For the team here at Film School Rejects, this will be our 11th South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival. And while the folks who program the fest itself have been doing so for much longer, we’re fairly certain that we’ve got a handle on this whole thing. Recommending what you should see, what you should keep an eye on for later, and what, if anything, you should avoid. We’re not going to do the latter here. This article is all about pre-celebrating that movies we can’t wait to see.
To do that, we’ve asked our intrepid staff covering SXSW — Rob Hunter, Natalie Mokry, Matthew Monagle, and Neil Miller — to outline a short list of films they each can’t wait to see this coming week.
What Keeps You Alive
Two women head to a remote house in the woods to celebrate their one year anniversary, but what starts as a joyful vacation quickly descends into nightmare when neighbors across the lake trigger an onslaught of violence. Writer/director Colin Minihan’s latest is easily his best and most tonally confident effort, and it wisely gives time to its two leads before unleashing hell. What follows is a tight, suspenseful battle of wills that not everyone will survive.
A paralyzed man accepts an experimental implant that affords him the chance at revenge for his murdered wife, but it comes at an unexpected cost. Technology is almost never a plus for characters in horror movies, but with writer/director Leigh Whannel in charge it’s guaranteed to be a good time for audiences. Add in Logan Marshall-Green and Get Out‘s Betty Gabriel, and you have a thriller we can’t help but be excited about.
Young people on the run from cops seek shelter in the woods, but their plans to relax and get high are interrupted by a park ranger with murder on his mind. Co-writer/director Jenn Wexler cut her genre teeth over the past few years as producer on films like Darling, Psychopaths, and more, and her feature directorial debut promises a fresh and welcome voice behind the camera. Plus, and this is no small thing, Larry Fessenden makes an appearance too.
A skeptic of all things supernatural is tasked with investigating three cases that appear to have no natural explanation. I can never have enough horror anthology films, and recent years have seen a solid uptick with titles like Tales of Halloween, V/H/S, and Holidays bringing various thrills to the screen. This darkly comic chiller from the UK goes the less common route of having all three tales (as well as the wraparound) made by the same people, and the result is a story that comes together with twists, surprises, and some genuine creepiness.
Field Guide to Evil
The fest’s other horror anthology sees eight filmmakers join forces to share tales exploring dark and deadly folklore from around the world. The directors behind movies as diverse as Goodnight Mommy, The Duke of Burgundy, The Lure, and Baskin guarantee an experience filled with legends and lore about bad people doing terrible things (and maybe even some bad things doing terrible people).
The Director and The Jedi
As a Last Jedi fan and behind-the-scenes nerd, this documentary excites me. But even if you don’t care for the most recent Star Wars installment, and have only a mild interest in the franchise as a whole, this still seems pretty promising. Uncovering what it’s like to enter the middle of a trilogy and the process of making a Star Wars movie, the film explores Rian Johnson’s experience with The Last Jedi and the legacy that looms over any director entering the series for the first time. With Johnson having been a Star Wars fan turned Star Wars director, what better movie to set an inspirational tone at a festival where so many filmmakers get their start?
As one of SXSW opening films this year, Blockers has got some great selling points. The film has a stellar cast of comedic actors (Ike Barinholtz, Leslie Mann, John Cena) and is the directorial debut of Pitch Perfect and 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon. If that wasn’t enough, it’s got a story that probably both teens and parents can relate to in some way. Young or old, you never forget those raging high school hormones and how terribly embarrassing it would be to have your parents interfere with that, on prom night no less.
A Quiet Place
Wait, Jim from The Office directed an eerily silent horror film? Yep. And it looks really cool. I’m no horror fan, but this sounds like a lot of fun, playing with all of the elements of the thriller genre that make you jump out of your seat quite literally. As characters attempt to go through a world where every sound made could be one of their last, the stakes are higher than ever.
Hearts Beat Loud
A story about a father and a daughter bonding over music the year before she begins college, this film just sounds like it will be heart-felt and feel-good in the best of ways. Starring Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemens, the film is set in Brooklyn, following the journey a father and daughter embark on when they begin writing songs together.
You Can Choose Your Family
Family and coming-of-age movies seem to be strong within this year’s line-up, and the film with “family” literally in the title is no exception. That being said, this one takes what could be a traditional father and son story, and adds an interesting twist. When a son who aspires to be a musician discovers his strict father (Jim Gaffigan) has a life with a whole other family in another town, he decides to take charge of the situation and his life, choosing for once not to be intimidated or upset by his dad.
