The world’s largest genre film festival, Fantastic Fest, got off to a wonderfully chaotic start yesterday, with attendees still warming in and packing the lobby of the Alamo Drafthouse. Day one started off with a suspense thriller from Spain, an indescribably weird American comedy, and the latest from auteur Park Chan-Wook. Here’s a look at how the films from day one stacked up.
The Invisible Guest
Written and directed by Oriol Paulo, this film (which was a last-minute replacement on the day one schedule) is so meticulously-crafted that every frame, every glance, every detail is important. When Adrian wakes up in a hotel room bleeding from his head with the body of his lover in the bathroom, he’s forced to retrace all the steps that leads to this moment. As the events are slowly goaded out of him by a high-profile lawyer, the truth starts to reveal itself little by little. Rather than saving one big twist for the end, The Invisible Guest leaves an elaborate trail of twist-filled breadcrumbs that keep the audience in check while you try to figure out what really happened as the story gets told and re-told.
Part film-noir, part genre-trash, The Invisible Guest draws from the best influences in cinematic suspense, creating a layered, nuanced, outright spectacular experience.
When Park Chan-Wook is in the director’s chair, you know you’re in for a movie that defies all convention, somehow fusing moments of humor, terror, sensuality, and suspense, often in the same scene. On its surface, it’s the story of a peasant living in 1930s Korea who’s called upon to be the handmaiden for a wealthy young recluse who lives in isolation with her uncle. But, given the kind of stories that Chan-Wook likes to tell, every character is a deep well of secrets, and their motivations slowly come to surface as the story progresses.
Based on the novel by Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, the film is a slight departure from Chan-Wook’s spectacular Vengeance Trilogy, but never at the expense of his wholly original storytelling, which is deserving of a genre unto itself.
The Greasy Strangler
The program for Fantastic Fest reads that “the less you know about The Greasy Strangler, the better.” While it’s an accurate statement, I struggle to imagine how anyone would describe this movie to their friends in a way that would make them want to see it. It’s decidedly lo-fi, with subpar effects and tone-deaf acting, but is not only watchable, (despite some stomach-churning moments) but strangely compelling, too. The best part being that, as bizarre as it is, it never takes the time to explain itself, but sort of grabs you by its greasy, strangling hand and pulls you into its world.