Here we are at the very end, after eight days and more than two dozen movies, and a host of other shenanigans, Fantastic Fest closed with a bang, presenting two of its more anticipated films as final screenings its last two nights. These nights brought about a lighthearted video game documentary, a descent into madness, a serious discussion about the unsubstantiated fears of Satanism, and the single most disturbing moment on film I’ve ever witnessed.
Here’s how the films of the last two days stack up against one-another.
Satanic Panic: Evil Speak
Part presentation, part 80s horror schlock, the first part of Satanic Panic looked at the era of the 1980s when Satan worship was said to have infiltrated everything from heavy metal music to Dungeons & Dragons. Former Drafthouse programmer, and co-editor to the book Satanic Panic, Kier-La Janisse, along with a handful of other presenters, showed TV and audio clips from that era, capturing the manufactured hysteria that had a huge impacted almost every kid who grew up in the 1980s.
What followed was a screening of Evil Speak, a horror movie starring a young Clint Howard as a put-upon kid in military school who summons the devil through his Apple IIe (technology was also scary to people around this time, don’t forget). The laugh-a-minute B-movie also featured a shirtless, apron-wearing Lenny Montana, better known as Luca Brasi from The Godfather.
This year’s festival winner as decided by the Fantastic Jury, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier has crafted a perfect, visceral punk-rock horror movie about a hardcore band hopelessly stuck on tour until they score a paying gig deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Things start to look bad when, realizing the venue is populated by white power enthusiasts, antagonize them with the worst Dead Kennedys song they could’ve possibly chosen.
The get worse once the band witnesses something terrible on their way out the door, ending up trapped in the green room, growing increasingly desperate to find their way out. Once venue owner (played by a suddenly terrifying Patrick Stewart) shows up to handle matters, the tension becomes almost unbearably hypnotic. A fearlessly terrifying and cathartic experience.
Man Vs Snake
The spiritual sequel to The King of Kong: A Fistfull of Quarters, Man Vs Snake takes a look at another video game from the golden age of arcades and its decades-long, global quest to dominate the high score.
Focusing on original high-score holder Tim McVey, who won the title in the early 1980s after scoring more than a billion points (the only video game at the time that allowed for such a feat) on Nibbler, a near-forgotten game from video games’ heyday. Once he learns that his record may have been broken years earlier at an arcade in Italy, he dedicates himself to reclaiming his high score. It’s also worth noting that Man Vs Snake succeeds in portraying high-score guru Billy Mitchell in a much more favorable light than he was in King of Kong.
A stark, black and white overload on the senses, Darling manages to balance out a rigid visual structure with an absolutely over-the-top soundscape, chronicling the titular character’s unraveling as she works as the caretaker for the oldest house in New York State.
Essentially a minimalist spin on The Shining, Darling leaves plenty of scenes, including one crucial moment, purposefully vague, allowing viewers to grow completely disoriented in the film’s unsettlingly staccato editing. It also owes a great deal to Lauren Ashley Carter, who draws viewers in by her perplexing charisma.
The closing film of Fantastic Fest’s 11th year, a gory, gut-wrenching survivalist western that lets you know from the opening second this is not for the faint of heart. The plot of writer/director S. Craig Zahler’s tale is straightforward, telling the story of a group of men who go off to rescue a woman and a deputy kidnapped by troglodytes, a tribe of savage, aboriginal cave-dwellers. While ultimately a study in the conviction of the human spirit, Bone Tomahawk manages to work in plenty of over-the-top grotesque moments, which play out with lightning-quick severity.
Starring Kurt Russell as Sheriff Hunt and a near-unrecognizable Richard Jenkins as his deputy, Chicary, they form a search party along with Matthew Fox, the vain and prideful Brooder, and Patrick Wilson as O’Dwyer, whose wife is one of the kidnapped. Despite the frequently occurring moments of outright brutality, the film manages to build interesting dynamics between the characters, with the relationship between Hunt and Chicary is particularly charming. It also holds a personal record for me as the film with absolutely the most fucked-up, graphic, cringe-worthy scenes ever put onto film. The perfect way to end the largest genre-specific film festival in the world.