Nothing keeps me quite as busy as a film festival, especially Fantastic Fest. Last week, the Austin-based film festival closed the curtain on another exciting year of film, events, and talent run-ins. (Director Edgar Wright and actress Noomi Rapace stopped by to chat with attendees.) But for this film lover, I covered virtually and – sadly – missed out on the chance to catch the in-person festivities and surprise screenings, like the Ethan Hawke horror film The Black Phone (releasing Feb. 4 of 2022) and a bike stunt show in celebration of Rad’s 35th anniversary.
So, merry happenings are out there, and I got a few thoughts on some fresh (and incredibly weird) experiences that are now available for your eyes to see or will be soon. Read below, and follow Fantastic Fest on all the socials or on their website (fantastfest.com) to join the fun next year!
Now, I promised weird, and it doesn’t get more left of center than Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Lamb. There’s no silencing this one. Someone (or someones, in this case) thought this up—a story about an Icelandic couple (Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason) who run a sheep farm and adopt a lamb for a daughter. Although, this is no ordinary lamb. Watch the film’s trailer below, and let it send your mind running into the darkest corners.
The use of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” in the trailer may steer you to believe that this film has a comedic undertone, but there’s very little funny about Lamb. So, better get comfortable being uncomfortable because there are moments that happen that seem like God would only know about it. But its purpose isn’t entirely meant to put your stomach in knots. Instead, a fascinating mental tug-of-war match is going on between lamb and human culture. It, more or less, is about the consequences of going against God. For that, you have to commend the film for its ambition, even if it comes with one scene that I had a hard time trying to shake. [Shivers] It’s worth seeing it just for what your reaction will be in its final moments.
Rated R, 106 minutes. Opens Friday.
Let’s keep the weird train chugging along with the film that was my most anticipated movie of 2021: Julia Ducournau’s breathtaking eccentric but powerful Titane. The Raw filmmaker claimed the coveted Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes. Her sophomore feature follows a young woman (a should-be-nominated Agathe Rousselle) who develops a sexual fascination with cars after a horrific car accident experienced as a child.
I anticipated the French-language film to be a unique spin on David Cronenberg’s Crash, about people who become turned on by near-death experiences, specifically within cars. That’s a nutshell explanation for a movie with many layers, and Titane is no different in that regard. That aspect is certainly a part of Titane, but then the narrative morphs into something else, and then something else, until you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. There’s an otherworldly/supernatural component to this film’s DNA, but it is also an incredibly human work about electing your family and how new life can be birthed from unconditional love.
Critics have used the words “shocking” and “disturbing” to describe the film, words that Ducournau is not particularly fond of. Instead, she describes it as “not hard to watch but hard to feel,” a very accurate account of her work here. You will see some look-if-you-dare images of someone breaking their nose, scratching their belly raw and driving a knitting needle into people’s flesh. However, despite all its carnage, it leads to a rather sweet tale, much like Ducournau’s previous film.
Titane isn’t quite as organic and straightforward as Raw. It’s so heavy on symbolism that you’ll have to detach yourself from casual viewing. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it. So, that’s saying something. You might even see my rating of it go up by the end of the year.
Oh, and please see it for actor Vincent Lindon, who gives a remarkable performance as a father figure to our central character.
Rated R, 108 minutes. Now playing in select theaters.
If you’re looking for a work that’s more of this Earth and is a little away from the metaphorical imagery, Lado Kvataniya’s Russian-language thriller The Execution will knock you out with its sprawling crime story.
Starring Niko Tavadze, Daniil Spivakovsky and Yulia Snigir, The Execution is a complex, slow-building murder mystery. Inspired by an infamous Soviet-era serial killer, this terrorizer stuffs his victims’ mouths with dirt before assaulting and stabbing them to death. Through thoughtful characterization and alternating timelines, Kvataniya’s film keeps you leaning in. We get inside the head of the cold and twisted while also seeing the desperate lengths the characters will go to put themselves and a community at ease.
The Execution is admirably unencumbered by action. It allows its characters and non-linear structure to hold your interest, and it pays off. While it may take some pedaling to keep up with, its gut-wrenching anxiety, chilling tone and nuanced approach make it an immersive journey from start to finish.
