Powerful filmmaking revolves around getting to people emotionally. Two films at this year’s Fantastic Fest provided gut wrenching emotional journeys. Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho and Gabriele Mainetti’s Freaks Out transcend the label “genre flick.” They are both amazing on multiple levels.
Fantastic Fest, the largest genre film festival in the country, shows horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action, and unusual films that don’t necessarily fit into any genre. The 2021 edition screened primarily at Austin’s famous Alamo Drafthouse Theater – South Lamar.
Surprise, It’s Edgar
Film festivals will often schedule “secret screenings.” These, of course, only remain secret until people can get to Twitter, but you never know what you are going to see when you take your seat. Fantastic Fest played a joke on the audience for this secret and put up a slide on the screen showing a Reefer Madness style poster for a black-and-white expose on prostitution in London, announcing that Edgar Wright had done a frame-by-frame restoration of this “classic.”
I considered sneaking out, but then they went straight and announced we would really see Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho. That was close. As both a director and writer, Wright has an impressive list of filmic accomplishments, including Baby Driver, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Ant Man, and Shaun of the Dead.
He was there to discuss the film.
Last Night in Soho stars Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit), and Diana Rigg (The Avengers, Game of Thrones).
McKenzie plays Eloise, a young girl who wants to be a fashion designer. Eloise moves to London to attend school. She encounters mean girls at the dorm and to escape them she rents a room in Soho. Her landlady, played by Rigg with charming toughness, has secrets which will snare Eloise.
Eloise soon begins to encounter supernatural forces which repeatedly transport her to 1960s Soho. There she meets strange men and observes Sandy, an aspiring nightclub singer played by Taylor-Joy. Identities, self-esteem, and reality then go into flux.
I, like many young men of my generation, fell into an infatuation for Diana Rigg’s character Emma Peele in The Avengers. Wright, though much younger, admitted to sharing this infatuation. He explained how he felt honored to have been able to work with Rigg in what turned out to be her last performance. He expressed admiration for her wit and professionalism during the production.
McKenzie, who could be this generation’s queen of infatuation, creates a character whom you care about and whose frightening ordeal will stay in your memory. Last Night in Soho will both scare you and touch your heart.
Last Night in Soho will hit theaters (no streaming) on October 20. You can watch the trailer below.
Gabriele Mainetti’s Freaks Out takes viewers further back in time – to the 1940s. In Rome, a group of four circus performers, each with an unusual talent, face isolation when the war reaches their circus.
The manager of this band, Israel, sets off to find a way for them to escape to America. With Israel gone, personalities and the exigencies of a wartime environment drive the four to distraction and life-threatening situations. When Israel doesn’t return when expected, they set off to rescue him.
The urge to rescue Israel is pushed by Matilde, the only female in the group, played by Aurora Giovinazzo. To her, Israel is like a father. They push on, but walk into a trap set by an SS soldier, also with unnatural powers, who has been hunting them. Along the way they encounter Italian anti-Fascist guerillas and death camp trains.
The twist which makes this more than a war movie involves each character’s special talents that put them into a freak show to begin with. The four of them are each vulnerable and good at heart in their own ways. Under pressure, their talents begin to grow. Instead of facing audiences, they face bombs and Nazi soldiers. The freaks become superheroes.
Two of the scenes, which I will not spoil, have intense emotional power.
One involves a military action. We’ve all seen many war movies, but the contrast between the before and the after of this attack is stunning. I don’t remember ever seeing anything like it.
The second scene involves a moment when Matilde confesses something about her superpower. By this point in the film, we are totally on her side. Her confession is not predictable and is heart-wrenching.
Freaks Out has been on the European festival circuit where it has won nine awards including, at the Venice Film Festival, Best New Young Actress for Giovinazzo.
To get updates about future Fantastic Fest events and ways to view its films, check its website.