While Germain and I have viewed quite a few films together, we aren’t always covering the same ones. So, as I furiously work to turn in interviews and full-length reviews, I will use this space to rapid fire impressions of the films I have screened at the amazing Fantastic Fest. So, join me after the jump for my views on Mother’s Day, Let Me In, Never Let Me Go, True Legend, Stone, and the first secret screening of the festival: I Saw The Devil.
First, let’s go in order. I started off my week with True Legend as I prepped to interview the legendary and humble fight coordinator and director Yuen Woo Ping. The film hadn’t even secured US distribution when I watched it at home, but since Indomina Releasing picked up the film during the festival I feel it is safe to say that audiences will not be disappointed. Insane fights flow through the wild story of the evolution of Drunken Fist fighting. While it has some woes in terms of pacing and length, I think the unique quality of the narrative and fights pull it through.
The first film I screened in Austin this week was Never Let Me Go, which isn’t actually a part of Fantastic Fest but was an absolute treat. Powerful isn’t an adequate description of this film, which is bolstered by incredible performances from Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield. Bring your thinking cap for this film, and prepare for some lulls in the story at times, but the ultimate impression is that this will likely be in the race for an Oscar when all is said and done, at the very least for Mulligan. Interestingly enough, I ran into someone yesterday who was reading the book the film is based on, and they said it was a maddening jumbled read, so it seems Mark Romanek did a great job of untangling the narrative.
Next was the controversial remake of the instant classic Let The Right One In, which Matt Reeves took on and made into an incredibly competent Let Me In. While my main issues was the use of CGI to create some of the vampire action sequences involving Abby, played by the screen-stealing Chloe Moretz, I think the film has a few powerful sequences and is shot straight as an arrow. There is very little fat to this film. Judging Let Me In based on the original is a frequent mistake, as the film should be viewed objectively and by itself. While I certainly enjoyed the film, I didn’t fall in love with it. However, certain scenes really make a lasting impression, especially the ones with Richard Jenkins, who plays Abby’s caretaker.
Fourth on my list was Stone, a film I am still digesting and getting a sense of. Intriguing and showcasing great talent like Robert DeNiro, Milla Jovovich, and Edward Norton, we have a film that leaves a lot open for discussion. The revolving story of betrayal and trickery has you constantly second-guessing motives and the reality of it all. Stone is a fascinating film for those that can handle a slow build within a narrative that doesn’t offer easy answers.
All of these films I screened outside of Fantastic Fest, as I had to watch a number of them before the scheduled interviews. That means the SNAFU that occurred with the experimental online reservation system on Thursday morning had little to no effect on me. However, many of the other press felt the woes of the experiment, though I truly had no issue getting into Mother’s Day via the standby line. Speaking of, while Darren Lynn Bousman’s newest film brought us milk and cookies before the film, I could feel many in the audience getting restless at the beginning. However, once Mother -played by the lovely Rebecca De Mornay- gets involved, the pace starts to pick up and we were treated to a bloody drama about the roles of women and the power of manipulation. The middle of the film is the real…milk and cookies, as the final third seems to setup for a sequel too cleanly for my tastes.
Friday night was a sheer joy for me, and really showcases how the number of complaints about getting into screenings is quite overblown. The first secret screening was set for 6:30 PM, and the standby lines generally start 30 minutes prior and let in approximately 10 minutes before show times if any seats are available. The inevitable situation is that even sold out screenings will have a few people that simply don’t show up or show up with less than 15 minutes to spare, which causes their tickets (or spots) to be released. That was the exact situation for the first secret screening, and because I was diligent enough to wait around the entrance to the Lamar Drafthouse, I easily scored a seat, as did many of my friends waiting with me.
The secret screenings provide an incredibly unique and thrilling moment. While many of my press friends and acquaintances are really well connected, I never heard any solid prediction for what the screening would be. So, I’d estimate 99% of the people that go have no idea what to expect, although you generally have a sense of what is and isn’t likely. I Saw The Devil was one of the handful of films that was frequently brought up as a potential secret screening, as it had screened at TIFF to rave reviews. The caveat is that there are four secret screenings at Fantastic Fest this year, so no one knew when it would screen, let alone if it would. But, we packed the house, and even had people sitting at the top in stools and chairs. Luckily, many predicted the correct film, and there was a loud roar as I Saw The Devil was introduced.
The real joy was the fact that the film is incredibly well made, with high production qualities and a genuinely interesting story line. I felt the cat and mouse game between the policeman and the killer harkened back to the sheer gamesmanship that occurred in The Prestige, but cranked up about ten notches with a generous helping of brutality I don’t often witness. The crowd cringed in unison during several parts, which is impressive considering the general audience at Fantastic Fest isn’t easy to disturb. When I talked with Tim League about the film, I expressed sadness that as is, I didn’t think this would see U.S. release in theaters. The film is just simply too dark and too unabashedly violent and cruel, but he seemed to think that Magnet Releasing wouldn’t mind releasing it in an unrated form. If we get word on that, we will definitely let you know, as this is a must-see film for those looking for an original and brutal tale that simply works.
While this just runs through what I saw on Friday, I don’t want to bog you down with an enormous article all about my experience of Fantastic Fest, so I am going to have another article up tomorrow recapping the experience I had Saturday and Sunday, which turned into an experiment of how much you can cram into a 48 hour period (answer: a lot). As always, stay tuned right to Collider for more of our coverage of Fantastic Fest and all things film.