Your dear film editor is in Austin, Texas covering Fantastic Fest, a film festival that focuses on horror, sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, and similar ilk. Opening night was last night.
The big opening film at Fantastic Fest is Jojo Rabbit, the “anti-hate satire” from Taika Waititi. I did not go see it, but I did run into Taika a couple times, who is just as dreamy and fashionable as you would expect. My first film was Guns Akimbo, an action film that’s tailor-made for everyone’s inner 12-year-old. Danielle Radcliffe plays Miles, who can be best described as a beta cuck. He is extremely online, and his raison d’etre is owning trolls on Skizm, a new streaming platform where you watch folks kill each other. Miles pisses off the wrong troll, so Skizm’s owner breaks into Miles’ home, bolts guns into his hands, and tells him he has to kill someone. It gets sillier from there.
Directed by Jason Lei Howden, Guns Akimbo is fast and impatient. Think of Crank, the action cult classic where Jason Statham plays a guy who has to keep his heart rate at a certain level, and double its intensity. The film works best as a comedy, one where Radcliffe has problems because, well, he cannot use his hands because guns are in their place. You’ll get the point by the final act, an protracted climax where ideas are repeated and characters are shot so many times it’s a struggle to care about them. Still, this film is the sequel to The Truman Show that we deserve. Instead of a mild-mannered man who leads an ordinary life, our culture craves a fanboy loser who somehow becomes a character in a John Woo movie.
The second film on Thursday night was Saint Maud, a religious thriller that was just picked up by A24. It is a good reminder of why festivals can be so fun: without much hype or expectations, there is an opportunity for genuine surprise. Morfydd Clark plays Maud, a deeply religious young woman who works as a caretaker for the sick. Her first client is Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), an ailing choreographer who resents her ailing health. The two make an unlikely pair, except Maud’s piety starts to have an effect on Amanda. Maud becomes convinced she can actually save Amanda’s soul.
Rose Glass wrote and directed Saint Maud, and its restraint is admirable. There are lots of close-ups, whether they’re Amanda’s decaying frame or Maud’s frail body, and the discomfort is never quite overwhelming. Instead, Glass’ thriller is spiritually rigorous, to the point where it is almost like a sequel to Paul Schrader’s towering masterpiece First Reformed. At just under ninety minutes, there’s an admirable lack of backstory. You learn details about Maud, for example, except there is little context about the person she was before she chose God. The real horror, one that will become more acute in the years ahead, is about how people will increasingly relay on stranger who work as personal care aides. An entire generation is going to start dying, and we have contended with what that means or how we feel about it.
All the subtext aside, Saint Maud is genuinely frightening. There was a moment where the theater collectively gasped – you”ll know it when you see it -and that kind of terror is all too rare.