Editor’s Notes: The following capsule reviews are part of our coverage of the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival. For more information visit sxsw.com and follow SXSW on Twitter at @sxsw.
The Grief of Others (2015)
Dir. Patrick Wang
Based on a novel by Leah Hager Cohen, Patrick Wang’s second feature film is basically Rabbit Hole with an ill-advised dash of American Beauty/Little Children. The story about a family trying to get back on its feet after losing a baby is simple enough but so incredibly ripe with potential, and Wang throws some truly harrowing drama onto the screen. Of particular frustration in the film is the fact that not all characters are as fleshed out as others, and some generic comedic characters certainly don’t fit in with the grand scheme of things. I’m not sure if its an issue with the source material or not. Wang’s approach to filming a scene in which he places his camera in one location and lets his actors create the drama is particularly of interest, as is his unique ways of multiple exposure that hearken back to some silent film techniques, though undoubtedly for some viewers this minimalist approach will make for frustrating viewing. Regardless, The Grief of Others is a wonderful acting showcase that also highlights a director with a unique vision.
We Are Still Here (2015)
Dir. Ted Geoghegan
Writer/director Ted Geoghegan fondly described to me memories of falling asleep with horror movies on, and said he still considers certain types of horror films a warm blanket of comfort. His directorial debut, We Are Still Here , is most certainly a retread of familiar material, but it is done with such care and skill that there is not question that this is the furthest thing from a hack job. Geoghegan recalls familiar plot elements, tropes and settings in the same way Quentin Tarantino pulls from his favorite films. Assembling an incredible list of talent including Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fessenden and Monte Markham, Geoghegan presents a chilling haunted house tale that skillfully utilizes location, pacing and practical effects. All these factors and more are great, but what makes We Are Still Here a must-see and impossible to forget is the powerful emotional undercurrent. This is ultimately a tale about two parents wrestling with grief. Working from Geoghegan’s dynamite script, Barbara Crampton delivers a visceral, haunting emotional performance that instantly takes its place among her best work. A lot of horror movies have its audience screaming at the characters to leave. It takes true talent to understand why they would want to stay.
Sweaty Betty (2015)
Dir. Joseph Frank, Zachary Reed
An exciting pair of unique and incredible voices have arrived and their names are Joseph Frank and Zachary Reed. A pair of self-proclaimed cinephiles who simply wanted to film the world around them. Not only did they succeed in portraying a fascinating picture of life just outside Washington, D.C., but they blended multiple genres to create a new genre of filmmaking. I’ll leave it up to someone else to name it. Very little is staged but there is some writing at work, almost every scene is shot in one take and there are scenes where we just observe everyday life set to a killer soundtrack. We get to watch a guy try and make his pig the new Redskins mascot. We look in on everyday conversations and interactions with a father and his son. This is a world that feels incredibly real. Many have found these two’s approach to telling a story frustrating and dull. Personally, I’m hard pressed to name a movie that feels as real and tangible as the one that Joe and Zack showed me.