9 indie pics with enough buzz to become next year's sleeper hits

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Dec 15, 2012, 11:18 AM EST

Several sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films worth watching made their world, North America, U.S. and/or regional premiere at this year's Fantastic Fest. The largest genre film festival in the U.S., Fantastic Fest features horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and just plain fantastic movies from all around the world.

In years past There Will Be Blood, Apocalypto, City Of Ember, Zombieland, Gentlemen Broncos and Timecrimes all premiered there.

Here's a selection of the must-see movies from the Festival you'll be sure to hear more about in the coming months.

A Boy and His Samurai

Based on Gen Araki's popular manga Fushigi no Kuni no Yasubei (Yasubei in Wonderland), A Boy and His Samurai charms with the adventures of a time displaced, Edo-period samurai turned housekeeper and pastry chef. Director Yoshihiro Nakamura masterfully weaves the potentially silly concept into an entertaining, thought-provoking exploration of modern Japanese society.

Single mother Yusa struggles to take care of her young son Tomoya while working a boring job. Their life changes when they meet the confused and lost samurai Kajima, who eventually becomes Tomoya's friend, role model, and nanny. The bored warrior also discovers the art of dessert making, even entering a Top Chef-style contest.

The pro-feminist, Buddhist masterpiece tackles issues such as absentee fathers, working women, nobility, honor, and single mothers, all in a light but insightful manner. A Boy and His Samurai delivers one of the most unusual family films ever, destined to be cherished as classic for generations.


The first ever Israeli produced horror film, Rabies offers an original, fun and gruesome take on the teens- lost-in-the-woods motif.

After siblings Ofer and Tali run away from home into a nearby forest, Tali falls into a trap set by a homicidal maniac. While looking for help, Ofer encounters a group of young people—two men and two women—whom he begs for help. The men go with Ofer, leaving the girls to wait for the cops. The police sexually harass the girls, who run off into the forest.

Meanwhile, a park ranger on his normal rounds discovers a man carrying a body. Things go from bad to worse as the deaths mount up from a variety of misunderstandings and mishaps. Even with its flawed ending, Rabies offers an interesting vision of the standard, well-trodden horror trope.

Julia X

Julia X from Pamela B Green on Vimeo.

The entertaining 3-D bloodbath Julia X features the beloved geek icon Kevin Sorbo playing against type as a serial killer. Sorbo's aw-shucks charm lends a surprising strength and credence to the role.

The never named killer finds his prey through Internet dating services. His latest potential victim Julia (the beautiful Valerie Azlynn) reacts unlike his previous hunts, leading to a ballet of violence, bizarre twists and (intentionally) humorous bits. First time director P.J. Pettiette competently plays with the expectations of the genre, at times delivering some unique aspects and tense moments.

The extremely well done 3D comes across, like in most movies, as an affectation rather than an essential aspect to the picture. Julia X would screen just as well in 2D. Weakening the cataclysmic ending, Pettiette, who also wrote the screenplay, tacked on an unnecessary epilogue to set up the inevitable sequel Julia Y.


Haunters introduces a first-time director Kim with an interesting, yet flawed film. A huge hit in its native South Korea, the film centers around the battle between two beings with super powers.

A silver-haired, one-legged mystery man controls the minds of all he meets until during a foiled robbery when the unassuming Kyu-Nam manages to resist. With heighten reflexes and superhuman healing, Kyu-Nam challenges the power-hungry telepath in a game of cat-and-mouse throughout the streets of Seoul.

Min-Suk, doubling as writer, displays a creative use of the powers and engaging fights only failing in his shallow character portrayals. With a similar vibe to Unbreakable, Haunters offers an exciting incarnation of the oft told tale of good versus evil.


The ultra-violent, cruel-at-times Smuggler, based on Shohei Manabe's intense manga, marks the return of legendary director Katsuhito Ishii to the over-the-top, goofy action movie.

