Festival Roundup: SXSW ’21

SXSW proved unexpectedly strong this year, particularly in its Midnighter strand. Congratulations to the organisers for putting on a great virtual programme under challenging lockdown conditions.

With that said, it’s time for a round-up! Here are the best things we saw coming out of SXSW in February this year.

And if you’d like to know a little more about any of these films, you can hear me discussing them on the Movies with Gravy podcast with Billy Ray Brewton, and the Riding the Omnibus podcast with Arial Baska.

Our favourites from SXSW ’21

1. Here Before (Gregg, UK)

When a new family moves in next door to Andrea Riseborough’s Laura, their young daughter Megan quickly prvoes friendly. But soon friendly turns to creepy, and even uncanny. Here Before is recommended for fans of ominous domestic mysteries in small towns, creepy kids, and big pupil action (does Riseborough have the most dilated pupils in cinema?) Stacey Gregg’s debut feature is very reminiscent of one particular 5-star classic that comes to mind, but I don’t care – it’s still excellent, and succeeds on its own terms. Go in cold!

That said… here’s a non-spoilery clip.

2. The Fallout (Park, USA)

High schooler Vada navigates the emotional fallout after she survives a high-school shooting. Park’s debut feature was easily the best non-horror at SXSW, featuring a wonderful central performance and keenly drawn character dynamics. Jenna Ortega is stunning in the central role, and is more than ably supported by the excellent Maddie Ziegler as the ‘hot girl’ influencer she bonds with.

3. The Spine of Night (Gelatt & King, USA)

This rotoscoped fantasy epic features strong cosmic horror elements and quite a lot of full-frontal nudity – like a Heavy Metal for our age. Its strong ecological message is sure to resonate with fans of shamanism, boobs, and edibles. Plus it has an extended Flash Gordon homage at one point!

4. In the Same Breath (Wang, USA)

If this doesn’t scare you, you’re already dead… Nanfu Wang’s jaw-dropping COVID-19 documentary starts as a searing indictment of a health crisis, and ends pointing to the spectre of a coming global authoritarianism. Vital & timely.

5. Broadcast Signal Intrusion (Gentry, USA)

Broadcast Signal Intrusion would make a fun pairing with this year’s Censor: both involve people who watch films/tapes for a living getting drawn into a psychotic mystery around a missing girl when they glimpse something in the footage that resembles a past trauma / recurring nightmare. Broadcast Signal Intrusion is the more abrasive and elliptical of the pair, refusing to give up its secrets without a fight.

6. Offseason (Keating, USA)

A wonderfully atmospheric horror that riffs on Fulci, Rollins, Dead & Buried and (above all) Messiah of Evil. This is a nice, tight little tribute to small town Lovecraftian dread. A fun time for us fans of the subgenre, and a compelling lead performance from Jocelin Donahue, whose superb performance brought to mind Margot Kidder – perfect for Offseason’s paranoid 70s vibes.

7. Delia Derbyshire: The Legendary Tapes (Catz, UK)

Catz’s film is as boldly experimental as Derbyshire itself: taking reenactments of its subject’s life, archival footage, talking heads, this collage of reflections is a wistful tribute to the godfather of British electronic music – the genius we refused to recognise and let slip away. Teaser trailer here.

8. Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché (Sng & Bell, UK)

This heartfelt, personal voyage through the life and death of Poly Styrene, told by her daughter, eschews talking heads and turns instead to extensive archive footage and Poly’s own diaries, given voice by Ruth Negga’s spot-on rendition. Fame, music, feminism, mental health, religion, trauma, life and death – it’s all here. Trailer here.

9. Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (Janisse, USA)

Kier-La Janisse’s folk horror doc clocks in at over 3 hours, and takes in Britain, the US, and the rest of the world too. It front-loads its strongest material, from the British tradition, but even as it loses focus towards the end it still presents a smorgasboard of engrossing references and recommendations. See Janisse interviewed here.

10. Violation (Mancinelli & Sims-Fewer, Canada)

This twisty, thorny deconstruction and problematicisation of the rape revenge genre has a lot to say on the relationship between justice, revenge, and PTSD – and features a great, unsettling set-piece when it comes to the ‘revenge’ aspect. Trailer here. Violation is now streaming on Shudder.

What do you think? Anything we missed? Let us know!

One thought on “Festival Roundup: SXSW ’21

  1. Pingback: Fantasia Film Festival 2021 – Preview | Whitlock&Pope

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