Fantastic Fest: Day 2

SEPTEMBER 24, 2021


This was the first year I was able to attend the opening night of the festival, so it was nice to not have to rush for once. In years' past, when I'd always be arriving on day 2, I'd sometimes have to go from the airport straight to the theater (dumping luggage into a generous pal's car) before I miss any more of it, but this time around it was kind of lovely to head into Friday with a piece already written. But as others WERE arriving on this day, today felt a little more like a typical day at the fest, albeit still with more empty seats than I'm used to seeing and much less revelry/chaos in the surrounding area.



An evil child movie out of Norway, I reviewed this one properly for WhatToWatch if you want to head there and read my full thoughts. For those who don't want to click over, I'll sum up by saying it was very good (if a touch long) and featured terrific child performances, which is the sort of thing that can sink this type of film, so: well done, casting folks!


I reviewed this one too, but I realized later I should have added that the very thing that turned me off might be what makes others most excited about the film. I forget that due to my relatively late arrival to the Exorcist table, I tend to enjoy demonic possession movies more than my peers, who are often scarred by adolescent Exorcist viewings and walk out of similar films feeling like they were complete crap, unable to even come close to matching Blatty/Friedkin's power. So by abandoning the exorcism angle halfway through, such folks might be relieved by Agnes' switcheroo. Alas, ultimately this was a "not for me" after an engaging first forty minutes.


I had a ticket to see Let The Wrong One In at this time, and it turned out to be an apt title, as I myself let the wrong *theater* in to my schedule - the film was playing a half hour away at a different Alamo Drafthouse (normally the fest is entirely set at the South Lamar location, but thanks to covid nonsense this year forced them to spread it out across three venues). Since I had no car and didn't want to rely on Lyft or friends to get me elsewhere (and then back), I opted to just flat out ignore the non-Lamar entries on the schedule, but somehow I got mixed up with this thankfully one exception. Luckily, there were seats available for Black Friday, which I wanted to see anyway, so it all worked out in the end.

Alas, the movie itself is kind of disappointing; on paper it sounded like it was delivered straight out of my subconscious: the employees of a toy store (including Devon Sawa and Bruce Campbell) have to take on a zombie outbreak on Black Friday, a ridiculous "event" I happily partake in every year. And it was filmed in Boston for good measure, so this had the potential to be one of my favorite movies of the festival and perhaps something I eagerly revisit every holiday season. But unfortunately, it seems they had to pare down a more ambitious script (financing horror comedies is never going to be easy, so I can't hold it against them), and what was left simply never found a proper groove.

It's not a total waste of time; the zombie makeup work by Robert Kurtzman is solid and the supporting cast is pretty good (Michael Jai White is a highlight), and Sawa is in fine form, but there's just no real ENERGY to the proceedings. Every time it seems like the movie is going to ramp up and kick into higher gear, things slow down again - there's an awful lot of chatter in between action scenes. And while I've never worshiped the man like some of my peers, even Bruce Campbell's most loyal fans should be able to admit that he's kind of on autopilot here, playing a role that doesn't cater to any of his strengths as an actor. Not that I want him tossing out one-liners (honestly, that'd be worse) but the role seems written for someone more nebbish (I kept thinking Mark Proksch would have been a good fit), and rather than dive into the challenge he opted to just kind of become anonymous. And since he likely didn't come cheap, I couldn't help but think that the movie might have been better if they put his salary toward other things.

It also might have helped if the store wasn't so generic (and the Boston setting has no bearing on anything, I don't think they even specifically say it's there and there's only like two exterior shots anyway). I'm sorry, but what exactly were the shoppers so excited about to line up at midnight to obtain? The things we see on the shelves are like, nutcrackers and bouncy balls and things of that nature. The lone licensed product I noticed (besides Wise potato chips, an east coast brand) was an Xbox One (yes, the older model), which wasn't even much a doorbuster option even when it was new, let alone now when it's a generation old. Plus, they shoo pretty much all the shoppers out of the store almost instantly, so there isn't even much in the way of zombie fodder, which had me thinking that they should have just leaned into it - what happens when a crappy store is open on Black Friday and no one shows up? Then they could have a built in excuse for the minimal zombie action AND avoided the impossible to buy premise of dozens of deal hungry customers lining up to buy jump ropes.

(That they do almost nothing with the "Black Friday shoppers are zombies anyway" kind of joke is another disappointment, but luckily we have that one 1978 zombie movie to cover that idea to a degree.)

Again, it's not a complete misfire - there are some good gags and performances in there, and the finale involves something I was certainly not expecting, but it ultimately felt like a movie almost specifically designed for streaming audiences, in that you're fine to look at your phone for most of it, looking up only when something exciting happens, and then tweet that it's "fun!" before forgetting everything about it. For folks who seemingly prefer that their movies not demand too much of their attention, they will love it, I guess.

What say you?


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