The hangover from the previous night’s Feud still slithering down the back of my neck like an 80-proof slug, I arrived late and was seated in a folding chair in a packed theater for the second secret screening of Fantastic Fest. Advertised as “The Holy Grail of holy fucking shit” in a hyperbolic Drafthouse Films press release, the film turned out to be Dangerous Men (Ungradable), which—full disclosure—screened at an event I was involved in several ears ago in L.A. That didn’t diminish the pleasure of watching this fascinatingly misguided work of outsider art with an audience, however; the theater howled with laughter at every clunky line reading (which is most of them), flaccid karate chop (which is all of them), and egregiously ’80s fashion choice (which stays remarkably consistent, considering the film took a reported 20 years to finish before finally seeing a minuscule release in 2005).
Directed by an enigmatic “Iranian polymath” named John S. Rad, Dangerous Men can barely sustain its plot on a scene-to-scene basis, although the major beats involve a female serial killer with a Ms. 45-esque agenda and the search for a biker-gang kingpin named Black Pepper. (Who, when he finally does appear, appears to be wearing a crimped Hulk Hogan wig purchased in the clearance bin of a local Halloween outlet.) Normal conventions of plot and pacing are irrelevant, so the true pleasure of a movie like Dangerous Men is in its details, including a cop badge that reads “Policeman Police” and a belly dancer who appears to perform a seductive routine for absolutely no reason, then disappears just as mysteriously. They also gave out cassingles of the theme song at the door, just to give you an idea of the general vibe. Dangerous Men will receive a release via Drafthouse Films in November, which fans of the company’s Miami Connection should probably check out. Just don’t call it “so bad, it’s good.” They hate that here.
The rest of the day was taken up with films that had already played at other film festivals and arrived at Fantastic Fest with major buzz. That was an asset in the case of Green Room (B+), which The A.V. Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky saw at Cannes earlier this year and has received a rapturous reception at Fantastic Fest. The brutal, sickeningly realistic scenes of violence were met with audible gasps and appreciative applause in turn, and in the Q&A after the screening, director Jeremy Saulnier—by his own admission a little tipsy—waxed nostalgic about his teenage punk days and praised Patrick Stewart for his professionalism after Saulnier “shit the bed” on the first day of shooting. As someone who also knows the pall that a gang of neo-Nazi skinheads can cast over a DIY basement show, I’ll say that the art team on Green Room, as well as Saulnier, should be commended for their world-building, creating one of the most realistic cinematic portrayals of the punk/hardcore subculture I’ve ever seen.
Finally came another exercise in skillful world-building, The Witch (B), which has also been steadily building buzz since its debut at Sundance back in January. Unlike Green Room, which has earned almost universal raves at Fantastic Fest, The Witch wasn’t entirely well-served by its buzz; Fantastic Fest attendees were divided into two camps. The argument centered around the end of the film, and obviously that’s all I can say about that. And without director Robert Eggers present for a potentially illuminating Q&A—at least at the screening I attended—it will continue to be divisive. Like A.A. Dowd, I was bewitched (sorry) by Eggers’ meticulous attention to detail throughout the film, but—although I wasn’t as troubled by the film’s dogmatic implications as he was—six months before it hits theaters, it may already have been overhyped.