SXSW film preview: off the beaten path

Alex Williams

While the headliners are the most anticipated films at SXSW, many of the festival's best surprises are under the radar. Some have already played the Sundance Film Festival, and others are having their world premieres at SXSW. The Daily Texan sifted through the festival’s extensive lineup and came up with a few films that demand a spot in the schedule.

NOTE: Some films may also have additional screenings at satellite venues – check the SXSW film schedule for those times.

Premature (93 minutes)

Friday, March 7, 8:45 p.m. at Alamo Ritz 1

Every SXSW has at least one excellent coming-of-age story, and among this year’s most promising films is “Premature,” a “Groundhog Day” riff which throws a high school senior into a time loop on the day he struggles to get into college and lose his virginity to the girl next door. The premise is a smart mash-up of two classic scenarios, and the film, which co-stars “Firefly”’s Alan Tudyk, is intriguingly included in the festival's Visions program, which features eclectic narrative and documentary films from innovative directors.

Vessel (88 min)

Sunday, March 9, 11 a.m., at Stateside

There are tons of great documentaries to check out at this year’s festival, and “Vessel” is easily the most interesting in a lineup that includes “Doc of the Dead,” an oral history of zombie films, and other documentaries. “Vessel” follows Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, who escapes restrictive foreign abortion laws by performing procedures on a boat that sails from country to country. It’s a controversial concept, and hopefully will serve as an interesting, thoughtful conversation starter.

Hellion (98 min)

Sunday, March 9, 2:15 p.m. at ZACH Theatre

Radio-television-film professor Kat Candler directed this atmospheric snapshot of a family imploding in the port cities of Southeast Texas. “Hellion” stars newcomer Josh Wiggins as Jacob, a teen whose criminal antics in the wake of his mother’s death cause his father — “Breaking Bad”'s Aaron Paul — to lose custody of his younger brother (Deke Garner). Candler’s coming-of-age story is set to an energetic heavy metal soundtrack, with Wiggins and Paul both giving authentic, touching performances.

A Wolf at the Door (100 min)

Monday, March 10, 4:15 p.m. at Alamo Ritz 2

Based on true events, this feature debut from Brazilian screenwriter-director Fernando Coimbra, about two parents whose child is kidnapped, promises to be a harrowing, messy ride. “A Wolf at the Door” will hopefully be a memorable declaration of voice like 2002’s “City of God,” another riveting crime drama set in Rio de Janeiro that led to an Oscar nomination for its director. 

The Guest (99 min)

Saturday, March 8, 11:59 p.m. at Marchesa

Director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett are one of the most exciting teams working in horror right now. Last year, the pair’s wildly entertaining “You’re Next” hit theaters alongside the second installment of the “V/H/S” franchise, which had segments from both Barrett and Wingard. “The Guest” received wildly enthusiastic reviews after Sundance. It tells the tale of a soldier — “Downton Abbey”'s Dan Stevens — who visits the family of a friend who was killed in action and brings more violence with him. It is a surprising, but welcome, departure for the team. The cast is rounded out by Lance Reddick, who also appears in “Faults” at this year’s festival, Leland Orser and frequent Wingard collaborator A.J. Bowen.

Stage Fright (88 min)

Monday, March 10, 11:45 p.m. at Alamo Ritz 1

One of the most promising films playing at SXSW this year is the feature debut from Jerome Sabler. Sabler directed one of the all-time great horror shorts, “The Legend of Beaver Dam,” a musical slasher film that blended rocking original music with familiar but cleverly deployed horror tropes. “Stage Fright” is in the same wheelhouse. It takes place at a theater camp where patrons are picked off one-by-one, while presumably singing and dancing. If that wasn’t exciting enough, the film co-stars Meat Loaf and Minnie Driver, and is easily one of the can’t-miss additions to this year’s slate of midnight movies.

Among the Living (90 min)

Monday, March 10, 11:59 p.m. at Stateside

French horror flicks have a touch for the truly demented, and works such as “Martyrs” and “Inside” have tested the resolve of the most seasoned horror fans. The directors of the latter film, Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, will bring that horrific sensibility to “Among the Living,” a coming-of-age story about three teens who see a man in a clown mask committing horrible crimes in a field one day. That concept combined with the directors’ grisly track record is essentially a guarantee for visceral nightmare fuel.