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Keep an Eye Out: The Five Best from SXSW

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It’s not as if confinement as a motif is rare, especially in low budget, independent and horror cinema. You know:  movies making the most of one location that can’t afford to get the fuck out (eventually taking up plenty of space in film festivals in the process). It still plays like a dark joke however to see confinement in films when you yourself are pulling four-five movie days in a dark theater. At least the three major housebound (one of them is called HOUSEBOUND) genre titles at the 2014 SXSW film festival were some of the best the fest had to offer, all while varying greatly in style, theme, tone, ponytail bounce and bleak worldview.

It’s all possibly best illustrated by the dichotomy of intent in the aforementioned HOUSEBOUND (pictured, top) and the anticipated OCULUS, two horror films out of the Austin fest that both featured young women (one named Kaylie, one named Kylie) returning to their home to confront long-lasting (possibly supernatural) childhood issues. Mike Flanagan’s tremendous OCULUS finds little room for levity—except that serious ponytail bounce from Karen Gillan—in its facing of family trauma. Gillan’s Kaylie and her brother Tim tempt the antique mirror they believe to be accursed and which caused their father to brutally torment their mother. With ABSENTIA, Flanagan proved he seems to inherently understand unsettling atmosphere and lays it on heavily here, keeping the audience entirely off-balance with frightening, surreal twists, a brutal truth and serious emotional heft.

There’s no less of a twisting nature to Gerard Johnstone’s HOUSEBOUND, but each step is a thrilling delight, be it a proper jolt or biting, hilarious verbal retort from star Morgana O’Reilly. HOUSEBOUND pits a thoroughly modern Morgana against an old-fashioned gothic structure just as it pits an old-fashioned mystery against the challenge of playing with genre clichés. Challenge accepted and crushed, particularly in a moment when O’Reilly’s Kylie engages in a tête-à-tête with a psychologist trying to peddle the ol’ psychothriller dissociative identity disorder denouement. Of course, HOUSEBOUND has less traumatic weight than something like OCULUS, but is still concerned with the letting-go of angst and seeing yourself and your parents for who they are/were.

Less familial in nature, but still stuck inside is Christoph Behl’s refreshing, sweaty, way bleak Argentinian zombie film THE DESERT (pictured, below). With no shortage of stories that attempt to portray the breakdown of civility and descent into savagery in the face of an apocalypse, THE DESERT looks through a sadder lens. Behl’s film finds a threesome living in an apartment in a zombie-ravaged Buenos Aires where they live, and try to love, as normal. The zombies pose no threat and at least violently, neither do each other. It’s the existential crises of it all that wear the three down. Ana adorns herself in homemaker chic, but the polka dotted tops and the like are fraying, ripping. Axel, discontent with falling out of the love triangle, tattoos his entire body; the small black dots taking on the image of flies attracted to a corpse. The three can try desperately to cling to old-world morality and structure, but the simple knowledge of what’s outside is too much to bear. No one’s communicating as they used to and the inevitability groans away outdoors, with a makeshift security system amplifying the sound into their home.  They are already dead.

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Outside (ha) of the three interior-inclined standouts are a pair of films directed by pairs of filmmakers: Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer’s Hollywood body horror story STARRY EYES and AMONG THE LIVING, which sees the return of INSIDE animals Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury. United by co-directing credit and fantastically gory face evisceration, both films are grotesque ordeals. The former, a tale of a starlet monstrously transformed by her own ambition and the latter, a punishing, messy twist on the bittersweet, adolescent summer tales of Stephen King, Amblin and the like.

Theoretically, all five will make their way across the U.S. in the coming months. In the interest of “Keep an Eye Out” serving as a handy guide to the best genre at festivals FANGORIA covers, feel free to bookmark this page and return to it to find updates (below) on when and where you can see AMONG THE LIVING, THE DESERT, HOUSEBOUND, OCULUS and STARRY EYES in the future.

AMONG THE LIVING (Full Review): Currently without distribution

THE DESERT: Currently without distribution

HOUSEBOUND (Full Review): Currently without distribution

OCULUS (Full Review): In theaters everywhere April 11, 2014 from Relativity and WWE Studios

STARRY EYES (Full Review): Next plays the Boston Underground Film Festival on Saturday, March 29. Tickets, info here.

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About the author
Samuel Zimmerman
Fangoria.com Managing Editor Samuel Zimmerman has been at FANGORIA since 2009, where fresh out of the Purchase College Cinema Studies program, he began as an editorial assistant. Since, he’s honed both his writing and karaoke skills and been trusted with the responsibility of jury duty at Austin’s incredible Fantastic Fest. Zimmerman lives in and hails from The Bronx, New York where his pants are too tight and he’ll watch anything with witches.
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