Category: SXSW

This is both a review of Colossal, the new film from writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, as well as a retrospective on where it fits into his growing body of feature film work. For a lot of people, Colossal will be the first time they’ve heard of him, or seen his work. And it’s a great place to start.

Colossal Review


Colossal (2017)

First, let’s talk about Colossal. The movie opened this weekend in NYC, LA, and a few other select cities. If you saw the trailer, it kinda gives away the “secret” of the film. (I won’t give it away, so I’m not linking to the trailer, out of respect to the film). It’s the story of a young jobless woman, Gloria (played charmingly by the talented Anne Hathaway), who drinks too much and isn’t really in charge of anything that happens in her life or career. When her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) kicks her out of his NYC apartment, she returns to her home town to get back on her feet. Without any real plan or grown-up responsibilities, she takes a job at a local bar owned by her old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). He owns a bar and she drinks too much. What could possibly go wrong? The unhealthy (platonic) relationship between Gloria and Oscar form the core of the story. There’s drama, there’s comedy. Oh, and Gloria has a mysterious connection to the giant monster (kaiju) terrorizing Seoul every night. As Gloria discovers herself and the power she has, it brings out a toxic masculine insecurity in Oscar, and the true nature of their relationship is uncovered.

This genre-busting female-empowerment film was screened at TIFF, Fantastic Fest, and SXSW, and was well received by audiences who have seen it. I’ve seen it twice and I love it. Hollywood would never make this kind of film. A monster movie about female empowerment? The studios would rather crank out another summer blockbuster sequel to pay the bills so they can fund dignified Oscar-contenders in the fall and winter seasons. But the stars aligned (literally; movie stars aligned), and we have Colossal. I’m especially happy to see pedigreed actors such as Hathaway and Sudeikis take a chance on it. They don’t just bring name-recognition to the project; they really make the characters come to life. And this is, at its heart, a character-driven film. The characters are what gives this movie gravitas, above and beyond the creature effects and the comedic timing, which are done very well.

The Works of Nacho Vigalondo

I’m also excited about this film because it is the perfect showcase for the talents of Spanish writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, who is no stranger to this type of genre-bending. From his early career shorts and experimental videos (many of which can be found in YouTube), Vigalondo has always had a flair for the fantastic and the whimsical. His stories work best when something magical happens to relatable characters. His characters are grounded in reality, even when the fantastic thing that happens to them is not. Take one of his earliest works, the Oscar-nominated short 7:35 in the Morning (2003). A woman walks into her favorite coffee shop, only to find everyone there suspiciously silent and unmoving…until a suicide bomber (played by Vigalondo) starts singing and dancing, and she finds herself the center of his attention. She’s a grounded character in a fantastic situation. And despite the Hollywood-level of production value and polish, Colossal retains those elements that make it uniquely Nacho. Colossal will give Vigalondo a boost in visibility and introduce a larger audience to his brand of interesting story telling. As a fan of his work, I’m excited about that. Colossal, is, if nothing else, an inflection point in his career, whereever that is headed. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Nacho Vigalondo at Fantastic Fest 2016

Nacho Vigalondo (center) channels his inner Fay Wray at the Fantastic Fest premiere of Colossal.


Feature Film Filmography

Timecrimes (2007)

Nacho’s feature film debut is the Spanish-language mystery-thriller about a man who finds himself stalked by a silent and menacing figure wearing bloody bandages. Then he meets a scientist with a time machine, which he uses to put things right, only to discover that he’s making things worse.

Extraterrestrial (2011)

If you enjoyed Colossal, check out Extraterrestrial, a quirky Spanish-language romantic-dramedy with a sci-fi twist. Julio and Julia wake up from a one night stand to the sight of giant flying saucers hanging silently over the major cities of the world. Despite the film’s title and sci-fi window dressing, the film isn’t about aliens or the flying saucers, but a comedy about the two star-crossed lovers, her clueless boyfriend, and a spying, jealous neighbor.

Open Windows (2014)

This puzzle-box mystery-thriller is Vigalondo’s English-language film debut. Nick (Elijah Wood) is a super-fan of movie star Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). He thinks he’s won a contest to meet her, only to find that he’s been duped into some kind of twisted game in which both he and Jill are the would-be victims.





Unfriended should be called The Skype Murders

You know… it’s come to this. The horror movie that takes place on a teen girl’s laptop screen. In case you hadn’t heard, or didn’t care, or maybe you’re thinking of something else like bacon flavored ice cream and ended up on my blog by accident and you’re about two seconds away from clicking the back button–wait don’t leave!–Unfriended is Universal’s new take on the “found footage” real-time horror movie. Yes, the movie takes place entirely on what is supposed to be one of the character’s laptop screen–an Apple MacBook no less, and it could be described as one long group Skype call gone horribly wrong. The backstory is that one year ago, fellow high school classmate and bullying victim Laura Barns committed suicide by gunshot, and someone using Laura’s FaceBook account has hacked into their Skype call and wants to play some games. The loser dies. Did I mention this group of friends are all the mean little shits who bullied Laura? This is payback. But, is it a hacker, a virus, or something supernatural? I won’t say (spoilers!), but some suspension of disbelief is required to buy into what happens later in the movie.

👿 📹 😢 🔫 😵

Horror movies aren’t about logic, they’re all about suspense, and Unfriended delivers on that. There is also a bloody, gory payout. The whole “group Skype call” mechanic works and doesn’t detract from the suspense. If anything, it feels like it’s real because you experience it as one long continuous event shown from one unchanging point of view. There are no cuts or scenes in the traditional sense, and I found that fascinating. If you go back and watch really early films–from the silent age–you’ll see many of the cinematic storytelling techniques and shots used in modern films today. There really hasn’t been a whole lot of new in how movies are shot in the last 100 years. The Matrix is probably one of the few recent films that really brought something new to the table with “bullet time,” and found footage tries to mimic the authenticity of home video recordings. But moving all the action into a computer screen? This is horror for the YouTube generation.

