Fantastic Fest is my favorite week of the year.  Even when I didn’t regularly attend the US’ largest genre film festival, I’d spend months trying to actively track down the movies they played, and then once I had gathered enough of them together, I’d hold day-long movie marathons with friends to catch up on the best in horror, sci-fi, action and dark comedies from around the world.  

It’s a daunting task for the fest to scour the globe for fresh genre films every year, and it’s an even more daunting task to assemble a schedule of what to see should you be fortunate enough to actually make it to Austin, Texas for the last week of September.  So, hopefully we can make it a little bit easier for you with our recommendations of the Top 10 Don’t Dare Miss These Films playing this year.

Note: We’re not saying these are the ten best films playing the festival, these are ten that truly embody the spirit of the festival and should be only missed at your mortal peril.

Boys on the Run

Boys on the Run

Who is Involved: This is the directorial debut of a one Daisuke Miura and based on a manga by Kengo Hanazawa.  I’ll admit neither of those names ring a bell with me, but discovering new talents is what makes FF so great.

You’ll Like it if: You like comedies filled with awkward tension and unflinchingly realistic characters.

Why it’s Fantastic:  Boys on the Run is like if Scott Pilgrim existed in the real world and grew up wishing he could be fantasy Scott Pilgrim.  This is a striped-to-its-underwear story about a nerdy boy who is too nebbish and awkward to deal with girls, yet somehow finds himself on the precipice of an honest-to-goodness relationship.  However, having grown up entrenched in the bizarre, sex-obsessed culture of Japan, he’s not properly equipped to man up and handle interaction with the opposite sex and, well, uncomfortable things happen.  It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s got great, memorable characters, and above all else it plays out organically, never feeling over-scripted.



Who is Involved: Written and directed by Steve Kostanski

You’ll Like it if:  You like films that fall through wormholes from the late ’80s, early ’90s heyday of VHS.

Why it’s Fantastic: This is a movie that I will readily admit seems like it was made just for me.  I’ve been following Kostanski’s career as a short filmmaker for years (if you’ve been to my house and I haven’t made you watch Lazer Ghosts 2: Return to Laser Cove, I’ve failed you), so I am thrilled to finally see what he’s done with a longer runtime.  (Yes, it’s only 60-minutes long, but it still counts as a feature.)  To quote fest programmer Todd Brown, “If you like your demons lovelorn and made of latex, your chase sequences played out on hoverboards and your creature battles stop-motion animated the Manborg is the movie for you.”

And, as an added bonus, Manborg screens with Spoon Wars, Richard Gale’s sequel to his very popular short film, The Horribly Slow Murderer With the Extremely Inefficient Weapon.

A Boy and His Samurai

Who is Involved: Written and directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura, whose previous films Golden Slumber and Fish Story are certifiable Fantastic Fest favorites.

You’ll Like it if:  If you’ve seen either Fish Story or Golden Slumber, you already know exactly why Nakamura’s latest is a must see.  If you’re new to the filmmaker, know that you can expect a film that nestles up close to your heart and just sits there, purring.

Why it’s Fantastic:  The original Japanese title, Samurai Pudding, is a more fitting one once you see the film, but its story about a boy and his mother who unofficially adopt a time-traveling samurai they find in the parking lot of their grocery story is the very embodiment of the word fantastic.  The telling of it is oddly Nakamura’s most straight forward yet, despite the time-traveling aspect, but don’t let that dissuade you one bit.  A Boy and His Samurai is great stuff.

The Loved Ones

The Loved Ones

Who is Involved: Written and directed by Sean Byrne, starring Xavier Samuel and Robin McLeavy

You’ll Like it if: You like horror movies that finely walk that natural line between horror and comedy.  

Why it’s Fantastic: The Loved Ones is one of my favorite horror movies of the past decade, it’s an infectiously energetic debut for director Sean Byrne, and it’s a damn shame that it still doesn’t have a release in the United States.  Yes, this played in Austin at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival, so you should take the fact that it’s playing in this fine city again a year-and-a-half later as a sign of just how outstanding this film is.  I own the UK Blu-ray of this and I’m still planning on seeing it on the big screen again at Fantastic Fest, I like it that much.

