SXSW in 2012 saw a flood of orange-badged tech entrepreneurs and nerds alike descend upon the laid-back Texan capital in such force, that one could almost forget the vibrant film undercurrent that only grows with each passing year, shaping the festival into a noted midway point between Sundance and Cannes every spring. This year’s selection again reflected a wide variety of titles that seek to take the temperature of this particular moment in film culture, for better or for worse. As with many festivals, much of the initial attention is focused on the higher brow, cultural catnip that often appears designed for awards season. However, the real fun is usually found with the genre pictures and documentaries, worlds that offer visitors a plethora of weirdness that reminds one of the enjoyments that should be had when sitting in a giant, dark room with strangers, munching on pop corn, and letting go.
Screening at the Austin Drafthouse during the appropriate midnight hour, The Aggression Scale is a prime example of a little film that establishes a goal and follows through with maximum efficiency and gore. A modern riff on 80’s kid hero films, the thriller follows a harrowing twenty-four hours in which a local gangster’s hit squad sets out to recover $500,000 stolen from said gangster before fleeing the country. While slaughtering and photographing victims for proof, they eventually come upon a teenage boy and family, who turn out to be the true culprits. Already displaying strong anti-social tendencies and an attention to violence, what would normally be a misguided youth in a school shooting instead morphs into the unlikeliest of heroes, utilizing home training and tactics to foil the culprits at every turn. What follows is a deliriously glorious celebration of hacking, slashing, beating, and other examples of cartoonish violence put to good use.
Following the never old, portmanteau style, V/H/S showcases eight current, independent horror directors coming into their own, including Glenn McQuaid, Ti West, David Bruckner, Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg, etc. via a series of episodes revolving around VHS and video technology. The results vary quality-wise in terms of overall production and execution, however each one displays a passion to scare the audience witless with moments of sheer inventiveness. And as with life, many times the simplest premises, i.e. a stalker filming a traveling couple at night when sleeping, are often the most effective. A full cast and crew Q&A afterwards only sweetened the pot after the film’s Austin premiere at the utterly awesome Alamo Drafthouse Lamar. However, documentary also played its role in both entertaining as well as illuminating audiences this year; one noted example was The Source.
An examination of the eccentric yet relatively harmless chic 70’s cult and its charismatic leader, The Source examines the bridge between well-intentioned spiritual enlightenment and the temptations of material excess, when one does not keep their morality in check. While many good deeds were conducted by the group, including the popularization of vegan food and living, the gradual disintegration of intention and constant shifting led to an inevitable, but thankfully not violent, end. New Age philosophy courtesy of the 1970s, the film is a great time capsule that bears viewing for those interested in studying alternative means of living.