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Vampires, teen assassins, sexy cars: Our Fantastic Fest 2021 picks

Eric Webb
Austin 360
"Titane," the toast of the Cannes Film Festival, will open up Fantastic Fest in Austin.

Let’s get weird. Fantastic Fest returns Sept. 23-30, with both in-person and virtual screening options. Here’s what I’d see, if I were you.  

Physical shows will be spread out across the Alamo Drafthouse locations at South Lamar, Village and Mueller. Not all movies showing as part of the fest will be available virtually as FF@Home programming via Alamo On Demand; those that are, I've noted below.

No angry emails if you didn’t like something. Find the full schedule at fantasticfest.com

“Midnight”: A high-concept thriller that snakes through the nocturnal corners of Seoul? Absolutely, this is why you come to Fantastic Fest. Korean director Kwon Oh-seung's debut finds a deaf counselor caught on the wrong end of a serial killer’s attention over the course of a long, terrifying night. Texas premiere. (6 p.m. Sept. 23 at South Lamar; also part of FF@Home) 

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Korean thriller "Midnight" follows a deaf counselor as she tries to outwit a serial killer.

“Titane”: Honest to goodness, I have seen the trailer for this French flick, which took the Palme d’Or at Cannes, at least five times now. It has taught me nothing about the plot, except: cars, murder, not a lot of clothes, X-rays, really intense sexual energy. I did read the plot description before writing this, but I am not sure I can put it in the newspaper, so trust my mood board. U.S. premiere. (7 p.m. Sept. 23 at South Lamar) 

“After Blue (Dirty Paradise)”: The time: a near future, when humanity has abandoned Earth. The place: a planet where only women can live. The visuals: Jim Henson meets “Enter the Void” meets “The Neverending Story” meets a Kesha video. Fantastic Fest describes French director Bertrand Mandico’s film as a post-apocalyptic Western fairytale. U.S. premiere. (10:45 p.m. Sept. 23 at South Lamar; also part of FF@Home) 

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"After Blue," screening at Fantastic Fest, has a planet of women, bright colors and murder.

“Aelita: Queen of Mars”: This year, Fantastic Fest includes a few silent movies with brand-new scores. (You might remember that last year, co-founder Tim League spearheaded a similar screening of “Nosferatu.”) Out of the slate, this 1924 Soviet sci-fi flick looks to be a bit of Edgar Ric Burroughs, a bit of Flash Gordon, and perhaps some fascinating cultural commentary for the time. The new score is composed by Chris Bullock of Snarky Puppy. World premiere repertory screening. (1 p.m. Sept. 24 at Village; also part of FF@Home) 

“Bingo Hell”: Gentrification meets horror in this entry from director/co-writer Gigi Saul Guerrero and scary-stuff studio Blumhouse. When a businessman comes to a community offering financial salvation through, yes, bingo, one longtime resident puts together that there are sinister, deadly forces at play. This is also an Amazon production, which is frankly hilarious. Maybe the bingo balls are metaphors for Jeff Bezos’ head. World premiere. (7 p.m. Sept. 24 at South Lamar) 

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"Bingo Hell" is a weird and wild genre take on gentrification.

“Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched”: My friends, this movie is more than three hours long, and when I watched it during South by Southwest this year, I did split it up over two sittings. (At-home festival, ayooo.) But I can honestly say that Austinite Kier-La Janisse’s dive into the history of cinematic folk horror is one of the most interesting documentaries I’ve ever seen, and it gave me a new movie-watching lens that’s stuck with me. (2 p.m. Sept. 25 at South Lamar) 

“Who Killed the KLF?”: I am including this U.K. doc from Chris Atkins, about the reluctant rise and near-total disappearance of the titular music artists, because I regularly listen to their deeply unhinged and deeply catchy Tammy Wynette collab, “Justified & Ancient.” World premiere. (2:50 p.m. Sept. 25 at South Lamar; also part of FF@Home) 

“Lamb”: The feature debut of Icelandic filmmaker Valdimar Jóhannsson is one of Fantastic Fest’s most anticipated. From indie kingmakers A24 comes this tale of a couple (Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) who find their lives changed by a very special and not-at-all-normal lamb. U.S. premiere. (7 p.m. Sept. 25 at South Lamar) 

"Lamb," the latest from film distributors A24, will make its U.S. premiere in Austin at Fantastic Fest.

“Dead & Beautiful”: We love an allegory, don’t we folks? In this Taiwan-set flick, five pretty, rich youths, are suffering from the boredom of being too pretty, too rich and too young. So, they become vampires. Fantastic Fest compares it to “Only Lovers Left Alive,” a high mark of the Tilda-Swinton-plays-a-vampire genre. North American premiere. (4:05 p.m. Sept. 25 at Village) 

“Baby Assassins”: Teenage killers in Japan square off against the Yakuza. Tell me where to sign! International premiere. (7:10 p.m. Sept. 25 at Village; also part of FF@Home)

Vampires! Taiwan! Wicked excess! "Dead & Beautiful" is very Fantastic Fest.

“Yellow Dragon’s Village”: Promising a makeover of the found footage genre, debut filmmaker Hugo Sakamoto remixes the trappings of the house that the Blair Witch built with revenge thrills, teen comedy, cannibal cults and more. International premiere. (3:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at South Lamar) 

“She Will”: Alice Krige (the Borg Queen from “Star Trek,” y’all!), Rupert Everett (“My Best Friend’s Wedding,” y’all!) and Malcolm McDowell (Malcolm McDowell from all of the movies he’s in, y’all!) star in a “visual feast for the eyes,” according to the fest, about an actress who retreats to a Scottish cabin for some recuperation. Strange things start to happen. Scottish cabin, and all. North American premiere. (6:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at South Lamar) 

"Slumber Party Massacre”: Danishka Esterhazy directs a reimagining of the 1980s slasher movie, with an eye toward centering even more of the female perspective so often absent from blood-soaked cinema. World premiere. (10:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at South Lamar) 

“The Timekeepers of Eternity”: Sometimes, you come across a film brief that is so seemingly generated from a keyword randomizer that you have to say to yourself, “Well, I’m curious, of course.” Here: Greek director Aristotelis Maragkos reassembled frames from 1995 TV movie “The Langoliers,” based on a Stephen King novella, into a black-and-white experimental collage starring Bronson Pinchot. That’s a thing that exists now. Good! World premiere. (6:20 p.m. Sept. 29 at South Lamar; also part of FF@Home) 

“Cop Secret”: Pre-game the first weekend of Austin City Limits Music Festival with a gay police action comedy from Bjork’s native land. Or don’t, but it sounds fun to me. North American premiere. (9:40 p.m. Sept. 30 at South Lamar; also part of FF@Home) 

“Silent Night”: One of the more star-studded Fantastic Fest entries this year features Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Lily-Rose Depp and Roman Griffin-Davis in a black comedy set at a particularly horrible Christmas dinner. Feel free to imagine that Knightley is playing her character from “Love, Actually.” U.S. premiere. (10:10 p.m. Sept. 30 at South Lamar)