💻 📞 🎲 😱 🔪 😵

Question is: does that make it better or easier to relate to? Yes. If anything, it works because this particular story was crafted around the format, so the story couldn’t be told any other way and be as visceral. There are some things done in the name of suspense that are somewhat transparent or eyeball-rolling (depending on your level of cynicism), such as when characters predictably walk out of view of their FaceTime cameras, or when the Skype video breaks up or freezes when something juicy is about to happen. But it still feels like a real event. Many of us are computer savvy and can relate to what the main character is doing on her computer, including attempts to thwart, or suss out the identity of the person using Laura Barns’ online identity. And all of the screens look like real, authentic applications and user interfaces we (or at least the intended audience) knows, including Skype, iMessage, FaceBook, YouTube, Google, Chrome, and Mac OS X. I always appreciate it when computer screens look real and authentic, and surprisingly few filmmakers want to present technology or user interfaces that looks remotely real for fear that the movie will look dated and passé in a few years. There seems to be purpose in “keeping the computer screens real”: and that is as the main character is using her computer, she’s doing things very familiar to us–or at least anyone who uses a Mac (which is most of the people who would watch this movie), including using Force Quit to kill Chrome after the spinning beach ball cursor appears (and if that didn’t make any sense to you, then this movie isn’t for you).

🎬 💻 🎥📍🔒

This isn’t the only film to take place on a character’s computer screen: a recent episode of the ABC network TV show Modern Family took place on a character’s MacBook screen with FaceTime and iMessage. I don’t, however, consider this to be the beginning of a trend in cinematography. It’s just too confining to limit the action to a single computer screen. I can imagine another filmmaker doing a variation of this using a surveillance video screen–like a movie version of the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s. Or a movie like Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows, which incorporates surveillance-footage-on-computer-screens into an otherwise conventionally shot movie.

Now, wouldn’t it be something to someday watch this movie on your MacBook in full screen? 7/10

So. This documentary was completed in time for its premiere at SXSW 2015, and I was in the first audience to see it. I wrote several drafts of this review on my iPad during SouthBy, each time, starting over from scratch. At one point, I was going to pen a long op-ed piece on the documentary’s place within Steve Jobs’ legacy, then scaled it back to being just a film review. I’ve decided to follow my original instincts and go back to writing about Alex Gibney’s documentary within the context of the topic it is about.

Gibney is quite an accomplished documentary maker, from Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, to Taxi to the Dark Side, to his last film about Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace, Gibney likes to tackle newsworthy subjects, exposé style. And with the aforementioned Enron and Lance Armstrong films, the scandals were a reason why their subjects were newsworthy. But in his new documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, Gibney seems to selectively sift through events and interviews for the most scandalous bits to support the damning judgment he ultimately makes about Jobs.

If you were to make a list of the interviewees from this film, it is mostly a who’s who of Apple critics: Yukari Iwatani Kane (author of Haunted Empire), Jason Chen (the Gizmodo editor at the center of the lost iPhone 4 prototype controversy), and Chrisann Brennan (an estranged former girlfriend of Jobs and mother of his daughter Lisa). Only Dan Kottke seems like he hasn’t got an axe to grind with Jobs. The film is noticeably devoid of interviews of people who have had close relationships with Jobs in the last 20 years. The personal anecdotes presented are also mostly vintage, including the episode of Jobs stealing Woz’s cut of the work he did for Atari. That was 40 years ago, but Gibney thought it was relevant.

Gibney says at the beginning of the film that he set out to discover why there was a worldwide outpouring of grief when Jobs died in 2011, and in the process of making the film, he concludes that neither Steve Jobs, nor Apple, Inc. are worthy of the admiration they get. Gibney concludes that Steve Jobs set out to find spiritual enlightenment only to miss the point of it by being selfish with his wealth and petty and horrible to people close to him. He also contends that as CEO of Apple, Jobs talks about the company’s “values” (which are not explored nor explained in the film), but that the company has fallen short of living up to those (unenumerated) values. The company is ultimately presented as a tax dodging, stock-options backdating destroyer of Chinese factory workers’ lives, and that the government and public have looked the other way because they love their iPhones.

It was clear during the Q&A afterwards that Gibney left many unanswered questions with the audience. There was a sense that there’s another side to the story, and this film is not going to explore it.

So, is this a good documentary film? You might think that because I am critical of the lopsided way the filmmaker covered their subject that I would automatically consider it not well made. However a one-sided presentation is not uncommon in documentaries. Documentaries that have a point of view, or are issuing a “call to action” frequently take the side of an argument. For example, the nature documentary Planetary is basically a call to action to fight global pollution and carbon emissions. It is not going to present both sides of the debate about the impact of man-made climate change, or perhaps the conflicting interests between modern industrial progress and environmental impact.

However, at the outset, that is not the purpose of Gibney’s film. We’re led to believe Gibney approached his subject with an open mind, but in his interviews finds Jobs a “man of contradictions” who is therefore ultimately undeserving of public praise or admiration. The recently published book Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli also makes a similar observation that Jobs is a man of contrasts, but whereas that is the starting point of their story of Steve Jobs’ personal and professional transformation, it is the summary conclusion of Gibney’s look at Jobs’ life. Did Gibney fall short in giving us a better understanding of Steve Jobs?

I believe so, and that is how I finally decided is the best way to review this documentary. Alex Gibney has interviewed the people most critical of Steve Jobs and Apple Inc. and unsurprisingly, came away with the conclusion that Jobs was spiritually bankrupt, and that Apple, Inc. fell short of the corporate citizenship standard Gibney thinks the company should be held to. No rebuttal is presented. Ironically, if Gibney admitted that he set out to create a polemic railing against (the myth of) Steve Jobs, I would have rated the film higher because it seems to accomplish that. But the one-sided presentation and concomitant premature judgments only leaves the audience asking more questions in their quest to truly understand the man and myth that is Steve Jobs.  6/10

Alex Gibney at SXSWFilm 2015

Alex Gibney speaks at the premiere of Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine at SXSWFilm 2015

Ex Machina (fixed)

(Note on the update: The content below has not changed since I published this; I just fixed the formatting issues and added images)

Ex Machina (poster)

Ex Machina (2015)

Wow. I usually don’t attend SXSW headliners (red carpet premieres of Hollywood movies), but I quickly made an exception for Ex Machina, for a few reasons: This is scifi screenwriter Alex Garland’s directorial debut, and it’s an intriguing “high concept” scifi movie. In other words, the stuff I would see because it pushes all the right geek buttons with me.

And it was well worth it. I tweeted earlier that it was a brainy, beautiful, slow-burn scifi thriller about artificial intelligence. Slow-burn means it builds gradually, layering new information and new intriguing mysteries scene after scene.

