South by Southwest is the first film festival I’ve covered essentially top to bottom, but even I didn’t have time for everything. I saw a total of 32 films, 1 short film, 3 TV pilots, and several panels/events. Anything not afforded full coverage is included here, as well as a personal top 10 favorite films from the festival.

Films

BEST SUMMER EVER
What a charming, adorable surprise! If you’re a Disney Channel Original Movie fan, this film has those same vibes. The songs are all enjoyable, despite not providing showstoppers. I really appreciated all the diversity in casting. Disabled talent is showcased throughout in a beautiful way, integrating naturally into the simple script. It peppers elements of Grease and High School Musical, albeit on a much smaller scale.

CLERK
An extensive look through all the major milestones in Kevin Smith’s life. From his early start, how he met his wife, the birth of his daughter, the near-death heart attack that saved his life and more, this gives you a full picture of his personal triumphs and major disappointments. I loved how deep it dives into every entry of Smith’s filmography, showing off behind-the-scenes footage I’ve never seen before. Tusk, one of my personal favorites, receives a meatier discussion than I expected. Throw in interviews with Joey Lauren Adams, Mark Hamill, Richard Linklater, Justin Long, Ben Affleck and more, and you have one great documentary.

DEMI LOVATO: DANCING WITH THE DEVIL
What a shockingly great docuseries — personal, eye-opening and sincere! There are so many reveals that caught me by surprise. It provides a very honest portrayal of Demi, never coloring her as saintly as some other documentaries. I did not expect Demi’s story to bring me to tears, but it’s so effective and raw. Addiction is a constant battle, and Lovato is living proof that some people do make it out the other side.

THE END OF US
“I don’t even know if you can get covid from eating someone out…”
It’s about what you’d expect from a Buzzfeed movie. The two leads are really fun and share some witty dialogue, but the plot is threadbare. I really enjoyed Ben Coleman. I laughed out loud a few times, and it is entertaining enough to pass the time.

THE FEAST
The Feast is basically a less compelling version of The Invitation. Great gore effects and visuals are underserved by a hollow storyline. Acting is great and editing is tight, but this film mostly left me baffled.

GAIA
Body horror, gorgeous cinematography, gnarly creature design, and a timely message… I think this might be one of the best from 2021’s SXSW. A focus on ecological horror puts it into small (but loving) company with films like The Ruins. What a wild ride!

HERE BEFORE
This overflowed with potential, if only it had really swung for the fences. It felt like something was holding this back from greatness. It never pushes the story far enough. The slow-burn of the narrative is frustrating, with little payoff until the final ten minutes. The climax is tense and shocking for the most part, yet even here I wanted more! However, Andrea Riseborough is fantastic in this film and deserved a tighter script.

HOW IT ENDS
What would you do with your last day on earth? It’s an intriguing question in which How It Ends occasionally finds clever and interesting answers. This is a different approach to apocalypse cinema than what I’ve seen before. It has very charming elements and presents concepts worthy of further exploration, but it never takes off in an explosive way. Seeing Logan Marshall Green on a bridge holding puppies is worth the watch.

JAKOB’S  WIFE
This upcoming Shudder original is super bloody, super ridiculous and super entertaining. Awesome vampire effects are offered as well, with a straight-up Nosferatu. Give Barbara Crampton the Oscar!

LANGUAGE LESSONS
The only word that comes to mind is “adorable.” What a sweet and pure movie! I was expecting to hate it due to the Zoom format. It is very well-done and the ending made me smile. Natalie Morales does a terrific job directing a film that, on the surface, could’ve been super boring. This is the most I’ve liked Mark Duplass since Creep.

LUDI
Ludi gives us a heartfelt character study and one truly amazing lead performance from Shein Mompremier. Some of it is tough to watch, but there’s a beauty in its honesty. I enjoyed Ludi more than I expected, sudden ending notwithstanding.

OUR FATHER
This was one big yawn for me. The concept is good, but the characters are paper-thin and unlikable. There are no arcs, nor a sufficient ending. Just meh. Definitely one of my least favorites from this year’s SXSW Film Festival.

