Anytime you deal with genre films, you're dealing with stories of conflict. Good versus evil. Monsters versus humans. Keanu Reeves versus Russian mobsters. Naturally, that makes a genre-film festival like Fantastic Fest the perfect breeding ground for new heroes and villains. After all, this is a fest famous for its "anything goes" atmosphere and that includes the characters on-screen.
This is not a definitive list of every great hero and villain to grace this year's Fantastic Fest, but these ten are definitely the cream of the crop.
John Wick (John Wick)
Most of us don't know what it's like to be a highly skilled hit man. Most of us will never know what it's like to march into a Russian Mafia stronghold and effortlessly kill a dozen armed men. Most of us will never dress as well as John Wick or display his talent for gruesome, spectacular violence. However, most of can relate to his motivation: the bad guys killed his dog and now he wants revenge. Seriously. For that reason and that reason alone, John Wick is one of the great action characters of the 21st century.
Nils Dickman (In Order of Disappearance)
When we first meet Nils Dickman, he's receiving an award for being "Citizen of the Year" in his small, icy town, where he plows the roads. And then the wrong people kill his son and he sets out to find out who did it. Despite being a blue-collar workingman with no criminal experience, Nils proves rather adept at the art of murder, leaving the bloody bodies of everyone tangentially related his son's death in his wake. Eventually, he ignites a turf war between rival criminal clans and single-handedly avenges his kid by forcing the local criminal element to devour itself. Citizen of the year, indeed.
Amelia (The Babadook)
For a while, we don't know what to think about Amelia. A single mother still grappling with grief and depression after her husband's death seven years prior, she's often on the verge of just giving up, both as a parent and as a combatant in the battle against the demonic force that his invaded her home through an evil children's book. However, Amelia ultimately proves herself to be stronger than both internal and external darkness, fighting for her son, her home and herself with a strength that has to be seen to be believed. Amelia is one of the great horror heroines of all time.
A wandering homeless man with the body and skills of a badass Chilean martial artist, Pardo travels around South America doing God's work. And by doing God's work, we mean he eavesdrops on people's problems in church and sets out to solve them with his fists. And guns. And knives. And boat motors. Yeah, Pardo may be more than a little unhinged, but he means well and his moral code is iron clad. Ask the Lord for forgiveness and he may only shatter your kneecaps instead of blow your head apart with a shotgun. We can get behind that.
Kylie and Miriam Bucknell (Housebound)
After botching a robbery, amateur criminal Kylie is sentenced to eight months of house arrest in her childhood home, where she'll live under the constant eye of her absent-minded mother, Miriam. Although the two don't see eye-to-eye on much, this mother-daughter duo soon find common ground when they realize that their old house may be haunted. What makes their ensuing investigation so great is that neither of them is an expert in, well, anything. Their choices, both brave and stupid, ring true. They are mistaken as often as they're correct, but through pluck and determination, they manage to... well, that's a spoiler. Let's just say these are two of the most lovable and relatable horror protagonists you'll ever see.
It (It Follows)
What is "it," exactly? That's the question. Whatever "it" is, it's transferred via sexual intercourse and proceeds to follow its intended victim. It never stops moving, but never goes faster than a stroll. It can take on any form it desires. It's invisible to anyone not "infected." And it's relentless. This is an odd villain since it has no face, no identity and no obvious motivation, but it's nothing short of terrifying. It can come from anywhere, look like anything and it will never, ever stop hunting you until you "pass it on." It may not have an identity, but it never leaves the mind of its victims, who will never sleep well (or sit still) again.
Elliot Scott (Kung Fu Elliot)
When you first meet Canadian kickboxer Elliot Scott, he seems like a lovable and eccentric goofball whose dreams of movie stardom and martial arts mastery are charming. But hang around him a little while longer. Soon, you'll discover how he mooches off his long-suffering girlfriend. You'll see how he abuses the trust of the people in his life. You'll see how he's a narcissist and an exaggerator. And it only gets worse from there. Elliot King may not have a body count like so many other cinematic baddies, but he has one thing on the competition: he's real.
The Avalanche (Force Majeure)
The avalanche doesn't kill anyone. It doesn't even injure any guests staying at the ski resort -- all it does is leave the onlookers coated in a fine, snowy powder. But what it does do is shake a seemingly stable family to its core. When Tomas flees as the sight of the avalanche and leaves his family to fend for themselves, Ebba finds herself questioning everything about her life. Is her husband a coward? Is he capable of protecting her and their children? The rest of the family's vacation becomes a desperate battle to save the marriage from crumbling into dust, as both husband and wife suffer mental breakdowns. The great evil of that avalanche isn't that it hurt anybody, it's that it exposed a horrible truth: no one knows what they would actually do in a moment of crisis. We are all cowards and villains waiting to happen.
Val Kilmer (Lost Soul)
Many problems plagued the infamous 1996 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau, from disastrous weather to the unsteady young director to the skyrocketing budget. Everyone interviewed in this documentary point their fingers in a different direction when it comes time to assign blame for the disastrous shoot. However, everyone seems to be in agreement about one thing: Val Kilmer was a total bully and a jerk. While everyone shakes their heads and laughs about the wacky behavior of Marlon Brando, Kilmer's name is accompanied by sneers, with many of the talking heads looking ready to spit at the thought of him. Some anecdotes have him challenging original director Richard Stanley in an alpha-male showdown. Some just have him being relentlessly cruel to his fellow actors and the crew. When the credits roll, no one looks worse than Mr. Kilmer, who really should have participated in the film to defend himself.
David (The Guest)
With his smoldering good looks and badass set of skills, David is almost your traditional cinematic action hero. The only problem is that he's a complete and total psychopath. While most action heroes who take refuge in small towns end up fighting to save their newfound adopted family and friends, David ends up murdering anyone who crosses him the wrong way (and a few who don't). It's a terrifying concept: what if the unstoppable hero of so many action movies was actually an unstoppable killer in a slasher movie? The last time an unstoppable monster in a the guise of a man made such a strong impression, we were gifted with The Terminator.
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