Given the deluge of independent films about soul-searching hitmen you’ve seen in your lifetime, you’d be forgiven for thinking Galveston is more of the same. You’d also be wrong. Based on a Nic Pizzolatto novel of the same name, Galveston is the work of writer-director Mélanie Laurent, best known, perhaps, as Shoshanna in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Throw in a setting with the potential for poetry – the oft-rebuilt Texas coastal town – and two powerhouse performers in Ben Foster and Elle Fanning, and something tells me that Galveston will be a lot closer to movies like Killer Joe than blander festival fare.
Hollywood happens in waves. For the past few years, there’s been a slow influx of films and television shows about humanity’s eventual terraforming of other planets. And, like any good movement in film, there’s plenty of opportunity for experimentation with form. Any science fiction film that seems to be taking its cues from independent westerns certainly has my eye – the trailer seems to evoke contemporary westerns like Slow West in its deliberate pacing and violence – and a western-tinged space movie that also happens to be from two first-time filmmakers? There’s just nothing in that sentence that doesn’t reek of potential.
I’ve this before, but it bears repeating: as terrible as the Cold War may have been for American foreign policy, it’s a great thing for Hollywood. Movies about America’s endless conflict with Russia – and the people and organizations that live in the cracks between these two nations – have always been a particular favorite of mine, which means that Operation: Odessa was one of the first films to get scheduled on my program. Throw in American spy agencies, South American drug cartels, and overblown grifters, and this is the kind of documentary that simply cannot fail. No matter how good the craft, the story will always propel Operation: Odessa forward.
Jenn Wexler may not be a household name – not yet, anyways – but she’s certainly well-established among horror fans. For years, Wexler has helped produce some of the most vibrant independent horror films out there; The Ranger, which seems destined to be this year’s Green Room in its punks-take-on-the-world approach to horror, is her first opportunity to show her worth behind the camera. Based on the premise alone, The Ranger is the type of movie that makes midnight programs at major festivals totally worthwhile. Here’s looking forward to the emergence of a new badass horror filmmaker.
Field Guide to Evil
Do we need another anthology horror film? If we’re talking about an international horror film anthology featuring some of the most inventive genre filmmakers of the last five years, then yes, we abso-fucking-lutely do need another anthology horror film. With segments from the directors of Baskin, The Lure, and Goodnight Mommy, Field Guide to Evil already has more cache among horror fans than perhaps anything else playing at SxSW this year. Add in the cultural element – folklore lifted from their country of origin – and you have an absolutely fresh spin on a type of film that has probably begun to wear out its welcome a little.
Sorry to Bother You
A holdover from Sundance (and a bit of a cheat on my part, as that’s where I saw it), Boots Riley’s social satire about the evil streak of so many isms is one of those freakishly smart and unique films that demands your attention. It’s also a showcase for some incredible acting talent, including LaKeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson. Everyone else will tell you that this movie is worth seeing because it gets quite literally wild at the end, but I’m here to stan for all of it.
Support The Girls
Andrew Bujalski’s latest film sounds a lot like Coyote Ugly, with Regina Hall playing denmother to a group of young women in a roadside “sportsbar with curves,” but we’re expecting it to be a little more than that. The cast of young actors he’s assembled is impressive, including the ever-rising star Haley Lu Richardson. Perhaps it is time to take this part of American culture to task. Either way, after her wonderful performance in Jim Strouse’s People Places Things a few years back, I’ll follow Regina Hall anywhere.
Isle of Dogs
The buzz out of the Berlin premiere of Wes Anderson’s latest last month was pretty strong, as many a critic lauded this spiritual successor to Fantastic Mr. Fox. This one has all the promise of Wes Anderson’s charm and quirk along with a voice cast to die for. Even though it hits theaters in two weeks, this is the kind of premiere that makes SXSW fun. The audience will be energetic, ther Paramount theater will be dressed to the nines, and it promises to be one of the more memorable closing night films in recent history.
Most Likely to Murder
“Billy (Adam Pally) comes back to his hometown expecting to be beloved like he used to be. Instead he finds his ex (Rachel Bloom) is dating the former high school outcast (Vincent Kartheiser), so Billy becomes obsessed with proving the outcast is actually the killer behind a mysterious local death. It’s like Rear Window… for stoners.” Stop right there, SXSW programming guide. We have a bunch of things I like and I don’t need to hear anymore.
This will be the first SXSW in a while that does not include any kind of Game of Thrones programming, a fact that makes me a little sad but is also somewhat of a relief. I feel as if I’ve spent the last 6-7 years chasing around Iron Throne pedicabs and trying to squeeze into slightly above average brand activations involving Westeros. This year, there’s none of that. But there is a space exploration/western starring one of my longtime Thrones faves Pedro Pascal. Jay Duplass plays a man who, alongside his daughter, travels to an alien moon in hopes that they can find precious minerals and strike it rich. That is until it all goes wrong (I’m assuming) with my guy Pedro.