Fantastic Fest, which returns to Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema September 22–29, has long been a haven for far-flung forays into horror, fantasy, and science fiction, with an obvious bent toward international curios. This year is certainly no different. Its lineup is heavy on genre fare from Spain, France, and Japan. The centerpiece is a special lifetime achievement award ceremony for the South Korean director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden). And the sidebar attractions include cocktail-making robots from Vienna and an entire fest-within-the-fest devoted to killer shark movies curated from all around the world.
Still, even the most art house–agnostic, Austin-disavowing Texan among us can take comfort in seeing some familiar local faces scattered among the selections. As Fantastic Fest prepares for its first fully in-person event after two years of COVID-related disruptions (an online version, [email protected], streams September 29 through October 4), we’ve compiled this brief guide to the homegrown talent you’ll see. We’ve even ranked their performances from most to least weird—relative to the rest of their work—so you can decide for yourself just how far out you’re willing to go.
David Gordon Green, Bones and All
The synopsis: Director Luca Guadagnino will present the Texas premiere of his latest film, a “cannibal romance” that’s set in the Reagan-era eighties. Bones and All finds Taylor Russell and Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name star Timothée Chalamet playing two crazy kids in love who embark on a cross-country road trip—both just trying to make their way in this mixed-up world, while occasionally snacking on the people in it.
The Texan: The Richardson-bred filmmaker David Gordon Green makes a brief yet memorable appearance as Brad, an ex-cop who has become increasingly cannibalism-curious while tagging along with his devoutly man-eating buddy, Jake, played by Michael Stuhlbarg.
How weird are we talking? Extremely weird. It’s unusual to see Green in front of the camera, for one. Although Guadagnino jokingly credits himself with launching Green’s acting career, Green has previously appeared on HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones, which he executive produces, as well as in this year’s Nicolas Cage comedy, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Still, in both of those, Green was essentially just playing himself. Bones and All represents Green’s first real attempt at playing a character. That it happens to be a redneck cannibal only adds to the weirdness.
Dylan Sprayberry and Marc Menchaca, Sick
The synopsis: The U.S. premiere of director John Hyams’ pandemic-inspired horror film is one of the festival’s buzziest events. Cowriters Kevin Williamson and Katelyn Crabb, both hailing from the Scream franchise, have hit upon a timely and clever conceit here, setting their slasher in the earliest months of the COVID-19 outbreak when everyone was wearing a mask. Sick follows college friends Parker (Gideon Adlon) and Miri (Bethlehem Million) as they try to ride out quarantine at a remote lake house, where they soon run afoul of killers who have zero respect for social distancing.
The Texan(s): Houston native Dylan Sprayberry (MTV’s Teen Wolf) plays DJ, a jealous fling of Parker’s who turns up uninvited. And okay, pedants: Sprayberry hasn’t lived in Texas since he was about eight years old, before a successful run of local commercials led him to L.A. and further stardom. But Sick also boasts San Angelo’s own Marc Menchaca, a Texas A&M grad who’s probably best known for his turn as a quietly tormented drug runner on Ozark as well as for a string of solid indie thrillers like 2020’s Alone, also directed by Hyams.
How weird are we talking? Moderately weird. We don’t really know much about Menchaca’s character, who’s credited only as “Jason” and who seems conspicuously absent from all of the film’s early reviews. Still, if Jason does turn out to be the killer, it wouldn’t be that different from Menchaca’s usual work. Given that Sick hails from two Scream writers, fingers also naturally point toward Sprayberry’s jilted would-be boyfriend. Even if that turns out to be just a red herring, playing somebody who’s even the slightest bit suspect would be something new for Sprayberry, who’s almost always been cast as the clean-cut, all-American kid.
