Germany’s popular horror/sci-fi showcase returns to Berlin this week with 50 films spread out over 12 days, and we have a few early recommendations.
Joe Begos’ ultraviolent punk-rock vampire odyssey Bliss answers the age-old question: What would it feel like if Abel Ferrara’s 1979 classic The Driller Killer met up for a night of blood-soaked chemsex with Gaspar Noe and 90s Gregg Araki? Lead actress Dora Madison gives one of the most fearlessly committed performances of the year, falling somewhere around Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls on the acting spectrum (yes, that’s a compliment).
Another film centered around an incredible lead, Abner Pastoll’s A Good Woman Is Hard To Find stars Sarah Bolger as a working-class Irish mum seeking the truth behind her husband’s gang-related murder. An effective crime-thriller with a few extreme horror elements, it features the most unlikely murder weapon in recent memory, and a seriously gruesome climax that’ll blow your mind.
Speaking of blowing, skip the mediocre Porno and instead catch Lucas Heyne’s divisive Sundance film Mope, a true story about two outcasts (Nathan Jarrett-Stewart and Kelly Sry) chasing stardom in the gonzo-porn industry. Problematic, exploitative and generally quite icky, it also happens to be totally audacious, frequently hilarious, and always DTF.
Three longtime friends (all complete assholes) find themselves adrift on a yacht without food or supplies in Rob Grant’s lean and mean Canadian thriller Harpoon. Clever and self-aware without the arrogance, Grant effortlessly creates a pitch-black comedy/survival-thriller hybrid while tricking the audience into caring about these deplorable characters.
All three South Korean features are uniformly strong and worth a look: In Won-Tae Lee’s action-thriller The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil, a young cop (Kim Mu-yeol) and a gang boss (Don Lee, aka Ma Dong-seok) form an unlikely alliance to track down a serial killer. Fun, pulpy and fast-paced, it makes sense that Sylvester Stallone’s production company bought the rights for a US remake, and wisely contracted Lee to reprise his role. Meanwhile, in Kyu-Jang Cho’s urban chiller The Witness, an ordinary family man (Lee Sung-min) witnesses a brutal murder from the living room window, and soon finds himself playing cat-and-mouse with the killer. Despite a generic setup and uninspiring first act, things eventually get moving and finish on an exciting note. Another paranoid nightmare set in a high rise, Lee Kwon’s Door Lock stars Kong Hyo-Jin as Kyung-min, a bank worker who suspects someone may be sneaking into her apartment. A loose remake of the disturbing 2011 Spanish film Mientras Duermes, Lee adds a lot of nifty touches and achieves a genuinely creepy atmosphere, though his main character makes a few baffling decisions along the way.
In the mood for light escapism? Steer clear of Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai, a harrowing and violent recreation of the terrorist attacks that rocked the Indian metropolis in 2008. While the constant and indiscriminate slaughter of innocent victims makes for an incredibly tough watch, and these products always feel a bit exploitative, the film ultimately pays loving tribute to the brave hotel employees who went far beyond the call of duty to protect the guests.
Closing night film Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, the Guillermo del Toro-produced adaptation of the popular 80s books, offers a slice of family-friendly horror with a sprinkling of woke politics, and consistently dazzles with masterful use of practical effects. We were a bit disappointed by The Lodge, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s follow-up to Goodnight Mommy, and thoroughly enjoyed Jessica Hauser’s smart and subtle botanical thriller Little Joe.
Catch Fantasy Film Fest at the Cinestar Sony Centre in Potsdamer Str. from Sep 4-15.