If there is one thing unique to horror, it’s the fans. Horror fandom is a special and unique place where we celebrate everything macabre, bloody, strange, and otherworldly. We can recite lines from our favorite films, make obscure references to one another, and cosplay the most minor characters knowing that if we go to a con, someone there will know who we’re dressed as and give us a high five.
My first film of the Fantasia International Film Festival was a fascinating and understated horror film from Germany. Sleep is a film fueled by nightmares that break into the waking space and fuse themselves to the horrors of the real world. The film centers on Marlene (Sandra Huller) and her daughter Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof). Marlene is plagued by nightmares, often finding herself trapped between sleep and consciousness, gasping for breath. Mona tries to help her as much as she can, but her condition keeps worsening and doesn’t have an apparent source.
As the final frames of the last movie flickered into blackness, I knew the end had come. No more screening slots to agonize over, no more seating assignments to lament, no more festival volunteers to high-five — Fantastic Fest 2019 was no more. But in those final hours, there was still celebration; movies to watch, love, and share with the world. That’s when an epiphany hit me. For if we keep talking about it, Fantastic Fest will never truly end, only live on in the hearts, minds, and souls of movie fans everywhere, for all time. And thanks to a particularly great lineup of films on the final day, I’ve still got plenty to say.
Life in the movie theater grows short, I know this now. For days people have been speaking of the coming end, the veritable theatrical apocalypse. I can scarcely believe that such a life ever could end, such has been the eternity with which it seems to have lasted. Still, I fear the rumors are true that, indeed, Fantastic Fest has nearly reached its final hours. And yet there is still more to talk about. Take Wednesday, for example.
In the before times, when movies were those things I watched at night with a bowl of popcorn after a long day at work, I recall thinking that a week-long excursion to the movie theater could only ever be a wonderful dream. An unattainable cinematic utopia that was more cruel to imagine than to disregard, for reality would never welcome such a perfect way of life. Then I went to Fantastic Fest. Day 6 brought with it several movies, both old and new alike. Allow me to elaborate.
At Fantastic Fest, there were days where movies flowed fluidly in front of my eyes and the only distraction was trying to find the little plastic pen in the dark to sign my receipt for the chicken strips. It was a time full of complimenting strangers on their cool t-shirts and striking up conversations about enamel pins on festival lanyards. Those days…oh, how they were fantastic. By this particular day, a Monday, more than half of the festival was now behind us, but I was still going strong. Here’s what I saw.
As my body has become fully assimilated into the world of movies and soft pretzels with queso, so too have my days become increasingly more difficult to define. I no longer am able to distinguish between night and day — all is a series of slowly dimming lights as I attempt to eat tortilla chips softly during the quiet parts of whatever movie is playing before me. Still, the rewards I reap are far greater than the generally overrated grasp of time and space that most people have access to. Take Sunday, for example. Here’s what went down.
I was told upon my arrival at Fantastic Fest that, at a certain point, the days would begin to blend together. That reality itself would become an unreliable entity, time passing in great chunks as nothing but movies, beer, and brief encounters with those I had previously only known via their Twitter handle float by in scarcely digestible vignettes. Yes, I was warned, I just thought it would take longer than a few days to kick in.
Friday, September 20th, 2019 was an important day. I’ve hit many milestones in my time on this Earth, but until this particular day I had never experienced a full day…of Fantastic Fest. It brought with it a sinister Turkish government satellite dish; the mysterious death of a man due to “getting weird;” an epic cosmic threat from the deepest reaches of outer space (complete with a bourbon-loving, alpaca-milking Nicolas Cage); and a hard-R, Lifetime-esque midnight movie that features the heavy use of a sledgehammer that was formerly wall art. Allow me to explain.
The water is clear and blue in the bright sunlight, the sandy floor unobscured. There’s something serene about the crystal clear sea, something calming about the lapping waves as they make their way toward the sandy shore. In the wake of the beaming sun, the beauty of the ocean’s vastness and what it holds just beneath the surface is utterly breathtaking, offering a staggering sense of unfathomable possibility — one that can feel as impressive in the light as it does imposing in the dark.