This Year’s Fantastic Fest Has So Far Featured Provocative Filth And A Talking Cat

For the uninitiated, Fantastic Fest is a film festival Drafthouse films puts on every year, one dedicated to all things weird and funky and cool. Instead of yacht parties and soirees, there’s breakfast tacos and boxing. You can drink beer in the theaters, and they even put yours truly on a jury, so you know they’re crazy. Basically, it’s the kind of festival you get when the people running the show care more about the movies than the celebs n’ glamour. Think beards, tattoos, novelty T-shirts — Austin, Texas.

Here are some of the films I saw the first few days, in ascending order.

Dirty Romance

Directed by Lee Sang-woo. 94 Minutes. South Korea.

Programmer Todd Brown introduced Dirty Romance by saying director Sang-woo Lee’s last film, Trash (the third in his “bad family” trilogy, following Mother is a Whore and Father is a Dog, per the Fantastic Fest program), had “a lot of penis,” and that Sang-woo had used himself as the penis double, which should give us some idea of the kind of film we were about to see.

Sure enough, Dirty Romance was certainly a nasty sex obsessed little piece of filth (he said with a certain reverence). Chul-joong lives with his sister, Mi-Joong, who is mentally and physically disabled, mostly incapable of leaving her bedroom floor, but fully capable of screaming. Mi-joong is in love with Chul-joong’s friend, Chang-gi, who Chul-joong strongarms into fulfilling Mi-joong’s sexual urges. Chang-gi’s mother, incidentally, is also mentally disabled, so Chang-gi keeps her lovingly chained up by an ankle like a dog in her apartment. (This is quite humane compared to the treatment she receives at the hands of her other son, Chang-gi’s recently-released-from-prison rapist brother.) Deok-ho, the son of a Chinese restaurant owner, is also mentally disabled, and in love with Mi-joong. They’re all poor and preying on each other. Love triangles, drunken sex with the disabled, rape, murder, and mentally disabled people shrieking with mouths full of noodles ensue. (I am not exaggerating; in fact I’m omitting). Call it The Rules Of Mentally Challenged Attraction.

I assume Sang-woo Lee crafted these plot points mostly as a way to get a reaction out of people, and as a fan of punk albums and Irvine Welsh novels, I get it. I appreciate it. But at a certain point, it becomes like listening to an entire G.G. Allin boxed set — lots of smeared feces, not a ton of melody. Anyway, if you really enjoy the sound of mentally challenged people screaming, and you can’t make it to CPAC, this is the movie for you. It’s certainly a singular experience.

Crimson Peak

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Starring Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, and Jessica Chastain. Opens Oct. 16. 

This was the special “secret screening,” and unfortunately, I’m sworn to secrecy! It hits theaters October 16th – here’s the official synopsis.

When her heart is stolen by a seductive stranger, a young woman is swept away to a house atop a mountain of blood-red clay: a place filled with secrets that will haunt her forever. Between desire and darkness, between mystery and madness, lies the truth behind Crimson Peak.

It played opposite Green Room, which I saw last week, which was great.

Der Bunker

Directed by Nikias Chryssos. 85 minutes. Germany.

Der Bunker is one of two Northern European films about creepy man-children playing Fantastic Fest, and personally, I preferred this one to Men & Chicken.

Pit Bukowski plays the protagonist, of sorts, known only as “the student,” who rents a windowless room in an underground bunker, where he’s gone to do “research” only to get caught up in a surreal family drama. The father is a sort of evil funhouse Mormon, outwardly wholesome, but possibly a pod person. He wears clown make-up and reads from a leather-bound tome on “joke night,” all terrible farm animal puns, that he takes great pains to explain to the family when he’s finished laughing. Mom is a creepy seductress possessed by a demon who speaks to her through an open sore in her leg. Klaus, played by Daniel Fripan, is a man-child with Dutchboy/Mark Davis hair who can’t seem to remember any of his school lessons unless he’s severely beaten with a cane. He’s supposedly 8, looks 35, and still breast-feeds.

Der Bunker has a bit of a Napoleon Dynamite vibe — awkward people doing awkward things in awkward costumes — yet it’s completely unstuck in time, place, influences. It feels like it both exists in and came from a parallel universe. It’s downright bizarre, but it mostly holds together, thanks to clever production design (that naked lady lamp..) and Klaus, who’s strangely mesmerizing. Klaus and The Student have an almost sweet chemistry, which is a weird thing to say about a relationship that involves frequent canings. Call it Napoleon Dynamite meets David Cronenberg meets autism.

April and the Extraordinary World

Directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci. 90 Minutes. France/Canada/Belgium. Featuring Marion Cotillard as April. Recently acquired by Gkids, with plans for an early 2016 release in the US. 

April and the Extraordinary World is set in an alternate history version of 1941, where Napoleon’s heirs still rule France, the world’s most famous scientists have gone missing, and coal and steam power a sooty police state where empires fight each other over control of timber.

Yes, you could probably call it “steampunk.” I call it a whacked-out combination of Tintin, Miyazaki, and Terry Gilliam, with a typically French flair for slapstick (which, in April and the Extraordinary World, totally works).

It follows April, the descendant of a great French scientist, who, along with the pickpocketing police informant sent to spy on her (who falls in love with her) and her immortal talking cat named Darwin, has to find her parents and rescue them from a pair of megalomaniacal lizards, all while dodging agents of the Empire who want to kidnap her and force her to do science for them. She lives in the head of a giant statute of a muscular Napoleon with a rooster on his lap. To call April inventive would be an understatement, but it’s also charming, funny, and smartly executed. I loved it.

Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.