Film festivals be crazy – have you been to one? The first day you’re all chill in your fave outfit or coolest shirt, your tote/jean jacket/etc. littered with your most prized enamel pins, super psyched for the experience to come. It’s all positivity and rays of light – all the dope shit you’re gonna watch, dope people you’re gonna meet, dope filmmakers you’re gonna hear during Q&A’s. You vow to go to bed early, wake up with the sun for the first press screening (at 8 in the morning, oh boy). You make a promise to yourself that you’ll eat all the food groups and respond to all messages in the timeliest of timely manners.

By day three, you’re running on four hours of sleep, wearing the first shirt you came across that morning to make your first screening, find yourself simultaneously chugging coffee and alcohol during / in-between films, can’t remember the last meal you ate that included a plant-based lifeform, nod off and snore yourself awake during a slow Romanian thriller, your inbox is brimming over with 250+ promo emails you haven’t had time to clean out yet (seriously, who keeps signing me up for Journeys emails every time I unsubscribe?), you’ve lost all concept of time and space, and haven’t a clue where your earthly body is. So yeah, film festivals are pretty awesome!

I’ve been super lucky to go to TIFF seven times – it’s one of my favorite things to do on this planet because I can see a bunch of cool movies from a wide variety of genres, walk around Toronto, one of my favorite cities, and eavesdrop on polite Canadians’ conversations about the movies they hate and double-hate at the fest (the best part). This year I decided to change it up a bit, and traveled to Austin for my very first Fantastic Fest experience. In addition to everything that happened in the second paragraph up there, I attended a horror-themed drag show, danced to songs from popular thrillers and scary movies, was given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Drafthouse projection booths and then handed an edible that traveled to Austin all the way from Los Angeles, and met some really fantastic, passionate film lovers. I’d be holding back if I didn’t mention how much I love seeing films at an Alamo Drafthouse, where all Fantastic Fest films are shown. Like, people have to shut the fuck up during movies! They bring you your seat! And drinks, too, if you’re into that sort of thing! I think my favorite FF food moment was during Dolemite is My Name where I gleefully ordered an espresso milkshake and French fries for dinner. I love being an adult!

Now that we’re officially in Spooky Month, here are the more creeptastic film highlights from my very first, hopefully not last, Fantastic Fest.

The Other Lamb

Screenwriter C.S. McMullen is fascinated with cults, and the ways in which people are made to do things by people in power. Noticing that most stories about cults tended to be from a male perspective, she wanted to write a cult story with a female voice. The Other Lamb follows a small religious sect with strong Christian undertones as they relocate to a new settlement after local authorities ask them to vacate their current homestead. Refreshingly led by an enigmatic hottie (Michiel Huisman) as opposed to a bloated old white dude, the bulk of the story is told through the eyes of the clanswomen – all wives or daughters of their leader, who goes simply by Shepherd. Huisman is effectively intense – as spectators, we fully understand why his followers are so loyal. When his favorite daughter, Selah (Raffey Cassidy), begins to question his motives and their way of life, things unravel in rather unsuspecting ways for Shepherd, leading to a bloody end for their sect. Raffey Cassidy was the talk of film fests last year for her strong performance in the polarizing Vox Lux – she’s an exciting talent to watch here as well.

Dogs Don’t Wear Pants

I went into this thinking it was just going to be a heavy BDSM torture nightmare about the exquisite joy of enduring pain, but I’m delighted to say that Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is so much more. Busy surgeon Juha is an overworked, harried single father whose wife passed away unexpectedly many years prior. When his teen daughter, Elli, asks to get her tongue pierced for her birthday and Juha obliges, he comes in contact with fierce dominatrix, Mona. Their chance meeting sets off something quite unique and pained – with each session with Mona, as Juha experiences more and more, he gets closer and closer to his dead wife. What appears to be a chilling psychological exploration of grief and BDSM turns out to be a highly sensitive and uplifting love story, full of a few wonderfully comedic moments. It’s the best rom com of the last decade, for sure.

The Lodge

From the directors of Goodnight Mommy comes another film about the horrors of family life and domesticity. This time, filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz invite us into the world of Mia and Aidan, two siblings grieving in the aftermath of their parents’ divorce. Their father whisks them reluctantly to a family lodge for a Christmas holiday vacation with his new fiancée Grace (Riley Keough), and then hightails it back to the city cause dude’s gotta tend to some important work shit (ugh, bad dads). As a huge snowstorm descends on the house, the children’s unsettling relationship with Grace starts to show, while Grace’s complicated past catches up with her. This is a must-see, if not for the polarizing discussions to come after viewing, then at least for Riley Keough’s batshit performance. I can’t wait for more people to see this so we can process and unpack it together. Keough represents one of America’s entertainment dynasties, yet keeps proving herself in a variety of interesting choices (It Comes at Night, Logan Lucky, Lovesong) – let’s hope she keeps it up.

Memory: The Origins of Alien

Some of my favorite memories growing up are of my brother Max and me watching the Alien series over and over. The films were eye-opening, scary as hell, empowering, funny (at times), and adrenaline-pumping. Memory is a perfect companion piece to Jodorowsky’s Dune, and a refreshing look at the sci-fi writing, art, pain, and political landscape which wrought Alien, specifically the iconic chest-burster scene. Required viewing for any Alien or sci-fi fan, especially for all the behind the scenes fun.

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has long been revered by many as “that” Nightmare on Elm Street, the awesomely bad one, the one where its star “screams like a girl,” the one with the stupid dance scene, the one with some very suggestive LGBTQ overtones. I think it’s one of the best in the series, because it helped a lot of younger folks feel more comfortable with their budding queer identities. Scream, Queen focuses on the film’s star, Mark Patton, and all he endured as a result of headlining ANOES2. Patton was killing it in the early 80’s: he starred in a successful Broadway play with Cher, was in the Altman adaptation of said play, had managed to book numerous commercials and ads almost right away, and was living with his partner (also a successful working actor) in the Hollywood Hills. After starring in ANOES2, his personal life and acting career spectacularly imploded before his very eyes and he retreated far away from the public eye. Patton’s story is important to LGBTQ history, but don’t just watch it for that – watch it for the illuminating discussion surrounding 80’s queer panic that rocked the entertainment industry, even making it all the way to the popular horror genre of that era

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