(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.)


Haunters
A directionless young man, after getting fired from his position at a junkyard, takes a job as a manager in a pawnshop. He enjoys the work, his quirky boss, and especially spending time with his beautiful coworker. One day, while his friends from the junkyard are visiting, a man comes into the shop with criminal intentions and supernatural abilities. For the rest of the film, our hero tries to track down this psychic villain and bring an end to his crime spree.

Haunters is an intriguing take on the superhero film. It is an origin story of the villain that eventually finds its way to the one guy who can stop him. It’s a bit like Unbreakable except that the characters’ motivations and intentions are overt and not relegated to a third act twist. They take the time to develop the villain fully and actually give us moments of pathos wherein we empathize with him; making the conflict between he and the protagonist far more interesting. The sequences of the antagonist using his superhuman skills makes for some of the film’s best imagery including a horrifying sequence wherein entranced citizens leap in succession to their deaths. Great moments of humanity injected into what could have been a trite, flash-bang superhero action fest is what makes Haunters so entertaining and entirely satisfying.


Rabies
A group of strangers go to the park, on the very worst possible day. A pair of love-struck runaways—who bizarrely are also siblings—flees their unbearable home, a young couple arrives for their day of work, and a quartet of teens takes an extremely wrong turn. Whatever the circumstances that led them to this park, they will have to fight to escape with their lives. A sinister killer is also in the park hell-bent on collecting as many victims as possible. Ironically, no one contracts rabies.

Israel’s first genre film effort is a triumph right out of the gate. Rabies exists in a perpetual state of suspense and excitement. Despite its deceptive title, the characters do exhibit drastic changes spurred by rage that creates monsters out of good people. The film travels through a series of intertwining stories that intertwine as violently as those in Pulp Fiction. The horror in the movie comes from the lingering understanding that at any point, any character can die savagely and without warning. But what truly makes the film effective is the anchor character. The older police officer, the one without the penchant for breaking procedure, has a staggeringly tender moment at the end of the film that elevates Rabies to something more than a ghastly murder romp.


The Devil’s Business
Two hitmen are sent to take out an associate of the local crime magnate. They arrive as the man is enjoying the opera across town and settle in to await his return. The two men could not be more different. Mr. Pinner is a veteran of contract murder. He is well versed in all the rules of the game and follows each one to the letter. Cully is a hotheaded upstart whose brawn exceeds his brains by a country mile. The two hear a strange noise emanating from the woodshed behind their victim’s house. What they discover there makes even the seasoned Mr. Pinner rethink this particular contract.

There will be a great many people who do not like The Devil’s Business. It is a 75-minute film in which a good 45 minutes is devoted to quiet character moments developed in conversation between the two killers. Talking heads movies, as they are known, typically don’t reach a wide audience. But the performances in the film, particularly from Billy Clarke as Mr. Pinner, effortlessly keep the viewer engaged as he weaves a long-form ghost story from his past. Sean Hogan’s script plays a very subtle game of cat-and-mouse between the hitmen in the film and the audience’s expectations. Given the film’s title, it is no great surprise what sinister secrets lie in this house. Therefore as we come to embrace these characters, we are waiting for that other shoe to drop and hoping they will leave beforehand. But the film isn’t all conversation. Once Pandora’s Box is opened, the film becomes a violent exercise in occult horror that satisfies all the way to the bloody conclusion.

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