It's difficult to overstate just how good the programming at Fantastic Fest 2017 was.
Comprised of many multi-year veterans of the Fest, the BMD crew would often gather after each screening, and at least one of us would make a remark regarding just how fundamentally sound the selections were. When paired with the meticulously curated shorts (which included The Accomplice and Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can't Fix), the audience was offered up numerous deconstructions of the genres (horror, sci-fi, action) they'd gathered to celebrate. Evrim Ersoy, James Shapiro, Kristen Bell, Luke Mullen, Peter Kuplowsky and the rest of the FF staff should be so, so proud of the experience they delivered the this year, which is second to none in terms of its brilliant motion picture showcasing.
So, we here at BMD wanted to share our picks for the movies we loved the most, as well as a few titles we thought deserved just a touch more love...
Gerald's Game (d. Mike Flanagan, w. Jeff Howard & Mike Flanagan)
It's doubtful that anyone was more skeptical of Mike Flanagan's Gerald's Game than I was: the source material was both a problematic minefield and incongruously uncinematic ("Eighty percent of this book happens internally; what the hell are they gonna put onscreen?"), the ending was beyond gruesome, and -- last, but certainly not least -- I've not been what you'd call a big fan of Mike Flanagan's previous work. If I told you I thought the odds were stacked against Gerald's Game, I'd have been massively understating things.
All of that doubt only served to make Flanagan's film that much more of a pleasant surprise. The internal nature of the novel is cleverly reconfigured for the screen (I'll leave you to discover how they managed that). The source material's problematic elements are dealt with thoughtfully. The ending remains gruesome, to be sure, but it also provided Fantastic Fest audiences with one of its most memorable "HOLY SHIT" moments (there was much screaming). Against all odds, Flanagan & Co. pulled off the impossible.
On every level, Gerald's Game is a creative triumph. Sure, it doesn't quite stick the landing (something that becomes readily apparent on second viewing), but it gets so much right that it's hard not to squint through that late-game stumble. It also features two of the year's best performances, with both Bruce Greenwood and Carla Gugino knocking it straight out of the park. In a just world, their names would be in play for awards consideration.
I saw better movies at Fantastic Fest this year, but Gerald's Game surprised me the most -- no easy feat, as any FF attendee can tell you. For that alone, it deserves mention here. Check it out on Netflix, but maybe not while eating. -- Scott Wampler
Brimstone & Glory (d. Viktor Jakovleski)
One of the lower-key films of this year’s Fantastic Fest, Viktor Jakovleski’s documentary Brimstone and Glory was quietly -- and, paradoxically, loudly -- one of the best. Its subject: the Mexican town of Tultepec, which annually celebrates the patron saint of its principal industry of fireworks with a week-long orgy of artfully-deployed explosives. Never passing editorial comment, the film documents the increasingly insane goings-on around the festival with detached wonder, packing its brief 67-minute runtime with memorable sights. Via dizzying GoPro footage and glorious slow-motion photography, Jakovleski captures the beauty and danger of fireworks, as well as the devotion to the craft held by villagers - including those who have lost limbs to it, and yet know no other way of living. As pyrotechnicians and civilians alike cavort amongst the sparks and flames, a sense of joy and community comes through - the kind of togetherness that only a dance with death can truly bring out. Brimstone and Glory is pure cinema: light, sound, and movement coming together in ecstatic, chaotic harmony. Much like fireworks themselves, then. -- Andrew Todd
Anna & the Apocalypse (d. John McPhail, w. Alan McDonald & Ryan McHenry)
Blending horror and comedy can be a difficult balancing act. It’s easy to create grim, bloody, and misanthropic horror, but swapping cynicism for humor is hard. Clearly the team behind Anna and the Apocalypse didn’t find that mix difficult enough though, because they decided to make the damn thing a musical too. You’d expect at least one of those elements to end up getting sacrificed at some point throughout the movie, but you’d be wrong.
Throughout its runtime, Anna and the Apocalypse manages to spin these three genre plates that make up its story perfectly. The music fits the tone of every scene it’s utilized in, the comedy doesn’t replace the high-stakes horror, and the zombie aspect, while overplayed in recent years, still manages to work. The only piece of the film that isn’t absolutely necessary is the fact that it takes place over Christmas, but now you can add another movie to your “is this or is this not a Christmas movie?" battles. There's no word on distribution yet, but when it does get picked up (and it will), be sure to seek it out as soon as you can! -- Amelia Emberwing
Junk Head (d. & w. Takahide Hori)
We call lots of things “labors of love”, but when it comes to almost single-handedly creating an entire feature with stop motion animation, that phrase gets a lot more specific.
