Fantastic Fest 2021: Barbarians, Knocking, Found Footage Phenomenon — Movie Reviews

The Found Footage Phenomenon, Barbarians, and Knocking are screening as part of Fantastic Fest 2021.

The Found Footage Phenomenon

The Found Footage Phenomenon is just what it says on the tin: an overview of the phenomenon of found footage horror films that sprung into the mainstream after the massive success of The Blair Witch Project in 1999. As a primer for the uninitiated,  the documentary is a solid, well-paced overview of the popular subgenre. But for the found footage fan (and likely the casual horror fan), this isn’t likely to open one’s eyes to any new understanding.

Which begs the question of who this doc is for. With a bevy of recognizable names in found footage filmmaking interviewed, it seems marketed at the horror fan. But that audience is also the most likely to already be familiar with the information being put forth.

This is often my issue with this brand of self-reflexive industry doc, those films which discuss filmmaking itself. Who are these movies for, and what is being furthered in the discourse by making the movie for that audience? That seems to be the operative question. And in this case, I’m left with no clear answer.

The Found Footage Phenomenon: C+



Charles Dorfman’s Barbarians is a film predicated on rapid shifts in the story’s trajectory.  The first two-thirds is centered around a tense dinner party between two couples. For various reasons, things get testy between the two men in the room. Then, just when everyone’s dirty laundry appears to be out in the open and relationships appear on the verge of falling apart, well…something completely unexpected happens.

What this script is going for is surprise, but just because a plot twist is surprising doesn’t mean it comes off as meaningful or relevant to the story being told. Ultimately, the dramatic tension is rendered moot by the events of the final half hour. One movie enters for dinner, and is then ushered off when a few new figures come knocking at the door.

There is semblance of a through-line, yes, but it is frankly only skin deep. Thematic tension regarding having the capacity to take the necessary action despite its ugliness is a motif, but this only manages to be a tepid examination of fragile masculinities.

Barbarians: C+



What is fascinating about Knocking is director Frida Kempff’s ability to get feature-length mileage out of the film’s one-note premise. Paranoia and gaslighting abound after Molly moves into a new apartment complex following her stay in a psychiatric hospital. The film is brief, claustrophobic, and riddled with anxious energy.

Cecilia Milocco is astonishing in this film. Knocking can’t work without this performance. Hers is easily one of the best performances of the fest, mirroring anxiety, confusion, and dread effectively from start to finish.

Knocking: B

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)

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