Listen to Austin 360 Radio

A look at some of Fantastic Fest's buzziest films

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Gage Munroe is the pre-teen thug P.K. in 'I Declare War.'

‘Antiviral'

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree when it comes to the Cronenbergs. "Antiviral," the new movie from Brandon Cronenberg, son of Canadian director David Cronenberg, is just as weird as some of his father's early movies. It deals with a celebrity-obsessed culture where people pay big bucks to have the same illnesses as their favorite stars. The key character in "Antiviral" — Syd March (Garland native Caleb Landry Jones) — works at a company that stores and sells various viruses that have infected the top stars. He injects himself with various viruses, then smuggles them out of his company's compound to sell to a shady dealer. But when he injects himself with a nasty viral strain, his body becomes a commodity, with various ne'er-do-wells seeking to kidnap him in order to extract his virus and make a profit. It's an inventive look at a pathological culture.

(8:35 p.m. Thursday, 6:15 p.m. Monday)

— Charles Ealy

‘Holy Motors'

Some critics raved and others scratched their heads when Leos Carax's "Holy Motors" had its world premiere in Cannes. Denis Lavant stars as Monsieur Oscar, who changes into different characters multiple times a day, without any clear explanation of why he's doing so. At times, he's a banker. At other times, he's a beggar woman, a motion-capture specialist, an assassin, an accordionist, a dying man or the father of an unusual family. In reality, he's no one. He just plays parts as he's driven around Paris in a limousine by his faithful companion Celine (Edith Scob). Some of the set pieces are startling, and some are moving. But all feature Lavant as a character who's sometimes appalling, disgusting and deadly. One of the strangest scenes involves Levant transforming himself into a troll and kidnapping a model (Eva Mendes). Carax is playing with our reactions and trying to shock us, and that makes it perfect for Fantastic Fest.

(8:50 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. Monday) — C.E.

‘Looper'

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe in this science-fiction tale set in Kansas in 2044 — and in the 2070s in Shanghai. He's basically a hired gun who kills people who need to be killed from the 2070s. A mob in the 2070s has access to time travel, and when they want people dead, they just zap them to 2044, where Joe and other killers are waiting. But things get a bit complicated when Joe realizes that the latest guy to be zapped to his killing field is his future self (played by Bruce Willis). The visuals aren't as impressive as "Blade Runner" or the "Alien" franchise, but the story is compelling.

(6:15 p.m. Sunday)

— C.E.

‘Room 237'

Conspiracy theories, thematic examinations and hidden meanings abound in director Rodney Ascher's study of the Stanley Kubrick classic "The Shining" (1980). Through various voiceover interviews with fans and scholars, Ascher explores in five parts some of the more intriguing and outlandish theories surrounding the film. Whereas one interviewee claims that "The Shining" is an allegory about the horrors of the Holocaust, another insists it serves as Kubrick's confession that he assisted NASA in staging the Apollo moon landings. Whatever the truth, "Room 237" offers food for thought.

(2:30 p.m. Sunday, 2:15 p.m. Wednesday)

— Shannon McGarvey

‘Cold Blooded'

Constable Frances Jane is pulling an all-nighter in a nearly abandoned wing of Toronto's Scarborough Hospital. Her only duty is to guard the unconscious body of prisoner Eddie Cordero, a jewel thief accused of killing his partner after a recent robbery. Cordero eventually wakes up, and the two engage in a strategic battle of wits that quickly turns physical when his heist partners break into the hospital in a veiled attempt to rescue him. Brutalized, bloodied and trapped, Jane must keep Cordero from escaping while fending off her attackers, and figuring out how to get out alive. This gory, psychological thriller is as intelligent as it is terrifyingly cold.

(midnight Friday, 6:15 p.m. Monday)

— S.M.

‘I Declare War'

Man, middle school is the worst. Stuck between the rules of childhood and the solidifying identity of teenhood, the middle-school ages (11, 12 and 13) are the most scarring years of many people's lives. This chaos is made concrete in Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson's "I Declare War," an intense, allegorical film that mixes action movie tropes, the violence of war and the free-floating savagery of 12-year-old boys.

For a long time, groups of boys have been playing war in the woods with sticks and toys (we have no idea how long, and it gives the movie an existential edge, as does the transformation of the toys and sticks into real weapons).

P.K. Sullivan (Gage Munroe) is the leader of one group and is obsessed with both the game and the movie "Patton," so his command is understood. The other crew is lead by Quinn (Aidan Gouveia).

"I Declare War" mixes the harsh drama of middle-school friendships with a surrealism that adds to the tension.

This is smart, resonant filmmaking.

(3:20 p.m. Sunday, 6:20 p.m. Wednesday)

— Joe Gross