I only attended two screenings on the last day of SXSW (including festival closer Life), so I’ve combined days eight and nine. For most of the films at SXSW, ballots are issued so that the films can be rated on a scale of one to five. You’re not able to give a half point rating (e.g. 3.5), so I’ve been rounding up when applicable. I’ll share my SXSW rating, along with my preferred rating in parentheses.
Note** Ballots are not issued for films screened on the last day of the fest. For Lucky and Life only one rating is listed.
SXSW Days 8 & 9:
Tragedy Girls is an absolute blast. Two high school girls who are obsessed with social media and serial killers, decide to combine the two in this dark comedy. Balancing comedy and horror is never an easy task, but director Tyler MacIntire deftly handles the mixture. Make no mistake, it is first and foremost a comedy, but he never shies away from gore, and clearly has true affection for the horror genre. Not wanting to simply rehash the same old cliches from slasher films, the screenplay by MacIntyre and Chris Lee Hill (based on a original screenplay by Justin Olsen) instead lampoons them. Wise choice. Fun flick.
4 out of 5 (4)
Transfiguration tells the story of Milo, a young boy growing up in the projects of New York. His mother dead (she committed suicide), and his brother apathetic, Milo is forced to fend for himself. Adding to the problems inherent to this situation is the fact that Milo believes himself to be a vampire. When he and fellow outcast Sophie start to develop a relationship, this only complicates matters further. The film is a dark, affecting character study.
3 out of 5 (3)
Hot Summer Nights is writer/director Elijah Bynum’s first feature, but his work here is remarkably self assured. The film covers well worn territory (a coming of age story), but is so well crafted, and the actors so compelling (Can we go ahead and declare Maika Monroe a superstar at this point?) that I didn’t mind. Set in Cape Cod in the summer of ’91, the film features a great soundtrack that doesn’t consist only of songs from that time period, but finds the characters listening to older songs as well. This has always seemed more realistic to me, as people (at least in my experience) sometimes listen to music recorded (Gasp!) years before. The film has all the prerequisites for a teen comedy: sex, drugs, and rock n roll, but it also has an emotional resonance that is lacking in so many films from that genre. Highly recommended.
4 out of 5 (4)
Lucky is probably Harry Dean Stanton’s best chance for an Academy Award nomination in a leading role. He (unjustly) has never even been nominated in a supporting role. As the title character (a 90 year old cowboy) Stanton struggles with mortality, loneliness, and spirituality (or the lack thereof). In a rare turn in front of the camera, David Lynch is also excellent as a resident of the small desert town where Lucky resides. The always great Tom Skerritt shows up for a brief scene in a diner, and makes quite an impression. Not a lot happens in the film, but there is real depth to it.
3.5 out of 5
Life closed out the festival, and is a big budget sci-fi thriller that takes place aboard the International Space Station. A soil sample from Mars is found to contain a single cell organism. Soon (to no one’s surprise) the organism is alive, growing quickly, and wreaking havoc. I assumed that a film with A-list actors (Ryan Reynolds & Jake Gyllenhall), and proven screenwriters (Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick), would have a fresh take on a tired story. I was wrong to assume that. The film brings nothing new to the table, and some elements don’t work at all (looking at you, alien POV shots). The idea of being stuck in space with a creature that is trying to kill you is inherently frightening, and the film succeeds on some level due to that premise. However, I suspect that Alien: Covenant will be a better representation of the genre when it opens in a few weeks.
2.5 out of 5