How did this year’s SXSW Film Festival stack up against last year’s exceptional slate of films which included the likes of Baby Driver and The Big Sick? In a way, this year continues the growing trend of horror becoming a formidable playing field for accomplished actors and filmmakers. Horror is no longer what it used to be, it is no longer beholden to the shackles of campiness and cheesy dialogue and is now entering a fresh, artisianal stage where the budget is low and the creativity is high. It’s no wonder why some of Hollywood’s elite have joined the fray like Jennifer Lawrence, Helen Mirren, and Emily Blunt. Here are some the best films we had the pleasure of watching at SXSW 2018.
Director, Writer and star of Thunder Road, Jim Cummings, took the stage before the film screened and told everyone in attendance that it’s okay to laugh, cry, and have fun. The movie, tonally, can be off-putting at times as it goes from an epic, drawn-out opening sequence that balances physical comedy and drama to a tragic depiction of a mid-30s cop trying to piece his life together after some painfully regretful decisions. The cop in question is Officer Jim Arnaud, a sort of psychologically triggered, bipolar basket case. In the jaw-dropping 10-minute opening scene, he delivers a eulogy at his mother’s funeral that borders on absolute absurdity. Yet it’s funny and I’m not sure whether or not it was meant to be funny. He tries very much to play Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen on his daughter’s little pink toy radio as a tribute to his mother but it wouldn’t work and so he feels compelled to dance and recite it out.
It reminded me of that scene in Napoleon Dynamite where he dances on stage at the talent show but without the music and the same amount of dead, awkward silence. The whole movie lives on this dynamic shifting tone and it makes for a compelling viewing. Jim Cummings is excellent in the role and one might say his mustache worked twice as hard. Perhaps the biggest irony of the film is that you never actually hear Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road and it makes me laugh every time I think about why you never get to hear it.
Unfriended 2: Dark Web
2014’s Unfriended was a decent surprise. It was very Blumhousian as the entire film took place on a Skype screen. While Unfriended dealt with some supernatural elements more akin to something like Paranormal Activity, Unfriended 2: Dark Web deals with the dangerous underbelly of the internet where assassins, child pornography and other shady services are rendered. It’s a good reminder to never set foot on the Deep Web or Dark Web.
In the film, our unlucky protagonist seemingly gets away with stealing a stranger’s laptop only to find out that the owner is a big player in the Dark Web. This of course endangers the lives of not only our protagonist but his friends who are with him at all times via Skype similarly to how the first Unfriended worked.
And boy does it work. Unfriended 2: Dark Web delivers a crippling feeling of paranoia and doesn’t let up. It’s a lean film, clocking in at about 90 minutes and while it doesn’t deliver the scares that the first one did, it makes up for it in other inventive, brutal ways. There’s a swatting incident in the film that eerily echoes a similar tragic, real-life swatting that occurred not too long ago and it’s a chilling, brutal scene.
Jay Duplass convincingly plays an ex-con who tries to readjust to life. All while forming an intense bond with his former teacher, played by a sensational Edie Falco. One of the film’s biggest strengths is where it takes place. It’s the Pacific Northwest; it’s rainy, moody and perfectly encapsulates the vibe the film relishes in. Outside In is also a subdued, quiet film.
There’s no jaw-dropping revelation or shocking moments. It delivers some of it’s biggest scenes with smaller, understated moments such as the surprising bonding between Jay Duplass’ character and Edie Falco’s estranged teenage daughter. Their moments are sweet and effective without making it weird or inappropriate. Jay Duplass and Edie Falco crackle on the screen together and deliver some of the best performances we got to see at SXSW.