The story follows Caleb, a young programmer (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who works for a search engine company. He has won a week-long visit to work on a top secret project for his company’s reclusive founder, Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac). The movie is set in an isolated, automated, high-tech research facility that doubles as Nathan’s home. The set design is beautiful, looking more like a zen-like modern museum than an office space. Caleb’s job is to administer a Turing test, an evaluation of an AI’s ability to act indistinguishably from human. The subject of that test is a female robot named Ava (played by Alicia Vikander), who comes across as a naive, but disquietingly sexually attractive self-aware machine. And if you know anything about Alex Garland’s stories, you know things will go sideways before the seven days are up.

But unlike, say, Sunshine or 28 Days Later, the story beats are engaging on an intellectual level; these characters aren’t thrown from one life-threatening scifi situation to the next. Instead, a drama unfolds between characters, with each story beat answering some questions, while hooking you with new ones. Who? What? Why? And that’s what I enjoyed most about Garland’s brainy screenplay: the restraint and the confidence to hook you in with a drama about artificial intelligence. The science and technical jargon are kept to a minimum, but with verisimilitude for those who would notice (and no unnecessary “junk science”). The result is like a stage play–a classical tragedy with modern scifi sheen.

Another noteworthy thing about the writing is that the characters don’t take a back seat to the scifi. This is a drama between characters who are memorable, layered, and nuanced. The stellar performances by Isaac, Gleeson, and Vikander completely made their characters come to life. I particularly enjoyed Isaac as the eccentric genius with hints of a dark side, and Vikander’s convincing performance as a sentient robot who still retains subtle robotic movements. It helps that the CG effects are advanced enough to appear seamless and real.

There have been other films about sentient AI, and this one grapples with a classic AI genre theme: if humans create artificial sentience, should we attempt to control it? Brainy indeed. Ex Machina opens April 10, 2015. 9/10

Photo of Ex Machina cast at SXSW 2015 Premiere

Ex Machina Q&A with (l-r) Alex Garland, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson

Movies About Love

Looking for a movie about love that you’ll love? Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here’s a couple of recommends from the independent film festival circuit, in this case, recent SXSW Film. They’re available on streaming from iTunes (you can also click the Can I Stream.It? links to the right to see if these are available from other streaming services).

Link to CanIStream.It for Obvious Child

Obvious Child

This sweet slice-of-life comedy is about growing up, well after you’ve become an adult. It’s about a young stand up comedian named Donna Stern (played by real life comedian Jenny Slate) plays small comedy clubs in The City where she weaves the intimate parts of her real life into her standup routine. At the beginning of the movie, she’s dumped by her boyfriend, who is now with her (former) best friend. Heartbroken, she ends up hooking up with a straight-laced young man named Max, who is totally not her type. Max has a real job and is a post-graduate, while Donna hangs out in bars with her comedian pals, and she’s got a potty mouth. After their one night stand, she finds herself pregnant and unable to tell Max. Never mind that he’s courting her now. Obvious Child ultimately works because of the likability of Donna’s character (a lot of credit goes to Slate, who carries nearly every scene, and writer-director Gillian Robespierre).

Link to CanIStream.It for The Heart MachineThe Heart Machine

John Gallagher Jr. plays a man in a distant online relationship with a woman (Kate Lynn Sheil) who claims to be living abroad, but she is in fact, also living in New York City. When by chance he spots her one day, it sets off his journey to find (or confront) the truth. Whether or not she is lying to him isn’t the mystery. It’s why. And what does it mean for their relationship? The movie is frequently compared to Catfish, probably because they have a common theme of online deception, but in this film, it’s really less about the deception and more about our identity and how we present ourselves online. Is our online persona a lie? Or does the safety of the Internet allow us to become more truthful and intimate with others?

Link to CanIStream.It for Take CareTake Care

Oddly, like the above two movies, this one was also shot and set in NYC. (I guess New York is the official setting for indie romances?) Take Care was written and directed by Sex and the City writer Liz Truccillo. Leslie Bibb stars as Frannie, a single woman recovering from a broken arm and leg and because of her condition, needs someone to take care of her while she recovers in her apartment. She manages to guilt-trip her ex (Thomas Sadoski) into spending time with her, over the objection of his new fiancee. Too bad for him, because Frannie’s still not over him, and he’s beginning to feel the same way about her. Can you predict the ending? Yes, you probably can. But what makes it work for me isn’t the rom, but the com. Bibb has comedic chops, and this movie lets that talent out.


Best of SXSW Film 2014

This year’s SXSW Film Festival was terrific. This was only my second year in attendance, last year being the first (see my Best of SXSW Film 2013 in case you missed it), so I finally sorted out the different categories and best strategies for seeing films. I let these movies sit for a week before organizing my Best Of list this year, rather than try to write it immediately after the festival, as I tend to like the last movie that I saw. I also took down notes about each screening, using my iPad, so I could more fairly compare earlier movies in the festival with ones that I saw later. I assume there must be a “memory factor” in play, as every year, films that are serious Oscar contenders are released or re-released around the time the MPAA members get to vote.

Festival banners at Austin Convention Center

Festival banners hang at Austin Convention Center

Now, in case you’re wondering, I did not get to see every film–it’s actually impossible to do during the festival. There aren’t enough screenings. So the list I have here represents the best films that I saw. I managed to see 30 full-length features (and a few documentaries), as well as catch two shorts (midnight and animated shorts), all while attending 5 days of SXSW Interactive (which runs from 9:30am to 6:00pm, overlapping the film screenings during the first 5 days). I had a skip a midnighter here and there in order to get enough sleep to keep going.

At the end of the festival, the Audience Award winners were announced for the films in competition (most were), and I was surprised that none of the films I considered the best were Jury nor Audience Award winners. In fact, I have only screened a few of the award winners, and while they are pretty good, I don’t consider them the best. And many of them were not even on my radar this year. Nonetheless, just being selected for the festival is noteworthy, and many of these films have also been selected for Sundance or Cannes, so they are definitely worth your attention.

