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Fantastic Fest 2011 Preview: 19 Capsule Reviews – almost all recommendations

Fantastic Fest is one of the best film festivals in the states and the largest in the US. Held in Austin Texas at the Alamo Drafthouse, the event screens nothing but the best in genre films. Sound On Sight contributors Emmett Duff and I will be in attendance to bring the best coverage we can possibly whip up. With the Toronto International Film Festival just ending, we are back in full swing and our coverage starts now. Here is a preview of some of the high profile films on display this year.


Here is a list of films our staff as already seen. He titles highlighted in red are must sees. We highly recommend not missing them.


1- A Lonely Place to Die – **** stars

Written by Will Gilbey and Julian Gilbey

Directed by Julian Gilbey

UK, 2011

A rare thriller that actually contains thrills, UK export A Lonely Place to Die comes up with a formula so ingenious it’s a wonder we haven’t already seen it a million times before: high-octane cliff-scaling meets cat-and-mouse chase thriller. It serves as a welcome reminder that no-frills action movies don’t have to be an eye-rolling bore or an intellectual affront.

– Simon Howell

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2- Beyond the Black Rainbow **** stars

Written by Panos Cosmatos

Directed by Panos Cosmatos

Canada, 2011

There’s been a welcome rush of audacious first features recently – Evan Glodell’s incendiary Bellflower and Daniel Cockburn’s witty, touching thought experiment You Are Here spring to mind, and now so does Panos Cosmatos’s gloriously odd Beyond the Black Rainbow, a low-budget sci-fi wonder that, like those other debuts, synthesizes a set of influences in order to present a cinematic vision that is startling in its confidence. It’s not as easy to love as those films, and its extreme aestheticism will alienate many (or even most) viewers, but that it is beautifully realized is impossible to deny.

– Simon Howell

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3- Carré Blanc *** stars

Directed by Jean-Baptiste Leonetti

Written by Jean-Baptiste Leonetti

France, 2011

Leonetti shows confidence in his direction, a marriage of French cuisine with a Russian setting, but the film adds nothing new to the genre. Influences appear to range from Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, Orwell, Kafka and most clearly Tarkovsky, but when asked at the Q&A what his major inspiration was, Leonetti shrugged away the names mentioned above, and instead cited George Lucas’s THX-1138 as his prime source of guidance. Ask him about the politics and Leonetti will reply, “this is not a political film, I have no solutions, no answer, this is simply a love story.”

– Ricky D

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4- The Corridor *** stars

Directed by Evan Kelly

Written by Josh MacDonald

Canada, 2011

Tackling a difficult premise is often the kiss of death for first-time filmmakers. Many get lost in their “high-concept” vision, losing track of the human element that is needed to engage an audience. Though not impervious to the flaws symptomatic of these kinds of films, The Corridor succeeds where it counts as it focuses on a conflicted friendship disrupted by mental illness.

– Justine Smith

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5- Extraterrestrial (Extraterrestre) ** 1/2 stars

Directed by Nacho Vigalondo

2011, Spain

Nacho Vigalondo’s sophomore directorial effort unspooled at this year’s annual Toronto International Film Festival to a mixed audience reaction. The director has already proved himself a talent after his smart low budget time-travel debut, Timecrimes, but Extraterrestrial is a different beast, an idiosyncratic romantic comedy that masquerades as a sci-fi alien invasion flick. Unfortunately, Extraterrestrial falls victim to a misleading advertising campaign, from its teaser trailer, poster and even its plot synopsis. Still, the filmmaker shouldn’t be faulted for the studio’s marketing decision. The bottom line is Vigalondo continues to sharpen his skill in not only merging genres but also directing a pic that gleams with spunk and a wicked sense of humour.

– Ricky D

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6- Haunters *** stars

Directed and Written by Min-suk Kim

South Korea, 2010

The best superhero movie this year is not Captain America or Thor or Green Lantern or X-Men: First Class; it features no costumes, no secret origins and amazingly, no exposition.

The obvious comparison for this film is M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, but where that film ends Haunters begins, skipping the traditional secret origin and in fact any explanations for the super-powers on display.

