This year’s Fantastic Fest, which closed Thursday, was unusually strong, with big gets, smart smaller films and intriguing documentaries.
Here are some of my highlights. Check out longer reviews for most of these on the Austin Movie Blog:
- Director Ben Wheatley’s gorgeous and disturbing “High-Rise” which is based on J.G. Ballard’s classic 1975 novel, isn’t science fiction as much as a dazzling period piece; Tom Hiddleston impresses as Dr. Robert Laing, who moves into a 27th-floor apartment in a high-rise where the wealthy live on higher floors and the lower floors are occupied by poorer, “proper families” with children. Wheatley and cinematographer Laurie Rose give everything a Kubrickian pop and feel as things in the isolated building quickly devolve and chaos reigns. And, yes, you get to see Tom Hiddleston dance.
- Charlie Kaufman’s amazing “Anomalisa” takes a very familiar story (white, male, middle-aged man has something resembling a midlife crisis) and familiar Kaufman elements (the nature of identity and consciousness, simulacra, Jungian dream sequences) and gives them a fascinating spin by using stop-motion animation to tell the tale. David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and, of all people, Tom Noonan star. Kaufman rides the line between cringeworthy and beautiful as well as any director alive.
- Good news, Austin! Local writer, comedian and extremely busy creative person Owen Egerton’s first feature film, a tight little horror picture called “Follow,” isn’t just “friend good,” it’s actually good. That whoosh you hear is a sigh of relief from everyone who knows him, which is a whole lot of people in Austin. Shot mostly in a now-demolished house in Clarksville and based on two of Egerton’s short stories, “Follow” takes a look at Quinn (Noah Segan) and Thana (Olivia Grace Applegate) and a Christmas gift that goes really, really wrong. Shot in 16 days earlier this year, “Follow” is also a stellar example of making your script fit your budget — mostly one location, a minimum of speaking parts and a handful of effects.
- Directed by Australian Sean Byrne (“The Loved Ones”), “The Devil’s Candy,” shot in and slightly outside of Austin, ended up being somewhat mixed. It is, however, the most metal movie you will see this year. Fine-artist painter Jesse Hellman (an extremely toned Ethan Embry) is a metalhead; his teenage daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) is a metalhead; his wife, Astrid, (Shiri Appleby) is very patient with both of them. They move into a rambling farmhouse previously occupied by the exceptionally creepy Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince, probably doomed to child molester parts from here on out). Turns out Ray played extremely loud guitar to keep the voices in his head at bay. When the voices start visiting themselves on Jesse, well, things get complicated. It could have used a bit more of a connection between the music and supernatural; for example, does being a metalhead make one more or less inclined to demonic possession? But the music smokes. In addition to cuts by Slayer and Metallica, doom lords Sunn O))) contribute a terrific and terrifically heavy score.
- I will be thinking about the ethics surrounding the documentary “Doglegs” for, oh, only the next few years or so. Director Heath Cozens’ film examines the world of “Doglegs” (their term), a Japanese troupe of disabled wrestlers — or, as they call themselves, “super-handicapped pro-wrestling” — who often fight able-bodied wrestlers. The troupe was founded in 1991 by Yukinori “Antithesis” Kitajima, a self-described sadist. It’s hard to tell if he is kidding when he says that. He does not have any disabilities but often fights “Sambo” Shintaro Yano, a man with serious cerebral palsy. Antithesis says fighting such opponents shows them respect. Elsewhere, a man named L’Amant (“The Lover”), with severe cerebral palsy and a wicked case of alcoholism, often fights his wife. Questions of consent, respect, exploitation, voyeurism, compassion, safety and Japanese culture in general are raised but never answered. I cannot decide if I need to see it a second time or never want it to cross my eyeballs again.
- In not-even-remotely-surprising Fantastic Fest news, Drafthouse Films has acquired “Klown Forever,” Danish director Mikkel Nørgaard’s sequel to his 2010 squirm-comedy “Klown.” Drafthouse also released both the original film and the entire Danish television series in 2012. “Klown Forever” will see a limited theatrical release across North America alongside a variety of video-on-demand and digital platforms in 2016.