Sitges 2018 Final Recap: Seeing Some of the Best & Worst Genre Films
by Alex Billington
October 18, 2018
There are film festivals and then there are genre film festivals. They both show great films from all over the world, and they both highlight cinema as one of the finest forms of modern art. What makes the Sitges Film Festival stand out in particular is the audience. Celebrating its 51st year, Sitges has been around for a while. It has a strong reputation and its known around Europe as the top genre festival. Horror fans from Spain and other nearby countries travel in to catch the latest, greatest offerings from talented directors, and catch up over drinks and pintxos (and tapas). This year was my second year back to Sitges, and I decided to stay the entire time to relax and catch a bunch of films over the full 10 days it runs. After my unforgettable experience last year (attending for my first time), I had to return, I couldn't stay away. And as usual, I'm very glad I did. I still love film festivals and Sitges is now one of my favorites in my regular yearly rotation.
I used to go to Fantastic Fest down in Austin, TX and that's also one of the best genre film festivals. It's too expensive to fly all the way over from Europe nowadays, but Sitges is just a few weeks after and usually shows most of the same films from there anyway. I'm glad we still have Jeremy Kirk covering Fantastic Fest for FS.net every year, but so many of these films I really want to see for myself. Sitges is an easy-going festival, perhaps a little too easy-going - almost every screening started late this year. But it's not as crowded as most festivals and feels much more casual - you can always get a seat even if you show up right when it's about to start. That's part of why I love the fest so much - it's not as intense or as demanding as most of the other big festivals I attend every year. And my focus is on seeing films and enjoying them while I'm there, with less pressure to run coverage immediately since I'm not competing against other members of the press.
The audiences at every screening are a big part of what makes Sitges so much fun. They cheer and applaud every time the opening festival logo comes up at the start, right when King Kong (standing in the water near the town of Sitges) grabs one of the planes flying by. And at every screening, they cheer and applaud when something crazy or violent or gory or heroic or scary happens. If it's a good scene worthy of praise, they give it that praise right then and there. It feels like everyone is tuned into the film, not thinking about anything else besides what's showing on the screen in front of them. In a world where annoying distractions in movie theaters are increasingly common, this is a big relief. Everyone is there to have a fun time, and to appreciate the craziness of genre films - all the gore, and violence, and action, and brutality, and scariness, and twists, and upsets. Leigh Whannell's excellent sci-fi film Upgrade won the Audience Award this year, deservedly so.
The only thing about Sitges to complain about, even though I'm not really truly complaining, is that they're notorious for hit or miss programming. Some of the films in their line-up are fantastic, and blow everything else out of the water. This year that includes: The Night Comes For Us, One Cut of the Dead, Overlord, BuyBust, Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires. But they also have films in their line-up that are just bad. This isn't surprising because there's so many genre films made every year, and not all of them are good. Many of them are too experimental, or too low budget, or aim too high, or just don't try hard enough. It isn't a problem that these films are in the line-up, because every festival programs a few bad films (or perhaps divisive is a better word). And I'd rather take a risk and see something interesting even if it turns out awful, because I really want to see everything anyway; and I want to see what these filmmakers are trying, and what stories they're telling. And the audiences in Sitges will cheer for them anyway, because they always do.
Anyway, I had a great time at Sitges this year. I saw a total of 20 films, including two classics that I had not seen before: Bride of Frankenstein and Isao Takahata's Pompoko. And I saw some films that I would honestly say are some of the best (genre) films of 2018: The Night Comes For Us, Overlord, Suspiria, I Think We're Alone Now, and One Cut of the Dead. I didn't spend as much time catching up with friends as I wanted to, but I did spend plenty of time enjoying the food and the beach and the charms of the city. I'm planning to return next year, because of course I'll be back. What could be better than spending a week in a beach town watching films? Plus, it takes place in the middle of October when there's nothing else I'd rather be doing than watching horror films anyway (instead of sitting at home). If you've ever wanted to come to this fest, there's only one thing to tell you: do it. Make it happen. We'll go see some films together.
You can find all of my Sitges reviews & reactions on my Letterboxd or follow me on Twitter @firstshowing. This wraps up our coverage of Sitges 2018, my second year at this fun genre fest. I'll be back next October.
Here's my final list of all the films I saw at the 2018 festival with quick reaction. Links go to my own reviews.
1. Ghost Stories (dirs. Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman) - Just Okay
2. Suspiria (dir. Luca Guadagnino) - Loved It
3. Apostle (dir. Gareth Evans) - Just Okay
4. The Night Comes For Us (dir. Timo Tjahjanto) - Loved It
5. One Cut of the Dead (dir. Shin'ichirô Ueda) - Loved It
6. Clara (dir. Akash Sherman) - Liked It
7. Bride of Frankenstein (dir. James Whale) - Just Okay
8. Zoo (dir. Antonio Tublen) - Hated It
9. What Keeps You Alive (dir. Colin Minihan) - Just Okay
10. I Think We're Alone Now (dir. Reed Morano) - Loved It
11. The Spy Gone North (dir. Yoon Jong-bin) - Loved It
12. Ederlezi Rising (dir. Lazar Bodroza) - Hated It
13. Freaks (dirs. Zach Lipovsky & Adam B. Stein) - Liked It
14. A Bluebird in My Heart (dir. Jérémie Guez) - Liked It
15. Pompoko (dir. Isao Takahata) - Liked It
16. Keepers (dir. Kristoffer Nyholm) - Just Okay
17. Overlord (dir. Julius Avery) - Loved It
18. Halloween (dir. David Gordon Green) - Just Okay
19. The Man Who Killed Hitler & Then The Bigfoot (dir. Robert D. Krzykowski) - Loved It
20. Anon (dir. Andrew Niccol) - Liked It