Everything I Know About the World I Learned from Fantastic Fest

Everything I Know About the World I Learned from Fantastic Fest

Oct 01, 2012

One of the best things about Fantastic Fest is being able to see genre films from all over the world. Cop thrillers from South America! Horror movies from Sweden! Science fiction from Canada! All kinds of Japanese weirdness! As a window into the strangest and most outrageous movies from around the globe, Fantastic Fest is unparalleled.

But what picture of the world do these films paint? What if we only judged the international community based on what we saw in their movies and not on silly things like facts, common sense and basic human decency? What if Fantastic Fest wasn't an international genre film festival, but an educational journey around the globe? To judge entire countries based solely on their Fantastic Fest entries is hugely irresponsible and a disservice to the entire human race, but I'm going to do it anyway.

And don't worry -- I'm not playing favorites. No nation is going to come out of this looking like a sane and sensible place. In fact, if Fantastic Fest is any indication, every corner of the planet is home to things that want to kill you and violate your corpse. Heck, The ABCs of Death proves that much on its own.

So... who's up for some globetrotting?


North America: The Land of Obsession!

If there's one thing Fantastic Fest taught me about the United States and Canada, it's that both countries are inhabited by people who are obsessives. Sometimes they obsess over things that are completely useless and sometimes they obsess over things that could mean the difference between life and death, but in the moment, it's all the same. To Americans and Canadians, nothing is more important than that one thing you're fixated on.

On the positive end, you've got the seemingly normal people who work absurd hours and spend ungodly amounts of money to transform their homes into haunted houses for Halloween (The American Scream). It may seem silly, but at least their obsession is positive, helping them fulfill their artistic ambitions and spread joy to their friends and neighbors. Meanwhile, other people spend waaay too much time reading into seemingly hidden messages in movies like The Shining (Room 237), finding secrets and conspiracies that aren't really there.

At least with those people, no one is getting hurt. The same cannot be said for the celebrity-obsessed oddballs who inject themselves with the illnesses of their favorite stars to feel closer to them (Antiviral) or the body modification crowd, whose entire underground scene seems to revolve around illegal surgeries and criminals (American Mary). Not even North American children are free from this national wave of obsession, with pretend games of "war" escalating into dark examinations of friendship and rivalry (I Declare War). 

And then there are those whose obsessions actually put them on the road to darker truths. Sometimes, creepy home movies are just creepy home movies, but if you read too much into them, you may find yourself the target of something much, much darker (Sinister). Heck, obsess too much in the wrong direction and you may find yourself targeted by the government (The Conspiracy). Maybe that last group is onto something though. After all, all of America will be a desolate, fascist wasteland in the relatively near future (Dredd).

The only region of North America not dangerously obsessed with something is Mexico, but they pair effortlessly with their neighbor to the south. Which brings us to--


South America and Mexico: The Land of NOPE!

Look, I'm sure Mexico and South America are delightful places inhabited by beautiful people whose wonderful culture will open your eyes to a new way of seeing the world. But according to Fantastic Fest, this is where you go to experience a prolonged and agonizing death at the hands of things you can't comprehend (or comprehend all too well). 

In Mexico, Satan himself lives on a hill and will tear apart your family and give you all kinds of nightmares if you ever dare to enter his secret cave (Here Comes the Devil). If that news has you heading for the nearest port, be warned: some islands in the Gulf of Mexico are home to murderous children who kill any adult they see (Come Out and Play).

In contrast, South America seems far more survivable, but only if you play it safe and don't accidentally photograph any police officers viciously executing anyone (Taped). Just stick to the crowded areas, don't attend any seances (Memory of the Dead) and stick away from people who have titles like "The Machine Gun Woman" (Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman) and you'll probably be fine.

But if an earthquake hits, you're really screwed, because according to Fantastic Fest, standing buildings are the only things keeping civilization in check (Aftershock).


Europe: The Land of Corruption!

If there's one good thing to say about the Fantastic Fest version of South America, it's that at least everything that wants to kill you is pretty upfront about it. This is not the case across the Atlantic. If its films are any indication, Europe is where icy, lingering corruption (both literal and metaphorical) creeps up on you and wrecks your life before you even know how screwed you really are. 

Sometimes, you just want to take your daughter on vacation and you end up ruining your entire life (Everybody in Our Family). Sometimes, you just want to finish the sound mix for a Giallo film, but other sinister forces intervene (Berberian Sound Studio). Sometimes, your work as a geneticist is misappropriated and your life spirals our of control (Errors of the Human Body). Why? Because you're in Europe and bad things happen to good people in Europe, that's why. 

To be fair, sometimes you just make the ill-fated decision to become a neo-Nazi (Combat Girls), which means you probably weren't a good person to begin with.

And it's not like civilians are the only ones being corrupted beneath Europe's posh, graceful exterior. If Fantastic Fest is any indication, Europe is home to more corrupt cops than any country per capita. Although countries like France (Paris By Night) have plenty of officers driving around and abusing their authority, Spain appears to be king of corrupt law enforcement (Unit 7 and No Rest For the Wicked). At least they're in good company, since the rest of Europe also has its fair share of criminals (F**k Up, Black Out, Plan C, Vegetarian Cannibal and Pusher). All of this corruption aside, at least we know whose side these criminals will choose in the upcoming zombie apocalypse (Cockneys vs. Zombies).

But Europe is not all bad. Some people manage to squeak by through monotonous office work (Flicker) and others are just too dumb to realize how miserable their existence is (New Kids Nitro). On a bad day, you can always lift your spirits by visiting an Icelandic penis museum (The Last Member) or by wandering Paris in an existential tribute to the history of cinema (Holy Motors). Europe has plenty of very specific pleasures.


Asia: The Land of WTF!

Now, I'm not going to get ahead of myself and say that Asia looks like a nice place through the Fantastic Fest lens, but at least its many ways of making you suffer tend to be pretty darn unique. Whether oddly plastic monsters are removing your head in a geyser of blood (Dead Sushi) or aging Yakuza are thinking up exciting new ways to execute you (Outrage Beyond), you'll always have a smile on your face as your heart stops beating because at least Asians make the effort to make your demise as memorably odd as possible.

How odd are we talking? You could become a zombie through tainted meat, be replaced by religious robots or crushed by an extraterrestrial 8-ball (Doomsday Book). Time travel is also pretty common in Asia, so your chances of meeting your past self or be displaced in a past century are pretty common when compared to Europe or North America (Young Gun in the Time and Lee's Adventure). If your life isn't being threatened, you're probably living in the reasonably peaceful Japanese countryside, where everyone eats vaginal fruit and giants work in tiny shops (The Warped Forest). That seems to be the rule in Japan: if it isn't going to kill you, it's at least going to be odd.

That's not to say Asia isn't full of its fair share of misery and discomfort. Before it became a land of time travel and scantily clad women battling monsters, hard wars had to be won (Cold Steel) and bullying remains a major, overlooked problem (The King of Pigs). In fact, the far north and the far south seem far less whimsical, with Russia being a barren wasteland inhabited solely by hardened criminals and their victims (Dom - A Russian Family) and the Philippines being the South America of Asia, i.e., the kind of place where getting kidnapped is a day-to-day experience (Graceland).

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