Fantastic Fest Recap: Days 4 & 5


Halfway to the end of days.

I’ve gotten to a point where I can’t recall the events of the day before. Everything is a flurry of violent images, beer, and excessive amounts of queso, which I’m fairly convinced has replaced some of my blood. On Day 4 of Fantastic Fest I have a vague recollection of sleeping in due the events of the night before (it involved a lot of food and drinking) before heading out to a late screening of Under the Tree.

Maybe I’m losing my ability to comprehend what I read, but I went in thinking Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s Icelandic commentary on neighbors, relationships, and misunderstanding was black comedy and not the incredibly dark drama (with some comedic undertones) it turned out to be. The film follows a pair of neighbors who find themselves in a dispute over the shade cast by a tree. A series of miscommunications, exacerbated by stubbornness and a life already broken by tragic events, lead to missing pets, finger pointing, and a darkly comic climax. A mostly solid film, even if my expectations clouded its initial impressions.

After this was a midnighter in the form of Bryan Taylor’s Mom & Dad (review), a wild and frenetic trip that see a mysterious virus compelling all the parents trying to kill their kids through any means necessary. Nicolas Cage goes full bore, distilling the craziness of all of his previous films (Vampire’s Kiss is a perfect example) into an over-the-top, scenery-chewing performance that will go down as one of his best. Alongside him is Selma Blair, who delivers an equally intense performance, albeit one that’s a little more subdued – at least until the shit hits the fan and the both team up to slaughter their children. It’s a perfect midnight flick, and not just because it’s a lean 83 minutes long.

And that was it for Day 4. I’m aware the quality of these recaps have started to decline, but so has my ability to think clearly. Day 5, however, will go down as one of my favorites of the festival, due in part to not just the quality of the films but the events that followed.

After a light, relaxing morning, I made my way to the Drafthouse to check out Wheelman, starring Frank Grillo and written & directed by Jeremy Rush. Essentially Drive meets Locke, the film follows the titular wheelman, a former con whose current assignment is to drive a pair of bank robbers to a job. While the robbery is in process, he receives a mysterious phone call telling him his life’s in danger and thrusting him into a wild night set almost entirely within the confines of his vehicle.

A stunning and tense film, it hits Netflix soon so you should have a chance to check it out. Hopefully when it does people will start to realize that Shea Whigham deserves more than bit parts.

From there I moseyed into The Cured, an Irish 28 Weeks Later-esque thriller that posits a world where zombies can be cured. This, naturally, irks some people, which in turn irks some of the cured. A serviceable debut, The Cured suggests a film similar to the astounding French thriller Les Revenants before turning into a standard, if well-made, zombie film where the metaphor never finds its footing. Is it a commentary on immigration? The prison system? The AIDS epidemic? These are the three that immediately came to mind, but The Cured never fully commits to one to send home any sort of message. It becomes, at best, a good-but-not-great debut feature that deserves a few points for doing something relatively new with the zombie subgenre. Also it’s incredibly loud. What’s with that, yo?

And then we were on to the secret screening. In the few days leading up to the fest, theories were tossed about. Will it be The Shape of Water? Blade Runner 2049? The Disaster Artist? In past years, the cat was usually let out of the bag a little early or, in some instances, someone caught a glimpse of a star the day of. This was almost the case this year when word spread that Eli Roth was in the lobby as people were making their way into the theaters. What did this mean? Fucking Death Wish.

Eli Roth has a history at Fantastic Fest. If memory serves, one of the secret screenings in I believe 2013 was The Green Inferno (review). This, understandably, pissed off a lot of people, because The Green Inferno ended up being terrible and no one goes to Fantastic Fest to see an Eli Roth film. Add in the fact that Death Wish looks God awful, and you would understand why I ended up sharing an entire bottle of rose with my friend in preparation of the ensuing the train wreck. I’m speculating, of course, but the trailer didn’t exactly instill any faith in the film.

So, with wine at the ready, we settled in for…not Death Wish. The secret? Armando Iannucci’s upcoming The Death of Stalin. A comedy that takes a satirical look at the power struggle that erupted following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, it was a welcome and genuine surprise that elicited more than a few gasps and “woos!” from audience members. Long story short: The movie is absolutely hilarious.

Following the film and some discussion, we all piled into a cemetery-themed karaoke room at the Highball and let loose. But before we could do that, we had some business to take care of. You see, Matt Donato, a good friend of Dread Central and a writer over at We’ve Got This Covered, was so convinced the Secret Screening was The Shape of Water that he told Kristy Puchko of Pajiba she could slap him if it wasn’t. For shits and giggles, here is evidence of Donato fulfilling the bet.

The way Day 5 ended serves as a perfect representation of what Fantastic Fest is all about: friendship and family. And surprises. And beer. And karaoke. I have a terrible singing voice, but I learned I can affect a decent baritone when singing Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E”.



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