Every long running film festival develops its own distinct personality throughout the years. For example, Sundance Film Festival tends to lean more serious and industry driven, while the Toronto International Film Festival tends to be the fest where Oscar buzz begins.  Then there’s Fantastic Fest, the country’s largest genre festival that really just feels like family; a place where you kick back and engorge on beer and queso while enjoying the lovingly curated film selections amongst friends.  That’s the thing about Fantastic Fest; it doesn’t matter if you don’t actually know the people seated next to you during screenings or events, because you will.  Fantastic Fest has a way of bonding strangers for life over their shared passion of genre cinema, in fact it’s completely encouraged.

Founded in 2005 by Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League and Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles, a lot of the fest’s personality stems from their unique passion for cinema.  But it’s also very much been shaped by its team of film the fest’s amazing staff and team of volunteers, it’s Alamo Drafthouse setting, and the multitude of filmmakers, press, and attendees that return year after year.  It’s true; once you’ve attended Fantastic Fest there’s no resisting the compulsion to return the following year.

More than just a film festival and a place to revel in cinema with like-minded, spiritual family, Fantastic Fest is also the place where you can watch Jeremy Gardner (The Battery) debate with Josh Ethier (The Mind’s Eye) over whether Tremors is the best monster movie of all time before literally boxing it out in the ring, in a Fantastic Fest mainstay event known as the Fantastic Debates. It’s the type of place that brings a 32 plus member marching band, known as Itchy-O, that features strobes, fog, sensuality, and a Chinese lion through its doors in a pulsating, sweaty experience. It’s also the type of place that hosts grand opening and closing parties, featuring belly dancers, fire breathers, large snakes, glowing dance robots, giant kaiju, and so much more. This is the type of film festival for those who would either look down on film festivals or be intimidated by them.  Fantastic Fest is home.

Yet, despite its laissez-faire attitude, Fantastic Fest is a taste maker and trend setter in genre film. Films screened at this fest are early indicators of what’s worth watching in the upcoming months.  Critical darlings like Green Room, The VVitch, and The Invitation were all Fantastic Fest selections before being embraced by fans once receiving wider release.  And with that in mind, I offer Modern Horror’s Fantastic Fest selections to be on the lookout for:

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Chris Peckover, director of 2010’s UNDOCUMENTED, returns with this playfully twisted suburban Christmas thriller in which babysitter Ashley must protect twelve-year-old Luke during an unusual home invasion.

Subverts all tropes and expectations, a highly entertaining horror comedy that landed on many favorites lists of the fest. (review)

the-autopsy-of-jane-doe
When a mysterious body turns up at a crime scene, the local sheriff turns to the coroner and his son to find the cause of death.

Easily the most buzzed about horror film of Fantastic Fest.(Review)

lure
Two young mermaids get caught up in the world of a Warsaw nightclub as they navigate human life and love in this Polish musical.

Not only did this film capture my heart completely, but represents the “core values” of Fantastic Fest. (review)

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Part sister bonding, part coming-of-age story, part gross-out horror flick, Julia Ducornau’s debut feature is the terror discovery of 2016.

Another selection that entranced so many Fantastic Fest goers, Ducornau is a talent on the rise. (Review)

eyes-of-my-mother
After a traumatic event, a young girl begins to associate pain and death with love and friendship in increasingly dangerous ways.

A quiet, visual stunner, we also chatted with director Nicolas Pesce at the fest. (Interview) (Review)

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Alcoholic werewolf cop Lou Garou springs into action when an eccentric businessman with evil intentions seduces Woodhaven’s residents with a new brewery and hockey team in this outrageous horror-comedy sequel.

Easily the most fun film at the fest. (Review)

A DARK SONG
Sophia is a determined young woman who hires a weird occultist to perform a ritual which will risk not only their lives and souls, but also the very essence of their being.

Bravo, director Liam Gavin, for making black magic scary again. (Review)

thevoid
There is a Hell. This is worse.

Glorious practical effects that invokes the ’80s spirit and manages a serious tone? Yes, please. (Review)(Interview)

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Kevin, a man with at least 23 different personalities, is compelled to abduct three teenage girls. As they are held captive, a final personality – “The Beast” – begins to materialize.

Go for James McAvoy’s performance. Stay for the mind blowing final scene. (Review)

bad-batch
Ana Lily Amirpour follows up her alt-cult sensation A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE with her highly anticipated dystopian cannibal desert trip.

This isn’t a narrative, it’s an experience. (Review)

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