As an overture to this weekend’s Fantasy Con, local filmmaker Jonathan Martin teamed up with Fantasy Con founder Josh Patel to create FilmQuest—a week-long film festival celebrating indie sci-fi and fantasy films from around the world. In addition to a staggering list of films for fans to check out, FilmQuest will be wrapping up with a red carpet awards ceremony during this weekend’s Fantasy Con. As an attendee of several locally organized film festivals, FilmQuest’s focus on films from the horror, fantasy and science fiction genres made it unique. It’s fun to sit in a darkened theatre with no idea what type of film might illuminate the darkened screen and take you along for a ride. Not all of the films were stellar, and many were downright bizarre, but here are a few that stuck out to me.
The Seventeenth Kind
Directed by Andy Collier
A film made up of equal parts Douglas Adams and Doctor Who, The Seventeenth Kind tells the story of James Richard (Tony Curran), a Scottish infomercial personality who has a potentially genocidal encounter with a group of aliens. The idea itself is genius, but it’s the sincerity with which the rise and fall of James Richard is portrayed that makes this film great. Curran’s ability to turn on the outward charm while self-loathing eats away at him makes him the type of character that we want to root for—especially when he uses his knowledge of useless home-shopping products to help prevent the destruction of Earth. The Seventeenth Kind manages to use the short film medium to great effect, and it has made me look at infomercial personalities in a whole different light.
Directed by Ben Howling
Though there was no shortage of zombie films at FilmQuest, this was the one that made me think the undead genre still has some life left in it. Cargo’s first few moments depict a man narrowly escaping his recently-zombified wife and taking their child to safety. This scene was filmed and cut with a frenetic energy, and the undead makeup effects were excellent—it set the stage for the remainder of the film. In many ways, Cargo approaches the zombie genre much like AMC’s The Walking Dead—yes, there are zombies, and yes, they are scary, but what about the people who have to survive? In this case, the drama is focused around a father taking his infant son to safety, leading to a satisfying and touching conclusion.
Directed by Toby Froud
Toby Froud was quite literally born into the world that his father Brian created with Jim Henson. When he was a baby, Toby found himself playing the role of Jennifer Connelly’s infant brother who was abducted by David Bowie’s Goblin King in the 1986 film Labyrinth. Today, he’s making films of his own. Lessons Learned has preserved the artistry that Jim Henson and Brian Froud brought to Labyrinth and 1982’s The Dark Crystal. It’s a beautiful film, and anyone who has a special place in their hearts for the previously mentioned films will find themselves feeling instantly nostalgic. After being overloaded with the special effects that are becoming more and more commonplace, Lessons Learned managed to capture a cinematic world in which computers don’t exist—and it’s nice to go back there every now and again.
The Umbrella Factory and Jack The Ripper
Directed by Lexie and Nick Trivundza
These two films exemplified everything that I love about animated films—and did so in a very macabre way. The Trivundza’s have a keen stylistic eye as well as an affection for a British accent, which gives a certain cultured polish to their films. The Umbrella Factory is an Edward Gorey-esque reimagining of W.W. Jacobs’s horror tale “The Monkey’s Paw,” in which three brothers have their wishes tragically mangled by a mysterious totem. Jack the Ripper finds the vicious Whitechapel murderer on the streets of modern-day London, which has been rendered with an aesthetic that combines the opening credits of Mad Men with Frank Miller’s Sin City. These films are all about the artistic and creative presentation, and they were both beautiful to watch.
Directed by Nils Timm
This film made my list because of its stellar first half, but I must say it started to come apart at the end for me. What I liked about the film was the idea to take a neurotic writer who suffers from sleep paralysis and stick her in a house in the desert all by herself while paranormal horrors marshal against her. That’s scary on so many levels, and the film managed to create a definite sense of helplessness and paranoia early on. By the second half, however, the film devolves into a convoluted story involving the checkered past of the writer’s current boyfriend, which made me forget I was watching a scary movie altogether.