The Sitges Film Festival is Still One of the Best Fests for Genre Flicks
by Alex Billington
October 21, 2022
If you know, you know: this is a great festival. Watching movies at the Sitges Film Festival in Spain is one of the most exciting cinema experiences anyone can have. The Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic de Catalunya, as it is known officially, is one of the world’s premiere genre festivals – meaning they show horror, thrillers, sci-fi, action, and everything else related to these cinema genres. This year Sitges celebrated it 55th edition, bring over 100 films from all over the world to this cozy beach town. I’ve been attending Sitges since 2017, but after 2019 I had to take a break – due to the pandemic it was impossible to make it down to Spain. After a two year hiatus, I was back!! I love Sitges for so many reasons – it’s a very laid back, enjoyable festival; the food in town is amazing; the views are stunning and it’s warm even in October; the crowds are like no other; and I have the chance to catch a bunch of rad genre films that I can’t usually see at any other festival. I’m glad I came back again this year, catching up with 14 new films at Sitges 2022.
Sitges takes place in a beach town near Barcelona, in the Catalonia region of Spain. It’s one of the only fests in the world that always plays films with three subtitles – in English for international audiences, and in both Spanish and Catalonian for the local audiences. They brought a grand total of 193 features to the festival this year. Tons of faves from other film festivals were showing: Zalava (my review), Bodies Bodies Bodies, After Yang, Piggy (trailer here), Enys Men, Bones and All, Hunt, Inu-Oh, Leonor Will Never Die (trailer here), Neptune Frost, The Five Devils, Resurrection (my review), Saloum, Slash/Back (trailer here), Something in the Dirt (trailer here), The Stranger (trailer here), Watcher, Vesper (my review), and Sundance award-winner Nanny (trailer here). One of the fun things about Sitges is you never know what you’ll see – it might be really bad or boring, or it might be an amazing, underrated gem. You just have to start watching and find out, and yes, I always expect to see something awful. That’s just how it goes. But I also always hope to discover something terrific, and this year I was lucky to find a few new favorites.
One of the other iconic aspects of Sitges is the audience. There is a festival opening logo that plays before every film, an old school B&W 2D animation of King Kong standing in the sea near town, while airplanes come flying at him. Just as he swipes them, the audience breaks out into joyous, rapturous applause. Every single time. Doesn’t matter how good or bad the film looks, how early or late in the day it is, that burst of excitement and cheering accompanies every film. Then throughout the screening, if there’s a brutal kill, or if something crazy or scary or violent happens, the audience will also loudly applaud or cheer. They’re a very vocal crowd. It’s the greatest when you’re in a film like Deadstream, which is one of the best indie horror creations this year, and it’s full of superbly inventive scares and hilarious moments. The energy level is through the roof, and the audience is buzzing, leaving everyone in there levitating with horror joy once the credits start to roll. These are the most unforgettable moments of film festivals; the audience is a large part of what makes cinema a magical communal experience. Aside from a few viewings on the very first day, almost every screening is completely full in classic local venues (like the Casino Prado Cinema seen above).
This year in Sitges, I watched 14 of the latest genre films from 2022 – you can check my Letterboxd diary for more details. My first day was a bust: King on Screen (a doc about Stephen King adaptations) wasn’t that great, and the Norwegian supernatural horror thriller The Nightmare (aka Marerittet) didn’t impress me much either. The second day was a bit better: the Canadian Mad Max-in-snow film Polaris was good, but not great. The Spanish premiere of Carlos Vermut’s film Manticore was an evening highlight, a slow burn creepo thriller that left me seriously unsettled. Before I get into the real gems of the fest, a few others that let me down: Nocebo, the latest from Vivarium director Lorcan Finnegan, never really amounts to much with a super obvious story. The Antares Paradox, a Spanish one-room thriller about a nerdy woman who discovers a SETI signal but can’t convince anyone it’s real, is overly melodramatic with a messy script. The Lair, the latest from The Descent director Neil Marshall, is a waste of time – a creature feature that is as boring as they come. The Roundup, an intense Korean action film, is fun but sloppy and easily forgettable.
Aside from Deadstream, which is already out to watch on Shudder, the best films from Sitges this year are: Finnish action thriller Sisu (which won a bunch of awards at the festival anyway) and Kids vs Aliens, Canadian filmmaker Jason Eisener’s latest all-out grindhouse gore fest horror film. The best part about it is that it’s only 75 minutes and it’s literally exactly what the title describes: a bunch of rowdy kids fighting off some nasty, gooey aliens that try to ruin their Halloween night. Don’t miss this whenever it shows up in your neighborhood, and bring all of your friends, too. Sisu blew me away – I wrote a full-length review because I needed to rave about how awesome it is. Another one that’s worth watching is Ti West’s excellent daylight horror Pearl, his follow-up prequel to X with Mia Goth, both of which were shot back-to-back. This one even premiered at the Venice Film Festival, but I didn’t see it there, only catching up with both X and Pearl during Sitges. Ti West is one of the best horror directors around and proves this twice in 2022 with these.
There were also two French genre films that left an impression on me: Tropic (aka Tropique in French / alternatively titled Things Behind the Stars) from filmmaker Edouard Salier, a sci-fi thriller reminiscent of Gattaca. And the poetic mountain drama The Mountain (aka La Montagne) from filmmaker Thomas Salvador, who also stars in the film. I also wrote more about this one in a review because I adore mountains and I adore movies about mountains, so this one really got me. Tropic is both a good and a bad film. The first 30 minutes left me in awe, thinking this is going to be phenomenal. But it never really goes anywhere, spending the remaining 78 minutes spinning its wheels as it explorers a story of two brothers training to be pilots for space missions. One of them is forever changed by a strange alien rock that crashes down to Earth, leaving him severely deformed with half a brain. They never leave Earth, much like Gattaca, but instead of developing the story it just gets stuck with neither going anywhere. Despite these story problems, it’s a very stylish, captivating, fascinating film made by a talented filmmaker. He just needs a better script next time.
I’m already looking forward to returning to Sitges again next year, with the same goal: to watch and discover outstanding genre films. I’ll go back just to watch films with these audiences. They undoubtedly love movies, and they clearly love watching movies together. I’m glad I could make it down to the film festival in 2022. Above all, I hope that my recommendations (and warnings) about these films from 2022 will interest others in watching them. That’s what cinema is all about – spreading that love for good films and encouraging other movie fans to watch something they might not have heard of before. Keep an eye out for any of the movies from the Sitges 2022 selection. If you ever have the time and ability to make it to Spain for this festival, I absolutely recommend it. It’s a fantastic festival unlike any other, located right on the Mediterranean coast.