Takahide Hori’s Junk Head is a remarkable accomplishment -- a work of stunning imagination (seriously, to the point where a number of brand new languages are invented), crude adorability, and a narrative that constantly delivers a plot unlike any other. The only downside is Junk Head’s exaggeratedly abrupt ending, clearly in hopes of continuing the story in a sequel. If that happens, I’m down -- even if it takes another seven years to create. But until then, I’m happy enough with this unique marvel of a film. -- Evan Saathoff
Anyab (a/k/a Fangs) (d. Mohammed Shebl, w. Hassn Abd Raboo, Tarek Sharara & Mohammed Shebl)
What happens when you rip off an existing film scene-for-scene but don’t agree with any of its politics? You end up with something like Anyab, a charming Egyptian photostat of the '75 cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show. But where that film was at once a send-up of '50s B-Movies and an LGBT attack on normalcy, the makers of Anyab (Fangs) have a different agenda in mind. Its two lovers aren’t a couple of squares with sticks up their asses; rather, they’re chastised by this film’s narrator (pictured) for seeing the world too naively, and for being complacent about modern Egypt. That’s why, once this film introduces its Frank 'N Furter (re-”imagined” as simply Count Dracula), the film stops dead in its tracks to make sure we understand that the vampire metaphor is really about capitalism. It proceeds to give us seven or eight little vignettes in which Dracula is a butcher, a plumber, a car mechanic, etc., preying on the young couple by charging them money. It’s one of the weirdest tangents I’ve ever seen in a feature film. The makers of Anyab know what they’re doing; at one point the film’s Riff Raff analogue pulls on a Rocky Horror t-shirt mid-song. The film’s narrative peccadilloes are less likely the quirks of outsider art and must simply be how they roll over there. The songs are pretty catchy too. -- Phil Nobile Jr.
Maus (d. & w. Yayo Herrrero)
It wouldn’t be Fantastic Fest without someone going to bat for a film almost universally hated. How can I not, when Maus proves to be such an intensely enveloping experience while dealing with such difficult subject matter? The film may be a quickfire ninety minutes, but it manages to pack in everything from disorienting dread to political allegory to supernatural imagery, all while functioning as something of an exercise in narrative perspective as it relates to the burdens of war, the kind one carries even decades later and the kind that can seldom be understood without having been to hell and back.
When Berlin native Alex (a.k.a. “Europe”) gets stranded in the Bosnian forests, it’s a mild inconvenience for him but a waking nightmare for his girlfriend Selma, a survivor of the Bosnian massacre. Their detour is made all the more complicated by mines left over from the war, and by the appearance of two Serbian militants whose motivations don’t seem entirely clear. As we shift between Alex’s and Selma’s perspectives, we’re not only switching between points of view that differ within the narrative – Alex is removed from the events, Selma has lived them – but points of view that differ in the film’s meta-text; a key part of its construction. Spanish director Yayo Herrero makes his feature debut by tackling a subject that exists at a distance for both him and the majority of Europe, but one he’s able to imbue with authenticity by re-creating scenes from the memories of Alma Terzic, the actress playing Selma and a Bosniak Muslim who survived the very same genocide. -- Siddhant Adlakha
Bodied (d. Joseph Kahn, w. Alex Larsen & Joseph Kahn)
I've been attending Fantastic Fest for the better part of the last decade, and I'd never seen a movie get a standing ovation before. Then Bodied happened, and people were on their fucking feet.
A relentless assault on "Woke" culture that simultaneously embraces the boundaries we need in society in order to keep our bullshit prejudices in check (as well as recognize there are worldviews that exist and are far more meaningful than our own), Joseph Kahn's blistering rap battle melodrama is a chaotic work of moving art. It's a movie that wants to tear your face off and then tell your skinless corpse just how fucking stupid you look, attempting performative stabs at heightened progressive awareness while those down in the real world are living and combating these difficulties every day of their damn lives. It's a movie that extolls the virtue of "showing up", and damns those who think they can throw stones from afar. It's a movie where the white, intellectual protagonist is first presented as a Rocky-esque savior, before tearing him down by demonstrating that even real world experience can be misconstrued, as all the wrong lessons are learned. It's a movie where you can win the battle, and still be a hobo at the end of the war. It's a hilarious comedy, and a damning sociological portrait, all at once. It's a crowd pleaser that makes you uncomfortable for laughing at all its socially unacceptable jokes. It's an anti-musical. But most of all, it's just one hell of an entertaining ride, cementing Kahn as one of the great cinematic voices of his generation. I can't wait for this movie to get picked up, so that I can watch it drop like an atom bomb on heads across the globe. -- Jacob Knight