Spoiler-Free Reviews: STRANGE DARLING and THE WAIT (Fantastic Fest)

September 25, 2023

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at josephperry@gmail.com. He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.



Do yourself an immense favor and learn nothing more about the plot of writer/director JT Mollner’s Strange Darling than what I am about to tell you. This film absolutely requires being gone into as cold as possible for maximum effect. The film opens with a preamble about a serial killer’s path through the United States, and then cuts to a coke-snorting man (Kyle Gallner) in a pickup truck chasing down a bloodied woman (Willa Fitzgerald) in a Ford Pinto. She totals the car and runs into the woods, with the rifle-toting man following in pursuit. Mollner takes the concepts of a cat-and-mouse thriller and first-date-gone-wrong horror and over the course of six nonlinear chapters, toys with viewer expectations to mind-blowing effect. The film is beautifully shot by actor Giovanni Ribisi in his debut as a director of photography, with several scenes depending on pure, dialogue-free cinema, which he pulls off swimmingly. Fitzgerald and Gallner are both magnificent in their roles, and Barbara Hershey and Ed Begley Jr. add some engaging support. Mollner balances suspense with darkly comic tones, weaving a cinematic path that keeps viewers guessing until the very end. This is top-notch genre cinema more than worthy of consideration for Best of 2023 film lists.       






Set mainly in 1973, The Wait (Spain) sees Eladio (Víctor Clavijo) move his his wife Marcia (Ruth Díaz) and their young son Floren (Moisés Ruiz) to a rural Spanish property owned by Don Francisco (Pedro Casablanc). Eladio’s job is watching over the 10 deer stands on which Don Francisco allows people to hunt deer and wild boars. When Don Francisco’s associate Don Carlos (Manuel Morón) bribes Eladio with going against Don Francisco’s wishes to open three more stands, Eladio reluctantly agrees with pressure from Marcia, even though he knows that having so many stands is dangerous. Indeed, tragedy strikes the family, setting off a series of deadly events with revelations that point toward supernatural influence. Writer/director F. Javier Gutiérrez directs his folk horror feature superbly, investing the film with a dark sense of foreboding from the start, with the dirt-poor existence of Eladio and his family and the oppressive heat being palpable. Clavijo gives a gripping performance as a man driven to desperation in more ways than one, and the supporting players all give solid turns. You can view a teaser here.



Strange Darling and The Wait screen as part of  Fantastic Fest, which takes place in Austin, Texas from September 21–28, 2023. For more information, visit  https://2023.fantasticfest.com/welcome.


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