Fantastic Fest 2023: The Oh My God I Want to Scream edition – Crumb Catcher, The Coffee Table, The Uncle

Fantastic Fest 2023: The Oh My God I Want to Scream edition – Crumb Catcher, The Coffee Table, The Uncle

Crumb Catcher dir. -Chris Skotchdopole

We’ve all had that guest who just won’t leave. Typically a close talker with rancid breath, the “guy who won’t leave” is clueless to every social cue, every backdoor exit to a conversation, and every not-so-subtle check of the watch that would indicate to any normal person that the social clock has run out. We’ve all been cornered by one of these weirdos, and we’ve all felt shame when we finally had to speak up and be a dick about it.

Unfortunately, sometimes being a dick is the only solution.

But what if being a dick doesn’t work? What if your unwanted guest wants something from you? What if it’s your honeymoon and all you want is to be alone with your new spouse?

Welp, that’s Crumb Catcher. This disturbing black comedy is the latest from Glass Eye Pix, a company that’s no stranger to films that make you cringe as much as they make you think.

The morning after their wedding, Shane (Rigo Garay) and Leah (Ella Ray Peck) can’t break free from one of the waiters who worked their wedding. There was some sort of misunderstanding, and in an effort to make things up to his clients, John (John Speredakos) wishes to offer them a bottle of champagne. They accept, and after a long bout of awkward small talk, they’re finally able to get on their way to their honeymoon. It’s immediately apparent that there’s trouble in paradise. A work disagreement puts tension in the air, helped into existence by a strong assertion that Shane may have had a bit too much to drink the night before. Even so, the couple are determined to have a romantic night in.

Until John shows back up with a proposition. 

Crumb Catcher is tough to describe without spoiling. The plot itself is not what’s spoilable — you can probably predict a few developments from even the most basic plot description — but the mechanics of the plot are best kept secret so you can experience them in real time. It’s less an experience of “what are these people going to do?” and more of “what would I do in this situation?” What makes it so troubling is that there are no firm answers. The brilliance of Skotchdople’s script (based on a story by Larry Fessenden and Rigo Garay, our star), is that there are no immediately workable solutions in any single moment. The terror comes from the fact that most everyone in the audience would feel just as trapped as Shane and Leah, and just as lost at seeking a remedy.

Garay and Peck give two of the best performances of any I’ve seen at this year’s Fantastic Fest. So often, a real-time thriller has to pump the brakes on the narrative just to dump some exposition, but here, the central performances are able to fill in any expositional blanks with just their performances. The relationship between Shane and Leah is relatable enough that just about any viewer can project onto it, but it’s not a blank slate either. We know these people, and the characterizations brought by Peck and Garay give this well-written partnership so much more depth than many movies would even attempt, let alone entrust to be pulled from the margins of the script by its players. Garay works magic with his eyes alone. His is a truly remarkable performance.

Crumb Catcher probably doesn’t have much by way of rewatch value, mostly on account of how aggressively uncomfortable it seeks to make the viewer, but if you’re a sick fuck like me, there are few things more delicious than a film that succeeds at pushing your buttons. I wanted to SCREAM.

The Coffee Table – dir. Caye Casas

This year’s “I can’t say anything, so just trust me and watch this” award undoubtedly goes to The Coffee Table. I watched this via the online screening library in my hotel room during the festival, and I’m glad I did because I may have gotten booted from the theater on account of how loud I involuntarily exclaimed “OH MY GOD.”

All I can say is this: as far as inciting incidents go, I’ve never seen something as shocking or as darkly hilarious as what happens here. A deeply horrific thing occurs at the outset, and from there the bulk of the film is a dinner party where the one person who knows about said deeply horrific thing, must maintain a straight face while trying to hide, and then eventually explain, the nightmare situation he has found himself in.

The Coffee Table is an exercise in dread and empathy being simultaneously milked for all they’re worth. Yes, these feelings are strange bedfellows, but they’re married here with a dark perversity that works wonderfully, for lack of a better descriptor. On the one hand, the maniacal (and somewhat madcap) situation is nobody’s direct fault. On the other, we know that there’s just no way around the truth eventually coming out.

Tonally, I’m reminded of Happiness, specifically the sequence where Dylan Baker’s character is desperately trying to sneak date rape drugs into the sandwich of his son’s sleepover buddy. It’s a wildly dark scene that asks us to, on some level, empathize with an unrepentant pedophile, all to the end game of laughter…but it works. With The Coffee Table, we are similarly asked to laugh at the plight of a man who simply can’t come clean on account of a wholly unique tragedy. We don’t want to laugh (I can’t say why without spoiling), but it’s executed so well that it’s hard not to. Kudos to leading actor David Pereja for pulling this off, capturing the tragedy and hilarity of the situation with an impossible level of believability and humanity. He’s lovable and pitiable in equal measure, and it is glorious (and it sucks) to watch him continue to dig his own grave.

Fans of Solondz, Östlund, and…Larry David, are sure to love this one. But I must warn you: I wanted to SCREAM.

The Uncle – dir David Kapac & Andrija Mardesic

The Uncle feels like the bastard child of Haneke and Lanthimos — provocative cinema that wants to make you laugh and then make you feel bad for laughing and then make you laugh at how bad you felt.

Again, the less you know about this the better. I’ll give you the gist:

Uncle is coming over for Christmas dinner and everything has to be perfect. Not necessarily because Mom, Dad, and Son want it to be, but because it has to be. Don’t screw up saying grace, don’t burn the cookies, don’t be ungrateful if you don’t like your gifts. Christmas is a magical time and Uncle wants every aspect of it to reflect that magic.

Why? Shut up.

I saved this blurb for last because it’s the film I can say the least about. Yes, even less than I did for The Coffee Table.

The Uncle revels in ambiguity for as long as it possibly can, and does so by eschewing conventional narrative structure. By only letting the audience in on the larger picture in fits and starts, the filmmakers are able to lean on the familiar propriety of a Christmas dinner, if only to ultimately subvert it in the biggest, sickest ways. Also helpful to this end is the ambiguous time period in which it takes place. In a lot of ways The Uncle is reminiscent of The Duke of Burgundy — the repeating narrative, ambiguous setting, and complete lack of expository dialogue — only it’s not in service of a surprisingly sweet tale. Anything but, really. The Uncle establishes its darkness early on, slyly letting on that pertinent information is being withheld, but every time you think it’s reached its nadir, it finds clever ways to go darker, to wiggle the knife just a little bit deeper.

With this type of perverse cinema, it’s easy for a filmmaker to err on the side of “fucked up for fucked up’s sake.” It’s easy to get so enamored with the novelty of narrative cruelty that it becomes empty. The reason why I compare The Uncle to Haneke and Lanthimos is that no matter how dark or punishing the story becomes, it never feels like empty provocation (I know a lot of folks consider Funny Games to be empty, but it’s an assertion I refute). On a surface level, there seems to be a general skewering of tradition — must we repeat silly behaviors just because that’s the way it’s always been? — But looking deeper, there’s something much more sinister afoot. Something about the use of tradition as a form of control and furthermore, the way tradition can morph into ritual. There’s probably a bit of historical relevance that I’m not educated enough to understand, but the vibes are definitely in place.

I’d have to see it one hundred more times to flesh it out (and I really don’t want to spoil — go in blind), but this is going to be a great flick to show to someone else, if only to see their reactions throughout. Also, I desperately want to talk to someone about it because I’m not okay. I want to SCREAM.

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