Fantastic Fest 2015: Day Five

Day five gave us: the surreal German black comedy Der Bunker; the Emma Roberts horror vehicle February; Schneider vs. Bax, the latest from Borgman director Alex van Warmerdam; the French remake of Mario Bava’s crime drama Rabid Dogs; and more!

February (U.S.A.; Osgood Perkins, 2015)

If your reaction to these Fantastic Fest writeups has been “That’s great, Lackey, but what about the horror?” then grind your teeth no more: Oz Perkins delivers the goods with this atmospheric, wintry horror. Kiernan Shipka (Legend of Korra) and Lucy Boynton deliver two of the best performances of the festival as two teens stuck at their posh private boarding school over a winter break, while Emma Roberts shines in a parallel story about a young woman hitching a ride with James Reman (Dexter) and Lauren Holly.

Perkins communicates his vision with such skill and clarity it’s almost impossible to believe that this is his first directorial effort of any kind. The script proves that it’s not necessary to devise entirely new subgenres in order to feel fresh and original; the big twist is pretty obvious, you’re supposed to figure it out during the second act, but the finished project hinges on a second twist, small and subtle, that drives February into territory I’ve never seen explored by this particular subgenre. The score is also a big plus, one of the most genuinely scary slabs of music I’ve ever heard.

Bottom line, February is this quarter’s equivalent of The Babadook or It Follows–the horror movie everyone will be talking about when it hits wider release.

Schneider vs. Bax (Netherlands; Alex van Warmerdam, 2015)

Alex van Warmerdam’s follow-up to the surrealist mindfuck Borgman has disappointed many by being largely straightforward and conventional. I actually prefer it. A crime drama focusing on rival contract killers played by Tom Dewispelaere and van Warmerdam (the title characters, respectively), it develops a coherent, satisfying narrative less pretentious than its predecessor’s without sacrificing offbeat dark humor.

The best scenes come not from Schneider and Bax’s attempts to kill each other, but from their personal relationships. Dewispelaere exudes cranky charm as an assassin, saddled with an aging prostitute he was forced to rescue from her abusive pimp, trying to juggle his work with his family life (including two young daughters). Meanwhile, Van Warmerdam has his own family drama to deal with, including an embittered jilted ex, a depressed daughter, and a lecherous dad.

It’s all great fun–just don’t go in expecting it to be like Borgman, and you’ll be fine.

Short film: The Champ (Fabian Velasco, 2015)

This fun short, the tale of a prizefighter on death row facing his final desperate fight, serves as a meditation on the fulity of ego and the empemeral nature of accomplishment. Or something like that. Final scene’s a dilly.

Der Bunker (Germany; Nikias Chryssos, 2015)

Earlier this year, Pit Bukowski conducted a masterclass in the science of scene-stealing in Der Samurai, but now it’s his turn to find himself upstage in Nikias Chryssos’s dark, dark comedy Der Bunker. Bukowski stars as a nameless physics student searching for a quiet, secluded place to perform his work; he rents a room in an underground bunker from pretentious, insecure David Scheller and smothering Oona von Maydell.

But it’s when his landlords press him into service as tutors for their sheltered, dense son that things get really weird. The kid consistently claims to be eight, but he’s played by Daniel Fripan, an actor obviously in his thirties. (Bukowski notices an age discrepancy, but neither actor is old enough to be Fripan’s parent; indeed, he’s actually older than Von Maydell.) This is Fripan’s show, and he turns in the performance of a lifetime.

But the real star of the film is Chryssos, who delivers his feature debut with fierce confidence, ready wit, and scathing insight. This is exactly what it’s like to not be taken seriously by your elders. (not that I would know from personal experience…)

Rabid Dogs (France; Éric Hanezzo, 2015)

This bleak crime drama might be a remake of one of Mario Bava’s last films, but it’s also so French I’m actually shocked that Luc Besson wasn’t involved in making it. A tense tale following a trio of bank-robbers (Guillaume Gouix, Franck Gastambide, François Arnaud) and their hostages (Lambert Wilson, Virginie Ledoyen), it meanders a bit (particularly in the third act) and breaks no new ground, but it does at least deliver a few surprises, and Gouix, Wilson, and Ledoyen are fantastic. It is a pity, though, that the filmmakers couldn’t find more for Lambert Lucas (Calvaire, Alléluia) to do.

Top five movies of the festival

As of the end of day five:

  1. Green Room (day 2)
  2. High-Rise (day 3)
  3. Der Bunker (day 5)
  4. February (day 5)
  5. Evolution (day 4)

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