– Michael Ryan

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7- The Innkeepers **** stars

Directed and Written by Ti West

USA, 2011

For those with the patience for his slow-build cinematic magic, Ti West is a singular genius, and The Innkeepers is his best film to date.

– Michael Ryan

8- Kill Me Please *** stars

Written by Olias Barco, Virgile Bramly and Stéphane Malandrin

Directed by Olias Barco

France / Belgium, 2010

Other than abortion, no issue provokes as much passionate debate as euthanasia. Of all possible liberties, the “right to die,” as a base concept, stokes personal insecurities and misgivings in a way that can be difficult to quantify. That makes the subject an ideal one for a black comedy

– Simon Howell

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9- Klovn (Clown: The Movie) *** 1/2 stars

Written by Mikkel Nørgaard, Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam

Directed by Mikkel Nørgaard

Denmark, 2010

Though derived from a popular Danish TV series, Clown: The Movie is really a collusion between three recent strains of popular comedy: first and foremost, the “comedy of embarrassment,” whose popularity can be traced back to the twin influences of the UK Office and Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm; second, the Apatow brand of “manchild” comedies, in which men in their 30s (or older) behave like teenagers until they’re forced to mature; and third, the debauched bro humor of The Hangover (from which it borrows a final-scene photo reel of horror).

– Simon Howell

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10- Love * 1/2 stars

Written by William Eubank

Directed by William Euback

USA, 2010

Love gets off to a rocky start, testing the audience’s attention and commitment with empty images and weak narrative progression. Long after the story of a lone astronaut suddenly cut off from mission control has taken off, there is never a true sense that the film has even begun. We are never quite thrust into the narrative, and it’s as much as about half way through the film that we’re made to we realize that somehow things have progressed and long, lonely years have passed. We never get a strong sense of our protagonist or his small space shuttle. The only consistent image of the film is a round window looking down on earth. It becomes a mainstay, a point of obsession and reckoning that holds the many dis-ambiguous images of this film together.

– Justine Smith

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11- The Loved Ones **** 1/2 stars 

Directed by Sean Byrne

Written by Sean Byrne

2009, Australia

Director Sean Byrne who made several shorts prior, is another example of the talent emerging in the horror scene down under. This Australian feature is dark, intense, sharp and extremely gruesome, yet Byrne encourages the audience to laugh along cutting back between comedic moments and plenty of jolts, gasps, and real shocks. The balance of humour and horror is scaled so perfectly that the scares sneak up when least expected.

– Ricky D

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12- Livid – ** stars

Directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo

2011, France, 88 minutes

This film started with a lot of promise. It didn’t end up living up to it, but that isn’t the point I’d like to make. Lots of horror films do precisely nothing new and yet still make money at the box office. Directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo took a risk in Livid, and even though it didn’t work out, I’d rather see a horror film that tries something new and fails before another brain dead teen slasher.

– Dave Robson

Melancholia **** stars

Directed by Lars Von Trier

Written by Lars Von Trier

Denmark, 2011

Melancholia is a difficult film to write about after having seen just once. It is so rich and so alive with complex and beautiful ideas and images that one viewing does not seem enough to do it justice. It is an absolutely compelling piece of filmmaking, and acts as further proof that 2011 is an incredibly exciting year for film.

– Justine Smith

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13- Milocroze: A Love Story **** stars

Directed by Yoshimasa Ishibashi

Written by Yoshimasa Ishibashi

2011, Japan

Starring Takayuki Yamada (13 Assassins), playing all three male leads, Milocroze is the brainchild of Yoshimasa Ishibashi, best known for The Fuccon Family TV sketch show, featuring an all-mannequin cast. He’s spent years as a fucked up video artist, and his first feature film is unlike anything you will see this year; a plethora of styles and genres, mixed together in three separate stories about love, obsession and heartbreak. It is something you will never forget, and features one incredible long take, which just so happens to also be the best samurai sword-swinging action sequence in quite some time.

