Fantastic Fest 2021: Our Favorite Films from the Festival
The sun has set on another edition of Fantastic Fest, and we at Rev couldn’t be more proud to have helped bring the festival to audience members all over the world.
This year’s festival took place in a hybrid format, with both in-person screenings at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema locations around Austin, TX, and virtual screenings that fans could access from home. And to help provide the safest and most accessible experience possible, Fantastic Fest tapped Rev as the official accessibility sponsors for the event!
Now, as huge advocates for boosting accessibility through captions and subtitles, we were obviously thrilled to partner with another major U.S. film festival. And as really huge fans of genre cinema, we were really thrilled.
This year’s programming included some of the strangest, wildest, most… uh… fantastic films we’ve seen in a while. So without further ado, here are our favorite films from Fantastic Fest 2021.
Picks from Jourdan Aldredge | Rev Contributor
Donned head-to-toe in a sheep costume, longtime Alamo Drafthouse CEO and Fantastic Fest co-founder Tim League perhaps put it best when introducing Lamb for a raucous audience at the flagship Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar: “This is a movie best seen without knowing a thing.”
Even with a trailer being released shortly after its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in France, A24’s latest horror feature has been kept tightly under wraps as to what the film is actually about. And for good reason too as even if someone were to explain the premise to a friend, they’d have trouble believing it to be true.
Still, while the best parts of Lamb come from its odd narrative featuring a reclusive farming couple in Iceland who find themselves parenting a strange sheep creature, overall it is indeed an achievement in abstract and tonal filmmaking from Icelandic writer and director Valdimar Jóhannsson.
Best known for his VFX and G&E work on big budget blockbusters like Oblivion, The Tomorrow War and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jóhannsson only had one previous directing credit to his name for a short film in 2008. However, as a student of Béla Tarr’s, Jóhannsson’s film is a fascinating study into remoteness, loss and the meaning of relationships.
The acting is also phenomenal as Noomi Rapace shines in her relationship drama role with Hilmir Snær Guðnason as the young couple comes to terms with the loss of a child and the prospects of a new beginning with their mysterious discovery. Also Björn Hlynur Haraldsson provides a great spark to the couple’s dynamics as the estranged brother of Guðnason’s character Ingvar.
Overall, while it is tempting to share more about what makes Lamb so fascinating and unique, it is indeed best left narratively unsaid as the strange sequence of events provides much of the enjoyment for the film. Still, for anyone interested in keeping up with the latest A24 acquisitions, as well as for those intrigued by genre-bending contemporary horror dramas, Lamb is one of the best of this year’s Fantastic Fest.
The Beta Test
To say that writer, director and actor Jim Cummings’ career has been anything short of meteoric would be an understatement. Cummings’ seminal short film Thunder Road won Sundance in 2016, his follow-up feature version won SXSW in 2018, and in the past two years he’s put out two more films with The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) and now The Beta Test (2021).
However, while Cummings is still the writer, director and star of The Beta Test (as he has been for all his previous films mentioned above), this time he’s sharing credits and screen time with his friend and collaborator PJ McCabe. Together, Cummings and McCabe have crafted a genre-blending erotic thriller comedy of sorts which pulls from more sources and influences than one can count.
The Beta Test follows Cummings as his usual overwrought, yet sympathetic lead character that’s on the edge of breaking at any moment. A Hollywood agent, Cummings’ character Jordan receives a mysterious letter inviting him to an anonymous sexual encounter. Pretty normal stuff, right?
What follows though is part Stanley Kubrick, part David Fincher, and perhaps part Terrence Malick as Jordan becomes ensnared in a sinister world of lying, deceit, espionage and digital data tracking.
While the film premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, it really is at home at Fantastic Fest as audiences delight in these hard genre styles and tropes. The Beta Test even incorporates elements of slasher horror as there are some gruesome deaths mixed in with erotic dream sequences and plenty of long, awkward and heartfelt monologues.
It’s safe to say that this won’t be the last film from Cummings or McCabe as both are talented young writers, directors and performers, yet The Beta Test definitely feels quite close to a fully realized product ready to entice fans of any genre.
Picks from Guv Callahan | Rev Content Marketing Manager
Japanese director Hugo Sakamoto’s Baby Assassins, which had its international premiere at Fantastic Fest, is a playfully deadpan action comedy about two recent high school graduates who moonlight as hired killers.
While the movie does open and close with some breakneck action sequences, its story isn’t so much focused on action as on the friendship between the two protagonists: the sarcastic, introverted Mahiro (Saori Izawa) and the chatty, outgoing Chisato (Akari Takaishi). After graduation, the higher-ups at their assassin syndicate (think less John Wick and more Office Space) request that Mahiro and Chisato get real jobs and an apartment together to avoid suspicion.
Much of the film’s quirky humor arises from simply watching these girls’ daily lives as they navigate being first-time roommates — they crack jokes, they bicker about who’s on dinner duty, they work lousy cafe jobs, and every once in a while, they misplace a handgun before an important job. The girls are just as likely to kill a gangster in broad daylight as they are to waste an afternoon on the couch playing Nintendo Switch.
Sakamoto handles the balance between thrills and comedy masterfully, especially during an expertly choreographed final showdown with a warehouse full of Yakuza enforcers. Baby Assassins revels in the fact that no matter your profession, work can be a drag, but it’s more fun with friends.
Kwon Oh-Seung’s Midnight unfolds over one harrowing night on the streets of Seoul, as a Deaf woman becomes entangled in a cat-and-mouse game with a deranged serial killer.
Midnight joins a long lineage of white-knuckle South Korean thrillers, but it has enough tricks up its sleeve to stand out from the pack. Wi Ha-Joon is fantastic as the sadistic Do-Sik, a serial killer who has been prowling the city and taking victims when he can. But things go awry when Kyung-Mi (Ki-joo Jin), a Deaf customer service representative, stumbles upon him attacking another woman.
What ensues is an incredibly tense showdown between a psychopath who stalks his prey in plain sight and a woman who can’t hear if he’s sneaking up behind her. Do-Sik arrogantly assumes that Kyung-Mi’s deafness will make her easier to kill, but the story really picks up when you start to realize that he might have underestimated his would-be victim. While Midnight is certainly grim, it never fully tips over into all-out hopelessness like some other South Korean thrillers, making for a stressful but ultimately crowd-pleasing outing.
It wouldn’t be a true Fantastic Fest experience without at least one wonderfully bizarre viewing experience, and The Visitor definitely delivered. Originally released in 1979, this Italian-produced cult favorite was screened at this year’s festival in conjunction with the launch of Mondo’s new book Warped & Faded: Weird Wednesday and the Birth of the American Genre Film Archive, from author Lars Nilsen and editor Kier-La Janisse.
Written and directed by Giulio Paradisi (credited as Michael J. Paradise), The Visitor is one part Rosemary’s Baby, one part The Omen, and one massive part late-70s-psychedelic-fever-dream. The story revolves around an evil cult who may or may not be aliens, and their attempts to impregnate a wealthy woman named Barbara (Joanne Neil) with what could loosely be described as the antichrist. Also, Barbara has a profoundly creepy daughter, Katy, an 8-year-old who uses her alien powers (yup) to kill everyone from a cop to some bullies at a public ice rink.
Sounds great, right? Just know that I haven’t even mentioned the flock of intergalactic war birds (yyyup) or legendary film director John Huston’s performance as an extraterrestrial guardian sent by Blonde Space Jesus to thwart the evil cult’s conspiracy. If this is your idea of a good time (and it is mostly definitely mine) then check this one out — it’s currently available on various streaming platforms.