Allison Tolman, Return to Sender
The synopsis: The eighteen-minute short Return to Sender is produced by veteran actress Jamie Lee Curtis and directed by up-and-coming filmmaker Russell Goldman, who served as assistant to both Curtis and David Gordon Green on the last two Halloween films. Curtis and Goldman’s newest collaboration concerns an even more relentless horror than a masked bogeyman: an Amazon-esque retailer that keeps delivering unordered packages to an increasingly freaked-out woman.
The Texan: Return to Sender is a showcase for Allison Tolman, who grew up in Sugar Land and made a name for herself in the Dallas theater scene before breakout TV roles in Fargo, Good Girls, and Emergence.
How weird are we talking? A little weird. Tolman’s character at first thinks she’s the victim of a run-of-the-mill “brushing” scam, but as the packages seem to prey on her personal struggles, she soon becomes convinced that they’re part of a larger, more sinister conspiracy. Playing a woman whose carefully constructed veneer of suburban nicety comes crashing down is well within Tolman’s wheelhouse; just look at her performance in season two of Paramount Plus’s Why Women Kill. The only thing really “weird” about her lead role here is that casting directors aren’t giving her more of them.
David Yow, Spoonful of Sugar
The synopsis: Mercedes Bryce Morgan’s Spoonful of Sugar, which makes its world premiere, follows a lonely college girl named Millicent (Homeland’s Morgan Saylow) who takes a job as the caretaker for a mute, sickly little boy who’s allergic to seemingly everything. Millicent soon becomes deeply entangled in the lives of the boy’s strange family members, all while slowly losing her sanity to LSD-fueled hallucinations.
The Texan: It surely doesn’t help Millicent’s stability that her own father figure, with whom she has a “creepy arrangement,” is played by David Yow, the Austin punk-rock legend behind Scratch Acid and the Jesus Lizard who is known for his menacing—and dangerously LSD-fueled—concert performances.
How weird are we talking? Not especially weird. In a film career that stretches back nearly thirty years, Yow has mostly played various crooks, degenerates, and the occasional cult leader in indies like Under the Silver Lake, The Possession of Nadine, and I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore. And of course, he’s still infamous for stage antics like frothing at the mouth and performing a twisted sort of puppetry with his scrotum. If anything rates as weird here, it’s the idea of David Yow being anyone’s father figure, “creepy” or not.
Frank Mosley, The Event
The synopsis: In this exceedingly meta short film, Vince (Hugo De Sousa) wakes up his roommate, Jack (Frank Mosley), in the middle of the night, demanding to know why Jack hasn’t watched the short film he made. It’s a deceptively simple comedic premise, seemingly targeted at a narrow audience of frustrated indie filmmakers who feel Vince’s pain. Yet Vince and Jack’s ensuing argument also ends up probing universal themes of friendship that everyone can relate to.
The Texan: Mosley is an Arlington native who’s been writing and directing shorts and feature films at a steady clip since 2009, in addition to acting in movies by fellow Texas filmmakers Keith Maitland, Shane Carruth, and David Lowery.
How weird are we talking? Only slightly. For his part, Mosley probably doesn’t have to beg too many people to watch his movies these days, hence why his short qualifies for a festival devoted to fantasy.
Woody Harrelson, Triangle of Sadness
The synopsis: The closing night of Fantastic Fest wraps with the U.S. premiere of Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, which took home this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes. That considerable accolade aside, Östlund’s black comedy has left critics largely divided over its heavy-handed satire of influencer types and its scenes of copious, gratuitous barfing. (Don’t say you weren’t warned: they even put it on the poster.)
The Texan: The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that Midland’s native son Woody Harrelson is a typical hoot. He plays the drunken, Marxist captain of a luxury yacht, looking on with wild-eyed glee as a chartered trip for snobby Instagram oligarchs is thrown into Lord of the Flies–esque chaos.
How weird are we talking? Exceedingly normal. Harrelson has been a time-traveling hippie, a ruthless colonel waging war against superintelligent apes, a handler for a young assassin targeting the yakuza, and a deranged serial killer infected with an alien symbiote—and that was just in the last five years. Here he’s literally just cruising.