Fantastic Fest Recap: Days 6 and 7

A bloody exercise in tedium, Mexican street youth, and battle rap lead the way in a slight day 6 and 7 at Fantastic Fest 2017.

Fantastic Fest can loosely be divided into two groups of people. The first group comprises the die-hards, those stalwart individuals who, come hell or high water, see a movie in every time slot. Their film count tops out in the mid-thirties, with a select few counting even more to their total thanks to press screenings and access to the screening library. These people are insane and I wonder what deal they made with the Devil to give them the mental endurance to sit through that many films in one day.

Then there are people like me. I have the constitution of an 80 year old man. Back-to-back movies are anathema to me, and made worse only by my terrible attention span. This is why I’ve only seen (to date) thirteen movies in theaters during this year’s fest (and walked out of one, but that’s only because I fell asleep, like, as soon as the movie started).

The thirteenth and only film for Day 6 of Fantastic Fest was Coralie Fargeat’s egregiously gory Revenge, which follows a young woman (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) exacting, well, revenge, on the men who raped and attempted to kill her. Eschewing a genuine narrative beyond what the title promises, Fargeat prefers to let the film subsist solely on its basic premise, subverting the male gaze as Lutz stalks her prey clad only in automatic weapons and a the bare minimum of clothing.

Although slick as Hell in the visual and audio department, Revenge is mostly a tedious exercise in excessive gore. The themes and subtext can’t support the thin story, and at 108 minutes, much of the film is a test of the viewer’s patience. It gets some respite during the film’s climactic fight scene, which sees the blood flow in unrealistic proportions, but by then I just wanted the movie to end.

To say Day 6 was tame is an understatement. After almost a week of this, I’m ready to call it quits. But there’s two days left! Onward to Day 7!

My first film of the day was Tigers Are Not Afraid. What is there to say about this film? It follows a young girl named Estrella whose life in Mexico is shrouded in the constant threat of violence from drug cartels. This life is established early on, with director Issa Lopez highlighting the reality of this in horrifying ways – gunshots closing the school and children playing limbo with caution tape as police stand over a dead body a mere fifteen away are just a handful of the ways through which we’re thrust into Estrella’s world. When her mother goes missing, she joins a gang of young boys who live on rooftops and steal to survive. After some initial apprehension, she is welcomed into the fold upon completion of a task that finds them running for their lives as the very drug cartel that took her mother hunts them down.

Echoing real-life horrors, Tigers Are Not Afraid is similar to Guillermo del Toro’s Pan Labyrinth in that it relies on fantastical and at times horrific elements to help drive Estrella’s quest. The subtext is relatively clear: a rivulet of blood, a tiny dragon, and a stuffed tiger come to life to remind her, in part, that the life she lives, whether she likes or not, is one in which death is always present. Blending horror and fantasy in equal measure, Tigers Are Not Afraid is a gut-punch of a film that found me wiping away tears on more than one occasion.

My final film of the night was Joseph Kahn’s Bodied. This is my 8th Fantastic Fest. Bodied is not just the best film at this year’s fest, it’s one of the best I’ve seen at ANY fest. A truly remarkable piece of commentary on cultural appropriation and perception, Bodied follows the journey a young, white Berkeley college student makes as he finds himself climbing the ranks in the world of battle rap competitions. Intense, hilarious, and one Hell of a statement, Bodied is a near-perfect film.

And with that, the second-to-last day of Fantastic Fest has come to a close. My back hurts. My heart hurts (from fatty food, not emotion). But through it all, I’ve had a huge smile on my face. Don’t worry. I’ll be sappy during the fest end recap.

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Brad McHargue

Brad is a digital marketing specialist and screenwriter based in Denver, CO. He serves as programmer and host of the Telluride Horror Show, a 3-day genre festival in Colorado.

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