Most film festivals try to cater for everybody. Take a hefty smattering of weighty dramas, throw in a heartwarming comedy here, an arty action flick there, and add a few left-of-centre picks to cap it all off. That's not the Sydney Underground Film Festival's style, if their name hadn't already given that away. And sure, some folks aren't up for eye-popping gore, surreal animations, and movies literally titled Assholes. But if that sounds like it'd be right up your alley, then you're in the exact right place.
Returning to the darkened walls of Marrickville's Factory Theatre from September 14 to 17, SUFF delights in showing the sort of movies that challenge, provoke, disturb and delight, often all in one session. They also revel in breaking from the norm – hell, they're even opening up this year's festival with a one-of-a-kind live event that brings VHS to the big screen.
From hipsters with fake babies, to docos about finding a fake rock, to fictional advertising for fake energy drinks, if it isn't coming to a multiplex near you, then it's likely on the bill. Below, we've picked six of the best.
On paper, The Endless might sound like the sum of its intriguing but far from unusual parts, with creepy cults, temporal trickery and sibling struggles all fairly common film fodder. On the screen, however, the latest film from director-actor duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead proves anything but standard. In fact, it's the type of sci-fi/horror flick that will floor you with its ingenuity, make you want to watch it again immediately afterwards, and inspire you to check out the duo's first effort, Resolution (which we cannot recommend enough). Imaginative, enthralling, astute with its aesthetics and atmosphere, and insightful in contemplating both human and supernatural drama, this account of two brothers returning to the close-knit camp they used to call home is the whole weird and wonderful package.
Darren Aronofsky's rightfully buzz-inducing mother! isn't the only unhinged mix of maternity and mayhem headed to Sydney's screens this week, thanks to the first feature directed by Alice Lowe. After proving her acting talents in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, and her writing skills with Sightseers, she's not only helming Prevenge, but starring alongside her then-unborn daughter. Seven months' pregnant at the time of filming, Lowe plays a woman compelled to commit murder by the child growing inside her, giving the devilish kid and scary motherhood sub-genres a ghoulish new spin. A smart, subversive and funny horror-comedy about what to expect when you're expecting.
Forget The Exorcist. If you want to see what happens when folks think they're possessed by demonic forces, then you need to see the real thing. There's no shortage of them, particularly in Sicily, where the experienced Father Cataldo endeavours to save souls. Heads don't spin, projectile vomit doesn't splash all over the priest, and bumps and jumps aren't on the agenda. Instead, we find troubled people begging for a solution. An insightful and fascinating documentary results — as well as one that puts a song by Ryan Gosling's band, Dead Man's Bones, to good use during its credits.
Some of the best things happen by accident. Excavating in the Canadian town of Dawson City in 1978, a construction worker didn't expect to find 533 lost nitrate films, but he did. Dating back to the silent era, they contained newsreels, old flicks by influential directors and footage of the town — and, nearly four decades later, they comprise Bill Morrison's experimental effort. To watch Dawson City: Frozen Time is to step back into time, explore the early days of cinema, wander through a remote locale and watch the beginnings of modern life as we know it. Stars from the past, presidents from the present, and everything in between: they're all linked in this moving and mesmerising montage.
For those that aren't quite so keen on blood, violence and viscera, some SUFF flicks require a warning. Meatball Machine Kodoku is most definitely one of them. Named after a type of toxic Japanese magic, it's a comedy — but of the red-splattered, limb-flying kind (and then some). And, to be honest, that's what you'd expect when a cancer-ridden debt collector is not only forced to face invading robotic aliens, but is given super powers by them as well. With new abilities comes new chances for gory revenge, in a sequel of sorts to 2005's Meatball Machine, as directed by Tokyo Gore Police's Yoshihiro Nishimura. Apparently they used four tonnes of fake blood in the shoot, in case you were wondering.
Australia's latest crime thriller is also an ambitious feat of style and structure, unspooling its action in a single take. If Birdman can pretend to do it and win a heap of awards, then Aussie writer-director Tristan Barr can offer up the real thing — and, because he clearly wasn't busy enough, also star in this account of an ex-bikie trying to get his family in order. With the story taking place over one afternoon, the camerawork ensures that audiences feel the requisite tension and urgency. And yes, exploring the wrong side of the law and order divide is something the local industry is rather fond of. But at least Watch the Sunset makes a concerted effort to stand out from the crowd.
The 2017 Sydney Underground Film Festival runs from September 14 to 17 at The Factory Theatre, Marrickville. For more information or to buy tickets, visit the festival website.