Fantastic Fest '18 Capsule Reviews: HALLOWEEN Stuns, APOSTLE Is A Winner In Days One And Two

Last year’s disturbing revelations about Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest left me and countless others heartbroken and furious. The leadership’s failure to create a safe space for women and hold men accountable for their predatory actions is not easily forgiven. The new code of conduct and female-led board of directors has many of us feeling cautiously optimistic about the possibility of meaningful change, but only time will tell whether or not these institutions will continue the hard, necessary work of dismantling the boys’ club mentality that persisted unchallenged until recently. 

For now, though, we are all here to find a way forward and celebrate genre film. In that spirit, I will be giving regular updates on the best and bloodiest films the festival has to offer, starting with the most eagerly anticipated horror release of the year.

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Halloween

All of the excitement leading up to this film’s release carries with it a little bit of trepidation. It’s essentially The Force Awakens for a certain breed of weirdo, and we’ve all been praying that it wouldn’t let us down. So it’s a great pleasure to report that this thing fucking rules.

Director/co-writer David Gordon Green and company have delivered a worthy successor to the original, filled with visual nods to Carpenter’s film, gorgeous and suspenseful widescreen cinematography, and humor that lands without breaking the tone. Carpenter’s new score doesn’t disappoint either; while it’s not exactly brimming with new ideas, it also doesn’t contain a single false note.

Unsurprisingly, Jamie Lee Curtis shines brightest, balancing badassery with emotion to sell a resonant story about the lasting impact of trauma. This film does better service to Laurie Strode than any before it, and will almost certainly be recognized as the best sequel in the franchise.


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In Fabric

Peter Strickland’s loopy killer dress movie is his third to play at Fantastic Fest, after Duke of Burgundy and Berberian Sound Studio. Like those excellent films, In Fabric is light on plot and heavy on delirious imagery. It’s the least focused of the three, bifurcated into two separate stories and taking on a number of complex subjects such as fashion, consumerism, corporate culture, gender, and sexuality. But while it may fail to tie all of its ideas together in a satisfying way, it makes up for this in sheer entertainment value.

This is Strickland’s funniest film by a mile, with over-the-top satirical dialogue and ludicrous horror sequences that fully embrace the silliness of the premise. There’s a particularly jaw-dropping scene involving a mannequin that must be seen to be believed. It’s refreshing to see the director cutting loose and having so much fun while maintaining his unique voice.

Between the oddball humor, the aesthetic mastery, and a standout performance from Marianne Jean-Baptiste, any flaws here are easy to forgive. Anyone who has enjoyed Strickland’s previous work should have no trouble surrendering to the pleasures of In Fabric.





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Tumbbad

If you are expecting songs and dancing from an Indian genre film, check those expectations at the door. This is a horrific saga of one family’s interactions with a cursed deity spanning three decades in the first half of the 20th century. It draws from folklore and Indian history for a tale about how sin and vice reverberate across generations.

There is much to admire about Tumbbad. The cinematography and design are impressive, the scares are effective, and the story remains involving even when it jumps forward by more than a decade. Unfortunately, the movie also has something of an identity crisis; it can’t decide whether it wants to be a fable or a complex social drama. The epigraph is a quotation from Mahatma Gandhi about the evils of greed, and the broad strokes of the plot point toward a straightforward, moralistic reading. But the thematic waters are muddied by a number of scenes about British colonialism, Indian independence, gender, tradition, and spousal rape (with that last one feeling particularly unnecessary and poorly handled). 

Still, it is exciting to see such an accomplished and serious-minded horror film come from a country not known for producing such things. With any luck, there will be many more to come.






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Apostle

Gareth Evans had his work cut out for him following up The Raid and The Raid 2, so it was probably wise of him to confound expectations with this Edwardian period piece about a haunted man’s attempt to rescue his sister from a dangerous cult. This is Evans’ entry into the small but prestigious canon of British folk horror films like The Wicker Man and The Blood on Satan’s Claw, and it handily earns its place alongside those classics.

There are some welcome splashes of Evans’ signature action, but Apostle mostly traffics in creeping dread and pagan nightmare imagery. All of this is presented exquisitely, and anchored by stellar performances from Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, and Mark Lewis Jones.

For something set in 1905, this movie is also timely as hell, using its simple story to explore zealotry, human exploitation of the natural world, and the toxic male desire to possess and control women. Apostle proves that Evans is no one-trick pony, and we should all be paying attention to whatever he does next.

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Dachra

The first horror film ever made in Tunisia follows a trio of journalism students whose investigative report on a mental patient leads them to a tiny, isolated village where something sinister is afoot.

The film is about half an hour too long for its own good, and at times can be kind of a slog. But once it pumps the gas in the final act, Dachra delivers with gusto. We are rewarded for our patience with some insane gore, a top-notch creepy kid, and taboo-shattering sequence that ranks among the most fucked up things I’ve seen in my seven years attending this festival.

Dachra is wildly uneven, but it’s a promising debut for writer/director Abdelhamid Bouchnak and a noteworthy development in world cinema. Faulting it too harshly for its missteps would be failing to see the witch-filled forest for the trees.