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Fantastic Fest Final Day: The Innkeepers, Urban Explorer, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope

(Fantastic Fest has wrapped up in Austin, Texas, but our intrepid reporter Brian Salisbury is bringing us one more highlight 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.)

The Innkeepers

Luke and Claire never had any illusions that their job at the local hotel held much promise. In fact, it proved to be a complete dead end as The Yankee Peddler Inn ended up going belly-up and having to close for good. The two friends shared a hobby that made the long, eventless nights working the desk slightly more bearable. These two amateur ghost hunters take advantage of the emptiness of the hotel near its final closing to search for definitive evidence of the supernatural. What they discover is far more sinister than anything they could have ever imagined.

The Innkeepers is tonally a far cry from director Ti West’s last Fantastic Fest entry House of the Devil. But the differences are all a welcome change of pace. The film functions more as an offbeat romantic comedy than a horror film for much of the runtime. The relationship between Luke and Claire is so familiar, so organic, that the dialogue flows between them with ease and provides for several moments of effortless comedy. But when the film takes its dark turn and revs up the ghostly suspense, it becomes something arguably more frightening than West’s last film. Especially impressive is the film’s active resistance to the use of jump scares; opting instead to build the scares slowly and let the audience simmer in their chilling effects.

Urban Explorer A group of young thrill-seekers decide to engage in an illegal tour of the Berlin sewer system. The tour guide, who insists that everyone in the group use an alias, is confident that they will find a deserted Nazi bunker somewhere within the labyrinth of the city’s underground tunnels. Instead they encounter neo-Nazis with a nasty tendency toward violence. As they flee for their lives, they are horrified to discover that the skinheads are not the worst things lurking in these sewers.

It is not uncommon for a horror film to boast a strong concept out of the gate but fumble in the execution. Urban Explorer on the other hand begins with a weak concept and completely botches the execution. Even if you buy the idea that anyone would actually agree to tour the sewers of Berlin looking for a Nazi bunker, none of the assembled cast of vapid characters seems authentically interested in the excursion. The film then flounders through every conceivable horror cliché imaginable. There is a character who suffers a severe accident early on so the rest of the characters desperately “need to get help,” and then of course there’s the character who appears to be saving them from danger whose ulterior motives could not be more paper-thin. Ultimately the film is frustratingly inept with protagonists as ineffectual as the film’s failed flailing toward extreme horror.

Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan’s Hope

This documentary was filmed at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con and seeks to capture the magic of the convention as seen through the eyes of a select group of attendees. James met his girlfriend at the previous year’s convention and is hoping to propose to her this year. Skip is an aspiring comic book artist hoping to be discovered. Holly and her team of mad geniuses have designed costumes that perfectly replicate the characters of the videogame Mass Effect 2 and are hoping to win the Masquerade contest. Chuck is the owner of Mile High Comics, one of the largest comic book dealers in the country ,and is hoping to sell enough books to keep his company solvent.

Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan’s Hope is a heartfelt tribute to the passion and creativity of those who find a special refuge within the halls of Comic-Con. Whereas many documentaries about geek culture present their subjects with an impossibly condescending tone, this film seeks to cast a favorable spotlight on these attendees and connect them emotionally with audiences of all types. The interjections from comic industry legends as well as actors and film producers, were hilarious and provided a nice counterbalance to the stories of the convention patrons. Kevin Smith in particular was on fire with his uproariously funny commentary.

As is the objective of any great documentary, these subjects are real people but have character arcs and experience a journey throughout the course of the film. There were parts that had the theater cheering and others that had us tearing up with joy. San Diego’s Comic-Con fosters a community, a haven for those with esoteric passions for comic books, videogames, and collectibles in much the same way that Fantastic Fest provides a haven for fans of esoteric genre films. There is a beautiful parallel there that made Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan’s Hope the pitch-perfect close to this festival.