The 15 Best Films We Saw at Fantastic Fest 2015

By  · Published on October 6th, 2015

Encore Films

Another Fantastic Fest has come and gone, and after a week of jamming our orifices with films, food, and friends it’s time settle back into reality. It’s guaranteed that we’ll be talking about many of the fest’s films again as they open to wider audiences, but for now we’re ending our fest coverage with a quick look at our – Adam Charles, Jack Giroux, Neil Miller, myself – fifteen favorites that we saw this year.

There was an abundance of both quality and variety on display including several that I’d already seen prior to the fest. For that reason, I’m leaving some of my own previously seen and highly praised favorites – The Invitation, Assassination Classroom, The Martian, The Witch, Office – off my picks in favor of titles I first saw here at Fantastic Fest, but unsurprisingly four of those films still made the collective cut.

Here are the fifteen best films we saw at Fantastic Fest 2015.

Assassination Classroom

Assassination Classroom is basically a kids movie filled with violence, gun play, and cleavage. A space monster with a giant smiling emoticon for a head intends to destroy Earth, but he gives mankind one chance at survival – let him be homeroom teacher to a class of Japanese misfits who are constantly trying to kill him, and if they succeed the Earth is saved. But if the alien is still kicking come graduation time, it’s lights out for humanity. It’s a funny, bizarre, and slightly overstuffed action-comedy that brings Japanese weirdness into family entertainment. – jack

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FUNimation Entertainment

The Boy and the Beast

Mamoru Hosoda has been one of the most reliable filmmakers since the release of his debut feature, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, in 2006. The Boy and the Beast finds the animation auteur revisiting similar themes he’s approached in his 3 films to-date, culminating in a picture that is filled to the brim in humor, heart, wisdom and imagination. For those that wish to experience the multi-generational, crowd-cheering appeal of Pixar in hand-drawn form, The Boy and the Beast stands toe-to-toe with the American studio’s soul-touching best. – adam

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I Wonder Pictures

The Brand New Testament

God’s preteen daughter is sick of being cooped up in their Brussels apartment while Dad berates her and her mother, insults his son Jesus, and thinks of new laws of nature to mess with mankind, so she sets out on her own to tell a kinder, gentler tale. Jaco Van Dormael’s highly irreverent comedy is a smartly-written, laugh out loud experience that feels like Christopher Moore’s brilliant novel Lamb as adapted by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie). It’s as amazing and beautiful as that pair-up sounds, and while it’s not quite as profound as Dormael’s Mr. Nobody it’s every bit as magical. – rob

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Universal Pictures

Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro’s horror-romance is a gorgeous movie. The house at its center is one of the finest, well-designed sets you’ll see all year. Every part of the house has personality. Thankfully, the film is more than just eye candy, because it actually has real emotion to it, thanks to another impressive, sometimes heartbreaking performance from Tom Hiddleston. – jack

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Snoot Entertainment

The Devil’s Candy

Director Sean Byrne’s long overdue follow-up to The Loved Ones is a tale of possession, obsession, and one family’s struggle to survive both, and it handles these commonly explored ideas with heart, soul, and head-banging. There’s a heavy metal spirit running through it all that infuses both the terror and the emotion with real energy leading to an incredibly suspenseful third act as characters we’ve come to care about risk falling victim to the devil’s sweet tooth. – rob

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Green Room

Four young and naive members of a punk band run afoul of some reduntantly callous and mean-spirited neo-Nazis in rural Oregon in what might just be their swan song. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is a brilliant slow-burn tracing one inept protagonist’s messy quest for revenge, and for his follow-up quadruples the number of hapless heroes while ramping up the action, energy, and tension to levels that should have been unsustainable. The film is filled with moments that will leave you holding your breath while others have you gasping for air, but it’s also frequently funny. It also features one of the year’s best female ass-kickers brought to glorious life by Imogen Poots. Oh, and fair warning, there are also more than a few deliriously grotesque acts of graphic violence. – rob

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Front Row Filmed Entertainment


Ben Wheatley’s film about class is a riot. Not only because it’s hilarious, but also because it feels like a riot – a huge, abrasive, and violent party that never stops. Tom Hiddleston is excellent as a man with no identity, but it’sLuke Evans that steals the movie. His performance is so charismatic and exciting. The energy of High-Rise is almost overwhelming at times, in a good way. – jack

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Drafthouse Films

The Invitation

Imagine the The Parallax View or The Conversation but set during a dinner party – and you’ll think of an atmosphere and story not far off from Karyn Kusama’s incredibly tense, unpredictable thriller. The script is keenly aware of audience expectations, and a part of the film’s fun is the guessing game it pulls the audience in to playing. The Invitation is also, it’s important to note, an emotional thriller. There’s a real heart and arc to the film, which is played wonderfully by Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus). – jack