Failed actor Kinuta must take odd jobs to pay off his debt to a loan shark. He joins a team of smugglers. They become embroiled with the colorful and superhuman assassins Vertebrae and Visceral and a war between powerful gangsters. High octane, comedic, and improbable action fuels the dynamic tale.

Despite the gratuitous, graphically intense torture scenes, Smuggler succeeds as an above average, bug-nutty, Japanese action thriller.


Nacho Vigalondo, director of the lauded Timecrimes, returns for his second feature film Extraterrestrial.

The hungover Julio wakes up in a strange bed. After re-acquainting with his hook-up from the previous evening Julia, the pair realizes that the TV, phone, and Internet do not work. The streets are oddly deserted. Then they discover the giant spaceship hovering high above the city. Julia's creepy next door neighbor brings news of an alien invasion. Her live-in boyfriend Carlos comes home, further complicating matters. The quartet begin to adjust to the strangeness of their lives while attempting to uncover exactly what happened.

The complex romantic comedy offers plenty of laughs and mystery. Using unusual props such as a tennis ball cannon, a large jar of peaches and a giant coffee cup, Vigalondo expertly combined superior direction with his intelligent, witty script replete with shocking ending.

Carre Blanc

For his first feature Carre Blanc, French director/screenwriter Jean-Baptiste Léonetti chose an Orwellian near future with absurdist views on totalitarianism. The mercifully brief (77 minute), bleak and beautiful film opens with a series of seemingly unrelated non-sequiturs before delving into a more conventionally structured story.

After watching his mother jump to her death, Phillipe attends a school with other orphans where he soon attempts suicide. Flash to the adult Phillipe as a ruthless businessman, putting applicants through strange, sometimes painful tests. His marriage to Marie, who saved him as child, is now estranged. The government supplies the soundtrack to everyone's lives through a series of continuous audio loops promoting childbirth ("Under 12? You can be inseminated. Even without your parent permission."), an unexplained sequence of numbers and coverage of croquet tournaments. In the nearly brainwashed society, the upper classes literally eat the poor.

The tragic, richly emotional tale is particularly telling in light of the current EU economic crises. No matter what else, Carre Blanc promises you'll never look at croquet the same way again.

Let The Bullets Fly

From the opening sequence, Let The Bullets Fly quickly establishes the picture's exquisite tone. A lone train car—steam spewing from it spout—is pulled by a team of horses along railroad tracks. After the exchange of gunshots between the travelers and raiding band on horseback, events quickly lead to an exaggerated, comedic train derailment in the finest Chinese movie slapstick fashion.

With 1920s China as the backdrop, screen legends Chow Yun Fat and Jiang Wen (who also directs and wrote the screenplay) deliver virtuoso performances as the power hungry, greedy gangster and the Robin Hood style bandit, respectively. The thinly veiled pro-Chinese Revolution story abounds with fun fight scenes, intriguing interactions, and as the title promises, abundant gunplay, all wrapped within the epic feel of a Sergio Leone western.

Juan of the Dead

Promoted as the first Cuban-made horror film, Juan of the Dead delivers a creative, zombie/comedy on the level of Shaun of The Dead (which despite the title bears little resemblance) and Zombietown.

After Havana descends into chaos following the zombie outbreak, Juan, the procrastinating title hero, must overcome his lackadaisical nature to defend his friends and estranged daughter. First time writer/director Alejandro Brugués, who currently lives in his native Cuba, bravely crafted this pro-Cuba, anti-Castro film. News reports punctuate the movie relating the official government position that these incidents are the results of "dissidents funded by Americans" so the characters throughout refer to the undead as dissidents.

The zany Juan of the Dead, easily the best and most original zombie film of the year, offers loving nods to classic Romero zombiefests, Dead Alive, and even Ghostbusters ("Juan of the Dead, we kill your loved ones.").

While only a few of these movies will receive play in traditional theaters, thanks to their exposure at Fantastic Fest, all of them will enjoy long lives on DVD and via streaming sites and cable outlets.

Which of these movies excite you the most?