This year marks the 15th edition of Fantastic Fest, that wild and weird celebration of genre films. For several days every fall — this year, Sept. 19-26 — the most chilling horror, the most mind-blowing sci-fi and the most surreal fantasy invade Alamo Drafthouse's South Lamar location.
The bookings at Fantastic Fest aren’t done in a current-events vacuum, says Fantastic Fest programmer Evrim Ersoy. “We have a number of films looking at the brutality of government and political upheaval. We also have a lot of films about trauma and loss and the growth that can come from that.”
This year, the fest's international focus is on Mexico. “We try to celebrate countries who are often in the news but (typically seen) from a one-note perspective,” Ersoy says. “Right now, Mexico has been in the news, and that discussion often has nothing but negative political connotations. We wanted to celebrate the incredible film history of a country that has been making extraordinary movies about as long as the United States has.”
» Fantastic Fest at 15: An Austin couple’s love for Alamo Drafthouse’s big event
In honor of Fantastic Fest's 15th birthday, our critics rounded up 15 films they're excited to catch. In addition to the feature films listed here, the fest also offers a wide array of shorts and special events throughout its run. Check out the full schedule at fantasticfest.com.
“Color Out of Space”: Richard Stanley’s adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft yarn, starring the closest thing we as a society have to Cthulhu ― Nicolas Cage. U.S. premiere. (8 p.m., Sept. 20; 11:30 p.m. Sept. 23) — Eric Webb, Austin360 editor
“Dogs Don’t Wear Pants”: A Cannes hit that promises to be a sex-soaked, surrealist scintillation. The Finnish film’s festival blurb mentions a dominatrix, an encounter with a bizarre statue and actor Pekka Strang, from 2017’s steamy-but-touching “Tom of Finland.” Let’s give it a go! U.S. premiere. (8 p.m. Sept. 20; 5 p.m. Sept. 25) — E.W.
"First Love": Over the last three decades, Takashi Miike has cranked out more than 100 feature films. In his latest, we spend a night in Tokyo's yakuza underworld with a young boxer named Leo and a woman named Yuri who has been sold off to a gang to settle her father's debts. Matching romantic comedy elements with Miike's penchant for heavy violence and gore sounds simply unmissable. U.S. premiere. — Matt Shiverdecker, special to the American-Statesman
“In the Tall Grass”: Adapted from a Stephen King novella, this surreal tale follows two siblings who follow the cries of a young boy into a field of tall grass (truth in advertising) and then … just … can’t … get out. Of the grass, that is. Trippy, scary things ensue. Promises to be an effective promotional tool for John Deere. World premiere. (8 p.m. Sept. 20; 5 p.m. Sept. 23) — E.W.
“Jojo Rabbit”: “Thor: Ragnarok” director Taika Waititi helms this satire, in which he plays a boy’s imaginary friend. An imaginary friend who is Adolf Hitler. Just won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it’ll open Fantastic Fest. U.S. premiere. (5 p.m. Sept. 19) — E.W.
“Knives and Skin”: Jennifer Reeder’s “hypnotic musical mystery” promises American teens behaving badly and a healthy amount of neon, which is just about everything I need to know about a movie. (5 p.m. Sept. 21; 8 p.m. Sept. 25) — E.W.
“Knives Out”: Fantastic Fest fave Rian Johnson (“Brick,” “Looper,” some movie with glowing swords and Laura Dern) bursts onto the scene this year with an Agatha Christie-style whodunit that will close out the fest. Featuring an all-star cast, from Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans to Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer. Oh, and Michael Shannon! And Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Craig and OK we’ll stop. (8 p.m. Sept. 26) — E.W.
“Koko-Di Koko-Da”: A band of creepsters, including an ominous white cat in a bowtie (heck yeah), torture a couple on a camping trip in an endless time loop, like if you were Mario and Bowser kept bumping you off before you got to the end of the level, but also Bowser is an ominous white cat in a bowtie in this scenario. And it’s Swedish! Anyhoo, sounds like it’ll keep you up at night. Texas premiere. (11 a.m. Sept. 22; 2 p.m. Sept. 26) — E.W.
"The Lodge": Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, the Austrian directors behind 2014's terrifying "Goodnight Mommy," make their English-language debut with the always outstanding Riley Keough as a woman who is about to become a stepmother to two kids who don't want her anywhere near their father. When they get snowed in with her in a creepy remote cabin, things get dark real fast. Texas premiere. — M.S.
“Parasite”: Superfans of “Snowpiercer” and “The Host” already know what’s up with the latest from auteur director Bong Joon-Ho. The narrative particulars of this class-clash film are shrouded in mystery, but the tense trailer promises this thriller about the haves and the have-nots will have you twisting in your seat. Texas premiere. (5 p.m. Sept. 26) — E.W.
"Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street": "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge," the 1985 sequel to Wes Craven's iconic "A Nightmare On Elm Street," is beloved by queer fans for its homoerotic subtext. Lead actor Mark Patton, who was closeted during filming, left Hollywood after the movie's release and poor reception. His legacy in the horror community is fully cemented as the first male "scream queen," and Patton talks openly about the movie and his life in this new documentary. U.S. premiere. — M.S.
“Sweetheart”: Kiersey Clemons, an up-and-comer who’s been all charm in flicks like “Hearts Beat Loud” and “Dope,” gets stranded on an island in J.D. Dillard’s new film. But wouldn’t you know it, that island turns out not to be as deserted as one might like. Texas premiere. (11:30 p.m. Sept 19, 8 p.m. Sept. 25) — E.W.
“The Vast of Night”: Spooky sounds come over the radio in New Mexico in the 1950s. Where are they coming from? Texas premiere. (5 p.m. Sept. 20; 5 p.m. Sept. 24) — M.S.
“Vivarium”: Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots star as a couple who check out a suburban housing development and then find they can’t leave. Domestic bliss as purgatory? Metaphors are fun. U.S. premiere. (5 p.m. Sept. 19; 11 a.m. Sept. 23) — E.W.
“You Don’t Nomi”: A “video essay” by Jeffrey McHale that explores the wild world and legacy of Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls.” Texas premiere. 8 p.m. Sept. 19; 8 p.m. Sept. 26) — E.W.
Statesman film writer Joe Gross also contributed to this report.