(Fantastic Fest is still going in Austin, Texas, and our intrepid reporter Brian Salisbury is bringing us the highlights of what he's seen at the world's largest festival dedicated to genre movies. For everything else Brian has been up to, check out all of his reports here.)
Knuckle is a documentary centered around Irish bare-knuckle boxing champion James Quinn McDonagh. A member of a pseudo-gypsy Irish culture known as the travelers, McDonagh engages in several illegal boxing matches with members of other traveler families with whom his family has been feuding for years. The documentary catalogues twelve years of McDonagh’s life and his multiple, unsuccessful attempts to permanently retire from fighting.
Fantastic Fest has plenty of horror films this year, but Knuckle has to be the scariest movie I’ve seen so far. The traveler culture depicted in this documentary is one of perpetual violence; a tribal society that thrives on warfare. In the absence of a national conflict, these men feud with other clans over the most insignificant of perceived insults just to feed their need for bloodshed. The brutality of these fights is frightening enough, but their durations, and the refusal of even the most bloodied of combatants to concede are cringe inducing. Even more unsettling is that the children of these clans are taught from a young age to fight and to despise the other clans; ensuring the continuation of these feuds.
As a documentary, Knuckle is a marvel. It began with one man filming a wedding, and then a bare-knuckle fight, and ended with one of the most impressive single documentations of one man and one culture. Few documentaries are able to cover such an expansive period of one person’s life so adeptly. There is an appropriateness to the gradual improvement in picture quality as the doc progresses. On the surface it is merely a reflection of the update in technology or an increase in the film’s funding. But it provides for a great, subtle parallel to the progressively clearer picture we get of James as a man and as a fighter.
Kill Me Please
In a sleepy town in France lies the clinic of Dr. Krueger. Where most physicians strive to help extend the lives of their patients, Dr. Krueger’s clinic is specially designed to peacefully end their patients’ lives. This clinic, among the best in the world, offers those who wish to die a comfortable place to do so wherein almost any of their final wishes will be fulfilled. But the clinic draws more than a little ire from the surrounding community, and the conflict between Dr. Krueger and the locals is about to reach the boiling point.
Kill Me Please is a hilarious film that at every turn makes you feel horrible about yourself for laughing. It is the epitome of black comedy that celebrates the futility of life and the absurdity of death. The choice to shoot the film in black-and-white and its introspective, talky opening laced with ennui may lose a few folks right out of the gate. Truth be told, I was tuning out at first. But when the film lays all its cards on the table and really gets rolling, it is equal parts riotously funny and surprisingly poignant. The climax of the movie, despite being informed by context clues leading up to it, is so outlandish as to feel completely out of left field. This is not a knock on the film, quite the contrary. Once the dust clears, it becomes painfully obvious that it was the only logical conclusion; based on the comically dubious logic the script establishes.
Two Eyes Staring
Lisa is a young girl prone to creating imaginary friends, much to the chagrin of her parents. Lisa’s mother has been estranged from her own mother for many years and only hears about her death weeks after the funeral when a lawyer phones to tell her that she has been bequeathed the family estate. But when Lisa discovers a young girl living in the cellar of the home, the question arises; is she just another imaginary friend or is she something far worse?
Two Eyes Staring is an intensely atmospheric supernatural thriller. Its tender themes of a young girl struggling to make friends, family estrangement, and children being the only witnesses to the supernatural draw parallels to the early work of Guillermo del Toro. But as the film progresses it becomes far more sinister and darker than even Guillermo tends to go. The story twists in ways that are not as much shocking as they are deeply emotionally upsetting, but fully necessary to complete some very bold character arcs. That being said, there are some familiar ghost story tropes in Two Eyes Staring that work to various levels of effectiveness and will keep even the most desensitized horror audiences engaged.