Hey guys, Ben here. Here’s Horrorella’s report from Day 4 at Fantastic Fest! Did I mention I wish I was in Austin right now? I have really got to try to make it down there for next year’s fest. It sounds like an absolute blast. Enough about my wishful thinking, on with the movies!
I opened Day 4 of Fantastic Fest with Hail which, frankly, was a rough way to start. Summary from Fantastic Fest: Real life ex-con Daniel P. Jones stars in this haunting and unflinchingly realistic film crafted from pieces of his own memories and experiences.
Honestly, I didn’t care for this film. It was slow, it was overly saturated with abstract images, I didn’t enjoy the cinematography, and it had a pretentious quality to it. I applaud experimentation in film but this seemed to be obsessed with it – to the degree that it sacrificed other important elements. Character development, plot points and pacing seemed to take a backseat to the avant-garde nature that the director seemed to be determined to dump on the audience, making it difficult to connect with the piece. It was really a disappointing experience and I wouldn’t recommend it.
What I do recommed the shit out of is I Declare War. Summary from Fantastic Fest: A group of exceptionally creative teens gets sucked into their own private Lord of the Flies scenario when an after-school game of “war” turns into a test of loyalty, strategy and friendship.
This has been one of my favorites of the festival. It has a great premise, wonderful script, and awesome performances by a talented group of young actors. I Declare War works so well because it is so multi-faceted. On the one hand, even though it is the story of kids playing a game, it mirrors many world problems and bigger questions that we face today. Is it more important to win, or to win with honor? Will we allow our petty bullshit to drag us down and change who we are? Do you really know your friends or allies? On the other hand, it is a coming-of-age story. The characters start to learn who they really are and who they want to surround themselves with. They have reached the point where friendship isn’t as simple or clearly-defined as it used to be and they need to take some ownership of their decisions.
Director Rob Wilson and Producer Lewin Webb were on-hand for a Q&A after the screening and they indicated that it was their goal here to make a live-action film that could be equally enjoyed by both adults and kids. It’s the kind of movie we grew up with, but just don’t see anymore – films like The Goonies, E.T., and Stand By Me. Films that challenge all members of the audience, but don’t talk down to anyone. Mission accomplished, guys.
I really hope I Declare War sees American distribution. It really is incredible and charming, and is something a lot of people would really enjoy. I look forward to having the opportunity to see it again.
Third up was Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman. Summary from Fantastic Fest: Timid, video game-loving DJ Santiago seemingly digs his own grave when he agrees to bring a violent criminal kingpin the head of Machine Gun Woman.
This was a faux-grindhouse flick, dripping with badassery and toting a ’70s-tastic score. It is also modeled after the video game, Grand Theft Auto. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? The plot is made up of game-style mission chapters, complete with titles in the GTA font. The movie was fun but the game connection got a little cold after awhile. It was thick enough to be constantly present but it wasn’t strong enough to continue adding to the flick as we proceeded through the story.
This film owes a lot to Quentin Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez, which certainly isn’t a bad thing (it’s awesome, in fact), but I felt like the filmmaker, Ernesto Diaz, wasn’t bringing enough of his own style to it. I haven’t seen his earlier work though, so I imagine that the faux 70’s style might have been used more effectively in his first couple of features. I had enough fun in Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman to add Diaz’s previous filmography to my list of stuff to check out.
The final film of the night was the documentary The American Scream. Summary from Fantastic Fest: In a small Massachusetts community, three Halloween-obsessed households transform into neighbor-terrifying supernatural wonderlands in this surprisingly touching documentary from the director of BEST WORST MOVIE.
I LOVED this film. So much, in fact, that I gave it its very own write-up.
That’s it for Day Four! More to come soon!