SXSW Snapshots: 'Witch Hunt,' 'The Feast' and 'The Last Cruise'
Editor’s Note: The SXSW Snapshot series is a collection of short and sweet reviews from our coverage of the 2021 South by Southwest online film festival. Reviews were compiled in no particular order. Be on the lookout for more snapshots. Enjoy!
THE LAST CRUISE
When the COVID-19 pandemic started to surge, passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship faced a rude awakening. The first and largest outbreak of the virus outside of China, Hannah Olson’s “The Last Cruise” cuts together a terrifying though brief first person perspective of the month-long standoff in which residents and crew members laid stranded in quarantine while government officials figured out safe ways to extract their citizens.
Running a TV-friendly 45 minutes, “The Last Cruise” packs a surprising punch in a short amount of time, finding space to interview passengers and showcase how quickly life changed aboard the vessel (going from a lively party to deserted ghost ship overnight). “The Last Cruise” lacks the type of extensive, thoroughly in-depth analysis that makes good investigative docs tick, but it still provides crucial insight into an unimaginable scenario that hopefully never happens again.
THE LAST CRUISE debuted at the SXSW Film Festival and will premiere on HBO MAX Tuesday, March 30th
The first true dud of the SXSW film festival, Lee Haven Jones’ moody and slow-burning “The Feast” is an exercise in patience and heritage. The pic follows couple Glenda (Nia Roberts) and Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones) who live on family land in Wales. Once a massive farm, but now the foundation for a beautiful countryside home, Glenda rents out the remaining pockets of land to energy companies looking for resources.
To help with a forthcoming dinner party, Glenda hires Cadi (Annes Elwy) to assist with preparations and serve the food. In the background, the young woman quietly keeps to herself and is plotting something deviously sinister. The first two-thirds of “The Feast” spend ample time laying the groundwork for Cadi’s plan, but the eventual payoff isn’t worth the mounds of expositional legwork. Credit to Jones’ ability in creating a tense and atmospheric setting, but “The Feast” doesn’t give audiences enough to sink their teeth into.
THE FEAST debuted at the SXSW Film Festival and is currently seeking distribution.
There’s an array of solid political and social commentary in writer/director Elle Callahan’s “Witch Hunt,” but the muffled approach and inconsistent tone sour the overall vibe. Callahan’s alternate vision of America where Witches and magic are not only real, but illegal is a welcome premise that never reaches its full potential. “Witch Hunt” chronicles the saga of teenager Claire (Gideon Aldon) who lives in California, where her mom (Elizabeth Mitchell) fosters and hides witches fleeing to Mexico where laws are less strict.
Meanwhile in the United States, women are constantly tested at school and “watchlists” are disbursed throughout the country. There’s even an FBI task force/gestapo who can read air pressure levels and determine if witchcraft was used. Most of “Witch Hunt” centers on Claire’s relationship with Fiona (Abigail Cowen) - a witch on the run with her younger sister - and their own magical awakenings. Cowen and Aldon have decent chemistry, and their performances give “Witch Hunt” flavor, but the problematic depiction in regards to smuggling witches across the border and a slew of hazy, undeveloped subplots (would have liked to explore the school’s vigorous testing policy and how the small California town operates) hold the film back from casting an enchanting spell.
WITCH HUNT debuted at the SXSW Film Festival and is currently seeking distribution.
All above photos courtesy of the SXSW Film Festival