The Unliving

Who is Involved: Written and directed by Hugo Lilja

You’ll Like it if: You like slow moving zombies trying to get by in a post-outbreak world.

Why it’s Fantastic: It’s hard to do something that feels fresh when it comes to the undead, but The Unliving makes it look easy.  This is actually not a feature, but a 28-minute Swedish short film playing in the Short Fuse programming block.  But, if you’re the kind of person who thinks, “Screw that, why watch a short movie when I can go watch a real one?” trust me, this is something you’re going to want to go out of your way for.  The scale and make-up alone will get people talking, plus it makes slow zombies cool again.  Check out for a spoiler-free tease of what it’s in store.

El Narco

Who is Involved: Written and directed by Luis Estrada (Herod’s Law, Ambar)

You’ll Like it if: You like Scarface but wish it were set in the current drug war in Mexico.

Why it’s Fantastic: Any movie that’s been banned in parts of its home country instantly qualifies as Fantastic in our book.  And even after the controversial banning, it still won Best Picture and Best Actor at this year’s Ariel Awards in Mexico.  I haven’t seen it myself, but I trust festival programmer Rodney Perkins when he calls it, “a darkly comedic gangster epic.”

Sleep Tight

Who is Involved: Directed by Jaume Balguero (both [REC] films) and written by Alberto Marini (Films to Keep You Awake), starring Luis Tosar (Cell 211).

You’ll Like it if: You love horror movies that give you the kind images and ideas that instantly pop into your head when you’re home alone and hear a floorboard creak on the other side of the house.

Why it’s Fantastic: People sling around the word Hitchcockian way too much and have diluted its power, but I’m going to throw cliche to the wind and invoke the great director’s name here and say this would be a film he’d be proud to call his own (or, at the very least, present).  Luis Tosar is just hypnotizing as a creepy doorman obsessed with one of the women living in his building.  Yes, that’s right.  Sleep Tight isn’t centered on a damsel in distress; it’s centered on who causes that distress.  It takes deft skill to make you interested in the plight of a pervert, but Balguero guides you along expertly.

Take Shelter

Who is Involved: Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories), starring Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham

You’ll Like it if: You like any of the names above.  But if those somehow don’t strike your fancy, perhaps its story about a man with apocalyptic visions will.

Why it’s Fantastic: Like We Need to Talk About Kevin (which is also playing the festival), Take Shelter is one of the most buzzed about “arthouse genre” films of the year.  This is what happens when an incredibly intelligent filmmaker tries to offer up their take on the apocalypse by showing not how it affects the entire world, but just one family in a small town in the Midwest.

You’re Next

Who is Involved: Directed by Adam Wingard and Written by Simon Barrett (the team behind A Horrible Way to Die), produced by Keith Calder (who produced Fantastic Fest alumni films Undocumented and Bunraku) and starring Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Barbara Crampton, Rob Moran, Joe Swanberg and Ti West

You’ll Like it if: You like intricately conceived horror movies with a strong final girl.

Why it’s Fantastic: You’re Next is easily my most anticipated film of this year’s festival and I’ll lay down good money it’ll be one of, if not the, most talked about titles present.  The buzz out of Toronto, where it recently world premiered, was unanimous, heralding this as the kind intelligent, incredibly enjoyable horror movie that’s just all too rare these days.  Plus, did you look at that list of who’s involved?  It’s like a list of Fantastic Fest all stars.  

And, as an added bonus, You’re Next will be screened with the short film All Men Are Called Robert, which is one of my favorites at the festival.


Who is Involved: Written and directed by Michael R. Roskam

You’ll Like it if: You like movies that explore a microcosm you’ve never given a single moment’s thought to, you’ll love this exploration of the dark side of the Belgian cattle industry.

Why it’s Fantastic: Yes, I realize the Belgian cattle industry sounds like a snore, but I’ve been assured by fest co-founder Tim League, in an interview we’ll post soon, that this is an incredible film about one man and his tragic life’s quest for more hormones.  This is the kind of movie that sounds completely WTF on paper, but just makes total sense at Fantastic Fest.

Head to the official Fantastic Fest site to see all of the 70+ films playing the festival.  And bookmark this link to keep tabs on all our FF coverage.

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