As anyone who’s spent longer scrolling through a streaming service’s library than actually watching something on said service knows, there’s just too much goddamn content these days. And while the sheer number of genre movies currently being produced around the world is a sign of a healthy ecosystem, it’s also an intimidating task to try to keep up. That’s particularly true for Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, which The A.V. Club attended for a weekend earlier this month; this year’s festival included more than 130 feature films, and although we’ve been back in Chicago for a couple of weeks now, we’ve also been busy remotely catching up with films from North America’s biggest genre-film showcase. Here are five worth keeping an eye on.
Cult-movie distributor Severin Films’ new documentary Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death Of Al Adamson is a particularly delightful watch in the wake of Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood, living as it does in the wild world of cheap-o biker movies and self-taught stuntmen on the fringes of the film industry in the late 1960s. (Spahn Movie Ranch, and its most infamous tenants, also make an appearance.) The first half of the documentary is fun and lively, chronicling B-movie director Al Adamson’s career trajectory from Westerns through biker flicks and horror mash-ups to bizarre kids’ movies and X-rated musicals, as well as Adamson’s many personal eccentricities and ingenious scams. (He was notorious for re-releasing the same movie three or more times under different tiles, for example.) Then the doc takes a grisly turn towards true crime—the details of which can be found online, but we won’t spoil here. It all ends rather abruptly, but that’s just because we could live in this movie’s world forever.
The latest film from up-and-coming sales agent Yellow Veil Films—whose inaugural title, Luz, is in select theaters now—should be on the top of the list for fans of moody, gritty rural neo-noirs like Blue Ruin and Cold In July. Like those films, Blood On Her Name grapples with weighty themes of revenge, the American prison system, and cycles of poverty and addiction. Unlike those films, it’s female-led, and star Bethany Anne Lind commands the screen in a layered performance as mechanic and single mom Leigh Tiller. In the film’s opening scene, Leigh is standing in her auto garage with a bloody tool in her hand, a dead body on the floor, and a growing feeling of panic. What she does next is unexpected, morally complex, and alive with tension.
Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ feature debut Swallow would be worth recommending if it was simply an impeccably shot meditation on upper-class ennui of the Feminine Mystique variety. That being said, it’s much more than that. Starring the underappreciated Haley Bennett as Hunter, a Connecticut housewife whose sterile modernist castle of a home feels more like a prison every day, Swallow posits the exotic eating disorder Pica—a compulsive condition marked by an overwhelming desire to eat non-food items—as a radical feminist metaphor. It does so with elegant restraint, all the better to contrast with the horrifying visual of someone swallowing a thumb tack (and an earring, and a battery, and...).
Availability: Swallow was recently picked up for distribution by IFC Films, which is planning a theatrical release for next year. It’s also set to screen at this year’s Fantastic Fest.
When Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) first moves into an L.A. apartment complex where people actually seem to care about their neighbors, any denizen of a major city will think they know where 1BR is going. And it is—for a little while. What’s interesting about writer-director David Marmor’s feature debut is the fact that, 45 minutes in, the film reaches what would be the natural end point of most horror movies about cults. Then it keeps going. Real-life details culled from ex-members’ accounts of life in groups like Scientology and NXIVM give the film an edgy ripped-from-the-headlines quality, as well as reinforcing the sheer L.A. of it all. If you enjoyed The Invitation, keep this one on your radar.
Availability: 1BR is an independent project that screened during Fantasia’s Frontiéres Co-Production Market. It’s still searching for a distributor.
The most excitingly original film The A.V. Club saw at this year’s Fantasia was Ode To Nothing, the second feature from Filipino indie auteur Dwein Baltazar. The film probes taboos around death and dead bodies, but in a sublimely compassionate way that defies titillation and only increases our sympathy for its profoundly lonely protagonist. That would be Sonya (Marietta Subong), the fortysomething owner of a failing funeral home who lives with her elderly father, but might as well be all alone. Shot to look like a faded photograph and punctuated with long periods of silence and stillness, Ode To Nothing casts such an enthralling spell that when it takes a turn towards the lightly surreal, it also takes on the intangible aura of a half-remembered dream.
Availability: Ode To Nothing was released in the Philippines last October, but has yet to find North American distribution.