Permanent Midnight is a weekly Complex Pop Culture column where senior staff writer, and resident genre fiction fanatic, Matt Barone will put the spotlight on the best new indie horror/sci-fi/weirdo cinema, twisted novels, and other below-the-radar oddities.
By design, film festivals are, as the Tribeca Film Festival’s clever organizers noted in this year’s fest’s slogan, the ultimate binge-watch opportunity. Typically anywhere between four days to a week long, indie movie celebrations like Sundance, SXSW, and the Toronto International Film Festival give critics and ticket-buyers alike numerous chances to claim “first” like cinephile equivalents to Internet comments section trolls. I’m heading back to TIFF in early September, and there I’ll be able to post early first-look reviews for splashy Hollywood fall releases like Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer, Robert Downey Jr.’s non-superhero drama The Judge, and The Drop, a.k.a. the late, great James Gandolfini’s last movie.
And then, two weeks later, I’ll be in Austin, TX, for the always raucous Fantastic Fest, where the next waves of independent genre flicks from across the globe screen inside the Alamo Drafthouse theater. Unlike, say, TIFF, Fantastic Fest thrives specifically on horror, science fiction, and oddities with titles like Septic Man and Mutant Girls Squad; more often than not, you’ll catch some batshit little genre movie from somewhere like South Korea or France at Fantastic Fest but then never hear from it again. There aren’t any Oscar hopes for past FF highlights like The ABC’s of Death, Cheap Thrills, and The House of the Devil, though, frankly, there should be, and that’s a rant I’ll save for a later date. That being the case, though, a week spent indulging in all of Fantastic Fest’s sick and twisted pleasures alongside hundreds of like-minded genre movie lovers brings both endless discovery and exclusivity. Your part of a loyal, passion-driven club.
Now, take Fantastic Fest’s week-length duration, add nearly two more weeks to that, and relocate the cinematic madness to Montreal. The result: the Canadian city’s annual Fantasia International Film Festival, a sprawling, 19-day-long party that makes Fantastic Fest’s already large slate seem minuscule by comparison. With a lineup made up of SXSW’s Midnighters section standouts, bizarre films that’ll end up in Austin in September, and a ton of world premieres, Fantasia has, in many ways, evolved into the dedicated genre cinema fan’s Mecca. In the past, Fantasia hosted the North American unveilings of enduring films like Shaun of the Dead and Inglourious Basterds, but its most regarded as a meeting ground for the underdogs of fringe moviemaking, some of whom used Fantasia’s initial exposure as career-launching platforms. For example, before he made this year’s successful wide release Oculus, writer-director Mike Flanagan debuted his DIY, crowd-funded first feature, Absentia, at Fantasia.
Based on the Fantasia 2014 movies I’ve seen so far, the options for “the next Mike Flanagan” are vast. This year’s edition began on July 17 and runs through August 5, and the film roster is, to say the least, daunting, but also diesel in terms of quality. For this week’s Permanent Midnight, I’ve singled out the best of the fest’s first week; next Friday, I’ll follow this up with the remainder of the strongest Fantasia movies. By all accounts, it’s been a gruesome and depraved, but also seriously exciting, binge-watching experience. On your end, consider it a primer for what’s on tap in the world of independent genre fare.