1. What We Do in the Shadows
This midnight comedy from NZ had the audience in stitches. A TV documentary crew follows around a quartet of neurotic vampire-housemates who try to cope with werewolves, modern tech, and each other–everything has been going smooth for several hundred years until a new vampire joins the flat. No really, see this. It’s brilliant. (New Zealand, USA/English)

2. The Dance of Reality (trailer)
Legendary director Alejandro Jodorowsky weaves a personal tale drawn from his childhood, about his father, a disciplinarian Russian-Jewish (but also atheist and Communist) man raising his immigrant family in the small mining town of Tocopilla, Chile, who gets swept up in the rise and fall of General Ibanez del Campo, and undergoes a kind of spiritual rebirth. The imagery is surreal and figurative in meaning. Shocking? Erotic? Spiritual? Poetic? Dramatic? Epic? Yes to all that. This isn’t mass market entertainment, this is what motion picture as art looks like. Film buffs will be pleased. (Chile, France/Spanish)

The Dance of Reality

3. Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter
A naive and misfit Japanese woman goes on a quixotic quest to find a treasure, buried in North Dakota, near Fargo. Because she saw it a movie, which she watches obsessively. This movie is as stylistically and spiritually a sequel to Fargo as you can get–down to the quirky characters and Coenesque photography. With a touch of classic Stanley Kubrick in the third act. While the plot is decidedly thin, film fans will love this movie, a kind of love letter to the Coen brothers. (Japan, USA/Japanese, English)

4. Wild Canaries
This was my favorite indie comedy, in the tradition of Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther movies. Sophia Takal and Alia Shawkat shine as a neurotic pair of amateur sleuths who suspect that the old lady living in their Brooklyn apartment building has been murdered, and their landlord did it. Their significant others and/or ex’s and/or romantic crushes round out the cast of twenty-or-thirty-somethings who get sucked in to this thoroughly charming murder mystery. (USA/English)

Wild Canaries' Sophia Takal and Alia Shawkat

Wild Canaries’ Sophia Takal (r) and Alia Shawkat (l)

5. The Infinite Man (trailer)
Director Hugh Sullivan’s first feature film is a low budget sci-fi (“lo-fi”) comedy from down under. A meticulous and neurotic (yes, neurotic characters are my favorite) control freak sets out to create the perfectly planned anniversary getaway for his girlfriend, but when his plans go awry, he invents a time machine to fix things. Only to make it worse. And confusing. In the tradition of lo-fi time travel movies like Primer, only a lot funnier. (Australia/English)

6. Stage Fright (trailer)
It’s a mashup of “Glee” and some teen summer camp slasher movie from the 80s (any will do, just name one). No, but seriously, it’s a real musical, plus blood and violence. Yes, you see, this is a real crossover: a musical midnighter, with some real catchy, original songs. Meat Loaf stars as the owner of a summer camp for kids who want to be on Broadway. Does this goofy idea work? Fuck yeah! The film is self-aware of its own ridiculousness, and strikes the perfect tone, somewhere between comedy, slasher, and homage to the classics. (Canada/English)

Meatloaf sings in Stage Fright

Meatloaf sings in Stage Fright

7. The Mule
This a darkly comic crime drama about a drug mule (played by Angus Sampson) who has swallowed twenty condoms filled with narcotics from Thailand, but upon arriving back in Australia, is arrested and “held for observation on suspicion” by the Federal Police in a hotel room for 7 days. Which should be enough time to poop out the evidence. With his innocent mother’s life under threat by the drug kingpin (John Noble), can the mule remain constipated for a week and beat the system? (Australia/English)

8. Last Hijack (trailer)
A documentary crew follows Mohamed Nura, a young Somali pirate, as he plans to hijack another ship. But first he has to get married, and his family, bride, and her family want him to quit piracy. This illuminating documentary shows why a generation of kids in post-civil war Somalia turned to piracy: the lure of easy money in an underdeveloped country, as well as the efforts by its own people to combat the problem on a social and government level. (Netherlands/Somali, Arabic)

9. Patrick’s Day (trailer)
This is a drama about a young man with schizophrenia who is cared for by his overprotective mother, when a pretty young woman comes along and catches his eye. And things will never be the same. Can a parent tell a mentally handicapped person who they are and what to feel through manipulating their reality? (Ireland/English)

10. Creep (interview)
Mark Duplass. That’s all I got to say. If you know the man’s work, then imagine Duplass at his absolute quirky and creepiest. Shot “found footage” style from the POV of a freelance videographer who answers a mysterious ad. This dark comedy starts off with a mystery, lands on amusingly creepy and weird territory, then slowly raises the stakes until that creepiness becomes alarmingly threatening. Duplass’ genuinely deadpan and self-aware performance sustains the whole premise. It has the edginess I expected from a low-budget indie feature. (USA/English)

11. Starry Eyes (trailer)
My favorite midnighter this year. A young aspiring actress dreams of landing a glamorous movie role while she waits tables for a demeaning boss (played by Cheap Thrills’ Pat Healy), and hangs out with her fellow millennial losers (who talk a lot about making films but never do). When she auditions for famous movie studio, she learns that her ticket to stardom may include doing some very bad things. It is contemporary, yet has a classic 80s horror feel, like classic John Carpenter. It also eschews normal horror conventions of the victim and victimizer being different characters. In this movie, she’s both. (USA/English)

Alexandra Essoe in Starry Eyes

Alexandra Essoe in Starry Eyes

12. The Guest
Writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) are back, this time with an action midnighter (yes, there are car chases, gunfights, and stunts!) that seems to draw inspiration from the 90s action/sci-fi/horror movies. A wandering young veteran named David (Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens) comes to stay with the family of a deceased squad mate. He quickly inserts himself into the affairs of the family, earning their trust, including the rebellious teen daughter and her bullied younger brother, using the strategic application of  violence. But when people start turning up dead, the daughter suspects that David is not who he says he is, nor that his motive is to be their friend. (USA/English)

Dan Stevens as "David" in The Guest

Dan Stevens as “David” in The Guest

The overall crop of films this year were very good. I didn’t walk out of any films, and I only found a few outright disappointing. My next post will cover the rest of my SXSW Film 2014 experience.

I haven’t watched anything lately at the cinema, since I’m not a “professional” reviewer — i.e., I don’t have a press badge and I don’t get invited to screenings. Nope, everything I see is money out of my own pocket. Fantastic Fest Tour was my last big movie watching binge, and I’m in a lull right now.

