All right, readers. It’s confession time. Before I get into my latest coverage of SXSW, I have a secret I need to share. I would prefer to keep it to myself, as I have for a few years now, but I feel it’s necessary to reveal for the purposes of this article. If any of you stop reading and click over to Faith’s unbiased (and, let’s be honest, probably better) coverage, I completely understand. Wow. This isn’t easy. I’ve only told a few close friends, and they were less than understanding. Okay. Here goes nothing:
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The third day of Austin’s 26th annual SXSW Film Festival has come and gone, and I am fortunate to continue to see a good, nay, great movie every 24 hours. Friday featured the long-awaited and highly successful premiere of The Cabin in the Woods. Saturday floored the packed house of the Paramount with the unnerving Killer Joe. Sunday had three strong contenders for the “Film Champion of the Day” trophy on my docket—The Hunter with Willem Dafoe; The Do-Deca-Pentathlon from the Duplass brothers; and Nature Calls starring Patton Oswalt.
First up was the Tasmania-based drama The Hunter. Shot entirely on the Australian island, director Daniel Nettheim’s gripping film stars Willem Dafoe as Martin David, a hunter-for-hire out to catch the elusive and rare Tasmanian tiger. The film plays out much like lone assassin films of the past—Dafoe has no family, no past, and no friends of note. He’s sent from place to place to do a job and that’s all he does.
Do you realize that the UK doesn’t make high school movies? I hadn’t until director Marc Evans pointed this out and identified it as his reason for making Hunky Dory, which had its North American premiere here at SXSW. It’s the summer of 1976 at a Welsh comprehensive school, and drama teacher Vivienne (Minnie Driver) attempts to fight the general apathy of her students by putting on a play that “both William Shakespeare and David Bowie would be proud of”. That is, a rock opera version of The Tempest.
Hunky Dory is not just an ode to classic rock and the days of old, but also to American high school movies. Knowing this gave me an entirely different lens. (You can’t criticize something for being “just another high school movie” when that is precisely what it sets out to be.) It is an homage to American teen movies like JJ Abrams’ Super 8 is an homage to Spielberg.
If Day 1 was dominated by rain (damn weather) and hilarious horror (thank you Cabin in the Woods), then Day 2 of SXSW Film 2012 was the day of Killer Joe. Directed by fear master William Friedkin, Killer Joe actually shares a few things in common with Joss Whedon’s SXSW premiere from the night prior. They both play with elements of terror. They both infuse their thrillers with a twisted number of laughs. And they are both freaking great.
That being said, they’re also both made for very specific audiences. Mom, I know you’re reading this and I know you enjoy all kinds of films, but please, PLEASE don’t see either of these. You and your distaste for brutal, realistic violence depicted in perverse ways will not have fun. What a weirdo, am I right?
Luckily for Whedon, Friedkin & co., my mother wasn’t at SXSW. I doubt anyone like my mother is at SXSW, and if they are, these two films would not make their schedule.
SXSW curates 14 titles from Sundance to show at the festival each year, and as Safety Not Guaranteed was one of the most talked about films from that fest it was pretty inevitable it would be shown here. Hype however, breeds skepticism and I was side eyeing the heck out of the buzz surrounding this movie.
From a more-or-less rookie writer/director team, Safety Not Guaranteed is based on a Wanted Ad that became an internet meme. You really can’t fault me for being leery, can you?