We are grouping reviews to ensure we can cover all of the films we saw at the 2022 Fantastic Fest. Check out our series of dispatches as we release them.
Hundreds of Beavers – Directed by Mike Cheslik
We love a director that wears their influences on their sleeves. In the case of Hundreds of Beavers, we are treated to a unique spectacle. One part Looney Tunes sketch, one part silent film homage, and one part absurdist comedy, Hundreds of Beavers is among the most visually creative stories of the year. Sadly, it cannot quite sustain the momentum throughout the whole film.
Hundreds of Beavers follows a trapper (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews) in the 19th century as he attempts to win over the love of his life. Once an applejack salesman, he struggles to survive in the cold landscape. As he hunts rabbits, skunks, and raccoons, he sees the beavers are planning something big. He must take on the beavers, despite their numbers, in order to save himself and the woman he loves.
Shot in black and white, while also using animation, puppets, and mascot costumes, Mike Cheslik puts on a clinic establishing a tone. Even when Hundreds of Beavers fluctuates between drama and comedy, the aesthetics and tone remain in check. There are certainly times when the story could go wrong, the mascot woodland creatures and cartoonish antics are established early. If you cannot vibe with the film in the first fifteen minutes, it is unlikely you will ever get on board.
Cheslik not only excels at filming his protagonist and layering in the animated production design but also thrives with visual comedy. Using every trick available, he creates a joke-a-minute structure that becomes necessary to keep us engaged. The film overstays its welcome with its considerable length, but it is not from a lack of effort. Cheslik and his team keep it entertaining throughout, but the humor becomes slightly too repetitive the longer the film goes. Millions of Beavers might be the most unique film of 2022, which is really saying something.
Alan’s Rating: 7/10
Give Me Pity – Directed Amanda Kramer
Sometimes, getting under the bright lights can turn into a nightmare. A fantasy disco that meets public access television, Give Me Pity feels right at home in the Fantastic Fest lineup. Director Amanda Kramer crafts a unique story of a woman falling to pieces while on the biggest stage of her life. Is it enough to simply reach the mountaintop? Or can we be let down if the mental cost of reaching that goal is too great?
Sissy St. Claire (Sophie von Haselberg) receives the chance of a lifetime. She finally gets her own TV special, and is ready to showcase all of her talents. The variety show star quickly displays her talents, but as the show progresses, something seems to be off behind the scenes. Instead of the happy-go-lucky attitude Sissy brings early in her show, she seems plagued by darker forces from off the screen.
Kramer directs the surrealist film with a stunning level of confidence. The choices she makes from the beginning of Give Me Pity! all feel like genuine risks. Yet Kramer pulls off the impressively difficult visuals, not only adhering to the period specific design for her character, but forcing the choreography, dance numbers, and makeup to look out of this world. The complexity of the visuals on screen would be enough, but the additional editing gymnastics only raise the degree of difficulty. The actual monologues for St. Claire can become slightly meandering, which proves the only misstep for Kramer over the course of Give Me Pity!
Meanwhile, von Haselberg astounds. Her control on the delivery and language of every scene are some of the most impressive aspects of the film. She must balance some genuinely difficult skillsets, including her choreography and singing. As she embraces the emotional difficulties, she leaves enough questions for the audience to wonder what is real and what is fake.
A wonderful blend of the psychedelic and character study, Give Me Pity! delivers as a creative one-woman show. One wonders if Kramer created the show to keep within Covid protocols, but ultimately she showcases unique visuals that sell the story as something grander. Few directors can pull off this feat, and making Kramer someone to watch in the future.
Alan’s Rating: 8/10
Razzennest – Directed by Johannes Grenzfurthner
There are some ideas that seem better on paper than in practice. The horror/commentary film Razzennest falls into this bucket. Directed by Johannes Grenzfurthner, the feature attempts to poke fun at the intelligentsia of the entertainment industry, only to become an antagonistic view of the industry it seeks to lampoon. While the meta moments can be fun, the bleak story at the heart of the film does little to make us care for the characters.
Razzennest follows a group of film industry professionals as they record the commentary track for a “fictional” film of the same name. The feature, set to premiere at Fantastic Fest and is directed by a South African Manus Oosthuizen (Michael Smulik). Critic Babette Cruickshank (Sophie Kathleen Kozeluh) attempts to steer the commentary track. However, unbeknownst to her and Oosthuizen, other forces will turn this recording session into a far more unique experience.
On one hand, the experiment of Razzennest certainly feels admirable. The idea to craft a horror film around a commentary, without allowing the audience to see the violence, should be the basis for an interesting feature. This idea tests the boundaries of what makes a movie scary. With a well-written screenplay and story, this would be a unique experience.
However, the execution of Razzennest leaves much to be desired. The conversations between Oosthuizen and Cruickshank become wildly antagonistic for no reason. As the film evolves, the director and critic each become cliches, which ultimately undermines most of the story. Then, the violence begins, which becomes uniquely upsetting. Without spoiling the film, an answer for why violence erupts comes towards the very end of the film, but there are many questions left unanswered. Unfortunately, at more than eighty minutes, the experiment loses its audience long before we reach a conclusion. Sadly, this just misses the mark.