One of the movies that I really wanted to see, but (to my knowledge) didn’t open in Austin, was Wadjda. It’s the story of an enterprising 10-year-old girl who wants to buy a bicycle (something that’s frowned upon in Saudi Arabia where she lives), so she hatches a plan to win the money by entering a Quran recital contest. The story echoes that of director Haifaa Al-Mansour, who is the first female film director in Saudi Arabia. The movie is also the only one shot entirely in that country, despite the country not having any theaters. Besides, Sony Pictures Classics usually doesn’t go wrong with their releases, so I’m eager to view it on iTunes.

I’m also looking forward to the limited release of the Mexican horror movie Here Comes the Devil. It’s mostly psychological/mystery scares, like classic Kubrick, but there’s quite a bit of sex and violence to keep it stomach-churny and edgy. I sooo loved this title when it screened at Fantastic Fest 2012 (see my review). Mainstream American horror movies have been on a steady decline for the last decade. Jump scares (startling you), torture porn, and “surveillance footage” seem to be the new wave in American horror. What’s missing are scary ideas. And that’s exactly what I love about Here Comes the Devil. It’s about two children that encounter mysterious forces while playing near a hilltop and come back…different.

Of course, notice I said mainstream American horror. The indie scene has always stayed fresh. In fact, lo-fi thrillers like The Blair Witch Project and Ti West’s The Innkeepers had to rely on psychological scares and sound effects to sell you a scary idea. Both movies spend quite a bit of time in Act One to establish the idea that the location was haunted; the rest of the movie exploits that. Those movies are also necessarily mysteries in Act Two, as the main characters go exploring their haunted environment, seeking the truth. I guess this is why I include two other ghost story movies among my favorites: the Laotian film Chanthaly (which I saw at this year’s Fantastic Fest) and the Canadian film Haunter (which I saw at SXSW 2013).

Chanthaly was directed by Mattie Do, who, like Haifaa Al-Mansour, are female directors working in countries that (1) are strongly patriarchal, (2) have little to no history of filmmaking, and (3) have state-controlled media and limited freedom of expression. I was very impressed by Mattie as an artist and storyteller doing her thing, and glad to have met her at this year’s festival. I like artists (and the characters in their stories) who find ways to color outside the lines set by society or government. That’s what makes art relevant. It doesn’t matter whether the artist intentionally wants to change to society or if they are just trying to make a good movie; it pushes the boundaries further. Lest we take artistic expression for granted, we only have to consider the movie This Is Not A Film, a documentary shot on an iPhone and smuggled out of Iran by filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who is banned from making movies or leaving Iran for 20 years.

I finally saw Vanishing Waves a few weeks back. It got decent buzz at Fantastic Fest 2012, but I could not see it that year. It’s available on Amazon Video, which for whatever reason, looks like ass compared to other video streaming services. Pay HD prices and get SD resolution. Oh well. This Lithuanian sci-fi movie is about a moody researcher named Lukas who is part of a team of scientists developing technology to allow one person to enter another person’s mind and run around in their dream. Lukas agrees to enter the mind of a comatose woman (whom he has never met nor seen), and the two quickly become emotionally and sexually entangled, leaving Lukas more conflicted and withdrawn from his relationships and job in real life, which quickly unravels. The plot reminds me of other virtual reality stories like Inception, but with the anti-hero edginess that befits a more indie title. It’s very similar in tone and theme to another Fantastic Fest 2012 sci-fi selection from Germany, Errors of the Human Body.

Another movie that really surprised me was Entrance. I remember reading a review by Roger Ebert, which was very positive. First of all, it’s a really good example of direct cinema, a type of cinéma vérité. It looks like a series of vignettes from this young woman’s life: she sleeps, she wakes up, she feeds her dog, she goes to work (in a coffee shop), she talks to her friends, she walks her dog, she takes a shower, etc. Most conventional movies are made up of scenes which are set-pieces for action and/or dialogue so that the audience understands who the characters are, what they want, and what the story is about. But here, the camera simply observes Suziey (the main character), almost voyeuristically at times. Eventually, a narrative emerges, and by the end, it makes perfect sense (who, why and what’s going on). But only at the end do you look back and know what the story was about. This can be really challenging if you’re not used to this type of narrative. Anyone who enjoyed Shane Carruth’s movies like Primer and Upstream Color will not have any problems with this style of narrative. If you think you’ll enjoy it, then it is best to know as little as possible about this movie before seeing it.

Fantastic Fest Tour 2013

Alamo Drafthouse takes eight selections from this year’s festival for a victory lap around the country.

Get Your Genre Festival On

This year, the Alamo Drafthouse, Magnet Releasing and Well Go USA are bringing a sampler of this year’s Fantastic Fest on a “tour” of several cities where the Drafthouse has a presence. If you live in or near Austin, Dallas, Houston, Denver (CO), Kansas City (MO), Winchester (VA), or Yonkers (NY), you’re in luck. Each film is screening individually (one show only) at the Drafthouse, but unlike the actual Fantastic Fest, you can see them all, since the movies are not playing at the same time. They are ticketed individually at $10 plus the normal $1 “service charge.”

The movies are: Big Bad Wolves, Borgman, Cheap Thrills, Confession of Murder, The Congress,  Grand Piano, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, and Why Don’t You Play In Hell.

As luck would have it, half of these movies were those I missed at the festival (it’s impossible to see them all since there are at most 37 time slots available to full festival badge holders (press badge holders get a few extra screenings for the privilege of waking up earlier). I also invited friends to see Grand Piano, a movie from my FF2013 Top 5 list. Grand Piano is a good way to introduce people raised on Hollywood movies to independent film. OK, it’s not the batshitcrazy deep end of the genre pool, but it’s no less deserving of being an official selection.

Here’s a (spoiler-free) look at the four films that I had missed. Interestingly, they are all subtitled movies from other countries. I’ve included their country of origin and the main language; it’s quite a diverse selection.


