The best films your humble scribe viewed at the 15th edition of the Fantastic Fest dealt with time travel. But that’s just the tip of the paradox.
The Alamo Drafthouse world headquarters located on Lamar Boulevard in Austin, Texas provides a one-stop cinematic way station that unwinds genre films from around the world.
You park (for free) and spend the day in a nine-screen complex that includes a spacious bar, The Highball, with a stage for special events, and surrounded by restaurants and other businesses in a strip center.
The best movie an aspiring filmmaker could produce would be a zombie thriller where the attendees of Fantastic Fest have to barricade themselves in the theater from the hordes of Lone Star undead.
On the last day of the festival Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League renamed the theater the Bong Joon Ho Cinema in honor of the South Korean director.
Respective producers and directors represented most films. While many in attendance are hardly household names the festival did sport some big-ticket appearances by acclaimed directors like Rian Johnson, Bong Joon-ho and Taika Waititi. Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon kept a low profile while attending the world premiere of their son Jack Henry Robbins’ “VHYes.”
In an odd touch of synchronicity at least three cast members of “The Shawshank Redemption” – Robbins, Clancy Brown, William Sadler – were at the festival although not together in the same room.
Despite seeing four films a day, four days in a row I still missed certain films that other attendees were gabbing about. The film chosen by the Fantastic Fest jury as Best Main Competition Feature, the US premiere of “Dogs Don’t Wear Pants” from Finland was another film I missed although it is now on my radar. Things not missed include a live podcast of 5By5 at The Highball that included interviews with Justin Long (promoting his new film “The Wave”) and “Midsommar” helmer Ari Aster as well as a VHS swap buy that offered several tables with vendors hawking rare videotapes.
“Memory: The Origins of Alien” documents the chest-bursting scene from the pivotal 1979 film and explored myths throughout history that informed the filmmakers. Director Alexandre O. Philippe makes films that not only explore movie tropes but also immerse the audience with awareness of the filmic process.
Philippe previously made an entire film that deconstructed the shower scene from “Psycho” titled “78/52.” His films explore what it actually means to watch a film. “Memory” was certainly one of my highlights from this festival.
Another exceptional movie was “Synchronic” from directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead whose previous films include “The Endless” and “Spring.”
In “Synchronic” Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan are ambulance drivers who begin to notice a string of OD’s from a designer drug. The drug also has the ability to transport the users to a different temporal reality. Think “Bringing Out the Dead” mixed with a time travel plot.
Complications arise when Mackie’s character is diagnosed with a brain tumor and he starts using the drug to try to correct the present by traveling to the past.
In a moment of science speak the drug designer explains time by holding up an LP. “Time is constant, the past and the present and the future exist together. It just depends where you put down the needle.”
“Butt Boy” seems to merge from a “Hill Street Blues” procedural where a detective struggling with a drinking problem joins AA and his sponsor turns out to be the titular butt monster.
Only this is a parallel universe in which a young man was traumatized by a prostate exam and his ass turns into a metaphysical realm that transcends space and time to become a prison for his victims: a neighborhood dog, a young boy and eventually the detective. Think of the color scheme from “Mandy” and you’ve nailed the look of his anal prison.
“It started as a comedy sketch,” says director Tyler Cornack in an interview with BylineHouston the day after his film had its world premiere. It evolved from a one-minute sketch.”
Cornack runs a popular Instagram page with the name “tiny_cinema” that has 98,000+ followers. Cornack posts minute long videos. For the record that’s 97.5K more than my Instagram page.
“It grew into something bigger and at that point we brought in the detective character. We had two men being honest about themselves, their different family situations and their addictions. We played that true and straight and then added this ridiculous premise. The more legit we play it, the funnier it becomes.”
While “Butt Boy” is low-budget the production values are heightened by locations like the Branson Batcave, a tunnel in LA’s Griffith Park used in the 1960s “Bat Man” television show, which was used for the rectal jail.
In the Shadow of the Moon
Another film that merges the detective procedural with a time travel conundrum was the compulsively enjoyable “In the Shadow of the Moon.”
“There were elements of things I want to do: murder mystery, police procedural, and then veers into horror and genre. It was like getting to make five movie in one,” says director Jim Mickle, speaking the day after the film’s world premiere. “In the Shadow on the Moon” premieres on Netflix on Friday, September 27.
Mickle shot the film chronologically when possible although some sequences were lensed out of order. Although the story starts with policeman Locke (Boyd Holbrook from “Narcos”) investigating a murder he soon finds himself tangled up in a time travel narrative where a young woman from the future appears every nine years during a particular full moon, starting in 2024 and going backwards, on an assassination mission.
Locke ages in real time as the movie starts in 1998 yet the girl has only aged a day each time she goes back nine years. He’s going forward in time and the stress of the case on his life shows, while she’s traveling backwards.
A lot of thought went into the make-up. “Jordan Samuels our make-up artist and Paula Fleet our hair stylist had done “The Shape of Water” so they knew what they were doing and were up for the challenge. They were really smart about doing small subtle things so it didn’t require a lot of prosthetics so you could still read the actor’s emotion. We did a lot of tests, crow’s feet around the eyes, things like that, so that by the time we were ready to shoot it was fast.
“We went the opposite way with Michael C. Hall,” says Mickle about the actor who plays Locke’s supervisor. Hall by the way nails the Philadelphia accent, which is where most of the action takes place. “At the beginning he has a bigger neck and is bulked up and then by the end of the movie he’s sort of sunken.”
The time travel element is timed to the nine-year cycle of the full moon known as the blood moon and its influence on Earth. “It was like character back story where we talked about it but then determined what parts the audience didn’t need to know. There are actual scientific theories about the Sun and pockets of gravitational pull between the Earth and Sun that happen in cycles,” says Mickle. “We talk about it enough that the audience gets it but you don’t have to explain every last detail to keep the story moving.”