This year’s top three films of SXSW

The three best movies I saw during South by Southwest, a week-long festival

I attended South by Southwest (SXSW) over spring break, and I’m still reeling from the experience. While the festival also consists of concerts, tech demos and keynotes, I was primarily interested in the film premieres. Over the course of the week, I got to watch 15 films, which varied in quality and genre. I also met some really awesome people, including filmmakers, actors and YouTubers. For almost every single film I watched, the crowd was incredibly supportive of everybody’s art, and there was a genuine feeling of community. Though I can’t really review the feeling of the festival itself with so little space, I can review some of what I watched. Here are my top three.

“Bottoms” is the sophomore effort of Emma Seligman (“Shiva Baby”). The film follows two queer high school girls as they start a fight club in order to impress and lose their virginities to a pair of cheerleaders before heading off to college. The cast includes co-writer Rachel Sennott (“Shiva Baby”), Ayo Edebiri (“The Bear”), Havana Rose Liu (“No Exit”), Kaia Gerber (“American Horror Stories”) Ruby Cruz (“Willow”) and retired football player Marshawn Lynch. As expected, I found “Bottoms” to be an incredibly funny film with some interesting satire. The sense of humor is definitely elevated by the fantastic cast, with Edebiri being the highlight. The film also has a fantastic use of music, with a score co-composed by Charli XCX (one of my favorite modern musicians) and Leo Birenberg. I had a few minor issues with the film — there are a few characters who feel a bit problematic in spite of the film not presenting them as such, and there are some moments where the score feels a bit unnecessary — but these were all pretty negligible. That being said, “Bottoms” is a great time, and it serves as a great homage to sex comedies.

“Talk To Me” is the directorial debut of Australian filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou, who audiences may know as the men behind the YouTube channel RackaRacka. This horror film follows a group of teenagers who use a mysterious embalmed hand as a party game to communicate with spirits. When one of them takes things too far, dangerous consequences ensue.

It’s safe to say that horror fans will adore this intense and legitimately terrifying film. I went into the film with little to no expectations, yet I was so impressed with “Talk To Me” that I watched it twice at the festival. It feels like a mix between “The Exorcist” and “The Evil Dead” while also having some surprisingly funny moments. The cinematography is filled with personality while still feeling reminiscent of the camera movement in Sam Raimi’s horror films, and still demonstrating a surprising level of polish, especially considering that this is the directorial debut of a pair of YouTubers. The performances are all fantastic, especially from lead actress Sophie Wilde. But most importantly, “Talk To Me” is really scary, and I don’t say that often for horror movies.

Lee Cronin’s “Evil Dead Rise,” the latest entry in the “Evil Dead” horror franchise, was my favorite thing that I watched out of the entire SXSW lineup. This new reboot follows a family in a Los Angeles high-rise as they fight against the evil spirits summoned by an ancient book.

First of all, I should note that I have been a fan of this horror series since I was 14, and they’ve had a substantial impact on me as a horror fan and aspiring filmmaker. The idea of a cheaply made indie film being turned into this cult favorite franchise is pretty neat, and thankfully all of the films have been, at the very least, pretty good. “Evil Dead Rise” continues this pattern by being the best film in the franchise since 1987’s “Evil Dead II.” I’d also argue that Cronin’s film might actually be the scariest one to date.

As with the previous films, “Rise” is insanely violent and bloody — almost absurdly so. There were many moments that made me squirm in my seat. The film also has some great moments of tension and some effective jumpscares. While the previous films (save for the 2013 reboot) have a goofy sense of humor, this film has none whatsoever. Granted, the demons occasionally crack-wise, but the jokes are a lot more mean-spirited towards its characters.

I don’t have all that much to say about this film in the way of negatives, which makes me so happy as a fan of the franchise. “Evil Dead” is currently batting five for five (six for six if we’re including the show “Ash vs. Evil Dead”), and I can’t recommend it enough to fans of the series and to horror fans in general.

“Bottoms” 9/10
“Talk To Me” 9/10
“Evil Dead Rise” 9/10