Though an online film festival isn’t quite the same as the real deal, with the pandemic forcing adaptations, what are usually very expensive, privileged experiences have become even more accessible. Back in January, I attended the Sundance Film Festival in its online iteration. To follow it up, last month, I took the opportunity to experience my first South by Southwest (SXSW), all from the comfort of my bedroom.
Normally taking place in Austin, Texas, SXSW is a massive film, music, and media festival and conference that draws hundreds of thousands every year. But this year, the city of Austin was empty, and the entire festival took place online, streaming through an on-demand app.
Buckling up for the week–through headliners, midnight screenings, and as many of the buzzed-about narrative competitions as I could manage–I packed 20 films into only four days. In the end, I was left with many standout entries I think will go down as some of the best films of the year.
If you like horror-comedies, you’ll love Jakob’s Wife, a campy, gore-filled fun-fest about a pastor’s wife who gets bitten by a vampire. It’s a perfect midnight screening and will be streaming on Shudder later this year, so keep an eye out for it.
If you like coming-of-age stories, you’ll love Inbetween Girl. Follow teen artist Angie Chen on a journey of sexual discovery, racial identity, and artistic expression that not only delivers on laughs but brings relatable family dynamics and emotion to the table as well.
If you like women-led buddy comedies, you’ll love Recovery, a road trip movie about two sisters on a mission to rescue their grandma from a COVID outbreak at her nursing home. Though it doesn’t seem like a comedy taking place during the pandemic would work, this was truly one of the best comedies of the festival, and sure to be an instant classic among fans of films like Booksmart.
If you’re a fan of pop music, you’ll love Alone Together, a documentary chronicling pop singer Charli XCX’s process of creating her album, How I’m Feeling Now, in only five weeks at the beginning of the pandemic. Not only does it show a vulnerability to Charli that we don’t usually get to see, but it also showcases the journeys of some of her core fans during the pandemic as well.
If you like true stories and fourth-wall breaks, you’ll love Women Is Losers, where we follow the journey of Celina Guerrera from her time in Catholic school, to becoming a single mother trying to raise her family in 1960s San Francisco. This one brought tears to my eyes with its gut-punch of an ending.
If you like raunchy comedies with heart, you’ll love Ninjababy, a Norwegian comedy that follows 23-year-old Rakel who finds out she’s 6 months pregnant. Blending animation and live-action in a very clever and effective way, Ninjababy is both riotously funny and heartbreaking in many ways.
If you like slashers and electronic music, you’ll love Sound of Violence. After experiencing the brutal murder of her family, Alexis goes on a musical murder spree, composing her masterpieces through the sound of torture and pain. This film truly had some of the most creative slasher kills I’ve ever seen. Disgusting and yet so captivating.
If you like domestic thrillers and plot twists galore, you’ll love Here Before, a perfect film for fans of movies like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. After the loss of her daughter, Laura becomes convinced that her daughter has been reborn in Megan, the daughter of the family who just moved in next door. This is a perfect entry in the woman-slowly-loses-her-mind cinematic universe with supernatural overtones and a very unsettling atmosphere.
If you have anxiety, you’ll love Violet. I know that’s kind of an odd one, but as someone with anxiety, Violet touched me in such a powerful way. After years of taking life advice from the voice inside her head, film executive Violet Morton starts to discover that this critical voice has been lying to her. Violet paints the debilitating hold of anxiety in a truly beautiful and powerful way using voiceover and on-screen text in very creative and artistic ways.
If you have ever been scared to go to school because of what you see every day on the news, you have to watch The Fallout. I’m not going to say you’ll love it, because this film is really fucking heavy. But it’s also so important. The Fallout explores the aftermath of a school shooting, taking us on a journey with high-school-student Vada, who finds strength, love, and the will to carry on out of trauma and grief. I really can’t put into words how much this film meant to me, and every time I even try, I can’t do it without shedding some tears. This is the film of the year for me. It might even be one of my favorite movies ever. It’s absolutely a must-watch for everyone. — Bren Swogger
Photo: Jenna Ortega and Maddie Ziegler in ‘The Fallout’. Courtesy of Clear Horizon, SSS Entertainment