Not only are the SXSW programmers an astute bunch of film enthusiasts who scour the globe for the finest in independent cinema … they also really dig horror flicks.
Of course you’ll always find a solid batch of scary, suspenseful movies tucked away in the “Midnight” section (every good film festival has some sort of “midnight” slate), but South By Southwest is well-known for slipping quality genre films into other sections as well. Bottom line is that, of all the “mainstream” film festivals out there, SXSW is one of the best at making horror fans happy.
And here are just a few of this year’s creepy winners.
If you dig movies best described as “genre mash-ups,” then there’s very little chance you’ll be disappointed in the slick, twisted, and very energetic Upgrade (in theaters June 1). Directed by Leigh Whannell (co-creator of Saw, Insidious, and lots more) with a whole lot of zing, it’s sort of like a tragic film noir combined with dashes of Blade Runner, RoboCop, and Death Wish. The flick is more sci-fi/action than full-bore horror, but there are certainly several themes, jolts, and gory kills that’ll keep the genre fans happy.
For something a bit more old-fashioned — and I mean that as a compliment — you can look to a great new chiller called A Quiet Place (in theaters April 6). Co-written and directed by the lovable John Krasinski, and featuring his wife Emily Blunt in a powerhouse performance, it’s about a family who must struggle to remain completely silent after the planet (?) is invaded by a race of monsters that kill anything they hear. This is a fantastic blend of old-school “old dark house” chills and a few small doses of well-crafted gruesome stuff. This flick will play like absolute gangbusters in a crowded theater — provided everyone remembers to keep super quiet.
From slightly old-school to decidedly high-tech, modern, and enjoyably geeky: Unfriended: Dark Web (release TBA) refreshes the “first-person computer monitor” perspective we (mostly) enjoyed in thrillers like Unfriended, The Den, and Open Windows, only this time we’re focused on six friends who meet online for a “game night.” Unfortunately, one of the players is working from a stolen laptop, and inside that stolen laptop is a secret entrance to the deepest parts of the “dark web.” The movie is half clever, half ridiculous, surprisingly gruesome, and slickly entertaining.
Switching back to the comfortably old-fashioned approach we have the absolutely fantastic Ghost Stories (U.S. release TBA), a British anthology that’s equal parts Amicus anthology and Charles Dickens. Andy Nyman stars as a professional skeptic who is tasked with solving three supernatural mysteries while struggling with a few creepy skeletons of his own. Based on the long-running stage play, Ghost Stories is as literate and subversive as it is plain old eerie fun.
And while the 1980s may not be as old-school as some of the homages mentioned above, there’s something irresistably amusing about the scrappy slasher throwback known as The Ranger (release TBA). Eschewing broad humor for sly wit, director Jen Wexler manages to emulate the slasher classics without ever getting silly about it. Toss in some strong performances from our leading lady and central psycho — not to mention several kick-ass punk tunes — and you’ve got a post-modern splatter flick that most horror fans should appreciate.
P.S. I also saw Hereditary, which is pretty damn excellent. Snider wouldn’t let me write about it because he already talked about it here.