The Best (and Most Insightful) Genre Films at Fantastic Fest 2021
A close look into the blood, guts, and carnage from the many gritty genre films of Fantastic Fest 2021. Let’s get scared!
Another year, another Fantastic Fest. Alamo Drafthouse’s annual film festival in Austin, Texas returns this year with a limited in-person run, which includes the usual array of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, Asian, martial arts, and cult genre films of the past year.
If you aren’t super familiar with Fantastic Fest, it was founded in 2005 by Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League, Ain’t It Cool News’s Harry Knowles, writer Tim McCanlies, and Paul Alvarado-Dykstra, and has seen some world and US premieres of such genre staples as Zombieland, Machete Kills, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Halloween (2018), to name a few.
As we’ve covered in the past, we have a preview look into some of the films and what aspiring filmmakers can take away from these gritty soon-to-be genre classics.
Genre Horror Films
As per usual, Fantastic Fest is the perfect space for horror fans and filmmakers alike. While the festival is open to all types of genre film submissions and screenings, it really shines in the horror genre category in particular.
Here are some of the highlights from this year’s fest you should check out (we’ll go over some helpful tips for aspiring horror filmmakers below, as well).
- Black Friday!: Directed by Casey Tebo — “A ragtag group of toy store employees get more than they bargained for when Black Friday shoppers mutate into violent monsters.”
- Lamb: Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson — “On a remote farm in Iceland, a couple that experienced recent loss is caring for their flock of sheep. One day, one of their sheep gives birth to a very peculiar lamb that will change their lives forever.”
- Slumber Party Massacre: Directed by Danishka Esterhazy — “From the brilliant mind of Fantastic Fest alum Danishka Esterhazy (Level 16) comes a surprising, delightful, and bloody reimagining of ‘80s slasher classic The Slumberparty Massacre.”
- There’s Someone Inside Your House: Directed by Patrick Brice — “Makani Young and the graduating class at Osborne High are being targeted by a masked killer intent on exposing their darkest secrets to the world.”
- V/H/S/94: Directed by Chloe Okuno, Simon Barrett, Timo Tjahjanto, Ryan Prows, and Jennifer Reeder — “Chloe Okuno, Jennifer Reeder, and Ryan Prows join franchise alumni Simon Barrett and Timo Tjahjanto in this fourth installment of the blood-soaked found-footage horror omnibus series.”
When diving into horror, it’s important to do your research and watch both the new films of the genre as well as explore the classics.
However, before you go out and start shooting your first Cabin in the Woods-type film with friends, check out some of these resources:
- 3 Practical Gore Effects for Your Next Horror Short
- 5 Ways to Avoid the Horrors of Every Student Film Set
- 400+ Free and Paid Halloween-Themed Assets for Your Next Horror Film
- Nine Inch Nail’s Charlie Clouser’s Stock Logic Plugins for Horror Films
- Editing Horror Films: 7 Pacing Tips for Your Next Project
Genre Sci-Fi Films
Moving on to science fiction films at Fantastic Fest 2021, the sci-fi genre category is another staple of the genre-heavy festival. However, unlike horror, the sci-fi genre tends to lend itself more to a sub-genre these days, as it easily attaches itself to horror or drama films (which simply includes sci-fi elements like aliens, supernatural powers, or other classic conventions).
As filmmakers, it’s important to still keep tabs on how sci-fi is evolving in modern film, and how and why filmmakers choose to implement sci-fi elements into their films.
Here are some awesome sci-fi (and sci-fi adjacent) films to check out:
- Aelita: Queen of Mars: Directed by Yakov Protazanov — “A silent science fiction film directed by Soviet filmmaker Yakov Protazanov, with new score by Chris Bullock, a saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, and as a longtime member and composer for Snarky Puppy, he has received four Grammy awards.”
- Freaks Out: Directed by Gabriele Mainetti — “During WWII in Italy, after circus director Israel disappears, four performers gifted with special powers go looking for him and unknowingly walk into a trap set by an SS officer who is obsessed with finding them.”
- Yellow Dragon’s Village: Directed by Hugo Sakamoto — “And now for something completely different. Cannibal cultists and vengeful martial artists lead the way as found-footage horror gets a cult film makeover courtesy of Hugo Sakamoto’s inventive and spirited debut.”
