A trope in film-speak is a visual or verbal convention used often enough that moviegoers easily recognize its meaning. A “meet cute” in a rom-com is such a shortcut, telling you that these characters will be the love interests. Another trope: superheroes wear capes, so that guy with the cape must be Batman. Spoonful of Sugar and Leonor Will Never Die, two films at this year’s Fantastic Fest, flip and twist tropes into happy or morbid surprises for viewers.
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 standard genres. The 2022 edition screened primarily at Austin’s iconic Alamo Drafthouse Theater South Lamar.
If you lived in the 1960s, or love Disney movies, “spoonful of sugar” will fire the Mary Poppins engram in your brain, bringing happy memories of Julie Andrews singing “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Spoonful of Sugar does have a nanny in it, but Mary Poppins she’s not, and it’s not the medicine you might be expecting.
Director Mercedes Bryce Morgan (Stargate Origins) flips a story which also might seem like a plot from a Hallmark Channel movie into a psychological, delusion-filled horror trip.
A college student, Millicent, played by Morgan Saylor (Homeland, Blow the Man Down), takes time off from her studies about hyper-allergic children to find a child to observe up close. She finds Johnny, just such a child, and convinces Johnny’s mother, an intimidating writer of novels who wants to be left alone, to hire her as his babysitter. Johnny’s father works in the back of the house on woodworking projects, shirtless, showing off his muscles. See where this is going?
But then come the flips. Johnny’s problems include not only allergies, but violent outbursts. Millicent gets counseling from a psychologist who has prescribed micro-doses of LSD for her. Millicent begins to increase the doses on her own and, like any good nanny, she shares. The household gets chaotic and bloody.
The small cast all gave amazing performances. Danilo Crovetti as Johnny is unnerving. Laura Coover plays his mom and Myko Olivier plays his dad.
Spoonful of Sugar will play on Shudder starting in 2023.
Hit on the Head
I decided to see Leonor Will Never Die because the main character is a screenwriter who, after getting hit on the head by a falling TV, ends up in the world she created in her script. The description of this film, produced in the Philippines, reminded me of recent multi-world, time-shifting hits such as Everything Everywhere All at Once and Last Night in Soho.
First trope: The protagonist, Leonor, played by Sheila Francisco, gets aggressively interrogated by her son because the electric bill has not been paid in three months. (The new Hellraiser begins almost the same way, except with a brother and sister).
Things look dark for Leonor. A successful filmmaker, her career plummeted after one of her sons died in an on-set accident. Her husband divorced her. She has a moment of hope when an ad in a newspaper inspires her to work on a new script. Then an accident puts her into a coma.
The biggest flip for Leonor Will Never Die? It’s a musical comedy.
The film proceeds to satire Filipino action movies from the 1970s and 1980s—the genre of Leonor’s script. It then moves into what reminded me of a Bollywood musical. Things get even more complicated as action switches between the movie in Leonor’s head and her family at her bedside. The ultimate funny weirdness: She backspaces in her script, and time goes in reverse.
Leonor Will Never Die is hilarious and it comes down on the side of forgiveness and family values. It will be released theatrically on November 25 in New York and then in LA and nationally the following Friday. You can watch the trailer below.
To get updates about future Fantastic Fest events and ways to view its films, check its website.