Fantastic Fest brings strange films and Keanu Reeves to Austin

Alec Wyman and Alex Williams

A normal weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse might include a movie quote-along, but Fantastic Fest brought horror, sci-fi and fantasy films from all over the world to North Austin. The Daily Texan saw 17 films in total. Here are the films and events that stood out the most. 

Day one

“Patrick,” which premiered Thursday night at Fantastic Fest, comes from a place of genuine affection. The director, Mark Hartley, touched on the original “Patrick” in his documentary about Australian cinema, “Not Quite Hollywood,” and remade the film for his feature debut. The result is a heavily atmospheric thriller that drags through its first act before picking up speed as it barrels towards an endearingly bonkers climax.

The best film from Thursday night was “Almost Human,” a gratuitously gory alien riff with its heart squarely in the 1980s. Writer/director Joe Begos tells the story of a man abducted by aliens returning two years later to lead an invasion with a charming DIY style.

Day two

Ti West is a master of methodical pacing, and his stories unfold at a precisely measured clip. “The Sacrament,” his latest film, is no exception, building ominously before taking a horrifying turn, and while it’s far from West’s scariest film, it’s easily his most accomplished.

It bears to mention that while “The Sacrament” is riveting and bluntly horrific, its approach to some familiar subject matter is in bad taste, trivializing some real and terrible events in a flippant manner. A moody score, unflinching approach and great performances go a long way toward making the film as gripping and entertaining as it is, but its misguided approach gives “The Sacrament” an undeniably ugly bent that’s hard to shake once the credits roll.

Day three

Any time a film at Fantastic Fest hails from South Korea, it is worth seeing. “Confession of Murder” is no exception. Blending satire with crime thriller, the film packs some impressive action scenes on top of some clumsy social commentary.

The film’s action scenes establish Byeong-gil Jeong as a skilled director in his narrative debut. While the film doesn’t perfect the balance between social commentary and white-knuckle action, it has a strong script, directed with typically dynamic South Korean flair. 

The Fantastic Debates kicked off at midnight. Film critics fought first with fiery rhetoric and then with their fists, squaring off on topics like Sylvester Stallone’s status as the greatest action star to whether or not “28 Days Later” is a zombie film. In the final debate, Tim League, founder of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, argued that Tae Kwon Do is the best fighting style against Keanu Reeves. While League dominated the verbal debate, he was beaten to a pulp by Tiger Chen in hand-to-hand combat.