Not rated, 130 minutes. A release date is to be announced.
20th Century Studios Home Entertainment is releasing a Blu-ray combo pack of FREE GUY (Blu-ray/DVD/Digital) starring Ryan Reynolds on Tuesday, October 12. (Available on Digital Now) Fresh Fiction has a Blu-ray copy to give away. Information on how to get yours is below, along with information on the release
The rules are simple: Email email@example.com with your name and full mailing address (Note: U.S. addresses only and no PO boxes). Title your email subject: “FREE GUY Giveaway” In the body of the email, what what your job be in Free City? Make sure to be as creative and descriptive as possible. The giveaway is active now until Monday, October 18th at noon, central time.
Here’s the synopsis from James Clay’s Blu Ray Review
Reynolds plays Guy, a nonplayable character NPC in a Grand-Theft Auto-like computer game. He wakes up talks to his goldfish, orders a medium coffee with cream and two sugars and then goes to work as a bank teller to get robbed at gunpoint every single day. When Guy spots a sunglasses-wearing hero named Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer the highlight of the movie) in search of a specific hidden sector within Free City he realizes there’s alot to learn about the world.
Religious horror is one of the best kinds of horror because it can have real-world implications. Stephen King knew that with his work in THE MIST, and Mike Flanagan has been carrying that torch in the modern age, look at MIDNIGHT MASS. Even Roman Polanski knew in the 1960s that religion could be the real enemy with ROSEMARY’S BABY.
The point is that God’s word is powerful to some people, and it’s open to interpretation, so why not use it to commit some murder? That’s the question at the center of Fritz Kiersch’s 1984 classic CHILDREN OF THE CORN. Stephen King’s short story about a group of young religious zealots using their faith to kill adults is a fun concept to play around with when you’re a kid, viewing it as an adult not so much.
The surface is a compelling piece of storytelling with a young couple (Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton, who are both quite good in the film ) traveling across the country to start a new life. Before long, they are trapped in the rural town of Gatlin, Nebraska, an endless loop of cornfields and bastard kids thirsty for blood in the name of the lord. Leading the kids is the visually striking Issace Chroner (John Franklin), a young man decked out in clothes that give off the American Gothic vibe. His cohort and muscle Malachai (Courtney Gains) lurks around the town with his shock of red hair killing the adults.
The whole film is buy and large not as successful as its reputation suggests due to the screenplay by George Goldsmith. Goldsmith’s scrip was flimsier than King’s adaptation of his own fork, but the less nuanced approach was chosen in true Hollywood fashion. Rumor is that King wanted to focus on the interpersonal relationships inside the cult of kids. That nuance was rejected and we got a film that works great as entry-level horror. Despite the gripes with CHILDREN OF THE CORN, the film is immensely watchable.
BUY/RENT: This is another excellent 4K upgrade for fans of Arrow Video’s catalog. The transfer looks astounding with crispy colors that articulate the autumn air beautifully. Unfortunately, the success of the disc rests largely on Arrow Video’s restoration of the original 4K negative which always means it’s going to be a swish.
Along with the fantastic transfer, the artwork has a blood-red palette you’re probably looking at now. It’s an ominous and physically striking image of Isaac that perfectly personifies the film. Inside the disc is an interview with screenwriter George Goldsmith that I enjoyed immensely. Also, there’s an entire commentary track from a CHILDREN OF THE CORN historian named John Sullivan.
If you were a video store kid of a certain age, then the sizeable devil-like creature on the cover of Ridley Scott’s fourth film, LEGEND, was unforgettable. It’s a satisfying film in strange and unexpected ways. From its off-kilter dialogue to the star power at its core, the film is a visual achievement that continues to be underrated. Our editor Preston Barta said, “It’s like Ridley Scott wanted to take that unicorn cut scene from BLADE RUNNER and make an entire film out of that one idea.” He’s not wrong, but Scott’s natural genre trajectory would be to try hard fantasy after tackling Sci-fi and Sci-fi horror pictures with BLADE RUNNER and ALIEN.