Most movies are easy to pin down in one sentence because they fit a type. For example, “masked killer chasing stupid teens around the woods” or something. Borgman defies any easy summarization. I can describe on a literal level what happens in the movie, but that probably won’t make sense. Fans of the French surreal film Holy Motors will probably appreciate the unexplained and “WTF?” moments in Borgman, but unlike Holy Motors, the surreal elements are very, very subtle. The effect is intriguing and unsettling. It’s about a mysterious man who calls himself Camiel Borgman, who is forced out of his “home” (he lives literally underground in the woods during the opening scenes) and goes door to door asking strangers for a bath. He manipulates a young (and obviously wealthy) couple into taking him in, and from there, things get subtly weirder as Camiel develops a kind of relationship with the wife and the couple’s children. You could say they fall under his spell. At some point, the film insinuates that Borgman and his mysterious associates may not be human. The narrative style reminded me of Shane Carruth’s indie favorite Upstream Color, which tells its story in an intriguing yet deliberately abstruse manner. There seems to be a reason for everything that happens in Borgman, even if you have to think hard about it afterwards. This is not a film you grasp on first viewing, but it’s definitely for cerebral film fans. From writer-director Alex van Warmerdam. (Netherlands/Dutch)

Big Bad Wolves

This is my personal favorite. Had I seen it at the festival, I might have put it in the top 10, maybe the top 5. (Sorry, Afflicted, you’ve been voted off the island.) I’m also told that Quentin Tarantino also considers Big Bad Wolves his favorite film of 2013. And I can see why. At its heart, it is a crime drama, albeit with lots of humor and violence. In short, it has all the ingredients of a good, classic Tarantino crime film–say–Reservoir Dogs. The backstory is that there is a pedophile-murderer running around killing young girls in gruesome ways, and the police suspect a quiet, unassuming high school teacher is the killer. The movie opens with the police trying to beat a confession out of him, but they simply don’t have enough evidence to make charges stick. The real “criminals” in the story are the disgraced ex-cop who was dismissed from the case after a video of the beating appears on the YouTubes, and the father of one of the victims, who buys a secluded house in the countryside with a nice dank basement which he turns into a makeshift torture chamber. Most of the second act plays out there, and what makes the movie work is the repartee and dynamic relationship between the three men. There’s a lot of humor and craziness and violence in those scenes, but it works the way a good tasting meal works by balancing salty, sweet, sourness, and body. Written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. (Israel/Hebrew)

Confession of Murder

This movie is a delightful surprise. The Korean filmmakers have quite a history with Fantastic Fest, and action crime thrillers seems to be their forte. Western action crime movies rarely have that “Whoa!” edginess to them that the Korean thrillers have. Confession of Murder is one such film. The feature film debut of director Jeong Byeong-gil, it’s about a police detective, Lt. Choi, who has been chasing a masked serial killer. After a life-threatening chase and altercation, the killer escapes, and 15 years later, after the statute of limitations has expired on his crimes, the killer comes forward with a tell-all book titled Confession of Murder. The handsome killer promptly becomes a media celebrity and heartthrob in Korea, and wealthy from sales of the book. None of this sits well with Choi, who suspects the killer may be a phony. Meanwhile, the family of the victims have their own agenda, and have conspired to take their revenge. This is one of the most original stories I’ve seen, and most of it is well done (I had some minor quibbles with the way a car chase scene was edited, but that’s about it). This film is less violent and more clever than Oldboy or I Saw The Devil. Don’t miss it. (Korea/Korean)

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

This is one of the best reviewed movies of Fantastic Fest 2013, and a movie that appeared on many people’s top 5 lists. I was really jazzed to finally see it. Journey to the West was directed by Stephen Chow, director of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. It’s adapted from the 16th Century Chinese story Journey to the West about the Monkey King, except with Xuan Zang cast as the main character. Xuan Zang is a Buddhist demon hunter who roams the countryside trying to reform “demons” (big animal spirits that kill humans). He’s not very good at it, and he has yet to successfully win an encounter with a demon. His life is saved by the beautiful Miss Duan, an accomplished demon hunter, who subsequently falls for Xuan Zang. They’re both hunting the same demon, the “pig demon” named KL Hog. The movie has a bit of everything: big action set pieces, CG monsters, romance, physical and verbal comedy, and spectacular fight scenes. The fighting isn’t hand-to-hand martial arts, but more “anime style” light show. Basically, everyone but Xuan Zang has magic powers. While most festival entries were “small scale” films, Journey to the West thinks big, both in terms of visuals and story. It’s also a rare festival entry that’s tame enough to qualify as a mild PG-13 (this movie has no MPAA rating), should you want to take the kids–most genre festival films are unapologetically adult in content. (China/Mandarin)


I enjoyed all four of these movies, and I was grateful to get a second chance to see them so soon after the festival. I hope they continue to offer the Tour in the future. While it’s not the “full festival experience” (which includes socializing with geeks and hipsters, alcohol, and breathing a lot of second-hand smoke), once the house lights dim, and the projection starts, it is Fantastic Fest (part 2).

If you want to get a taste for the genre films, this selection represents a good cross-section from this year’s excellent program. If you live near one of the cities on the tour, and you feel like seeing something edgy and unusual, don’t miss it.

For showtimes and advanced ticket sales in your city, check out the Fantastic Fest 2013 Tour website.

My other Fantastic Fest 2013 film reviews:

Part I: Best of Fantastic Fest 2013

Part II: Fantastic Fest 2013 Wrap

Part III: Man of Tai Chi and All The Boys Love Mandy Lane reviews.

I reviewed Cheap Thrills in my Best of SXSW 2013 Film.

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane

One movie I deliberately skipped during Fantastic Fest 2013 was All The Boys Love Mandy Lane. And it’s not for a lack of Amber Heard. Or the catchy and pretentious title. I didn’t hear anything about this movie during the festival. Nothing good, nothing bad, just nothing. Like it wasn’t even on people’s radars. I know what you’re thinking: what a bunch of stuck up film festival snobs! If it’s not Lars von Trier, or some Japanese auteur’s hentai comedy adventure porn, you genre fans just snub it! That might be a fair description of some festival goers, but a more likely reason is that the movie is already available on iTunes, and most of us can’t pass up a chance to see rarer titles that might never see the light of day. So after the festival, I did exactly that: rent it on my AppleTV and write this review for your reading pleasure.

The first thing you notice about this movie (if you’ve heard nothing about it) is that everyone is using those anachronistic flip phones. You know, like people used to have before the iPhone. In fact, this movie was made in the year 1Bi (1 year before iPhone, or 2006 if you prefer the Julian calendar). Otherwise, the characters look and talk just like modern people. Of course, once the characters get out to the ranch, one of them comments that there’s no cell phone coverage, which usually means: murder! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you a bit more about this film. This movie was Jonathan Levine‘s first feature film, shot 7 years ago, before he went on to direct The Wackness50/50, and Warm Bodies. It was first screened 7 years ago at TIFF Midnight Madness (basically Canada’s version of Fantastic Fest) and after quickly signing an initial distribution deal with the Weinsteins, the movie fell into a weird limbo, as the Weinsteins got cold feet and sold it to another company, then later bought it back. Seven years later, it’s finally getting a release (and to think I complained of waiting two long years to finally see You’re Next).

