By Day Three, things can start to become hazy when you’re seeing 5 movies a day at a festival. Downing several beers at the Highball in between is surely not helping the cause, nor are the delicious free beers that I keep lucking into at screenings in the Shiner sponsored theater. Unfortunately on Day Three, despite seeing what may be my favorite film so far, 2 other good features and a fairly strong shorts program, I ran into a movie I cared little for. There’s always a couple each lineup, so it’s not surprising but sadly it was a movie I was looking forward to.
The first movie of the day had been one I had been told I would really enjoy and I was not disappointed. Mexico based filmmaker Luis Estrada has created an intense, tightly made crime drama in El Narco (it’s original title being El Infierno, even subtitled as such in the movie). This rapidly paced drama tells a story of Benny Garcia (Damián Alcázar), who returns to his desolate home after being deported back to Mexico after a 20 year stint of trying to make it in the United States. Upon his return he finds out his brother had gotten involved in the drug trade and was killed. He makes a valiant effort to try and go straight but after becoming involved with his brother’s widow he delves into the underworld to try and make some bones.
While the storytelling in El Narco is quite strong on the surface, what impressed me the most was Estrada’s ability to weave social commentary into the film. Drug deaths in Mexico are at at astronomical level, and within the confines of his film he was able to show not just the high numbers but also how terribly easy and sad it is for these murders to be committed. Despite what may seem a hefty runtime of two hours and twenty-five minutes, the movie flies by. It was yet another excellent start to my day.
Next up was one of the yearly horror shorts programs, Short Fuse. Comprised of nine short films of varying styles, budgets, and subject matter, it was overall highly entertaining. The stand outs for me were Dennis Widmyer’s Curtain, a horror-comedy where a couple rents a new apartment with a bizarre shower curtain that is to not be removed lest they release a succubus. Clever, well shot, and filled with laughs, it’s worth tracking down. Two other stand outs were Incubator and No Way Out. Incubator takes the premise of the man waking up in a bathroom in a tub of ice and spins it on it’s head. Jimmy Weber did a nice job with it, keeping it at a good length to tell the story and get out just as you get a shock. And despite some technical glitches, like the audio being blown out, No Way Out was a bizarre, freaky and fascinating little film about a man trapped in what seems to be a basement with an insect, but then melds into a Cube meets mutilation story.
For full disclosure, as the credits rolled I realized that I know several people involved in it, but that added nothing to enjoyment of the film. It’s very nice work from Aaron Morgan and I’d love to see what he does with a full length feature. As stated above, there were a few technical glitches with the program, with one movie starting without audio, the speakers sounding blown out on two of them and a few of them restarting over as soon as they ended. I’m understanding of the issues but it’d be nice if it ran smoother, but that’s a minor quibble.
Once evening had rolled around, and having spent several hours holed up at The Highball to get some lunch and consume many beers, I queued up for my second to last feature, The Day. One of the more star-studded affairs to play with Dominic Monaghan (who went on to later beat up Elijah Wood at the Fantastic Debates, which I missed as I’ll go into below), Shannyn Sossamon, Shawn Ashmore and an outstanding performance from Ashley Bell. Set in a post-apocalyptic United States in the near future, this band of travelers is working to stay on the move as they’re hunted by a yet to be revealed force. Holing up in an abandoned farmhouse to allow one of their compatriots to recover from illness, they soon have the s**t hit the fan.
Unfortunately for The Day, it’s hindered by an absurd script filled with even more ridiculous lines. It’s unfortunately over the top corny, filled with dialogue no better than a soap opera. I say unfortunately because otherwise I found the performances to be fair, with Bell’s a*s kicking character taking the cake. She absolutely shines in this movie, easily showing people up with her expressiveness, physicality and embrace of her character. You can’t like every movie at a festival and this one was a swing and a miss for me.
For as big of a miss as The Day was, Adam Wingard’s next feature film You’re Next was a home run. To watch this I had passed up the Fantastic Debates, a yearly event where two individuals debate each other on a subject and then decide who is right in a boxing ring, punching it out. Just recently picked up by Lionsgate after it’s premiere at TIFF, You’re Next‘s screenings were dropped from two to one in Austin making it a hot ticket for the night. Since expectations are that it will not release until 2012, we were lucky enough to be the last audience to see it this year.
Taking the home invasion premise and then adding in dashes of survival horror and comedy, Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have created one of the most outrageously fun roller coaster horror movies to come out of the US this year. Starring filmmakers and friends Ti West and Joe Swanberg and festival favorites AJ Bowen and Amy Seimetz, horror queen Barbara Crampton and then glowing star of the film Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3D), it’s a fairly unusually large cast for Wingard. Full of fresh kills that Barrett claims they worked hard on to come up with to try show something that hasn’t been seen before, the movie focuses on a family get together that’s quickly interrupted by some masked men outside their house. There’s never a dull moment at play here and Vinson is completely believable as the butt kicking heroine. And can I say how nice it is to have a strong female lead of a horror movie? Even by today’s standards it’s pretty rare. It’s really no shocker on the purchase of You’re Next and I’m positive people are going to eat it up and I cannot wait to be next again.