SXSW may have closed its doors for the year but its films are still resonating. It was a great showcase this year with films like Baby Driver from Edgar Wright, which has had it’s release date recently moved up after a dazzling reception. Will next year top this year’s festival? That remains to be seen, but with summer movie season kicking off, these are the best films I had the pleasure of watching.
This Finnish import is a twisty, horror thriller that echoes I Know What You Did Last Summer and Cabin Fever, but does it smartly with impressive camera work and nail-biting suspense. It’s the kind of film that switches it up so subtly and suddenly that you have no idea where it might go next.
The premise is quite simple: four teenagers drive up to a remote lakeside site where a string of brutal yet mysterious murders took place 40 years ago. In an attempt to recreate the set-up and finally solve this cold case, the four teens find themselves in a state of panic and peril when the past starts to catch up with them.
I won’t say anymore but there’s a major twist that completely turns the film on its head. Combined with an excellent score and one heck of a car chase set piece, this is one of those rare horror films that not only delivers the scares, but manages to look damn good while doing it.
This Is Your Death
Giancarlo Esposito directs and stars in this fast-paced thriller that eerily mirrors our obsession with reality TV, sensationalism, and social media. It’s both over-the-top and eerily grounded which makes the premise quite terrifying. A reality show is losing viewers after someone was shot and killed during a live episode. After much deliberation, the host decides to make a different show. On the new show people commit suicide, in whichever way they choose, in order to win money for their families.
It’s a despicable premise for a reality show and the way the audience reacts to the live suicides is alarmingly chilling. It makes you ask the question: would you tune into this madness if it were real? Esposito delivers a harrowing performance as an aging custodian trying to make ends meet with a kid and wife at home. With his hours constantly being cut and debt collectors calling nonstop, he finally decides to consider becoming a contestant on the gruesome show.
This Chilean horror film sticks with you. A mother is struggling taking care of her severely autistic son and employs the services of a Filipina nanny. Everything seems great at first. The child, as if magically cured, starts to express love and curiosity and actually act like a regular kid. Then things start to get really weird. The nanny starts speaking only in Filipino to the child. She has him draw creepy pictures and makes suspicious tea for the boy’s mother.
The mother ultimately downloads a translator app on her phone and listens in on one of the conversations. She is terrified to find out that the nanny is brainwashing him into thinking she’s an unfit mom. The film escalates to incredible heights, and no one wants to believe the mother until it’s far too late. The film dishes up one hell of a finale that is both scary and shocking.
Free Fire is the ultimate crowd pleasing film. It’s loud, violent and surprisingly funny. The film’s basic setup is a weapons deal gone horribly wrong. All the action takes place in one location. It’s incredible how much mileage director Ben Wheatley gets out of this one abandoned warehouse. The movie is essentially a 90-minute shoot-out and it’s done well, with tons of laughs in between. Make sure the sound is turned all the way up because the film has fantastic sound design. The guns are extremely loud and you feel every hit and every shocking death.
The Big Sick
This film was the standout for me at SXSW. It’s a new age rom-com that manages to surprise. The story is basically boy meets girl with a few twists. The boy is Pakistani and the girl is American. Also, the girl succumbs to a coma. How about that for a rom-com? The majority of the film happens during her coma. The tone shifts dramatically as you see him interact with her parents and his own during this tragic ordeal.
But the film manages to be hilarious, even while dishing out this tragedy. It’s a major feat that is made even more incredible thanks to an excellent cast featuring Kumail Nanjiani, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter and Zoe Kazan.
It was a great year for SXSW and there were many more films that were quite notable. Small Town Crime, 68 Kill, The Archer and Us and Them were also fantastic and all deserve to be seen. We can’t wait to see what films SXSW delivers next year.