The film does lack emotional depth given that its stars, Tom Cruise and Mia Sara, had not hit their stride as 80s movie stars that can dance between genres, but they know how to dance in-between the frame. The story follows Princess Lili (Sara), who challenges the young forest dweller Jack (Cruise) to find her ring and get married. However, Darkness (Tim Curry), a huge devil-like figure, plans to capture Lili and turn the world into eternal night. He plans to do this by killing unicorns and using their horns to turn off the sun. (Or something like that.) The story is complicated to follow on a narrative level, but the images are some of the best cinema offers. Each frame is composed of astonishing practical effects by Rob Bottin (THE THING) of greenery, goblins, and ghouls that offer loads of visual splendor.
Although the theatrical cut offers more palatable pacing, LEGEND was and still remains a film not made for general audiences. However, for cinephiles and film freaks, Arrow’s version of LEGEND is a perfect companion piece for BLADE RUNNER. It’s the kind of film that works as a great mood setter for a party; its images force the audience to reckon with what’s shown on screen. This is one of Scott’s more daring accomplishments of his early career, challenging audience expectations and further pushing creative boundaries.
BUY/SKIP: In my mind, any fan of Ridley Scott would be happy to purchase this edition of LEGEND. It contains both the U.S. theatrical edition and the Director’s Cut, as well as the Tangerine Dream score. The special features are impressive and include making the film from the 2002 DVD, which holds up well to this day. It provides audiences a look behind how these ambitious scripts are made and cut to shreds as they are getting prepped for production. Overall, LEGEND is a flawed film that can be a slog if you go for the director’s cut. Despite the sluggish nature of the movie, its an awe-inspiring artistic achievement that’s well worth the addition to your collection.
Valdimar Jóhannsson’s assured directorial debut LAMB has more than just an outrageous premise. It also contains profundity spinning its captivating story centered on a hapless married couple thrown into extraordinary circumstances when they receive an unexpected delivery. Part dark folkloric fantasy, part harrowing parental drama, it’s a bold work of genius you won’t soon forget.
Maria (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) live on a remote plot of land in Iceland, seed farming and raising sheep. Their obligation to keep the farm thriving is what fills their days, not so much shared conversation nor a demonstrative need for love. However, their lives are upended upon the arrival of a special delivery from a sheep in their flock: a little faun-like offspring, who’s half-sheep, half-human. Rather than question how this could possibly happen, the pair quickly accept their new roles, raising the lamb-child as their own, naming her Ada. And while they take great care in preserving their peaceful, idyllic existence together, unforeseen threats begin to surface.
Jóhannsson and co-writer Sjón section off the film into three distinct chapters, symbolizing movements in Maria and Ingvar’s relationship dynamic. This makes the narrative feel akin to a Grimm Brothers bedtime story. Frames photographed within frames not only direct our vision to the spooky stuff we can see, but moreso make us fear what’s obscured from our sight. This works as a sly foreshadowing technique, pointing to the lurking danger that this couple will inevitably face as they break the laws of nature by nurturing a lamb-child that’s not theirs.
The filmmakers also find great success deliberately pacing out Ada’s reveal, not just in terms of her biological makeup, but also how she interacts with humans and the world. We form a bond with Ada, growing to love her as her parents do. We anthropomorphize her and her sheep brethren (all of which have expressive faces and reactions). Tension is found in the underpinnings of each scene, even the happy ones that lull the audience into safety. It’s also fascinating when the outside world – as represented by Ingvar’s brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), a metaphorical black sheep of the family – encroaches on their carefully crafted lifestyle.
Þórarinn Guðnason’s sparse score utilizes discordant strings to a subtly powerful effect, adding an undercurrent of discomfort and a foreboding sense of dread. Eli Arenson’s finely tuned cinematography augments the picture’s atmospheric weight and deeply emotional overtones. Sound design plays a crucial role, filling in the cracks where there’s little dialogue. Every creak of the house, gale of wind and braying of a sheep (especially that of the birth mama sheep who desperately calls out under her baby’s window in the home) is indelible and haunting. Jóhannsson’s soundscape, with the precision of the characters’ silences, is beautifully unsettling and evocative in nature.
While there is some animal peril featured (a word of warning that a few meet their untimely end), it feeds into genre tropes and directly impacts character arcs. This bleary, bleak tale houses stirring sentiments on parenthood, grief and turmoil. It’s a wonderfully weird, wistful picture propelled by its perfect performances.