You can also read up on how to create sci-fi films of your own, as well as how to add sci-fi elements to your projects with these cool tutorials, overlays, and resources.
- 10 Practical Tips for Creating Sci-Fi HUDs in After Effects
- Filmmaking Lessons from the Making of the Sci-Fi Horror Classic “Alien”
- Interview: Director Ernie Gilbert on His Sci-Fi Short Film “Nine Minutes”
- Sci-Fi 101: Tips for Creating Awesome Time Travel Films
- How to Create a Retro Sci-Fi Disintegration Effect in After Effects
Genre Thriller Films
Thriller films are another interesting case study for aspiring genre filmmakers and non-genre filmmakers, as you could make the argument that most films share “thriller” elements.
However, looking at the more recent hard-boiled thriller genre films from around the world can provide inspiration and insight into how to captivate an audience and tell a visually riveting story.
Check out these selections if you get the chance:
- Hostage: Missing Celebrity: Directed by Gam-sung Pil — “Hwang Jung-min’s action film credentials are put to the test in Hostage: Missing Celebrity, a no-holds-barred thriller in which the Korean star plays himself.”
- Saloum: Directed by Jean-Luc Herbulot — “A trio of mercenaries find themselves navigating a mysterious region of Senegal in Jean-Luc Herbulot’s cool and kinetic genre-shifting thriller.”
- The Black Phone: Directed by Scott Derrickson — “After being abducted by a child killer and locked in a soundproof basement, a thirteen-year-old boy starts receiving calls on a disconnected phone from the killer’s previous victims.”
To really master the thriller genre though, you don’t necessarily need to look into complex VFX or practical special effects. Instead, you should really focus on filmmaking knowledge and the basic building-blocks of scene construction.
Here are some amazing articles exploring composition, thematic storytelling, and cinematography.
- 3 Directing Tips For Adding Suspense To Your Thriller
- Iconic Cinematography: Our 5 Favorite Shots from Darius Khondji
- 7 Tips for Writing Good Dialogue in Your Screenplay
- Five Photography Books to Inspire Raw Cinematography
- The 5 Most Visually Dark and Cold Films Ever Made
Genre Action Films
And finally, the genre nearest and dearest to my own heart, Fantastic Fest has been a surprising source of modern genre action films for the past decade. For a genre that saw its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s before fizzling out in more recent years, it’s nice to see the genre shift to incorporate other genre elements and thrive internationally.
Here are some cool action and martial art retrospectives and new films to check out.
- Baby Assassins: Directed by Hugo Sakamoto — “Two teenage assassins are just trying to get by when a run-in with the yakuza throws a wrench in their plans. Bummer!”
- Dynasty: Directed by Chang Mei-chung — “Now! DYNASTY! On the surface, it looks like just another indie kung fu flick from Taiwan. But, within minutes, this crazy train has picked up a full head of steam and is on its way to a Never Never Land of wild weapons, mass mutilation, and major mayhem . . . all in 3D!!!”
- Last of the Wolves: Directed by Kazuya Shiraishi — “A hard-won truce between rival yakuza gangs threatens to erupt into bloody violence when a psychopathic hoodlum is released from prison and vows to avenge the death of his boss.”
If you’d like to learn a bit more on how to film, choreograph, and edit genre action into your films or sequences, check out these articles:
- Genre Insights: 5 Things You Need to Make an Action Movie
- Why Every Good Action Film Is Actually a Love Story
- Up the Ante in Action Sequels Through Character Development
- The Most Insane Camera Moves Pulled Off During an Action Sequence
- Raise the Stakes in Your Action Scenes with a Pulse-Pumping Soundtrack
Overall, these genre films are excellent fodder for any filmmaker interested in studying how the medium has evolved over the years—and the exciting new possibilities for the future.
For more genre-insights, tips, tricks, and resources, check out these articles, as well:
- A Guide to the Basic Film Genres (and How to Use Them)
- 6 Modern TV Shows and Movies that Mix Genres
- What is Mumblecore? A Guide to this Indie Film Genre
- 7 Core Genre Elements Every Zombie Movie Needs
- Break Genre Rules Like a Master Filmmaker