Editor’s note: Now that this excellent film is opening in limited theatrical release we’re re-running Neil’s review from last year’s Fantastic Fest. Don’t worry if you don’t live in NY or LA either as the movie hits VOD starting June 4th.
Charming and heartwarming aren’t words that you’d easily associate with the movies of Fantastic Fest. Looking back over our barrage of coverage from the past week and change, a lot of what we’re talking about is the hyper-violent, the intensely frightening and in many cases, the downright disturbing. It’s a film festival with plenty of edge, to be sure. And then there’s a film like The History of Future Folk, which sticks out like a sore thumb and fits like a glove all the same. A science fiction oddity that centers on a plot that would destroy all of humanity weaved in with an impossibly charming story of harmony and love. Delivered with melody and levity, this film is undoubtedly the Fantastic Fest Class of 2012’s movie “Most Likely to Make You Smile.”
Directed by first timers John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker, The History of Future Folk tells the story of General Trius (Nils d’Aulaire), a great warrior from the planet Hondo. Eleven years ago he embarked on a journey to find a suitable replacement planet for his people, who watch as a comet comes speeding directly toward their home. He arrives on Earth (somewhere near Brooklyn) with a deadly virus in hand, ready to pave the way for the Hondorian invasion, only to find himself struck by a new sensation. There in one of our most sacred Earthly temples (a Sam’s Club-esque retail warehouse), wearing his bright, bucket helmeted space suit, Trius discovers the intricately woven aural entrancement brought on by music. Then and there he decides not to kill off the humans, but to take on the name Bill, get married and have an adorable daughter and begin touring as a one-man bluegrass act from outer space.
Some time later, his peaceful existence is disrupted when Hondo sends another warrior — the slightly less capable buffoon Kevin (Jay Klaitz) — after him to get him back on track. With ease and some serious banjo skills, Bill is able to subdue Kevin and bring him into the humanity-loving fold. Together they form a band called Future Folk, a harmonious tale-telling duo that is like a bluegrass version of Flight of the Conchords. It’s all well and good, until Hondo sends even more reinforcements.
The film’s charm, as you might imagine, is derived from the innocent joy that music brings to our main characters. The notion of discovering music as something completely new and the excitement we see in both Bill and Kevin as they entertain their New York underground fanbase makes them easy to root for. Further endearing is Bill’s relationship with his daughter, played by Onata Aprile. He tells her stories of Hondo and the great General Trius, who unbeknownst to the little one is actually him. The film opens on such a moment between father and daughter, instantaneously endearing us to Bill and his story. Even as he keeps his true identity hidden from his family, we root for him. We don’t want to see him kill all of humanity. We just want to see him play music.
Beyond being smile-inducing, History of Future Folk also has moments of inspired commentary on the nature of wanting to save one’s own people while also giving in to becoming a member of a new people. To his credit, d’Aulaire brings Bill to life with a great deal of emotional depth. He’s not just a musician biding his time in between the film’s numerous musical performances. He’s a real charmer, as is his partner in crime Klaitz.
Of course they are really musicians, having honed their skills as a group of “Acoustic Space Aliens” for the past several years in New York. And when they hit the stage, it’s a real treat. Their music is upbeat and good-natured, filled with clever storytelling that provides much of the backdrop for the film. They’re so effortlessly lovable that one wishes that their stories were true. Because as they show in their movie, good vibes and endless charm can, in fact, save the human race from a horrible fate.
One pass at The History of Future Folk and you’ll be going local, throwing a bucket on your head and using the traditional greeting of Future Folk’s home planet, “Hondo!”
The Upside: A wonderfully energetic, harmonious and immensely charming, this is the cinematic version of cute animal photos. A guaranteed smile.
The Downside: One wishes that directors Mitchell and Walker had more of a budget to play with, as some of the alien elements do show off the film’s low-fi approach, but it works as part of the film’s indelible charm.