From July 13th through August 2nd, the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival offered attendees over 400 short, experimental, and feature-length film projects, which is just a mind-blowing fact to me. Over the course of several weeks, I had the opportunity to check out two titles that had been garnering some buzz as of late on the festival circuit—Better Watch Out and Fashionista—and they both delivered very unique but equally thrilling viewing experiences for this writer.
Better Watch Out: A delightfully depraved holiday treat, Chris Peckover’s Better Watch Out is one of those rare genre experiences where the less you know going into it, the more satisfying the payoffs are in this biting and darkly comedic spin on the holiday classic Home Alone. But don’t expect toy car shenanigans, slippery ice-covered stairs, or anyone slapping their face in horror after using dad’s aftershave— screenwriter Zack Kahn has more wicked intentions for viewers, taking this story in a decidedly different direction that admittedly left my jaw on the proverbial floor.
Sure, the unexpected direction Peckover’s holiday horror tale takes is going to be a divisive moment to many, but for me, I absolutely loved it, and applaud both the director and his writer for taking the cinematic road less traveled in Better Watch Out.
In the film formerly known as Safe Neighborhood (and just an aside, but I definitely dig the new title more), 13-year-old Luke (Levi Miller) is eager to spend his evening in the company of his adorable high school “babysitter” Ashley (Olivia DeLonge), especially since he’s been harboring a long-time crush on the young lady hired by Luke’s well-meaning parents (played by Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton) who are in need of a night out. As the evening progresses, Luke begins to exhibit some strange behavior—like chugging a champagne bottle despite Ashley’s protests—but the young adults quickly realize that something sinister may be afoot, and they’ve got to figure out how to contend with a potential home invasion before things get too out of hand.
That’s about as far as I’m willing to go in crafting a synopsis for Better Watch Out, because the way I feel about spoilers is the same way I feel about Christmas presents: with patience comes great rewards, and what’s the fun of knowing what awaits you under the tree ahead of time? That’s no fun at all, but suffice to say, I wasn’t able to really anticipate the direction of the latter half of Better Watch Out (some may see it coming, but I guess I was a bit more naïve in this instance) and really enjoyed all the insanity and mayhem that followed.
As far as the performances go, Peckover’s young cast deftly handles the humor and horror to Kuhn’s script with a great sense of ease. Better Watch Out rides on the very capable shoulders of Miller, especially considering how much his character shifts alongside the tone of Kuhn’s darkly comedic script. It’s such a specific performance that he gives, that had he gone just little bit too far with it, or pulled back at all, Better Watch Out could have very easily become an entirely different movie (and most definitely one that wouldn’t have been nearly as fun as this).
I do hate keeping things so vague when it comes to reviews, but the gift-wrapped rewards from Peckover that await you in Better Watch Out are absolutely worth it. Basically, if you’re looking for Home Alone with a bit of a darkened edge to it, Better Watch Out will have you decking all your horror-fied halls later this year (Well Go USA will be distributing the film in October). And now my quota of Christmas-related puns has been satisfied for the year.
Movie Score: 4/5
Fashionista: Filmmaker Simon Rumley has created some incredibly memorable films throughout his career, but what he manages to craft with Fashionista, his twisty psychological horror film that examines the dark sides of identity and obsession, is easily his best effort to date. A storyteller who has never shied away from confrontational ideas and themes (Red, White & Blue and his segment “Bitch” in Little Deaths being two prime examples), Fashionista is a haunting character study of how far one woman will go to find some kind of connectivity in this world—human or otherwise.
Fashionista follows April (Amanda Fuller, who reunites with Rumley on his latest) and Eric (Ethan Embry), a couple that owns a vintage clothing shop in Austin who both dream of expanding their resale empire. But before they get to that point, the duo first have to work through some hiccups in their marriage, including April’s jealousy of Eric’s friendliness towards a new employee (who happens to be a cute, younger woman) she suspects he’s having an affair with. But as certain truths are revealed, April is pushed into some very dark places in her psyche, as she begins an affair with a wealthy businessman (Eric Balfour) who wants to control every facet of her life through passive aggressive manipulation, sexual reprisals, and even right down to the types of clothes she wears in his presence.
As April’s obsession with clothes (both old and new), textiles, and fashion increasingly takes over her already fragile psyche, we see how she easy it is for her entire existence to spiral so desperately out of control, culminating at a freaky erotic meet-up that would probably even make the partygoers from Eyes Wide Shut blush in response. And as you think things in Fashionista could not possibly get any weirder or worse for April, Rumley delivers up a gut-punch finale that has really stuck with me these last few weeks.
With Fashionista, Rumley’s unconventional approach to his narrative only amplifies the dizzying mystery that April finds herself mixed up in after everything in her life turns to utter garbage. Those raw feelings of loss, loneliness, desperation, addiction, inadequacy, and compulsiveness are palpable in Fuller’s performance, who absolutely gives 150% to this role, making April into something more than yet another cinematic “woman in crisis who can’t figure things out.” While many of April’s tendencies and behaviors aren’t necessarily experiences I’ve personally had (yet, thankfully), there’s a way that Fuller plays this character that makes her character’s struggles feel so universally relatable for viewers of any gender.
In one way or another, we’ve all felt lost and marginalized in our lives, and the way Rumley translates those emotions through April’s descent into madness during Fashionista makes this probably his most “accessible” film thus far. It may be a demanding viewing experience for some, but if a director knows how to push all the right buttons in a way that makes their stories resonate with my own sensibilities, then I’m all for movies that challenge and provoke a response, even if things get a little uncomfortable along the way.
Movie Score: 4/5
In case you missed it, check here for our previous news, reviews, and interviews from the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.