Friday, September 22, 2017

2017 Sitges Film Festival--50th edition and Excited for What's on Offer

While I've been lucky enough to attend Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival over the last four years, this year, 2017, I'm fortunate to be traveling to Barcelona (the seaside town of Sitges, specifically) this year for the Sitges Film Festival, one of the most prestigious and exciting horror and fantasy film festivals in the world.  So I intend to work on my Catalan and get pumped for some things that I will see here first, with one of the most densely packed and exciting schedules and screenings at 5 different venues, this festival will be intense.  Here's a taste of my excitement:

A Haunting Image from Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water (2017)
Guillermo del Toro is a true cinematic visionary, and a notorious horror geek as well.  With films like The Devil's Backbone (2001), to Pan's Labyrinth (2006), to the more recent Crimson Peak (2015), he knows how to build worlds and craft visions of gorgeous dread.  His new film will be screening several times at Sitges, way ahead of its December release date in the U.S., and frankly, why wait when I can see it with a slew of devoted fans at Sitges?  The trailer teases equal parts mystery, creature feature, romance, and quirk.  Looks like cinematic magic.

A Haunted Heroine in a Menacing Home--Turkish Director Can Evrenol's Housewife (2017)
I haven't yet had the pleasure of watching Evrenol's much talked about feature debut, Baskin (2015), but satanic gore orgies are not always my go-to film.  Still, the reviews of his first film speak to a daring new voice in horror, and his latest film, Housewife, is completely the type of film that attracts me.  A female heroine who may be encountering supernatural elements, or may be graced with madness?  Love it!  The film's trailer is riddled with gorgeous images and a very unsettling atmosphere.

Birdie's imaginative life in the convent is captured in Elizabeth Schuch's The Book of Birdie (2017)
In my continuous quest to see as many women-directed (horror) films as I can, I stumbled upon Elizabeth Schuch's The Book of Birdie, a tale of a young convent girl troubled by hallucinations who becomes infatuated with another girl who works at the convent.  With images like the one above, and the ones in the trailer, I'm hoping that Schuch will be an exciting new discovery.

Jaume Balaguero's latest film Muse (2017) shines as a riveting example of Spanish gothic horror
I've been a fan of Jaume Balaguero's work early on.  I'm an admirer of The Nameless (1999), Darkness (2001) and Fragile (2005), and the REC series is pretty awesome.  So when I saw that he's premiering his latest film at Sitges--Yes!!  Looking at the Spanish teaser, mysteries abound along with plenty of atmospheric dread.

The desert landscape houses the cannibalistic and brutal in Ana Lily Amirpour's The Bad Batch (2016)
Another woman director's latest outing, Ana Lily Amirpour's The Bad Batch (2016) has received mixed reviews, and looks quite different from her breakout film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014).  Cannibalism seems to be the hot topic with female directors these days (see Julia Ducournau's Raw (2016)).  I like her idiosyncratic style, and Jason Momoa and Keanu Reeves do not hurt the film's appeal either.  The trailer definitely hints at a distinctive world.  Yes, I can watch it in the U.S. now, but Sitges is hosting a Q & A with the director, so I think it's definitely worth the wait.

A couple live unhappily ever after in Aik Karapetian's latest feature Firstborn (2017)
Latvian director Aik Karapetian may not be someone with whom everyone is familiar, but hopefully that status will soon change.  I first encountered Karapetian when I watched The Man in the Orange Jacket (2014) at Fantasia a few years ago. I thought his film was visually inventive and arresting, but had some rather unfortunate final girl plotting.  Nevertheless, I'm eager to see what he's doing lately, and the trailer hints at some unsettling domestic menace.  Seems like another finely wrought study of the perils of masculinity too.

Guillermo Amoedo's El Habitante (2017) looks to have some fine female performances
I'm unfamiliar with Mexican director Guillermo Amoedo, but he seems to be buds with the nefarious Eli Roth, having written the screenplays for both The Green Inferno (2013) and Knock Knock (2015).  I've decided not to hold those credits against him, because the trailer for his latest film, on which he is the director, is pretty damn compelling.  Some of the best films I've seen are ones about which I know nothing, so I'm definitely intrigued by the film's possibilities.

Coralie Fargeat's Revenge (2017) gives us a female directed rape revenge shocker
Unsurprisingly, rape revenge is not one of my favorite go-to horror subgenres, usually because there's so much graphic sexual assault, I have a hard time even caring about the vengeance part, I'm so traumatized.  Yet, I'm always looking for a woman-directed example that might settle the score.  Coralie Fargeat's Revenge (2017) premiered at TIFF this year, and the review from The Hollywood Reporter has a great tag line: "Debuting French writer-director Coralie Fargeat goes the full grindhouse with flair, channeling a female gaze and a wicked sense of humor into a rape payback thriller that churns a river of blood." David Rooney claims that the film has a "feminist sensibility," so I'll have to see if I agree with his take.

