Fantastic Fest Day 1

Jerry Belich sets up his Choosatrons

Jerry Belich setting up his Choosatrons in the Fantastic Arcade.

It’s that time of year again, where I head to Austin, TX and spend a week pouring movies into my eyes.

Fantastic Fest is a tremendously fun and insane film festival. It focuses on genre film from around the world, often getting fun crime, horror, and sci-fi films that never see a full release on American soil.

This year, I’ve traveled to Fantastic Fest with Jerry Belich, creator of the Choosatron, a tiny printout machine that lets you play interactive fiction one choice at a time. Four Choosatrons currently reside in Fantastic Fest’s Fantastic Arcade.

It’s been a blast so far, and I expect we will become more and more dazed with joy as the days go by.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

Dir. James Ward Byrkit

Coherence is exactly the sort of film that gets my ass to Fantastic Fest.

Coherence is the story of a dinner party gone wrong. After a blackout in the house, the party falls apart when the attendees become stuck in a strange anomaly where they start seeing doppelgängers of themselves. The concept is fresh, smart, and creepy.

What is doubly fascinating about the film is how it was made. Shot in five days, the film was made without a film crew, without a script, and with pocket change for a budget. The actors were handed note cards and they improvised everything. The actors never knew the plot ahead of them; they discovered their characters’ plight as the filming progressed.

It sounds like it would be a mess, and sometimes it is. However, whoever edited the movie is a genius, and the film holds together in every way that it shouldn’t. It’s a bumblebee of a movie: it shouldn’t fly, and yet it does. Watch for Coherence to appear on streaming services in the future, because I highly recommend giving it a look.

Dir. Mark Hartley

This remake of a famed 1978 Ozploitation classic had a lot of promise. Director Mark Hartley is near and dear to my heart for documentaries like Not Quite Hollywood (a history of the Australian exploitation film industry) and Machete Maidens Unleashed! (a similar film about the Filipino movie industry). As the original Patrick appears in Not Quite Hollywood, it was clear that Hartley had a love and understanding of the original.

Sadly, Hartley’s talents as a documentarian don’t translate to telling a cinematic story well. The film’s editing is so choppy that at moments I thought I was watching a string of unrelated Vine videos. The lush 1970’s full-orchestra score overwhelms everything that happens onscreen. The actors struggle valiantly with a script that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do. The film is simply a jumble.

What is particularly galling, though, is the fact that you can see the potential of the film. It could have easily been much better. The central concept is strong and could have easily worked in more skilled hands. You can see a good film — probably the 1978 film — hiding just under the surface.

Dir. Joe Begos

Man, sometimes I wish I hadn’t seen so many good movies. If that were the case, I might have enjoyed this more.

Almost Human is a low-budget slant on The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. A man is abducted by aliens and goes missing in front of the eyes of his best friend and fiancée; two years later, he suddenly reappears in the woods and starts killing people. That’s about it.

The film is properly gory enough to please gorehounds, but I was sad that it never really took off. The acting was stilted. Characters lacked motivation for their suspicions. The lead female character was screamy and useless. The script never showed me anything that I hadn’t seen done elsewhere in a far better movie. The best I can say for it is that at least the narrative was clear, unlike in the film I saw in the previous time slot (Patrick).

I try not to fault films for lacking originality, because it is absolutely possible for a film to be both derivative and entertaining at the same time. Sadly, Almost Human clearly has a few decent tools in its toolbox; it just doesn’t do anything interesting with them.

I stole @headgeek666's sunglasses. He sees in orange. #ff2013

Also, I had lunch with Harry Knowles and Jay Knowles. I stole Harry’s amazing sunglasses. He sees in orange.

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