R#J
A gimmicky attempt to inject modernity into Shakespeare was going to be a hard sell no matter how it was presented, but this film is just a straight-up mess. Dialogue is forced and awkward. If they had tried to update the speech to sound modern along with following social media accounts and text habits, that might have meshed better. Instead, they try to stay faithful to the language only when it’s convenient, when the film is already so drastically different from the story we know. They needed to commit to either one extreme or the other—R#J just feels lazy. Don’t even get me started on the awful-looking broken screen effect in the film’s back half.

RECOVERY
Liquid poo, pixelated biceps, relatable post-Covid antics, impromptu car concerts and a sister who won’t get off her cruise because she’ll waste her Groupon? Even if it wasn’t the best of the festival, Recovery is one of the funniest. Mallory Everton and Whitney Call are hilarious, and I loved their uncoventional friendship. 

THE SPINE OF NIGHT
The Spine of Night is completely and totally bonkers. The 2D animation is stunning and brings to mind similar adult animated fare, like Heavy Metal. Graphic nudity coupled with brutal violence (people are sliced in half, bones crack out of bodies, heads explode, etc) makes the convoluted storyline easier to digest. I think I’d need to see this again just to be able to decipher the plot. The first act is very Game of Thrones; the rest is something entirely different.

WOMEN IS LOSERS
This film is very cute, but also very lazy. This tackles so many of the same beats you’d get from a classic Lifetime special, only with stronger acting. The fourth-wall-breaking annoyed me to no end. Anything with Celina’s kid is adorable, and Lorenza Izzo is fantastic. Women is Losers has so much heart that it can be forgiven for some of the flaws.

WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED: A HISTORY OF FOLK HORROR
Things I learned from Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror:
• You can easily sustain a full 3 hours and 14 minutes of horror doc content.
• America is scared of the past and pagans!
• Hoodoo vs. Voodoo
• There is no such thing as Indian burial grounds.
• I have tons more folk horror I need to watch.
• “O Death” will always be the best end credits song.

Television

CRUEL SUMMER
I think I’m already obsessed with Cruel Summer after only one episode! I rarely latch onto Freeform shows after being burned one too many times by Pretty Little Liars—this premise hooked me. The twisty drama has a 90’s setting, overlapping mystery, multiple timelines and a banging soundtrack. Throw in engaging performances from a young cast, and it’s a recipe that’ll keep me coming back for all 10 episodes. 

MADE FOR LOVE
This pilot is a creepy and relevant examination of a destructive relationship. Cristin Milioti plays Hazel, on the run from too-perfect billionaire Byron (Billy Magnussen), after she realizes he has implanted a chip in her brain. The sci-fi beats don’t feel far off from reality. I’ll definitely be watching when it comes to HBO Max in April.

THEM
Like many have said, Them is very Jordan Peele, which is high praise for new writer/creator Little Martin. The series taps right into racial politics, weaving in an unspeakable supernatural element that makes the series crackle with promise. The first two episodes are scary and intense. Deborah Ayorinde and Allison Pill are acting on another level. At only 10 episodes, I’ll be counting down the days until I can finish this on Amazon Prime in April.

Shorts

STUFFED
A horror musical that feels very Sweeney Todd, about a crazy female taxidermist who wants to taxidermy her first human subject? Signed, sealed, delivered — I’m sold. The music pulled me in from the very first second.

Events

CHEESIN’ AROUND WITH NICK OFFERMAN
This was an adorable event where we got to light a candle, guess celebrity cheese preferences, hop on zoom, and sample delicious cheeses with over 200 other people… plus Nick Offerman! I won another cheese prize during this, so I’m probably biased, but this was a “grate time.” 

Ten Favorite Films From SXSW 2021

For an entirely virtual event, I was impressed by the design of the app and its seamlessness in watching films as their available time slot approached. An admittedly slim selection of Q&A’s made me hungry for more thorough discussion about several of the films. I hope you enjoyed my coverage of 2021’s South By Southwest Film Festival, and it is my fondest hope that by the same time next year, I can attend in person with my partner on the site, Allison!

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