The Fantastic Fest 2016 Backhalf Recap: High Concept Monster Movies & Low-Budget Lore

The second half of this year’s Fantastic Fest, the world’s largest genre film festival, continued to doll out cinematic surprises while dutiful film goers continued to turn out in swarms. Everything from modern films made to look like period pieces, forgotten gems unearthed to see the light of the projector once again, to off-beat shlock-horror, and complete inversions of the monster movie. In short, everything to remind you of the unparalleled variety of weirdness that Fantastic Fest manages to serve up year after year. As the 12th year has now come to a close, here’s a look at how the films from the second half stack up.

Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl

[rating=8.00]

Set in the early 1980s, Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl follows Adele, a young girl sent to care for her shut-in Aunt, in hopes that her mother will get her money when she eventually dies. With a haunting, vintage look, writer/director A.D. Salvo has crafted a hypnotically unsettling tale of moral temptation and decay, complete with fantastic performances, and one of the most pitch-perfect soundtracks to come out of this year’s Fantastic Fest.

Fashionista

[rating=6.00]

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Writer/director Simon Rumley’s latest Austin-heavy tale about a thrift store owner whose vision of an ideal life starts to unravel is told through aggressive, edit-heavy cuts that come with an almost metronomic precision. While Austinites might revel at movie’s locations from across the city, including some that are no longer around, others may be put off by Rumley’s distinctly unapologetic directing style.

Nova Seed

[rating=6.00]

A cartoon hand-drawn by one man, Nick DiLiberto, Nova Seed is the story of a dystopian world told with a distinctly Heavy Metal-meets Bakshi vibe. While the story is imaginative, and the idea of a one-animator film is always a testament to the creative determination of artistry, on a whole it never quite manages to live up to its own towering ambition.

Zodiac Killer

[rating=5.00]

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Every time I watch something from Something Weird Video, I end up towing the line somewhere between oddly fascinated and bored out of my skull. I appreciate the work that they do, and the notion of preserving lesser known films from history is a wholly admirable endeavor, but sitting down to actually watch a full-length feature can tend to be… tedious. This particular film was made in 1971 with one goal in mind: to capture the real Zodiac Killer, still at large at the time of its release. An cinematic novelty that’s maybe better enjoyed over the course of a few YouTube clips than in one 85-minute sitting.

Ash Vs. Evil Dead

[rating=8.00]

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After an uneven, but genuinely entertaining first season, Bruce Campbell and company are back to deal with more deadites; and this time, he brought his dad. It turns out, veteran actor Lee Majors and his unique brand of take-no-bullshit attitude is exactly what the show needed, and the first two episodes do nothing but set the stage for more high-octane, blood-splattering excitement.

The Young Offenders

[rating=9.00]

A confident and surprisingly intricately-plotted debut film for director Peter Foott, The Young Offenders is a delightful romp about two ne’er-do-wells who devise a plan to take two stolen bicycles to find some lost bundles of cocaine. With his ability to weave multiple storylines together and never lose the spirit of a lighthearted comedic romp, Foott is the kind of storyteller worth keeping an eye on in the coming years.

Another Wolfcop

[rating=7.00]

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“A lot of film’s have the programming team divided at here Fantastic Fest, and this was one of them,” began the official introduction to Lowell Dean’s sequel to 2014’s genre-schlock masterpiece, Wolfcop. Filled to the brim with over-the-top blood, gore, and one-liners, it’s a perfect film for Saturday afternoons as well as midnight screenings.

Westworld

[rating=10,00]

With Game of Thrones’ sights set on a definitive end-date, it’s been clear for some time that HBO’s going all in on its new Sci-Fi/Western mashup, helmed by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, based on the 1973 Michael Crichton-scripted movie. If the pilot episode is any indication, HBO picked the right basket to put its eggs in. An old west-style theme park populated by thousands of life-like androids, Westworld has already put several storylines in motion, examining everything from the question of artificial intelligence and the limits of human morality, all packaged together with some of the finest camerawork to appear on the small screen. Cerebral, visceral, and complicated without feeling over-explained, Westworld has real potential to become the dominant topic of Monday-morning conversations.

Colossal

[rating=9.00]

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This is the kind of movie where the less you know about it the better, but when I was watching this movie, around the 40 minute mark I started thinking “maybe the ‘monster’ in this movie is some kind of metaphor.” But no, it’s very much a monster movie, and with the delightfully irreverent Nacho Vigalondo at the helm, it manages to complete subvert the genre, making something that are heart-breaking, hysterical, and belligerently original. While it may seem like a little… much (and it probably will be for some audiences), Anne Hathaway’s stellar performance as Gloria manages to ground the film without relinquishing any of its over-the-top sensibility. It was also the most fun I had watching a movie all year, and I can’t wait to see it again.

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