Let’s get to it: it’s a teen slasher movie. Amber Heard plays the titular character, an untouchable good girl and virgin that all the boys in high school want to “get with.” She doesn’t have a boyfriend, nor is she a tease or desperate for attention. Despite her looks and bedroom eyes, she doesn’t hang out with the popular or the vain crowd, preferring the company of her mopey, platonic BFF Emmet (Twilight’s Michael Welch), who is probably the only guy who’s not trying to nail her.  Mandy doesn’t do drugs, drink, or smoke, but she’s also not a prude, preachy, or naive. Mandy is (and not just playing) hard to get. In other words, she’s aloof. The other characters aren’t, however. In fact, they are cut from the exact mold as those in every other teen slasher movie made since 1981: The school jock. The asshole. The stuck-up queen. The nice needy girl. The nice guy. The comedian. The outcast. If you’ve seen The Cabin in the Woods, you know the stereotypes. They all go to the ranch house for a weekend of drinking, skinny dipping, drugs and sex. The parents are away and the cell phones don’t work. Hmm…what could possibly go wrong?

Let’s talk about the horror elements. Other reviewers have said this movie is cover-your-eyes scary and gruesome. Ok, it’s violent, but really about average for a slasher movie. Explicit? Yes. Gruesome? Sure. More than other movies of this genre? Probably not. Unique and memorable? You probably won’t remember any particular act of murder. If you’ve already seen gore-fests like the remake of Evil Dead (see my review), or stomach-churningly brutal movies like The Hills Have Eyes, then this probably will feel… almost PG-13 in comparison.

Violence isn’t the only thing this movie has going for it. There’s some stylish cinematography and creative chemical processes done to the film (yes, the movie was shot on genuine Kodak film stock), but this is mostly seen towards the end. In fact, for me, the movie doesn’t come together and start to become interesting until Act III, which resolves the big questions (who and why), and asks new, unanswered questions (motivation). I am avoiding specifics to not spoil it for you, but I was satisfied with the ending. For me, it’s a pity the movie blossomed so late in its running time. Act I was interesting, but Act II was when the movie dragged into a rather conventional teen slasher. This part could be seen as a homage to those slasher pics, or an annoyingly banal retread. You’ll either perceive this aspect of the movie as clever or simply unimaginative.

Reviewers at midnight festivals gushed about it 7 years ago, but the critical praise since then hasn’t been universal. The movie is currently sitting at just 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, with user ratings only slightly higher. So is Mandy Lane worth the wait? I think it had a chance in 2006-2007, but times have changed. We’ve had seven years of new horror films. Seven years of new talent. The Cabin in the Woods carved out a niche in self-referential horror. This could have been the next Scream. But that ship has sailed. However, I do see what made Mandy Lane appealing to festival fans. If you’ve seen it, and you had a different reaction, I’d like to hear about it! Just drop me a comment, and thanks for reading.

3 out of 5 stars

SXSW 2013 Film Festival is over, but thinking back on the experience, here are the films that stood out.

Short Term 12

This film blew away audiences and judges at SXSW 2013, winning prizes for best narrative feature. It didn’t just flatten the competition, it beat it up, took its lunch money, and ran off with its girlfriend. The secret? Really good writing. And really good all the rest. It’s about a young counselor (Brie Larson) who works at a group foster home for troubled teens. Proof that the best in cinema isn’t the corporatized drivel being stamped out of Hollywood’s glitter machine. It doesn’t get better than this. Just put it at the top of your “must see” list. Starring Brie Larson. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.

Zero Charisma

This quirky, sometimes dark comedy(?) won the audience choice award for narrative spotlight at SXSW 2013. It’s about a table-top gaming nerd named Scott Weidemeier (played by Sam Eidson) who lives with his grandmother and takes table-top games way too seriously. When a new, more popular hipster geek named Miles (Garrett Graham) joins the game, Scott’s insecurities drive him to great lengths as he tries to vanquish his arch-nemesis and win back his rightful place as king of the nerds. Think of Scott as a real life “Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.” It works. Must see. Kudos for a hold-nothing-back performance by actor Sam Eidson as Scott. Directed by Katie Graham & Andrew Matthews.

Crowds at the Paramount

Crowds await stars at the Paramount Theater

Drinking Buddies

Another fan favorite at SXSW, according to Ceiling Cat’s informal word-of-mouth buzz poll. This is a “relationship movie” about two friends named Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) who both work at a beer distillery. They’re close platonic friends who are obviously so right for each other, but they’re also in committed relationships with significant others (Ron Livingston, Anna Kendrick) who aren’t so right for them. The two couples spend a weekend together which alters the course of their lives and relationships. On paper this movie sounds like it would bore me to tears with scenes filled with people talking, but the characters are likable and interesting, and the nuanced performances by the stellar cast really makes you care. If you’re going to make a relationship drama, this is the right way to do it.  Starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, with Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston. Directed by Joe Swanberg. Magnolia signed this film for distribution. Trivia: Wilde also starred in another film premiering at SXSW: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

Olivia Wilde with cast of Burt Wonderstone

Olivia Wilde at Burt Wonderstone Q&A with Steve Carell and Jim Carrey.

Cheap Thrills

Winner of the audience award for best midnighter. A midnighter is film festival speak for genre fare with more gratuitous gore and/or violence (usually horror). Craig (Pat Healy) is an aspiring writer with a wife and baby who fixes cars at a garage. He’s behind on his rent and facing eviction when he’s suddenly laid off. At a local bar, he runs into Vince (Ethan Embry), his estranged buddy from high school who is also desperate for cash. That’s when they meet Colin and wife Violet (played by David Koechner and Sara Paxton), who seem to be throwing around money and coke for anyone willing to play their reindeer games. How far are Craig and Vince willing to go? The movie itself is a violent roller coaster ride, thanks to a clever story that keeps raising the stakes, and strong performances by the lead actors. Starring Pat Healy, Ethan Embry. Directed by horror writer E.L. Katz. Drafthouse Films signed this film for distribution. Trivia: Pat Healy and Sara Paxton worked together in Ti West’s supernatural thriller The Innkeepers.

