Few film festivals offer the breadth and variety of SXSW and this year was no exception. During my eight days there, I saw gentle comedies, brutal horror movies, fascinating dramas produced on shoestring budgets, inventive documentaries and even an R-rated animated film about talking food. It was one helluva week.
Here is everything that I watched, including the (often very good!) movies that didn’t get full reviews.
Once Don’t Breathe finds its rhythm, it becomes one of the most relentless horror movies in recent memory, a non-stop assault that finds that fine line between crowd-pleasing and shit-your-pants terrifying. Fede Alvarez already showed horror fans that he wasn’t kidding around with his vicious 2013 Evil Dead remake, but Don’t Breathe is his and his alone, proof that his brand of intensity can operate when removed from a beloved franchise. [Full Review]
Don’t Think Twice
This is the world of Mike Birbiglia‘s Don’t Think Twice, a thoughtful comedy tinged with both melancholy and hope. Set within the New York City improv comedy scene, Birbiglia’s sophomore effort as a director captures the joy of creation and the agony of creative stagnation – anyone who has ever struggled to make something will laugh and cry and find a great deal of the film hitting very close to home. [Full Review]
Everybody Wants Some
Everybody Wants Some has been billed as the spiritual sequel to Richard Linklater’s 1993 masterpiece Dazed and Confused and that is not inaccurate. While that film explored the last day of high school in 1976, this film throws us into the first days of college in 1980. Both films care more about character and connection more than dramatic incident and both feel like time capsules. Linklater deftly sidesteps straightforward nostalgia, presenting a vision of the past that is warm without being worshipful. The film is as immersive as any science-fiction or fantasy film – this unnamed Texas town and its unnamed university are so detailed and rich that you can get lost in them. By inviting you into the intimate lives of these characters, Linklater asks to live amongst them and inhabit their world. [Full review]
Hardcore Henry looks and feels more like a video game than any other movie ever made, but there are uncomfortable hiccups in bringing this language to the big screen. Some of the worst aspects of gamer culture are on display here, from cringeworthy comedy that feels like it could be generated by a pimple-faced preteen on the other end of an Xbox headset to the film’s rather unfortunate depiction of women (they’re dumb strippers at best and a Gamergate talking point at worst). There’s little room for nuance in this movie, which goes from zero to one hundred in the first ten minutes before breaking the sound barrier during the all-bets-are-off climax. During its lowest moments, Hardcore Henry stops feeling like Crank and starts feeling (rather appropriately) like Gamer. There are attempts at Paul Verhoeven-esque cheekiness that don’t quite land – if RoboCop is a symphony, Hardcore Henry is a grimy punk rock show put on by a guy who hasn’t quite mastered his instrument. [Full Review]
I Am Not a Serial Killer
A lot of movies bend over backwards to feel like a long-lost horror film from the ’70s or ’80s, but I Am Not a Serial Killer makes it look effortless. Director Billy O’Brien has crafted a thriller that feels like it walked out of another decade without ever calling attention to itself, which a refreshing feat indeed. The film is more than its subtly out-of-time style, though. As a young sociopath who constantly fights his homicidal tendencies, Max Records anchors the film, taking a character who could have been “Dexter Jr.” and making him his own. As the seemingly supernatural murderer who is menacing the area, Christopher Lloyd reminds us why he’s a national treasure. There is nothing slick here – just good ‘ol fashioned meat and potatoes genre storytelling, part mystery and part feature feature. It’s a fine, bloody little meal.