Not actually being at SXSW in person meant I relied on whatever was hosted on the press library viewing platform. A few features, a few documentaries (see previous) and a bunch of shorts. Not as many as the Covid years. Next year I’m either there or nowhere. I presume the online library cupboard will be even more bare now the pandemic is in the rear-view (?) In lieu of full reviews for films that are probably pretty difficult to get to see outside the festival circuit what follows are my viewing notes for 12 of the films I watched.
Dead Enders (
written and directed by Fidel Ruiz-Healy.
Drilling in the Texas badlands disturbs some giant killer bugs. A creature feature. Hints of Invasion of The Body Snatchers, Alien and Naked Lunch with the tone of an Alex Cox film. A lot of fun. Great practical monster effects. Stoner comedy. Looks great - cinematography by Conor Murphy. Skarlett Redd is excellent as the gas station attendant so locked into her dead end job it takes a bug invasion to shake her out of it.
The Mundanes (
written and directed by Nicole Daddona, Adam Wilder.
Blank faces. Voice over like 1950s advert/ public information film. Wife irons a rubber face mask. Cooking up man meat. Says more about consumerism, identity etc etc in 4 minutes than Don’t Worry Darling managed in 2 hours (and the blank faced cast have more on screen charisma than Harry Styles).
Pennies From Heaven (
directed by Sandy Honig
Twins based comedy. Very broad. And LOUD. Some of the visual gags (e.g. waitress in an “I Hate My Job” t-shirt) are much funnier than the over-goofy script and exaggerated performances. It’s a bit like having jokes shouted at you for 10 minutes. Stars actual twins (leads Sabina Meschke and Annabel Meschke (who also wrote it) but other twins too). [NOTE: This won a Special Jury Award so what do I know?]
We Forgot About The Zombies (
written and directed by Chris McInroy
Simple set-up. One gag repeated in variation over and over. Fast paced. Cartoonish. Winningly amateurish SFX. Looney Tunes type transformations as if the Acme Corporation had provided an anti-zombie vaccine.
Vibrator Girl (
directed by Kara Strait
Body horror. Body dysmorphia. Disturbing. Called to mind OneTaste (the orgasm cult) or some hint of the toxicity of parts of the “wellness” industry. Good lead performance by Zoe Mintz. Really nicely designed. The colour blue repeats throughout. Let down a touch by seeing camera in the mirror in a couple of shots which manages to break the spell its working hard to achieve.
directed by Javier Devitt
Another body horror. Body dysmorphia. A mental health call-line. Lead (Alena Chinault v good) has an endless string/hair growing from her eye. Confrontation at a mysterious eye solutions office. Very effective final scene calls to mind those creepy Japanese horror films. [NOTE: The poster, designed by the director won the SXSW Film Design Award]
Every House Is Haunted (
Written and directed by Bryce McGuire
Young couple move into a rundown house and the woman starts seeing ghosts that the husband doesn’t. The ghosts pay her more attention than her partner (who seems okay but just a little boring) and she is fine with that. Great reveal at the end. Very strong performance by Kate Cobb.
Never Fuggedaboutit (
written and directed by Dustin Waldman
Post 9/11 and a production house are tasked with editing out a shot of the Twin Towers in the opening credit sequence of The Sopranos. The editor sees this as a betrayal of the USA and edits in shots of the US flag and more stock footage Americana. The script needed to be a lot tighter and it’s fatally undercut by a last minute overheard gag from the actual Sopranos (when Bobby "Bacala" Baccalieri mistakes Nostradamus for Quasimodo) that is 100x funnier than anything we just saw.
The Breakthrough (
written and directed by Daniel Sinclair
Marriage guidance comedy. Has a couple of great gags thrown around by the bickering pair (Greta Lee, Ben Sinclair both good). The accidental death/murder of their therapist brings them together. Get the feeling it could’ve got more mileage for a comedy from the two having to dispose of the body but its far stronger with the verbal comedy rather than with the physical (where it falls a touch flat).
Sisters of the Rotation (
Written and directed by The Zarazir Brothers
A Lebanese film. A convent are in seemingly perpetual conflict with some nearby orthodox priests. The nuns believe they must continue to make a large wheel turn else the world will stop spinning. A comedy. Has a touch of the Monty Python about it though also (I guess) speaks of interpretation and intolerance.
Fuck Me, Richard (
Written and directed by Lucy McKendrick
Great work all around from Lucy McKendrick who also stars in this reverse catfishing drama/comedy. Opens with a clip from Brief Encounter and then moves on to a much more modern affair. A woman is struck at home after an operation and she starts a long distance relationship with a man she meets on an app. Great script which paces the reveals perfectly. In fact, for a short, the callbacks and the twists work exceptionally well. Also the set design/ costume are fantastic.
I Probably Shouldn't Be Telling You This (
Written and directed by Emma Weinswig
Minna is a guest on Frank’s bigtime podcast. She’s oversharing and self-deprecating. He’s a caring/sharing/supportive type but underneath everything are layers of confusion. They are both incredibly irritating though I’m not sure if that’s part of the point. Alexis G. Zall (Minna) is a successful youtuber/ social media character. David Levi (Frank) seems to have been an actor and boy band star. Maybe a bit like the job title Venn diagram of being a member of S Club 7 or The Monkees. There should probably be some sexual tension (particularly in how the film ends) but there is zero.
All films screened at SXSW Film.
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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