Fantastic Fest 2021: Cinapse’s Best of the Fest

The team highlights the standouts from this year’s festival

Despite this year’s Fantastic Fest being a somewhat pared down affair, it delivered exactly where it counts. An opportunity to share good movies with good people. You can dig into the entirety of our Fantastic Fest 2021 coverage here, but read on as our team offers up some of their choice picks from what turned out to be a very strong lineup. Roll on 2022!

Dan Tabor: @danthefan

Titane: An unflinchingly visceral tale of the search for unconditional love and how it can heal all, TITANE is nothing short of a masterpiece. Julia Ducournau paints a garish story of rebirth, using gender, sex and murder on her canvas that is the silver screen. It is shocking and strangely inspiring as Ducournau shows the lengths one is willing to go to find some semblance of normalcy and self.

After Blue (Dirty Paradise): A surreal sci-fi erotic western that sold me on its captivating story of one mother’s love for her daughter, as they track a killer through an alien landscape populated solely by female refugees from earth. It’s a film that was visually stunning, invoking everything from Jodorowsky to Cronenberg in its visual language, but felt very singular in its delivery, which is no easy feat. Full review here.

V/H/S 94: This was a pure nostalgia trip for me having long been a fan of the series. I was happy to not only see it return, but to also do so hitting that high bar set by the first two entries. Another great roster of directors that do their best to deliver some deliciously deranged analog horror. Full review here.

Iké Boys: This film charmed the hell out of me with its ambitious story of a prophecy of a Y2K doomsday delivered to two midwestern anime fans via a bootleg DVD. The friends are then imbued with powers, one a robot, one a Kajiu and they of course battle it out, but have to find a middle ground in this touching coming of age tale. Full review here.

Honorable Mentions: The Sadness: A transgressive touchstone. — Saw it at Fantasia, check out my review here. Mother Schmuckers: A gross out comedy that borders on avant garde performance art. — Saw it at Sundance, check out my review here.


Ed Travis: @Ed_Travis

The Beta Test: My personal favorite of the fest, I think Jim Cummings is a rebel genius and his ability to swap genres across his 3 films thus far is both encouraging and thrilling. But the genre swapping is only a piece of Cummings’ magic. Combine that with his vulnerability and his aggressively indie approach to filmmaking and we’ve got a talent who’s just getting started and riveting to watch. Full review here.

The Deer King: The only film that got me crying at this year’s fest, The Deer King is a lush anime feature telling an exciting fantasy tale in which a stoic hero’s soul is saved by a precious little girl, and all the characters are racing to find a cure for a devastating disease. Gorgeous, exciting, topical, and rich in world-building, The Deer King is a wonderful new anime feature.

Last Night In Soho: To be surprised with the US premiere of writer/director Edgar Wright’s latest, a horror film and love letter to London’s Soho district, was a joy and a pleasure this year. I watched the film in rapt attention, getting goosebumps when it transported us back to 1960s London along with its lead character. And then it got really real, and really frightening. Wright tells his own stories the way he wants to tell them and it’s increasingly a treat in this IP/franchise driven world.

The Execution: A sweeping, time-hopping, Russian serial killer thriller; The Execution had me dialed in, kept me guessing, and shocked and surprised me over and over again. If there’s any justice people will give this film a shot and it’ll be counted among some of the great serial killer mysteries of our era. Full review here.

Lamb: With a deliberate pace and a singular vision, Lamb feels confident and tells exactly the story it sets out to, at exactly the pace it needs. A largely quiet, stoic, and tragic film, Lamb never the less deftly explores loss, parenthood, our connection to the planet, and our obligations to it. It does all this and still has a decidedly genre/absurdist angle to it which is played to perfection.

The Beta Test

Jon Partridge: @Texas_Jon

Titane: We expected something to shake the senses, and boy did it deliver. But what was surprising was how the film also warmed the heart. A warped Cronenberg-inspired fever dream morphs into a fableistic tale about pained people looking to fill a void within themselves. Strap yourselves in because Titane is a wild ride to some very unexpected places. Full review here.

She Will: An earthy folk horror with Italian roots, that provides a remarkable showcase for the talents of Alice Krige (Sleepwalkers, Star Trek First Contact), and also first time feature director Charlotte Colbert. A measured pace, a timely tale of finding strength in sisterhood, combined with the craft of multi-media artist Colbert, makes for an enthralling combination. A transfixing piece of art house horror that elegantly weaves a spell, and eventually a timely reckoning. Full review here.

Who Killed the KLF?: A musical duo that dominated the musical charts in the late 80s/early 90s, and then suddenly pulled their records, deleted their entire catalogue, and disappeared in a puff of smoke. Literally. One created by their burning of a million pounds in a Scottish cabin. Whether you’re familiar with the band or not, this documentary from Chris Atkins does sterling work to outline what drove The KLF, in terms of their music, their madness, and their enduring mystique. Full review here.

The Trip: Perhaps the purest distillation of what a Fantastic Fest movie should be. Deeply black humor, wince-inducing violence, playful in structure and tone. Extra points also for being the first film where I’ve seen a Jif lemon used as a weapon. It’s a shame you won’t be able to see it with a raucous crowd, but you’ll still get a kick out of this one when it hits Netflix on October 15th.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes: A one-take wonder, centered around a time bending premise, that is just brimming with smarts and charm. Just joyously entertaining and endearingly inventive from start to finish. Full review here.

Last Night in Soho: The first secret screening of the festival marked a rapturous return to the big screen for Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, The World’s End). A psychological thriller with a pinch of Polanski, a hint of Hitchcock, a dash of Hammer horror, and lashings of giallo. Just a treat for the senses. Full review here.

Last Night in Soho

Julian Singleton: @gambit1138

Benedetta: A rapturous examination of faith and belief and a ravenously provocative interrogation of cultural norms past and present, Benedetta is every bit as sacri-licious as you’ve heard–and is one of the finest films of the year. Full Review here.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes: Coming completely out of left field for me, this one-take time-travel comedy packs several features’ worth of mind-spinning technological wizardry and heart-skipping joy within 70 minutes, most of which is seeing the same scenes play out anywhere from 2 to 5 times in a row.

Saloum: The best action film at this year’s Fantastic Fest, Saloum packs a visual wallop in terms of action scenes that are as inventive with their underlying mythology as they are with their choreography and cinematography. Full review here.

Last Night in Soho: I love seeing my favorite directors take a thrilling new next step in their careers. Edgar Wright is still an amazing action-comedy director with an unparalleled knack for sight-gags and comedic timing. With Last Night in Soho, he proves he can also evoke nostalgic joy and visceral dread with a swift needle-drop of a ’60s classic or a slight shift in his stunning, layered production design.

Honorable Mentions: Titane & Lamb: Julia Ducournau’s Cannes-winning bloody phantasmagoria and Valdimar Jóhannsson’s bleak Norwegian fable both feature humor as black as motor oil and familial love as primal and pure as the kindest of beasts. Full Lamb review here.

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