A queer young woman manifests supernatural powers in Joachim Trier's Thelma (2017)
I've seen a few too many queer monster/romances done wrong, but I'm still a sucker for a Norwegian spook story with a young telekinetic woman at its center.  The visuals from the trailer are so arresting (what is the deal with the eels, though), that I'm excited to give Joachim Trier's Thelma (2017) a try.  Hopefully, the film won't reiterate some of the most egregious "queer female monster" scenarios (I'm looking at you, Replace).

15th Century supernatural shenanigans in Lukas Feigelfeld's debut Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse (2017)
While I wasn't in love with Robert Eggers The Witch (2015), I appreciated its zeal for period detail.  I'm more inclined toward a visionary journey like Rainer Sarnet's mysterious and evocative November (2017), which I screened (and really enjoyed) this summer at Fantasia.  Here's hoping that Lukas Feigelfeld's Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse (2017) skews more toward the latter's imaginative imagery and dark fairy tale focus.  OOOh, Fantastic Fest just gave the film a terrific review and the trailer just dropped!

Maude experiences a waking nightmare searching for her twin in Luke Shanahan's Rabbit (2017)
Any synopsis that begins with "after waking from a vivid dream" provides my first clue that the film will blur that lovely line between dream and waking life, the "real" and the nightmare.  The trailer for Luke Shanahan's Rabbit (2017) suggests a woman's struggle to make sense of her troubled life, pointedly focused on her point-of-view and subjective experiences.  A must-see for my taste in horror.

Alice is the subject of her Dad's experiments in Sadrac González-Perellón's Black Hollow Cage (2017)
Another possible new discovery at Sitges, Black Hollow Cage's trailer made me immediately take notice.  An ominous soundtrack underlies the tale of poor Alice, stuck in the woods with her Dad until some other kids show up, and then things get nuts.  When is sequestering your disabled daughter and then shifting your attention to some other kids ever a good idea??  Potential evil children mayhem right here!!

Seth A. Smith's The Crescent (2017) centers on the subjectivity of a toddler
Premiering at TIFF to great acclaim, Seth A. Smith's The Crescent (2017) sounds utterly unique and enticing, and the trailer is a masterpiece of mood and atmosphere.  Frankly, the paintings that Mom creates are so mesmerizing, I could just watch a film centering on those images.  Word is out that this film offers much, and I've been fixed on seeing it ever since its positive reception in Toronto.

Beyond excited to see Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani latest Let the Corpses Tan (2017)
As far as I'm concerned, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have yet to misstep.  Amer (2009) and The Strange Color of Your Bodies Tears (2013) are both brilliant and gorgeous, and I have been awaiting their newest film, Let the Corpses Tan (2017) for what feels like forever.  Thank you, Sitges, for playing this film this year.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  The trailer displays their characteristic sumptuous cinematography nestled in a retro mood piece, and I'm certain I'll love this film.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa tries his hand at the alien invasion genre in Before We Vanish (2017)
I do still long for the J-horror of the olden days, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse (2001) is one of my favorites.  I genuinely liked and was (appropriately) creeped out by Creepy (2016) last year, so I'm always ready for another Kurosawa sinister scare.  Before We Vanish's trailer looks great, sans the overly melodramatic music--which makes me fear that this film might be trying for a "star-crossed" alien love story.  Still, the film looks to have enough violence and irreverent humor to balance out the sentimental, and I'm eager to give it a try.

Angel Gonzalez's Compulsion (2017) looks to be a cautionary tale on the perils of jealousy
Quite clearly, the place to see Spanish language horror and thrillers is Sitges, and so Angel Gonzalez's Compulsion (2017) made it to my list, with a trailer that suggests that in Spanish horror, women continue to make the worst relationship choices....and that men, on the whole, suck.  I hope the film's heroine develops some much needed agency.

Irish twins, a haunted house, and ghosts delight in Brian O'Malley's The Lodgers (2017)

1920s rural Ireland, and twins residing in a haunted, crumbling estate--really, could any film be more tailor made to my specific tastes?  I haven't seen O'Malley's previous effort, Let Us Prey (2014), but The Lodgers (2017) looks so incredibly gorgeous, I had a difficult time choosing one image for this post.  Since this film is the gala closing night film, I might not get in, but fingers crossed that I get to see this luscious work at Sitges.

I had to be choosy when it came to the films that I decided to screen, since there are so many offerings at 5 different venues, some all night long (oh to be staying next door rather than taking the train from Barcelona).  Thankfully, I saw some films at Fantasia this summer, so I could focus on specific Sitges screenings, but I'm so tempted to see some of my favorites again, especially the 4K remastering of Argento's Suspiria--one of the best cinematic experiences I have ever had, and I've seen many films.  I'll be back with more in a couple of weeks!!