Austin, Texas is an impressive city when it comes to art. Every (non-pandemic) March, SXSW takes over downtown with exclusive movie premieres and music performances from up-and-coming artists hoping to hit the big time. Established music artists perform at the Austin City Limits Music Festival for the first two weekends in October (October 7-9 and 14-16 this year).
One Austin event well-known to cinephiles around the world but perhaps less familiar to casual film buffs is Fantastic Fest, held annually in the last week of September at the Alamo Drafthouse Theater on Lamar Avenue. One of the top genre film festivals in the world, Fantastic Fest brings together a stunning collection of horror, action, crime, sci-fi and art house cinema from every country imaginable. Fantastic Fest usually features some of the hottest genre films to hit Cannes, Telluride, Venice and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) earlier in the year, mixed in with a huge helping of lesser-known gems.
The curation runs deep at Fantastic Fest. I’ve seen notable films over the past few years that still haven’t found mainstream distribution in the United States. So if you can make it to Austin, Texas starting September 22ndnd until 29th, grab some ribs at Stubb’s BBQ, have a drink at The Highball and settle into an eclectic selection of films and guests that never fail to impress. If you can’t make the pilgrimage during the in-person feast, head to the Fantastic Fest @ Home, running September 29-October 4, and see some of the festival’s highlights from the comfort of your couch.
Here are some likely highlights for the 2022 edition of the festival:
The Banshees by Inisherin: This new film from writer and director Martin McDonagh (Three billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri) reunites actors Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell from McDonagh’s 2008 dark comedy In Bruges. I can’t give any sort of plot synopsis for these because I’m going in completely blind. I don’t want to know anything banshees until the house lights dim. I wasn’t a fan of Three billboards (ever) but the caliber of talent involved banshees still puts it at the top of my list for Fantastic Fest 2022.
bones and all: This film has a horror premise (cannibalism) but comes from the director-actor team that brought us call me by your name (Luca Guadagnino and Timothy Chalamet). I still don’t understand the extent of Chalamet’s appeal, but his projects are always interesting. This film received a storm of applause after its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. There can be some discrepancy between European art house audiences and American art house audiences, but reserve me a spot for this one so I can decide for myself.
decision to go: Park Chan-wook, the author behind it old boy, heater and The maidwill be in house to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award following the screening of this latest film. decision to go is one of the most discussed films on the festival grounds. A stylish romantic noir from one of the most stylish filmmakers around? Yes, please. If ever there was a filmmaker whose visual brilliance begs to be shown on the biggest screen possible, it’s Park Chan-wook. And did I mention he’ll be there for a post-screening Q&A?
piggy: This was one of my favorite films from the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Sara (Laura Galan) is an overweight young woman whose family runs the local butcher shop. She suffers terribly from the popular girls in her village and becomes the target of one mean comment or prank after another. (It doesn’t help if the overweight girl’s family sells groceries to make a living).
One day, while walking home through the woods, Sara spies on a kidnapping. A few of her classmates are dragged away in the back of a van in a panic. What is Sarah doing? Nothing. Maybe she thinks the enemy of her enemies is her friend. piggy is a suspenseful thriller that simultaneously explores what it would be like if those “attacked” could get some degree of passive revenge on their bullies by simply remaining silent.
piggy is far more complex than this simple synopsis, but I don’t want to spoil this darkly comedic thriller by revealing more of the narrative. If my schedule allows, I hope to have time for an encore on the big screen. If you haven’t seen it piggy Anyway, it should be on your list for the festival.
The Secret ShowsThe :Fantastic Fest is known for its annual tradition of surprising audiences with a big title or two that remain a secret until the curtains literally open on the screening itself. There is speculation every year during the festival. If you’re new to the festival, a good conversation starter is: What do you think the Secret Screenings will be like this year?
Social media always explodes seconds before phones go silent for the film as fans frantically tweet and post when the film is announced. 2022 Secret Screening candidates range from Halloween endsthe new Hellraiser reboot and glass onion (the continuation of knife out) to much-anticipated art-house dishes like Strange: The Al Yankovic Story, The whaleand realm of light. These films form my personal pool of possibilities, so my predictions are now officially on record (in a way).
The guests: I spent my first few years at Fantastic Fest guessing what their budget was for flying in filmmakers, actors, producers, etc. for the post-screening Q&A and meet-and-greet parties. During the first half of the festival, it’s almost taken for granted that talent will be on hand behind and in front of the camera to introduce the film and answer questions after the screening.
In recent years, the Fantastic Fest has hosted Bong Joon-Ho (parasite), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Armando Iannucci (The death of Stalin), Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s game) and Edgar Wright (Last night in Soho), just to name the ones I’ve personally met. If you’re interested in celebrity selfies and want to meet the creatives behind the films, don’t miss the first half of the festival, when the house is usually packed with filmmakers. A second half badge is an affordable option if you just want to fill your schedule with great movies. If you want to rub elbows with stars, focus on the first half of the festival.
The atmosphere: Of the Boots on the Ground festivals I attend every year (as opposed to virtual festivals), Fantastic Fest is always my favorite just for the vibe. It’s less “Hollywood” and less industry than the other fall film festivals. There aren’t too many places where you go down the hall and come across Taika Waititi (JoJo rabbit) and start a casual conversation. I’ve also found that the general film IQ of audiences is extremely high. So if you enjoy talking about 1990s Asian horror movies, you’ll feel right at home. It’s like being a native Portuguese speaker and finding a place to speak only Portuguese for a week.
Having written over 1200 words for the Fantastic Fest experience, it’s obvious that I’m a huge fan of this festival and the programmers who run it. Stay tuned to this site for reviews of individual films from the 2022 program, as well as some recommendations for the Fantastic Fest @ Home portion of the program. For badges of all types, visit 2022.fantasticfest.com/passes/buy.