest is a heavy snorer, and I’m not entirely convinced his face isn’t a literal Hellmouth from which demons come and go in the night. Either way I’m tired, there’s no coffee in the apartment, and I have a —
My other roommate, Dread Central Managing Editor Jonathan Barkan, just ran out of the bathroom in his boxers, thrust his crotch out, and shouted “MOTHERFUCKIN’ HARD NIPS WOO!” So I guess I have that to look forward to for the next 8 days.
Where was I? Oh yeah. I’m actually writing this the morning of Day 1. Is it cheating? Maybe. But when you’re covering Fantastic Fest, you have to do what you can to get the job done. Next step: coffee. And lots of it.
Day 1 of Fantastic Fest is officially over. I’m tired. I’m full of food and beer. I just want to sleep.
First up was a press screening of Vampire Clay (review), an utterly nutty film in which possessed(?) clay with a thirst for blood makes quick work of a group of fledgling art students. Directed by special effects artist Soichi Umezawa, the film’s Cronenbergian flair (with a dash of John Carpenter’s The Thing) is a showcase for some stellar practical gore effects, all delivered with its tongue planted firmly in its malleable cheek. To use a tired cliche, some moments are pure nightmare fuel, with one scene immediately reminding me of the abstract art death in Warlock 2, which is the most terrifying thing ever put on film. And I’ve seen video of my own birth.
By the time the film let out, the slightly overcast sky and pleasantly cool day had given way to Austin’s infamous sticky heat. The Drafthouse was still mostly empty, with a few press people meandering about, talking about the films they just saw, taking advantage of the air conditioning, and just generally enjoying the stillness of the late morning before Fantastic Fest kicked off into a disgusting orgy of sweaty nerds crammed into a theater and stuffing their faces with all manner of fattening foods and beer.
I love the cinema.
After some relaxation and beer, I settled in for Thoroughbreds, a darkly comedic drama that finds two former best friends rekindling their friendship via sinister circumstances. (Murder. It’s a murder.) The film is a showcase for the talents of Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke, who bring newcomer and now director-to-keep-an-eye-on Cory Finley’s characters to life in a way that’s equal parts hilarious and terrifying. Supported by a sinister percussive score and featuring a beautiful gut-punch of an ending, Thoroughbreds is a must-see through and through.
As is typical of Fantastic Fest, I found myself with very little free time before hitting Klim Shipenko’s Salyut-7 for my third film of the day. Based on the true story of “…one of the most technically challenging missions in the history of space exploration,” the film follows two cosmonauts sent to manually dock with the unmanned Salyut-7 space station, which has inexplicably lost power and threatens to fall from space into Earth.
From a brief dinner scene to a fire that threatens the lives of the cosmonauts, almost every moment of Salyut-7 drips with tension, emphasized by a bombastic soundtrack that helps drive home the point that this entire endeavor is a race against time. You see, those pesky америкосы, intent on preventing the station from falling and causing any damage, aim to retrieve the station as a pre-emptive measure, which could be deemed an invasion. Given that this all took place at the height of the Cold War, that would be, uh, bad.
My adrenaline at an all-time high (though this may have been due to the Red Bull I drank during the movie), I walked into the lobby of the Drafthouse as they were rolling out free pizza and cookies to set the mood for the opening night “Pajama Party” they were throwing. Within ten minutes the air was dotted with feathers, the necessary aftermath of the pillow fight occurring in the Highball next door. Music was pulsating throughout the lobby, now packed shoulder to shoulder with sweaty nerds in onesies and ready to party or catch a midnight screening. Fantastic Fest had begun.
I wish I could say I stayed and partied and basked in the camaraderie that Fantastic Fest inspires, but I’m old. My first day at Fantastic Fest may have ended earlier than anticipated, but I have seven more chances to make up for it.