The Best of Fantastic Fest 2017 – Part One

Barbara Kennedy October 8, 2017 0
Fantastic Fest 2017 art

Its Arabic theme inspired this beautiful art displayed in the lobby during the Festival

Fantastic Fest 2017 has come and gone, but not without leaving us some wonderful memories of amazing films.  This year I did not watch a single film that I did not at least like, so I must say a huge “THANK YOU” to the programmers who brought this variety of incredible films from around the world to Austin, Texas. 

Throughout the festival, people often asked what was my favorite film.  This question has been difficult this year, as so many films were exceptional and so different, and to compare them and try to pick a single favorite didn’t seem right.  Instead I’ll provide a short breakdown of some of the films I loved and why they resonated with me.

Ever since seeing South Korean film THE CHASER at my first Fantastic Fest in 2008, I became obsessed with South Korean cinema.  I will pretty much always choose a South Korean film over any other in the same time slot, so it should be no surprise that I saw and loved both films from this country playing at this year’s festival, V.I.P. and THE MERCILESS.

V.I.P. is Park Hoon-jung’s fourth directorial feature.  You may recall him from being the force behind I SAW THE DEVIL, and like that one, this film refuses to shy away from brutality.  When bureaucracy creates roadblocks for catching a serial killer, a detective has to get creative in his attempts to stop the murderer.  The film does an exceptional job of relaying this familiar theme in a unique way. 

THE MERCILESS delivers an engaging action/drama about gangs, drugs, policing, and human nature.  A rich and full story, with characters you really get to know, it’s more than just a tough guy, gangster movie.  It’s a story of connection and friendship, and of loyalty and trust.  I love the depth at which these relationships are explored, and how this exploration does not adversely impact the pacing of the film.  We get everything we need without ever feeling that dragging sensation that sometimes occurs during scenes of character development or exposition.   

Out of Thailand came another favorite, the unexpectedly amazing BAD GENIUS.  While thematically, the film didn’t sound like it would be a nail-biter, it proved every bit as exciting as any action film I’ve seen this year.  When smart students try to help lesser academically-inclined students, the trouble begins.  This is very much a heist film disguised as a high school drama or vice versa.  BAD GENIUS takes a look at social class, cheating, and students on the cusp of adulthood trying to figure out who they want to become.  Be aware: watching it might give you test anxiety.

Blake Jenner’s JUVENILE kicked my butt in a way I wasn’t expecting.  While being somewhat consistent with the juvenile delinquent trope, I still found enough fresh and interesting material here to really love this film.  I went in expecting a good movie, but I didn’t expect the film to knock me out the way it did.  With affecting performances, Blake Jenner and Melissa Benoist really captured the essence of troubled youth without feeling like a cliché.

Adorable, isn’t he?
2017 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas on Friday, September 22, 2017. (Photo by Jack Plunkett)

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film, and all kinds of messed up, in the best way possible.  While more relatable than his last film THE LOBSTER, this film should appeal more to mass audiences.  The humor is dark and disturbed, but the story is captivating and the performances are unbelievable.  Collin Farrell and Nicole Kidman really committed to the bizarre.  Young Irish actor, Barry Keoghan, was so incredibly creepy as Martin that I felt confused by how adorable he was in person at the Q & A.  

PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN tells the true story of Professor Marston and the inspiration for the comic series Wonder Woman.  Not a true comic book geek, I went into this film not knowing anything about the life of the creator of the popular series.  I was shocked and pleased at how completely unique this man was, and I simply loved the film.  A truly fantastic portrayal that is not to be missed, PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN addresses so many timeless themes and has far more than just heart, it has soul.  Rebecca Hall shines as Elizabeth and steals scene after scene from both Luke Evans and Bella Heathcote, even though both their performances are wonderful.  Although based on the story behind Wonder Woman, adult themes surrounding Professor Marston’s unconventional choices make this a movie for adults, not children.

If you’re like me, zombies are getting old.  Do we really need to keep seeing more zombie films?  Well, if the offerings at this year’s Fantastic Fest are any indication, yes.  I saw and loved two zombie films screened this year: Scottish musical ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE and Irish film THE CURED.

You may hear people compare ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE to HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL meets pick-your-zombie-film-of-choice, but this is an unfair comparison.  This is not a mash up of two things that have run their courses, it is a different beast altogether and should be treated as such.  ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE takes a delightfully entertaining look at coming of age during a zombie apocalypse.  The songs are nothing short of brilliant, leaving me smiling non-stop through almost every musical performance.  The film shifts towards more zombie carnage and less delightful numbers in the third act, but still entertains through the very end.     

THE CURED intrigued me upon reading the premise.  A zombie outbreak happened, but a cure was found.  This film examines what happens next.  While I expected the film to be more introspective, the filmmakers did something truly thought-provoking here.  Asking questions of how society and individuals would recover from something like this, THE CURED examines human nature in an intriguing manner.  The filmmakers really considered many elements of the aftermath of something like this, which left me contemplating ideas presented in THE CURED long after seeing it.

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID also made my list of favorites.   This is a unique take on a story sadly heard too often in Mexico, the negative impact of drug cartels.  What makes this tale unique is that it is told entirely from the children’s point of view.   Combining a bit of fantasy, some riveting performances, and a thoughtful depiction of the subject matter, filmmaker Issa Lopez gives us an entirely fresh perspective in this remarkable not-to-be-missed film.

There are other films I loved as well, but I will have to save those for another time.  Like I said, the programmers really gave us some great stuff this year.  Fantastic Fest 2017 delivered some fantastic movies, proving once again that it is appropriately named.