Fantastic Fest 2011
Fantastic Fest 2011 will mark my fifth year as a badge-holder at what has consistently been my favorite film festival each year I've attended. It's not only because I'm a genre-film junkie—horror is by far my favorite type of film—but because it cuts out all the distracting BS one sees at other festivals and allows attendees to stumble upon awesome discoveries organically. In order to fully show just how varied the finds can be at Fantastic Fest, I decided to take a look back at the last four years and then make some guesses about 2011.
2007: I was a Fantastic Fest newbie, a fresh face at the festival (in its third year) housed at the very movie theater that drew me to pack up and move to Austin. I saw an incredible number of films, for a guy who was working fulltime by day through the entire festival. From the live action film version of the popular manga Death Note to the indescribable, grotesque, and wondefully original Hungarian film Taxidermia, I was in a movie lovers paradise. Nothing, though, came close to the experience of walking into the world premier of the Spanish time-traveling thriller Timecrimes with no prior knowledge of what was in store. In the film, director Nacho Vigalondo weaves a brain-twisting yet logically sound tale of a dad-next-door type who finds himself time-hopping to stop a crime he innocently witnesses. Not only did I see the film with its first audience, I saw the birth of one of the festival's unofficial mascots—Vigalondo himself. The director has returned year after year without a new film just to have fun and enjoy the festival. His antics have become the stuff of Fantastic Fest legend. 2011 will see the US premier of the director's new movie Extraterrestrial at the fest and while it's too hotly anticipated to really ever be deemed a "discovery," it promises to be one of the highlights of this year.
2008: Now a Fantastic Fest alum, I jumped into 2008's fest with the confidence of a pro. The year would hold many surprises—The Good, The Bad, The Weird wowed everyone who was able to make it into a screening, and one of my particular favorites was a wildcard second choice on my schedule, an exciting low-budget sci-fi horror called Alien Raiders. This was the year I started watching the trailers for all the films in an attempt to set my first and second choices for each day's schedule. That's when I came across a trailer for a little Swedish vampire film called Let the Right One In. Surprisingly enough, there was a time when this film was pretty much unknown and there was no remake (Let Me In, the American adaptation of the same book, was Fantastic Fest's opening night film in 2010). Not only did I make sure I got into the first screening, I fell in love with the film more than I could have anticipated and it went on to become an international sensation and one of my favorite horror films of the decade.
2009: After my success in guessing what turned out to be one of the breakout hits of the fest in 2008, I went into my third year completely sure I couldn't be surprised. Turns out I was wrong. Big time. Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson, Sion Sono's Love Exposure, and Ti West's House of the Devil were each as wonderful as expected. Even smaller fare like a still-unreleased horror-comedy called The Revenant had a certain buzz leading up to the fest which drew in crowds. Out of nowhere came what would become one of Fantastic Fest's most beloved films, Fish Story. It's a Japanese film of interconnected stories revolving around a punk song that ends up saving the world. It's as charming in execution as it is bizarre on paper. Director Yoshihiro Nakamura has since become a staple of the festival with the (even better) Golden Slumber in 2010 and his latest film, A Boy and His Samurai, on this year's schedule.
2010: Every year there are a handful of secret screenings on the Fantastic Fest schedule. By default these are a surprise and there's never a good way to predict what they will be. Past years have seen the world premier of There Will Be Blood, a presentation of Richard Kelly's final edit of Southland Tales, and the hyper-violent Korean revenge flick I Saw the Devil all as secret screenings. In 2010, a film came along that surprised not just because it was secret until it rolled but because it was a movie almost nobody had heard of. TrollHunter, a Norwegian film that reinvigorates the found footage film with a story about a government employee who kills trolls, was a large success. Even if had been a regular screening, it would have been easily dismissed as another faux-documentary style film with the added novelty of troll folklore. Instead it was a truly exciting film, one that defied any potential expectations. It was double surprise.
So what about this year's Fantastic Fest? In my earlier preview piece I outlined several films I am personally looking forward to. Any one of them could turn out to be this year's big surprise. It could be the Belgian cattle industry drama-thriller Bullhead. Or the Dutch invisible friend horror Two Eyes Staring. It may even turn out to be the Mexican black comedy El Narco. From year to year, I may happen to guess a breakout hit or two correctly but usually it's a film that seems to come out of nowhere. It's all about the joy of discovery.