The Best (and Most Insightful) Genre Films at Fantastic Fest 2021


A close look into the blood, guts, and carnage from the many gritty genre films of Fantastic Fest 2021. Let’s get scared!

Another year, another Fantastic Fest. Alamo Drafthouse’s annual film festival in Austin, Texas returns this year with a limited in-person run, which includes the usual array of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, Asian, martial arts, and cult genre films of the past year. 

If you aren’t super familiar with Fantastic Fest, it was founded in 2005 by Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League, Ain’t It Cool News’s Harry Knowles, writer Tim McCanlies, and Paul Alvarado-Dykstra, and has seen some world and US premieres of such genre staples as Zombieland, Machete Kills, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Halloween (2018), to name a few.

As we’ve covered in the past, we have a preview look into some of the films and what aspiring filmmakers can take away from these gritty soon-to-be genre classics.

Genre Horror Films

Black Friday!
An image from Black Friday!, a rag-tag ensemble genre sure to excite crowds and inspire genre-filmmakers. Image via The Warner Davis Company.

As per usual, Fantastic Fest is the perfect space for horror fans and filmmakers alike. While the festival is open to all types of genre film submissions and screenings, it really shines in the horror genre category in particular.

This year is no different as there are countless horror films at the fest, with plenty more horror-adjacent films combining different genres like drama, thriller, and sci-fi.

Here are some of the highlights from this year’s fest you should check out (we’ll go over some helpful tips for aspiring horror filmmakers below, as well).

When diving into horror, it’s important to do your research and watch both the new films of the genre as well as explore the classics.

However, before you go out and start shooting your first Cabin in the Woods-type film with friends, check out some of these resources:

Genre Sci-Fi Films

Freaks Out Sci-Fi Film
An image from Freaks Out, a hybrid sci-fi, horror, and drama film which includes supernatural elements filmmakers should take note of. Image via 01 Distribution.

Moving on to science fiction films at Fantastic Fest 2021, the sci-fi genre category is another staple of the genre-heavy festival. However, unlike horror, the sci-fi genre tends to lend itself more to a sub-genre these days, as it easily attaches itself to horror or drama films (which simply includes sci-fi elements like aliens, supernatural powers, or other classic conventions).

As filmmakers, it’s important to still keep tabs on how sci-fi is evolving in modern film, and how and why filmmakers choose to implement sci-fi elements into their films.

Here are some awesome sci-fi (and sci-fi adjacent) films to check out:

  • Aelita: Queen of Mars: Directed by Yakov Protazanov — “A silent science fiction film directed by Soviet filmmaker Yakov Protazanov, with new score by Chris Bullock, a saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, and as a longtime member and composer for Snarky Puppy, he has received four Grammy awards.”
  • Freaks Out: Directed by Gabriele Mainetti — “During WWII in Italy, after circus director Israel disappears, four performers gifted with special powers go looking for him and unknowingly walk into a trap set by an SS officer who is obsessed with finding them.”
  • Yellow Dragon’s Village: Directed by Hugo Sakamoto — “And now for something completely different. Cannibal cultists and vengeful martial artists lead the way as found-footage horror gets a cult film makeover courtesy of Hugo Sakamoto’s inventive and spirited debut.”

You can also read up on how to create sci-fi films of your own, as well as how to add sci-fi elements to your projects with these cool tutorials, overlays, and resources.

Genre Thriller Films

Hostage: Missing Celebrity Thriller
An image from Hostage, a Korean thriller which director and star Gam-sung Pil gives a masterclass in genre thriller filmmaking. Image via Filmmaker R&K.

Thriller films are another interesting case study for aspiring genre filmmakers and non-genre filmmakers, as you could make the argument that most films share “thriller” elements. 

However, looking at the more recent hard-boiled thriller genre films from around the world can provide inspiration and insight into how to captivate an audience and tell a visually riveting story.

Check out these selections if you get the chance:

To really master the thriller genre though, you don’t necessarily need to look into complex VFX or practical special effects. Instead, you should really focus on filmmaking knowledge and the basic building-blocks of scene construction.

Here are some amazing articles exploring composition, thematic storytelling, and cinematography.

Genre Action Films

Baby Assassins Action
An image from Baby Assassins, another hybrid genre film which is a great example of how action filmmaking is evolving. Image via Fantastic Fest.

And finally, the genre nearest and dearest to my own heart, Fantastic Fest has been a surprising source of modern genre action films for the past decade. For a genre that saw its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s before fizzling out in more recent years, it’s nice to see the genre shift to incorporate other genre elements and thrive internationally.

Here are some cool action and martial art retrospectives and new films to check out.

  • Baby Assassins: Directed by Hugo Sakamoto — “Two teenage assassins are just trying to get by when a run-in with the yakuza throws a wrench in their plans. Bummer!”
  • Dynasty: Directed by Chang Mei-chung — “Now! DYNASTY! On the surface, it looks like just another indie kung fu flick from Taiwan. But, within minutes, this crazy train has picked up a full head of steam and is on its way to a Never Never Land of wild weapons, mass mutilation, and major mayhem . . . all in 3D!!!”
  • Last of the Wolves: Directed by Kazuya Shiraishi — “A hard-won truce between rival yakuza gangs threatens to erupt into bloody violence when a psychopathic hoodlum is released from prison and vows to avenge the death of his boss.”

If you’d like to learn a bit more on how to film, choreograph, and edit genre action into your films or sequences, check out these articles:

Overall, these genre films are excellent fodder for any filmmaker interested in studying how the medium has evolved over the years—and the exciting new possibilities for the future.

For more genre-insights, tips, tricks, and resources, check out these articles, as well:

Cover image from Possession, another classic horror genre retrospective at this year’s fest. Image via Limelight International.


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