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Liza and the Fox Fairy

Despite the country’s lack of recognition in film exports, Hungary’s Károly Ujj Mészáros has produced what might be the most charming and creatively morbid love story of the year – or many years even – on his first go-round as a feature filmmaker. Liza (a sublime Mónika Balsai) is among the screen’s most endearing and adorable heroines, the art-direction and cinematography evoke some of the best elements of the work of Jean Pierre Jeunet, and the soundtrack will latch on to your subconscious like your Grandmother to Buddy Holly. It’s funny, original and possibly the most romantic film featuring multiple homicides by the vindictive poltergeist of a ’50s pop-star. – adam

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The Lobster

The latest film from Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos is one what might call “the perfect Fantastic Fest movie.” Festival founder and Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League said as much in his introduction. Which is somewhat ironic, because as much as Fantastic Fest is a genre film festival, its best movies sometimes can’t be classified into any one genre. The Lobster is a romantic movie, a dark comedy, a bit of dystopian sci-fi, a strong dramatic character piece and through it all, completely fucking weird. It delivers wonderful performances from Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and several other recognizable faces, all playing around in a twisted near-future dystopia in which single people are forced to either find love or be turned into an animal of their choosing. It’s the kind of movie you just have to see (and likely enjoy) for yourself. – neil

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Man vs Snake

In what can easily be seen as an unofficial sequel to Seth Gordon’s energetic, cult-hit documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, directors Tim Kinzy and Andrew Seklir explore another tale of human achievement through video games. This time the game is the little-known, yet oddly familiar game “Nibbler,” which involves controlling a snake as he eats his way through a Pac-Man style board. The story at the heart of Man vs. Snake is that of Tim McVey (not that Tim McVeigh), a man from Iowa who in 1984 became the world champion of Nibbler. It follows his adult quest to become the first person to score a billion points in a video game, something that would require over 40-hours of consecutive gameplay. The doc features appearances from some of King of Kong’s more colorful characters, including Billy Mitchell and Twin Galaxies owner (and transcendental meditation practitioner) Walter Day and it has a similar energy, making it yet another strange trip down the rabbit hole of weird that is the video arcade landscape of the American heartland. – neil

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20th Century Fox

The Martian

Considering the budgets that some of Fantastic Fest’s selections have to work with, Ridley Scott’s The Martian is perhaps at an unfair advantage. It’s a big-ass studio movie that provides us a rich, three-dimensions-deep look at what it would be like to be marooned on Mars. But that advantage doesn’t inherently mean that it’s going to be good. For a movie like The Martian, with its major league cast and its gorgeous visual assault, it takes more than just an expensive production. It takes a smart story, provided by screenwriter Drew Goddard and author of the source material Andy Weir, one that focuses on optimism, problem solving and the unbeatable human spirit. It takes numerous great performances, most notably from the likes of Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain and Jeff Daniels. And it takes something so visually spectacular that it buries itself in our memories and won’t let go. The Martian delivers all of this and then some. It’s a force of nature from Scott, and even though its ilk are not the reason many genre-lovers head to Fantastic Fest every year, it was still a stand-out. Hell, it might be a stand-out for the entire year. – neil

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XYZ Films


An American doctor volunteering in Southeast Asia takes a break fom the trauma with a short trip to Laos, but a night of drinking is followed by a good deed that immediately and irrevocably goes punished. There wasn’t a lot of chatter out of the fest about this intimate, nightmarish thriller, but it deserves to be seen. The scenario – being accused and pursued for a crime in a foreign country – offers a wealth of terrifying potential, and writer/director Jamie Dagg explores much of it without ever feeling exploitative or extreme. The doctor’s descent into a very real hell is suspenseful, entertaining, and ultimately affecting. – rob

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Foe Killer Films

Too Late

Another film from a first-time filmmaker, and another that seems composed from the sure-hand of one who’s far more seasoned than one on their first rodeo. John Hawkes puts in another outstanding performance as an L.A. private dick out to solve the murder of a young stripper he’d only spent one evening with three years before her death – but it’s the snappy writing and well-choreographed single-shot direction of newcomer Dennis Hauck that provides the film’s most compelling take-away. Too Late is impressive to see and fun to listen to – and has me more excited about Hauck’s next film than Rian Johnson’s debut feature did a decade ago. And, we know how that promise has kept thus far. – adam

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The Witch

Yes, another film from another first-time director, and this might be the most mature of them all. What’s astounding about Robert EggersThe Witch isn’t just the restraint and focus on dread and atmosphere over the all-too-common horror tropes of jump-scares and over-exposure of brutality, but his stringent hold on setting. This Colonial, New England-set tale of terror about a family of God-fearing farmers trying to make a home near a forest occupied by an obvious dark presence feels as authentic to the time as a period-drama on BBC’s Masterpiece Theater. It’s a showcase for some beautiful language, excellent acting from the young and elder cast-members alike, and some of the moodiest cinematography the genre has been privy to as of late. – adam

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.