givertaker short film

My love for movies was born out of my love for horror movies and my love for horror movies was born out of a childhood obsession with monsters and ghosts and whatever else goes bump in the night. Because of that, I’m a strong believer that kids (and young adults or whatever we want to call them these days) deserve quality genre entertainment. You don’t necessarily want to subject an 11-year old to something truly grisly, but they also deserve access to horror stories that don’t talk down to them or pull their punches.

And that’s why the short film Givertaker scratches a very specific itch buried in the back of my brain. Here’s a horror short that speaks the same language as the various books and movies that I devoured when I was younger, while also functioning as a clever and entertaining genre tale. And it’s online and available to watch right now.

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fantastic fest 2016 awards

You never know what you’re going to get at Fantastic Fest, the Austin-based genre film festival that takes great delight in immersing attendees in the strangest, wildest, and most unique movies from around the globe. Over the course of eight days, I saw 27 movies. I saw some of the best films I’ve seen all year. I saw oddities I will never forget. I saw some things I wish I could forget. As is always the case, I missed a few big titles, like Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, the divisive The Greasy Strangler, and the crowd-pleasing Bad Black.

But now, it’s time to put a bow on this year’s fest. Sure, the festival itself has juries on hand to recognize films in the line-up, but there’s only one awards ceremony that really matters here – the one that I create out of thin air to throw imaginary accolades at my favorite movies from the line-up.

So, without further ado, let’s dive in the best, weirdest, funniest, oddest, scariest, etc. movies to emerge from Fantastic Fest 2016.

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Everything We Saw at Fantastic Fest 2016


When the smoke cleared, I ended up seeing 27 movies over eight days at Fantastic Fest 2016. The Austin-based genre film festival always has a strong line-up of odd, unusual, and unique movies from around the world, but this year was truly exceptional – I saw very few movies I wouldn’t recommend in some capacity. I even saw a handful of movies that are in serious contention for my end-of-the-year top 10.

For the sake of completeness, I have compiled all of my Fantastic Fest coverage into one place, with links to my reviews and smaller capsule reviews for everything that didn’t get their own post. If you’re looking for a something terrifying or unique or action-packed or tear-jerking or just plain unusual, there is something here for you.

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american honey interview

Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is a remarkable movie and one of the best films of 2016. At the center of this intimate and quietly epic drama is newcomer Sasha Lane as Star, a young woman who escapes her abusive home by joining a “mag crew” of equally disaffected youth. We follow this crew as they travel from state-to-state, peddling magazines, having misadventures, and finding hope and pain in every nook and cranny of the the American heartland.

Lane gives the kind of raw and brutally real performance you do not often find from more polished and experienced actors. The same applies to an interview in a karaoke room at Fantastic Fest – she’s not one to offer a canned answer. Over the course of a too-brief conversation, we spoke about working with a director as empathetic as Andrea Arnold, what it’s like to work with Shia LaBeouf, and how most movies turn away from the subject matter explored in American Honey.

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down under review

It’s a shame that Down Under exists in the first place, but because we live in this particular world at this particular time, it can’t help but feel necessary. It’s not a movie we want as much as it is a movie we need, an angry howl of pain and confusion that goes down like a bitter pill. But a spoonful of comedy helps the medicine go down, because writer/director Abe Forsythe‘s pitch-black comedy is one of the funniest movies of the year, tempering so much rage and pain with stoner jokes, slapstick, and a cast of characters who earn your affection despite themselves.

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a dark song review

If your average horror movie is an indication, the occult is a piece of cake. Grab a dusty old tome from your local library, pick up a Ouija board, light a candle or two and voila! You’re ready to open a portal, summon a demon, or cleanse a house of a vengeful spirit. Genre movies have a habit of making magic look easy and convenient. Either anyone can do it, or an exposition-spouting expert is just a quick phone call away.

A Dark Song isn’t that kind of movie. Writer/director Liam Gavin has made a movie where black magic isn’t just dangerous and a good way endanger your soul – it’s also really, really difficult and it takes a long time. Here is a movie about a single dark ritual that takes place over the course of six months.

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shin godzilla review

What is Shin Godzilla?

Known as Godzilla: Resurgence in Japan, it is the 29th Godzilla movie produced by the legendary production company Toho. It is directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi and no connection whatsoever to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film or the giant monster universe Warner Bros. is currently building.

But that doesn’t really answer the question, because Shin Godzilla isn’t what many viewers think it will be. So, what is Shin Godzilla? That’s a difficult question to answer because Anno and Higuchi have really made four movies in one package and each one is fascinating and frustrating and genuinely revealing about what this iconic, and wholly Japanese, series actually represents in the year 2016.

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raw review

It’s going to be easy to label Raw as a cannibal horror movie. It’s simple. It gets the point across. It’s a hook to get people in the door. However, director Julia Ducournau‘s feature debut is about so much more than the consumption of human flesh. It’s a coming-of-age drama that truly understands the loneliness of being away from home for the first time. It’s a pitch-perfect portrait of the awkward transition into college life. It’s a sad and lovely portrait of how siblings are never that far apart, even when there appears to be a great distance between them. Raw is a movie about changes and transitions and settling into being the person you will be for the rest of your life.

And yes, it is also a cannibal horror movie.

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split review

Every filmmaker finds themselves in a rough patch every now and again, but few directors have had quite as public a rough patch as M. Night Shyamalan. It wasn’t enough that the immensely talented director of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs was stumbling with duds like The Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender – his name had become synonymous with disappointment for many moviegoers. He had become a punchline.

But now, it’s looking like Shyamalan has started to get his groove back. The Visit was one of last year’s more pleasant surprises and now Split, which held its world premiere as part of a secret screening at Fantastic Fest, has seemingly revealed his future going forward: he’s going to keep on making low-budget horror movies until someone tells him to stop. If his latest film is any indication, few people are going to tell him to stop anytime soon.

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Sadako vs Kayako review

“Who would win in a fight?” is the great conversation starter. You yell about it on the playground. You debate the finer points in the bar. Who you back in a match-up between two fictional characters can sometimes say a lot about you and your tastes. Batman or Superman? Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees? Alien or predator?

And now we’ve reached peak versus with the arrival of Sadako vs Kayako, which pits the evil spirits from The Ring and The Grudge against each other in an absurd supernatural throwdown. In one corner, you have a longhaired young woman with a penchant for possessing outdated physical media. In the other, you have a broken-bodied, frog-throated demoness who really doesn’t like visitors. And when they do fight, will anyone care?

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