Film fans are going to have to wait another year to pair Texas barbecue and great movies at South by Southwest Film Festival, though the 2021 edition brought a bunch of cool viewing to people’s homes virtually.
The 2020 edition of Austin’s noteworthy event was canceled last March before the pandemic hit, but this year’s fest (which ended Saturday) came back strong, albeit online. On the film side, there were centerpiece documentaries focusing on Demi Lovato and the late Tom Petty that paired with other aspects of SXSW focused more on music and tech, including virtual-reality events and charitable video gaming.
SXSW has been home to quite a few popular premieres in recent years, including Jordan Peele’s “Us,” “Booksmart,” “Atomic Blonde,” “Ready Player One” and “A Quiet Place.” This year’s slate also provided a diverse selection of movies coming soon for film fans, and some that reflected our current COVID-affected, Zoom-filled era.
SXSW:Demi Lovato reveals she was raped as a teen, is no longer sober in YouTube docuseries
Tom Petty:‘Somewhere You Feel Free’ doc digs deep into the making of ‘Wildflowers’
Here are the 10 best new films (many of which are still seeking distribution) we saw at the virtual SXSW, ranked:
In the South African eco-horror fantasy, a park ranger (Monique Rockman) trying to find her surveillance drone in a vast primordial forest comes across a survivalist father (Carel Nel) and son (Alex van Dyk) who adhere to a strange religion seemingly all their own. They’re not the bigger problem, though, as the trio are beset by terrifying creatures transformed by nature.
9. ‘Broadcast Signal Intrusion’
Set in 1999, the noirish mystery stars Harry Shum Jr. (who also executive produces) as a Chicago video archivist working on storing old TV shows on DVD who runs across a strange signal hack featuring an eerie masked figure that’s occurred multiple times over the years. He’s not the only one obsessively interested in the incidents, and things get dangerous for him and his partner (Kelley Mack) the closer they get to the truth.
Justine Bateman (“Family Ties,” anyone?) makes her feature directorial debut with this drama about a talented up-and-coming film executive (Olivia Munn) struggling in her personal and professional life. The problem is she’s been listening to the demeaning, domineering voice (Justin Theroux) inside her head and turns things around when she starts ignoring it.
A woman (Jocelin Donahue) receives a mysterious letter to return to the remote island where her mother was buried. When there, she discovers the grave is desecrated, the island’s very strange inhabitants are closing the whole place down for the season, and family mystery plus a little monstrous horror are afoot as she starts uncovering the truth in Mickey Keating’s freaky thriller.
6. ‘Best Summer Ever’
Absolutely joyful, a little subversive and wholly inclusive, the musical (premiering on demand April 27) features a huge cast of people with and without disabilities and centers on youngsters (Shannon DeVido and Rickey Wilson Jr.) who fall in love at summer dance camp and somehow end up at the same high school. The plot gleefully borrows from “High School Musical” and “Grease,” though still creates something heartwarming and original.
5. ‘Sound of Violence’
The sadistic torture horror of “Saw” receives a clever remix in this squirm-inducing thriller featuring Jasmin Savoy Brown (“The Leftovers”). She plays a music teacher who, as a deaf child, recovered her hearing after seeing her parents murdered. The sounds of the traumatic event created a euphoric sensory experience for her, one that she tries to re-create as an adult through various bloody and murderous experiments.
Not a feature per se, but the combined first two episodes of Amazon Prime’s new terror anthology “Them” (which premieres April 9) is social horror for anyone who loves “Lovecraft Country” and “Get Out.” As part of the Great Migration, a Black family moves to Compton, California, in 1953 to escape the Jim Crow South. While they face a whole bunch of nasty racism in their lily-white suburban neighborhood, what’s inside their house is a whole lot scarier.
Writers/stars Whitney Call and Mallory Everton (who also directs) are hilarious in a comedy that captures pandemic life like no other. And there’s a definite “Booksmart” vibe to the story of two locked-down sisters (Call and Everton) who get a call about a COVID outbreak at their grandma’s nursing home and then mask up, grab hand sanitizer and hop in the car to break her out in a grand road-trip misadventure.
2. ‘Language Lessons’
Natalie Morales’ feature directorial debut is a beautiful comedy/drama — told over video chat — about the power of human connection, even from afar. Adam (Mark Duplass) is surprised to learn that his husband gifted him 100 weekly immersive online Spanish lessons with new teacher Cariño (Morales). When tragedy strikes after their awkward first meeting, Adam and Cariño form a caring bond that each of them sorely needs.
1. ‘The Fallout’
Winner of the SXSW grand jury prize, writer/director Megan Park’s film follows the aftermath of a school shooting in touching, thought-provoking and unexpectedly funny fashion. Feeling numb after the traumatic event, Vada (a fantastic Jenna Ortega) tries to move on in her own way, which includes befriending a popular, well-to-do classmate (Maddie Ziegler) with whom she hid in the bathroom while the killer stalked their peers.