The last week of September is a busy one for horror fans in Austin, Texas because of Fantastic Fest, a film festival that focuses on screening horror, science fiction, fantasy, action, Asian and cult films. The 8-day festival takes place at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar and sees over 70 feature films screened for attendees. Each day has five time slots, with five or six films playing during each time slot. It’s an exhausting but incredibly fun week.
I managed to see 26 films this year, 23 of which belonged to the horror or thriller genres.* There were a few amazing films, a lot of decent (or as I like to call them, “meh”) ones and only one total dud (seriously though, that one is bad).
The 10 horror films listed below were among the strongest present at Fantastic Fest this year and should absolutely be on your radar. You won’t want to miss these when they eventually get released. Of course, it’s possible you may have to wait a while for some of these to get distribution. Some of my “Best Of” list from last year are either just now getting released (Better Watch Out) or have yet to see a release (Another WolfCop).
*Despite my best efforts, I was not able to catch every single horror or thriller film this year. The ones I missed were: Cold Hell, Let the Corpses Tan, Radius, Super Dark Times, The Originals and Les Affamés.
1. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
My favorite film of the Fantastic Fest was actually one that our own Benedict Seal gave a negative review (1 out of 5 skulls, to be exact) to just four months ago when it screened at Cannes. What can I say? I’m a glutton for misery. As I said in my own review, Yorgos Lanthimos’ (The Lobster, Dogtooth) latest film is most certainly not a film for everyone (there were quite a few walkouts at my screening), but I loved all 120 of its excruciatingly unsettling minutes. It will receive a limited theatrical release from A24 on October 20, 2017.
2. Good Manners
As I state in my 4.5-skull review for Good Manners: don’t read anything about it and don’t watch a trailer for it. Go in as blind a possible and you will most likely fall in love with it the same way I did. The Brazilian-French production is a heartwarming fairy tale that has plenty of surprises in store for patient viewers (at 135 minutes, it is a little too long). Good Manners is still seeking distribution but with any luck it will get snatched up soon because it’s a real gem.
Mike Flanagan does the seemingly impossible and adapts Stephen King’s “unfilmable” novel Gerald’s Game into one helluva film. Carla Gugino gives a bravura performance in a film which sees a woman talking to herself while handcuffed to a bed for the majority of its runtime. The best part? It’s already streaming on Netflix so you can watch it now!
Who doesn’t love a good Christmas-themed zombie movie musical? Made with love by the friends of the creator (who sadly died from osteosarcoma before filming could begin), Anna and the Apocalypse is a joyous time at the movies, filled with buckets of blood, exciting dance numbers and a killer soundtrack. It is currently seeking a distributor, but I’m betting it won’t take long for someone to snatch this up. It’s simply that good.
5. My Friend Dahmer
Anyone expecting Marc Meyers’ adaptation of John Backderf’s graphic novel My Friend Dahmer to be a serial killer slasher film may find it to be a bit of a tease. The film is a quietly chilling slice-of-life film chronicling Jeffrey Dahmer’s senior year of high school. It’s a slow burn that doesn’t necessarily build up to anything, but it features a phenomenal performance from Disney Channel alum Ross Lynch as Dahmer as well as a strong supporting turn from Anne Heche as his mother Joyce. My Friend Dahmer will get a limited theatrical release on November 3, 2017.
This film will garner a lot of attention for being Anton Yelchin’s (R.I.P.) final film role, and while he is a hoot in newcomer Cory Finley’s viciously dark comedy (think Heathers), Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split) are the standouts as former childhood friends who hatch a plan to murder the latter’s stepfather. It drags a bit in the middle, but there are enough dark little treats for viewers to merit a watch. Thoroughbreds is was picked up for distribution by Focus Features and is set for a limited theatrical release on March 9, 2018.
7. Tigers are Not Afraid
Issa López brings us another horror fairy tale in the form of Tigers Are Not Afraid, a lovely and tragic story about a young girl who, after losing her mother, joins a gang of children who find themselves up against dangerous members of a drug cartel. Reminiscent of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Tigers Are Not Afraid is a confident and soul-crushing third feature from López. It wasn’t really on my radar, but after hearing about all of the festival-goers walking out sobbing I had to give it a shot. I’m so glad I did. Tigers are Not Afraid is still seeking distribution.
The second feature from Child Eater director Erlingur Thoroddsen is a slow burn if there ever was one, which may turn off more impatient viewers, but it certainly pays off in the third act. The film manages to be a horror film about a gay couple without it being about their sexuality, a refreshing quality in this age of cinema. It wasn’t my absolute favorite of the festival, but our own Ari Drew writes in his review that Rift is “a cohesive, subversive, and effectively emotional narrative experience. That it also features two exceptionally multi-dimensional gay protagonists while tackling themes of love, loss, guilt, and fear in the context of same-sex relationships is absolutely refreshing, in the name of both Icelandic horror and queer horror cinema alike.” Rift was acquired by Breaking Glass Pictures back in June for North American distribution. It will be getting a concurrent VOD and DVD release with a mini theatrical run in November.
9. The Endless
If there’s one thing you should do before seeing The Endless, the third feature from writing/directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (who also star in the film), it’s seek out their debut feature Resolution (our review) and watch it immediately. As Brad mentioned in his review out of Tribeca, The Endless will fuck your mind (his words, not mine). The film sees two brothers (Benson and Moorhead) return to the cult that they escaped years ago, and that’s really all you need to know about this slow burn chiller. It was acquired for distribution by Well Go USA and should see a release sometime in early 2018 so be on the lookout!
Rabbit is the debut feature from Australian-born Luke Shanahan, but you wouldn’t know it just from watching it. Rabbit, which tells the story of a young woman (Adelaide Clemens, ) searching for her presumed-dead twin sister, is an impressive debut from the filmmaker. Like so many other films on this list, it is a slow burn that will likely test the patience of many a viewer (there were a lot of those at Fantastic Fest this year…..), but as I said in my review its gorgeous cinematography and compelling lead performance from Clemens make it worth the watch alone.
Honorable Mention: Bodied
I couldn’t include Joseph Kahn’s (Detention, Torque) Bodied on the list since it is far from horror, but it was my second favorite film of the festival (after Sacred Deer) and won the Audience Award at Fantastic Fest. It is an incendiary film about such hot-button issues as racism and stereotyping that will undoubtedly spark plenty of heated debates. Set in the underground world of rap battling, the film follows Adam (Calum Worthy) on his journey to becoming a competitive rapper while writing his graduate thesis on the subject. It is refreshing to see Kahn tone down his music video rapid-editing style after the all-over-the-place (in the best way) Detention, but the film belongs to Worthy, who turns in a star-making performance (The Flash‘s Grant Gustin, who backed out of filming a month prior to shooting, is probably kicking himself right now). Bodied is currently shopping to distributors, and whichever company gets it has a surefire hit on their hands.