Austin, Texas is an impressive city when it comes to the Arts. Every (non-pandemic) March, SXSW takes over downtown with exclusive film premieres and music showcases from up-and-coming performers hoping to catch that big break. The first two weekends of October you’ll find established music artists taking the stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival (October 7-9 and 14-16, this year).
One Austin event that is known to cinephiles across the globe but may be less familiar to casual film fans is Fantastic Fest which is held annually during the last week of September at the Alamo Drafthouse theater on Lamar Avenue. Fantastic Fest is one of the best genre film festivals in the world, gathering a jaw-dropping collection of horror, action, crime, sci-fi and arthouse cinema from every country imaginable. Fantastic Fest typically offers some of the most buzzed about genre films that played Cannes, Telluride, Venice and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) earlier in the year mixed with a giant helping of lesser-known gems.
Curation runs deep at Fantastic Fest. I’ve seen remarkable films in years past that still haven’t found mainstream distribution in the United States. So, if you can make it to Austin, Texas from September 22nd to 29th, grab some ribs at Stubb’s BBQ, have a drink at The Highball and settle in for an eclectic line-up of films and guests that never fails to impress. If you can’t make the pilgrimage during the in-person fest, check out Fantastic Fest @ Home which runs from September 29 to October 4 and watch some of the highlights of the festival from your sofa.
Here are some likely highlights for the 2022 edition of the festival:
The Banshees of Inisherin: This new film from writer-director Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) reunites actors Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell from McDonagh’s 2008 dark comedy In Bruges. I can’t provide any kind of plot synopsis for this one because I’m going in completely blind. I don’t want to know anything about Banshees until the house lights dim. I was not a fan of Three Billboards (at all), but the caliber of talent involved in Banshees puts it high on my list for Fantastic Fest 2022 nonetheless.
Bones and All: This film has a horror premise (cannibalism), but comes from the director-actor team that brought us Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino and Timothee Chalamet). I still don’t understand the extent of Chalamet’s appeal, but his projects are always interesting. This film received raves following its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. There can be a bit of a disconnect between European arthouse audiences and the American arthouse crowd, but reserve me a seat for this one so I can decide for myself.
Decision to Leave: Park Chan-wook, the auteur behind Oldboy, Stoker and The Handmaiden, will be in the house to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award following the screening of this newest film. Decision to Leave is one of the most buzzed about films on the festival circuit. A stylish romantic noir from one of the most stylish filmmakers around? Yes, please. If ever there was a filmmaker whose visual flourishes demand to be seen on the biggest screen possible, it’s Park Chan-wook. And, did I mention he’s going to be there for a post-screening Q&A?
Piggy: This was one of my favorite films out of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Sara (Laura Galan) is an overweight young woman whose family runs the local butcher shop. She suffers horribly at the hands of the popular girls in her village, finding herself the target of one mean-spirited comment or prank after another. (It doesn’t help matters when the overweight girl’s family sells food for a living).
One day as Sara is walking home through the woods, she spies a kidnapping in progress. A couple of her classmates are being hauled away in the back of a van in a state of panic. What does Sara do? Nothing. Perhaps she thinks the enemy of her enemies is her friend. Piggy is a suspenseful thriller while simultaneously exploring what it would be like if the “picked upon” could get a measure of passive revenge against her bullies by simply remaining silent.
Piggy is far more complex than this simple synopsis, but I don’t want to spoil this darkly comedic thriller by revealing anymore of the narrative. If my schedule allows, I hope to make time for an encore viewing on the big screen. If you haven’t seen Piggy at all, it should be on your roster for the festival.
The Secret Screenings: Fantastic Fest is known for their annual tradition of surprising audiences with a major title or two that remains a secret until the curtains literally part for the screening itself. Speculation runs rampant during the festival every year. If you’re new to the festival, a great conversation starter is: So what do you think the Secret Screenings will be this year?
Social media always explodes seconds before cell phones are silenced for the film as fans frantically tweet and post when the film is announced. 2022 Secret Screening candidates range from Halloween Ends, the new Hellraiser reboot, and Glass Onion (the sequel to Knives Out) to highly-anticipated arthouse fare like Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, The Whale, and Empire of Light. Those films form my personal pool of possibilities, so my predictions (of sorts) are now officially on the record.
The Guests: I spent my first few years at Fantastic Fest trying to guess what their budget was for flying in filmmakers, actors, producers, etc. for the post-screening Q&A’s and meet-and-greet parties. During the first half of the festival, it’s almost a given that talent behind and in front of the camera will be on hand to help introduce the film and answer questions following the screening.
Over the past few years, Fantastic Fest has hosted Bong Joon-Ho (Parasite), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Armando Iannucci (The Death of Stalin), Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game), and Edgar Wright (Last Night in Soho), just to name the ones I’ve personally met. If you’re interested in celebrity selfies and meeting the creatives behind the films, don’t miss the first half of the festival because that’s when the house tends to be packed with filmmakers. A Second Half badge is an affordable way to go if you simply want to pack your schedule with great films. If you want to rub elbows with stars, focus on the first half of the fest.
The Vibe: Of the “boots on the ground” festivals that I attend each year (as opposed to virtual fests), Fantastic Fest is always my favorite just because of its vibe. It’s less “Hollywood” and industry than the other fall film festivals. There aren’t too many places where you’re walking down the hallway and bump into Taika Waititi (JoJo Rabbit) and strike up a casual conversation. I’ve also found that the overall Film IQ of the audience is extremely high, so if you enjoy talking about Asian horror films from the 1990’s, you’re going to feel right at home. It’s like being a native speaker of Portuguese and finding a place where they only speak Portuguese for a week.
After committing more than 1200 words to the Fantastic Fest experience, it’s evident that I’m a huge fan of this festival and the programmers who run it. Stay tuned to this website for reviews of individual films from the 2022 line-up as well as some recommendations for the Fantastic Fest @ Home portion of the programming. Badges of all types can be found at 2022.fantasticfest.com/passes/buy.