So I’m standing in an alley behind the Alamo Drafthouse, wearing way more eyeliner than usual, and I keep forgetting what day it is. I do know that it’s hot, and Elijah Wood is standing across from me, enthusiastically describing a script he recently read. (Elijah Wood is an enthusiastic person in general, as it turns out. It’s endearing.) We’re waiting with 10 other people for the Fantastic Feud, an annual trivia competition where pro wrestling-style theatrics and excessive consumption are encouraged. I’m on Team Female—although we prefer the name The Fabulous Stains—along with five other women, and we’ve been tasked with defending female fandom at a festival where, to be perfectly honest, the “bearded guy in black T-shirt” fan stereotype largely holds true. Spoiler alert: We lost, but barely. Not even the boys’ team knew the name of the ship from the 1977 Jaws ripoff Orca or what the “M.A.C.” acronym stood for in Mac And Me, so while we didn’t get to make a big feminist statement, gender relations at Fantastic Fest will remain stable, and everyone got appropriately sauced. (Two bearded guys in the audience knew the answer to those questions, by the way. Interpret that how you will.)
But back to that morning: By the fifth day of intensive movie-going, fatigue starts to set in. Time is measured in screening slots as opposed to hours and minutes, and without diligent note-taking, the details of which movie had which Satanic goat in it become obscure. But I will have no problem remembering February (A-), which my colleague A.A. Dowd saw at TIFF and came recommended by other writers at Fantastic Fest. It’s remarkable that this is Osgood Perkins’ directorial debut, as his talent for creating mood—enhanced by the skittish, discordant soundtrack, clever structure, and skillfully affected performances—is what lifts the film above its familiar genre trappings. Beyond the unsettling atmospherics, I found February affecting on an emotional level as well, and will be evangelizing for it until it makes it out of the festival circuit and into theaters.
The afternoon selection was Der Bunker (B), an agreeably twisted German comedy director Nikias Chryssos informed the audience will be distributed in the U.S. sometime next year by Artsploitation Films. The film seems to have sprung from one of the darker corners of Wes Anderson’s subconscious, using meticulously detailed, frequently symmetrical set design and mise-en-scéne to explore the kind of Freudian family dynamics usually discussed on the therapist’s couch. The story is simple, but with deeply weird details like an oozing sore on the family matriarch’s leg that dispenses advice on the education of her son, an 8-year-old boy with the face of an adult man. Unlike some comedies of this type, however, Der Bunker offers some actual laughs as well as quirk, and the guileless way it satirizes corporal punishment, home schooling, and child abuse invites further discussion.
Lastly, before the feud some of my teammates and I caught a screening of Rabid Dogs (B-), a slick, surprisingly enjoyable French remake of Mario Bava’s 1974 poliziotteschi thriller. Unfolding over the course of one evening, Rabid Dogs follows a gang of amateurish bank robbers as they kidnap first a woman on her honeymoon and then a single dad and his daughter while fleeing the scene of a botched job. The daughter is in need of a kidney transplant and will die if she isn’t taken to a hospital in seven hours, a circumstance that gives extra urgency to the times that flash across the screen at regular intervals. This sense of urgency propels Rabid Dogs along nicely, maintaining suspense throughout as the criminals struggle to keep track of their hostages. It’s far from innovative both from a genre and filmmaking standpoint, and probably won’t have much staying power. But Rabid Dogs is an exciting ride, and that’s all you can ask for in a movie like this.