Fantastic Fest 2016 may be history, but I’ve got more reviews… Here’s are my selections from day 7.

Nova Seed

Whoa. A hand-animated sci-fi feature from Japan. This labor of love is primarily the work of director/artist Nick DiLiberto, working over 5 years to bring his creation to life. The story is a sci-fi adventure about a sentient, anthropomorphic lion called NAC (“Neo Animal Combatant”), who is a genetically modified lion with human intelligence and the raw strength of a lion, and trained to be a solider. The president of Earth sends him on a mission to stop Dr. Mindskull, the villain who is planning to use a bioweapon against all of humanity. The results are impressive, given the small production. While not as slick or polished as CG or computer-aided animation, the hand-drawn look and feel have an honest, analog ernestness, reminiscent of classic films like Heavy Metal. You can see the attention to every line, painstakingly drawn. The pros: the artistry and effort involved is impressive. The bad: thin sci-fi story is about as deep as one episode of a 30-minute anime cartoon. 7/10

The Playground

This Polish film is the feel-bad movie of Fantastic Fest 2016. The film is simply a vingette of 3 middle school (junior high school) children on their last day of school. The film focuses on following two bullies, documentary-style, as they wreck havoc on convenient victims, for no apparent reason other than they’re sociopaths. One scene in particular was very disturbing, and I would not be surprised if it caused some people to walk out of the movie, once they get over what they’re seeing. For this reason, I found this the most challenging film to appreciate. “Liking” the film is probably off the table for most people. One way to appreciate it is to admire the sheer audacity and artistry involved in pulling off that notorious scene. That it turned people’s stomachs is a testament to the realism and technical skill involved. If it was any less realistic, you’d ironically be able to deal with it. I have heard that the film is an allegory for contemporary Polish political events, but I don’t know enough about that topic to comment on what it might mean. But it will get people talking. The good: The artistry involved. The bad: one difficult scene makes it hard to stomach. 7/10

The Untamed

This film from Mexico was a complete surprise. It’s mostly a family drama, except there’s an alien tentacle creature lurking in the shadows. And erotic alien tentacle sex. Since the movie starts with this, the rest of the film is a search for answers to the central mysteries and events that happen off screen (and therefore are a mystery to the main characters). The family drama centers around Alejandra, who is raising two young boys with her husband. Her brother is openly gay and works as a doctor in the local hospital, who meets Veronica, who has come in for treatment for a dog bite. It’s clear that Veronica isn’t entirely honest about how she was injured, because we saw Veronica having sex with a phallic tentacle at the start of the film. This kicks off a series of events which will tear the family apart. I liked that it was a family drama, and the sci-fi elements took a backseat. This is a movie that doesn’t answer every question, but will leave you wanting more. The good: A future cult classic in the making. The bad: Nothing. 8/10

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

A funeral home is the setting for this creepy horror/ghost tale featuring actors Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch as father and son medical examiners / undertakers who encounter mysterious and frightening events during the autopsy of an unknown young female corpse. The movie was a crowd pleaser during this year’s festival, and I predict it will do very well in a theatrical run followed by home video due to the grisly and explicit autopsy scenes (which were very realistic), followed by the more conventional frights later on. The film shifts tone three times. It begins as a mystery, turns into a body-horror “CSI-style” procedural investigation, followed by a haunted house segment, then finally a more conventional “battle” with otherworldly forces (aka, your typical Jason Blum-style scary movie). The more intellectually engaging start to the movie gives way to being chased by (well, let’s say “something creepy” to avoid spoilers) later on. Overall, I liked the movie, but found the second half trite and even predictable. The good: the original first half. The bad: the cliched second half.  7/10

The Greasy Strangler

The musical theme for this movie is drilled into my fucking head like an unwanted earworm, but other than that, The Greasy Strangler is easily the weirdest comedy/horror at this year’s festival. That’s in large part due to its oddball main characters: Ronnie (the foul-mouthed and crotchey old man) and Brayden (his unassertive and virgin adult son). Ronnie likes everything he eats served with an “unhealthy” amount of grease. Ronnie and Brayden spend an inordinate amount of time on-screen with their penises visible (one of several jokes that they ran into the ground). About the only time their penises aren’t visible is when they’re working as tour guides on a “disco walking tour,” where they wear matching bright-pink turtlenecks and make bullshit stories up. One day, Brayden meets Janet, and when they begin dating, it makes Ronnie jealous. Ronnie (who frequently denies being “the greasy strangler” even when nobody brought it up) covers himself in grease and murders people who annoy him. The violence and gore in this movie is cartoonish, which fits the tone of the film: oddball gross/funny. For best results, you should watch this movie while inebriated and with an audience who like insanely fucked up movies (in other words, at Fantastic Fest). The good: it’s really funny. The bad: every joke is repeated several times. 6/10

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