Everything We Saw at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival

in a valley of violence review

In a Valley of Violence

Ti West and his cast and crew have composed a love letter to a specific kind of schlock and the results are just plain weird. The big performances, the straightforward plot, and the gory violence of the climax all feel like familiar seasonings in a big bowl of spaghetti western – we’re just not used to seeing these elements in play today, where the average western tends to bend over backwards toward respectability. In a Valley of Violence is at its best when it’s being funny and it can be really, really funny. When the film reaches its climax and the blood starts to gush and the familiar story goes off the rails in a spectacular fashion, you can really see what West was going for. This is more pastiche than parody, which makes the humor harder to pin down. The film wants you to smirk at every scene, even as the the excellent musical score reminds you of other, better films in the genre. [Full Review]

jack goes home

Jack Goes Home

Although it gets points for sheer ambition, Jack Goes Home is a scattered and messy, a psychological horror film that shoots for the moon but fails to achieve lift-off under the weight of its own ideas. Writer/director Thomas Dekker begins with a simple premise: Jack (Rory Culkin) goes home after the death of his father and things get really weird as he uncovers dark and horrifying secrets about his family. But the film is unfocused, unsure of what it wants to be and throwing dozens of concepts at the wall to see what sticks. Jack Goes Home is intense, but it isn’t fun and it’s rarely interesting. The sheer nerve on display is impressive, but it’s not enough to overcome messy storytelling and eye-rolling twists. However, Lin Shaye brings some serious crazy to the table as Jack’s unhinged mother and that’s the gift that keeps on giving.

keanu movie

Keanu

Not every film needs to be a masterpiece and Keanu is a perfectly fine comedy filled with inspired gags and huge laughs and The Cutest Goddamn Kitten You’ve Ever Seen. This is crowdpleaser and it goes down easy enough. Even when it bogs down, it’s a pleasant, amusing watch. Unfortunately, the most disappointed people in the audience may be hardcore Key & Peele fans – there are individual sketches from that show that offer more to chew on and consider than the entirety of this film. [Full Review]

midnight special trailer

Midnight Special

This mystery is awesome in the traditional sense of the word. The Spielberg comparisons, the Amblin comparison, are easy to make, but Jeff Nichols proves himself adept at creating moments of wonder that leave characters awestruck, their mouths hanging open in amazement. Midnight Special is filled with visual effects, but it is the cast who sells them. It is one thing to show us something incredible, but it is another thing altogether to let the sight render a character speechless, to communicate genuine awe through performance. He allows his characters to be mesmerized and, in turn, we are allowed to be mesmerized alongside them. [Full Review]

Pee-wee's Big Holiday teaser

Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday

Available on Netflix right now, Paul Reubens‘ grand return to his most famous character is a joyous experience. Constructed with utmost care and wry wit by Reubens, co-writer Paul Rust and director John Lee, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is charming and sweet and totally innocent, wringing big laughs from easygoing slapstick and silly wordplay. It’s not quite Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (how could it be?), but this is a more than worthy sequel and a reminder that Pee-Wee Herman is one of the great comedic characters of the past few decades. And credit where credit is due: Lee and Rust place Reubens in all kinds of inspired comedic predicaments. Each set piece is special and each wacky character Pee-Wee meets is a special kind of bizarre. Bonus: Joe Manganiello steals the movie, showcasing a sweetness silliness that other movies need to start tapping into ASAP.

pet review

Pet

Jeremy Slater‘s screenplay is smart stuff, preying on our pre-existing horror movie knowledge to take us off guard whenever possible. Pet is more than its various twists and turns, though. That we feel sympathy for the two lead characters, that we like them and loathe them in the same scene, makes it a gleefully uncomfortable experience. The extended dialogue scenes, as each character attempts to justify their actions to the other, are appropriately squirmy. [Full Review]

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About the Author

Jacob Hall is the managing editor of /Film, with previous bylines all over the Internet. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, his pets, and his board game collection.