Fantastic Fest: Day 4

SEPTEMBER 26, 2021


Sunday was my last day at the festival, alas; my budget and my lingering covid fears only covered up to four days (three nights' hotel stay) in Texas before racing home. Unfortunately, it was also kind of a low-interest day of programming as well; I ended up skipping one block entirely because there was simply nothing playing that interested me (in hindsight, I should have used the time to see Shang-Chi, finally, but I forgot it was an option). On the flipside, the light schedule meant I could have a lengthy brunch with some pals I barely saw during my stay (in fact, two of them I *only* saw because I attended this off-site revelry), so that was nice. I had a terrible iced chai and some delicious avocado toast, so it evens out.


Movie #9: THE TRIP

Tommy Wirkola is a polarizing filmmaker among my peers; I distinctly remember being told by nearly everyone I knew not to bother with Dead Snow, only to find myself enjoying it quite a bit (and the second one, while not as good, had an epic climax set to "Total Eclipse of the Heart", so I was obviously in the weeds for it). His newest one is the first I've seen from him with no supernatural elements whatsoever - The Trip is a violent black comedy/survival thriller about an unhappy couple who go off to the family cabin to try to find their spark, but it turns out both plan to murder the other one while they're there and make it look like an accident. Alas, a trio of escaped prisoners put a cork in those plans, forcing the couple to work together if they are going to survive long enough to kill each other later.

So it's basically The Ref meets Funny Games or Desperate Hours or whatever; i.e. home invasion films where the villains aren't just out to quickly murder the inhabitants and move on. It runs too damn long (just under two hours!) but Wirkola keeps the energy up for most of the runtime, utilizing flashbacks on occasion (to show how certain characters ended up there after making surprise appearances) and putting his quintet of actors (including Noomi Rapace as the wife, a rare comic turn for the actress) through the wringer. Very little of it is extreme, but there is SO MUCH bodily harm in this film, as everyone (good or bad) is constantly whacking other characters with hard objects, or they're simply slipping in all the rapidly pooling blood. If he had pared it down a bit (the climax goes on forever; if you've seen it, it really didn't need the additional boat sequence) it'd be a minor classic, but as it stands it's a pretty amusing modern day War of the Roses, where both parties are kind of awful and yet you find yourself rooting for them anyway.

Movie (?) #10: FANTASTIC FEUD

OK, yeah, this isn't a movie. But you do need a ticket to attend, and it is in a theater, so I'll count it, damn you!

So for the uninitiated, Fantastic Fest usually has a lot of wacky events alongside the movies, but this year due to covid and what not they had to get rid of most of them. The Feud was one of the few exceptions; it's basically a chaotic mix of standard movie trivia and Family Feud, where the two teams try to guess the most popular answers from previously held surveys in order to score the most points and gain control of the board for a bit. If neither team knows an answer, it's turned over to the crowd, with whoever has the right answer being allowed to award the points to the team of their choosing (so yes, it's technically possible for a team to win the game without ever actually answering a question correctly). The teams are given buckets of beer, and the crowd is obviously allowed their own beverages (full service is kept active as it would be for a movie screening), so by the end of the night it's usually pretty loud and hilarious.

Anyway, I try to attend whenever I go to the festival, though sometimes there's a can't miss movie playing at the same time and I have to miss it. This year's timeslot competition was VHS 94, which I do want to see, but is playing here in LA as well so I figured I could catch it then. Plus, I didn't want to miss my chance to actually be on one of the teams, an offer I was given by one of the organizers like a year ago and wasn't sure if he would remember.

Well... he did! I was IN!

My teammates were Owen Egerton (who made the enjoyable Blood Fest), Heather Wixson (my fellow horror writer and author!), and Danishka Esterhazy, who directed the upcoming Slumber Party Massacre remake. Since that film was one of the ones that made me decide to attend the festival after all (I was on the fence for obvious reasons) only to discover it would only be playing after I left, I figure this was a nice consolation prize to get to answer trivia questions alongside her for two drunken hours (though I must admit I think Owen and I were the only ones partaking of the free beer we were provided).

I won't drag things out: we won! Handily, in fact. The aforementioned survey portion was a big help, as we took control more often than not (I even correctly guessed the top answer for "Worst Die Hard Ripoff", which is of course A Good Day To Die Hard) and added an excess of points to our total - the final score had us actually doubling the other team's score, which is, in hindsight, insane. Also, I broke a chair racing up to the podium to buzz in for a Mist question, so that was fun. Since we won it ultimately didn't matter, but I'm still sore for missing a Hellraiser question during a "Movie Math" category (where the sequel subtitle was subbed in for numbers, i.e. Bloodline = "4") where I miscalculated and got Hellbound ("2") instead of Hell on Earth ("3"). Stupid BC!

Anyway, it was a blast, and a fine way to finish off my FF'21 journey. After the Feud I went outside and saw my good friend/sometime boss Phil Nobile leaving, and he offered me a ride back to his AirBnB that I would have been stupid to pass up, since that's where I was stashing my suitcase (as I already checked out of my hotel, as I've learned in years' past it makes no sense to keep a room for the final night when I always stay out late at the festival and then leave early in the morning; I'd never use it!). We chatted for a bit while waiting for a Lyft to take me to the airport, where I slept in one of their uncomfortable chairs for a little bit before getting on the plane back to LA.

Here's hoping all this idiocy is behind us by the time it rolls around again. I don't know if I can ever attend annually again until my son is capable of taking care of himself (this is only the second time I've been since he was born), but I definitely don't want to put up with the hassle and cost of travel for another stripped down one like this. I enjoyed the movies I saw and loved seeing friends when I did, but I was also kind of lonely more often than not. The spaced out/assigned seating meant I didn't actually get to watch a single movie WITH any of my friends who were there, and the lack of events (karaoke in particular) made it feel less like a festival and more like me just going to the movies a lot over the course of four days, many of which I could have watched at home via screener (not that I feel that the theatrical experience is equal to my home setup, but again - I was watching them alone! At least at home I could have invited someone over). They did the best they could with the circumstances, and if I lived next door I'd certainly be there for the next one, but I have to choose my battles when it comes to these sort of things, and I think for as long as covid continues to wreak havoc on everyone's fun, I will choose the "stay home and grumble about a few tweets and photos of people having fun" option.

What say you?


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