Pat Healy at Cheap Thrills Q&A

Actor Pat Healy from Cheap Thrills


This paranormal thriller is about 16-year-old Lisa (Abigail Breslin), who lives in a Toronto suburb with her mom, dad, and little brother. It’s Groundhog Day for her, every day. As in, the same things happen each and every day. It’s foggy outside. The car won’t start. The phones don’t work. Oh, but they watch Murder She Wrote every night after dinner. Because it’s the same day in 1985, and she’s the only person in her family that seems to be aware of it. Except there’s an unseen presence in the house with them (Stephen McHattie), and it doesn’t want her family to wake up from their dreamlike routine. Most people seeing this movie at SXSW already knew the premise, which was given in the film’s description and revealed very early in the movie: Lisa and her family aren’t alive. It’s scary, but it’s not a horror film, and it’s not violent nor gory. Starring Abigail Breslin, Stephen McHattie, David Hewlett. Directed by Vincenzo Natali. IFC Midnight signed this film for distribution.


“Sake-Bomb” is the name of a weird sake cocktail, but it’s also the name of a road-trip comedy about Sebastian, an ironic, acerbic, and loud Asian-American slacker/YouTube star-in-his-own-mind played by comedian Eugene Kim, and his quiet, polite, “fresh-off-the-boat” cousin Naoto from Japan, played by Gaku Hamada. Naoto is visiting California to find his former flame who disappeared from his life without closure, and Sebastian has been tagged as his chaperone and chauffeur. Between Naoto’s naivete about American culture, and Sebastian’s scheming to use the trip as an excuse to get back with his girlfriend, the characters manage to explore the identity crisis of second-generation Asian-Americans, and the latent racism and stereotypes that exist about Asians in American culture. Kudos to Jeff Mizushima for a script that dares to go there. Starring Eugene Kim and Gaku Hamada. Directed by Junya Sakino.

Sake-Bomb Q&A

(L-R): Sakino, Kim, and Yano at Sake-Bomb Q&A

The East

You know you’re on a roll when you’re in your early twenties and people will line up to see your next movie without knowing anything about it. That’s how fans of director Zal Batmanglij and writer/actress Brit Marling felt about The East. If you don’t recognize these names, go rent The Sound of My Voice on DVD. While The East is a completely different film, it’s told with the same skill and intelligence. It’s about a young undercover operative Sarah Moss (played by Marling) who works for a private security firm. Sarah is assigned to infiltrate an anarchist eco-terrorist group called The East, led by Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) and Izzy (Ellen Page). As Sarah becomes closer to the members of The East, the line between right-and-wrong and Sarah’s professional and personal life begin to blur. I thought the film was suspenseful, original, and hard-to-predict (which is always a plus in my book). Starring Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page. Directed by Zal Batmanglij.

Photo from The East premiere

(L-R): Skarsgård, Page and Marling at premiere of The East


One of my personal favorites, though it didn’t beat Short Term 12 in audience or jury polls, Coldwater is nevertheless a gripping, violent drama about a young drug dealer named Brad (P.J. Boudousqué) who is sent to a remote, private juvenile reform boot-camp run by ex-military colonel (played by James C. Burns). The story follows Brad as he adjusts to life in Coldwater, intercut with scenes that explain how and why he ended up there. I remember one 10-minute long scene that was so completely absorbing, that I didn’t notice that the Alamo Drafthouse wait staff had placed my food order on the table in front of me. I just looked down and saw that my vegan burger had appeared in front of me. While other film critics have complained about the film’s violence and/or lack of character (relationship) development, I thought the movie worked as a kind of violent drama, with a central conflict between the victims and the victimizers. Kudos to an amazing performance by newcomer P.J. Boudousqué. Starring P.J. Boudousqué, James C. Burns, Chris Petrovski. Directed by (Bellflower co-producer) Vincent Grashaw.


Another small budget gem that didn’t get universal acclaim at the festival, but it was a personal favorite of mine. It’s the story of Jim (Jake Hoffman), a talented dubstep DJ/musician with a troubled history. He’s a shy loner with few attachments except for his brother Jake (Thomas Dekker), who seems to harass him at every moment of the day for not being man enough to get laid. Things begin to unravel for Jim when he meets Wendy (Nikki Reed) and sparks fly. It’s a dark, high-tension psychological drama with compelling characters and story. What makes this movie unique is a pervasive dubstep soundtrack (written by Reza Safinia), together with some amazing visuals that make the most of the music to underscore the psychological darkness of the story. If you like your dramas edgy with a side of violence, don’t miss Snap. Starring Jake Hoffman, Nikki Reed, Thomas Dekker, and Scott Bakula. Directed by Youssef Delara and Victor Teran. Trivia: Jake Hoffman’s father is actor Dustin Hoffman.

Photo of interior of Stateside Theater

SXSW screening at the Stateside Theater

You’re Next

This film is legendary among festival goers in Austin. It premiered at 2011’s Fantastic Fest (a genre festival for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films), screening only once before Lionsgate signed the movie as distributor and all subsequent screenings were cancelled. Nevertheless, the movie swept awards at Fantastic Fest that year. And then… nothing. Lionsgate just sat on it. 2012 came and went without a release. And the legend grew. Well it’s finally getting a release date: August 23, 2013, nearly two years after it was first shown to 300 lucky people. Fortunately, a few hundred more got to see it at this year’s SXSW. Spoiler-free synopsis: a wealthy couple invite their four adult children (and significant others) to the family estate for a weekend when masked killers start a brutal home invasion/massacre. Except there’s a fly in the ointment who’s not going down without a fight. The story and presentation is a return to a visceral, “purer” form of high-tension horror film, free of the contrived unbelievability and kitsch of the horror franchises. You’re Next lived up to my inflated expectations, and that’s an accomplishment. Kudos to writer Simon Barrett for a great script, and Sharni Vinson for a strong lead performance. Starring A.J. Bowen, Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, and Barbara Crampton. Directed by Adam Wingard. Trivia: Wingard’s newest horror project, V/H/S/2 and Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies were also selected for SXSW 2013. Wingard, Bowen, Seimetz, Swanberg all previously worked together on A Horrible Way To Die. Seimetz is also starring in Upstream Color, another SXSW 2013 selection.

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