– Ricky D

14- Rabies aka Kalevet *** stars

Directed and Written by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado

Israel, 2010

A car filled with four young and lost tennis players; a brother and sister running from their rich family and a dark secret; a park ranger and his dog; two incompetent cops; and a would-be serial killer collide in the woods of an Israeli nature preserve. So far, it sounds like the ingredients of a typical slasher film, but when Kalevet, Israel’s first horror film, sidelines the serial killer in the first reel, it turns down the road not taken and becomes quite wonderful.

– Michael Ryan

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15- Retreat *** stars

Directed by Carl Tibbetts

Written by Janice Hallett & Carl Tibbetts

UK, 2011

A well-constructed and closely observed claustrophobic thriller that continually teases its audience to uncover the truth behind all the madness. Both psychologically frightening and maddening to the senses, Retreat is a promising debut for former visual artist and now writer-director Carl Tibbetts.

– Ricky D

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16 – Take Shelter **** 1/2 stars

Directed by Jeff Nichols

Written by Jeff Nichols

2011, USA

Michael Shannon captivates as a portrait of paternal paranoia in Take Shelter, the terrifically affecting sophomore effort from Jeff Nichols, an apparent master in the making. When rural Ohio everyman Curtis LaForche (the typically indelible Shannon) is wracked by tempestuous dreams of his family’s annihilation, his maternal history of schizophrenia makes the potential implications doubly ominous. Aware that he’s predisposed to delusion, his visions are nonetheless so vivid and violent that he’s compelled to act. Unbeknownst to his wife (Jessica Chastain, in the midst of a deservedly meteoric rise), he invests in costly renovations to a derelict backyard storm cellar, despite the impending expense of surgery to restore his daughter’s hearing. That his frighteningly-realized hallucinations also begin to tax his workplace relations adds to the film’s charged, foreboding air. Purely on the level of psycho-familial drama, award-worthy performances from Shannon and Chastain justify the price of admission. But it’s Nichols’ powerful allegory for contemporary economic and political uncertainty – punctuated by awesome evocations of natural fury – that girds Take Shelter with a timely, unsettling resonance.

– Jullian Carrington

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17- Underwater Love *** stars

Written by Tom Mes, Shinji Imaoka and Fumio Moriya

Directed by Shinji Imaoka

Japan/Germany, 2011

Whatever your tastes, there’s a very good chance that Shinji Imaoka’s Underwater Love is unlike anything you’ve seen before. A self-described “pink musical” – meaning it features sequences of soft-core porn to go with its songs – it’s a silly, tasteless, bewitching, and joyously nonsensical foray into romance, myth and taboo-busting.

The film’s bizarre, fetishistic nature only intensifies as it continues, so that by the time some mild necrophilia and the unorthodox deployment of a mystical charm get thrown into the mix, there’s no reason to bat an eye. Surely one of the most unique films of any kind to see release this year, Underwater Love is a date movie for the truly demented.

– Simon Howell

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18 – We Need To Talk About Kevin **** stars

Written by Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear

Directed by Lynne Ramsay

UK, 2011

Based on the book by Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin paints an evocative portrait of Eva, who’s suffering through a deep post-traumatic shock after her son, Kevin, commits a horrendous crime. Terrorized by members of the community ever since the terrible tragedy, she becomes increasingly paranoid, ashamed and deeply depressed. On camera every minute, Tilda Swinton gives a tour-de-force performance, effortlessly conveying every thought racing through her character’s mind. Its a true work of art; regardless of its mass reception, it’s Ramsay’s best yet.

– Ricky D

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19 – You’re Next *** 1/2 stars

Directed by Adam Wingard

Written by Simon Barrett

2011, USA, 96 minutes

It’s hard to really nail a slasher. It’s hard to make it visceral, to make a well-worn formula exciting, and to make it make sense, all while knowing that your audience has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre and will gleefully tear apart plot holes with a reckless hatred most other people reserve for tin-pot dictators. Well, Adam Wingard nailed it; cue carnage.

– Dave Robson

FantsticFest runs from September 22nd – 29th – visit their official website.