In the nearly 10 years since he premiered his debut Timecrimes at Fantastic Fest, Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo has become the festival’s semi-official mascot, dancing furiously to karaoke renditions of The Killers in a Fay Wray costume at the closing night party and accepting hugs and high-fives from festival attendees who greet him like an old friend. But first, there was the big closing-night screening of his new film, Colossal (Grade: B), finally finished after a bumpy pre-production period thanks to star and executive producer Anne Hathaway, who Vigalondo says was instrumental in getting the film made.
She’s also instrumental in making the film work, turning in her equivalent of Charlize Theron’s performance in Young Adult as Gloria, an alcoholic writer who returns to her Northeastern U.S. hometown after her fussy, career-oriented boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) kicks her out. Once she arrives, she reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who offers her a part-time job at the bar he owns. Both Hathaway and Sudeikis play with their onscreen images—pretty princess and nice guy, respectively—as a pair of bickering, messy drunks who, as they soon figure out, also happen to be able to manifest and control giant monsters halfway around the world in Seoul. At first, Colossal seems like a rather on-the-nose metaphor for the destructive nature of alcoholism, but by the end it develops into a more nuanced statement about jealousy and male entitlement. This is Vigalondo’s most Hollywood film yet, and as long as he keeps writing juicy roles that attract A-list talent like Hathaway and Sudeikis, it won’t be his last.
The other highlight of Fantastic Fest’s closing day came earlier, and was far less expected: Bad Black (Grade: B), the new film from Ugandan action filmmaker Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey (IGG). “Isaac,” as Bad Black producer/star/ambassador Alan Ssani Hofmanis calls him, won the Best Action Director award for this ultra-low-budget effort filmed in the Wakaliga slum neighborhood of Kampala, an achievement made even more remarkable by the fact that Isaac, who is completely self-taught, has never been inside a movie theater. Many films set in the poorest parts of Africa treat the people there as downtrodden victims, but Bad Black—made by and for the proudly self-proclaimed “ghetto people”—overflows with excitement and affection, both for American action movies and for Uganda itself. Adding to the joyous spirit is VJ Emmie, whose running commentary throughout the film, while comedic, is less Mystery Science Theater 3000 and more Flavor Flav. Clips from some of Isaac’s other “Wakaliwood” movies are available on YouTube, and are like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
While Bad Black was undoubtedly the low-budget find of the year, Fantastic Fest’s curatorial spirit brought two more obscure repertory picks to the festival. Jungle Trap (Grade: C+) was presented by the folks behind SOV-focused horror site Bleeding Skull!, who went the extra mile by re-editing, re-mixing, and composing an era-appropriate original soundtrack for this previously unreleased early ’90s relic from Don’t Go In The Woods director James Bryan. It’s not the most entertaining or bizarre rarity ever unearthed at Fantastic Fest—last year’s Dangerous Men was more of a crowd-pleaser—but the Bleeding Skull! team’s passion and dedication are admirable, and for the already converted, it’s good fun. Then there was the unveiling of the restored 1971 exploitation movie Zodiac Killer (Grade: C+), the first in a series of 4K transfers of titles from the Something Weird catalog presented by the (also Alamo-adjacent) American Genre Film Archive. The film itself is a shaggy, mostly plotless time capsule, but the transfer looks great, preserving the the original film with a 16mm graininess that matches the grit of the film itself. Like Jungle Trap, it’s for already established B-movie enthusiasts like myself. They (we) will love it.
Also screened: Sadako Vs. Kayako (Grade: B-), an entertaining, teen-friendly marriage of the The Ring and The Grudge mythologies that (thank God) has a sense of humor about itself, even though its final confrontation is less than satisfying; Dearest Sister (Grade: C+), a poetic (and rather slow) meditation on class conflict couched in a ghost story from Laotian director Mattie Do; and Down Under (Grade: B-), a Superbad-style profane coming-of-age comedy set against the backdrop of the Cronulla race riots that took place in Sydney, Australia in Christmas 2005.