Fantastic Fest Review: 3ft Ball & Souls
Jon Cross, Editor & bearded man: I would love, in this editorial preamble, to say - We sent our roving reporter Lisa Gullickson to Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX to cover one of the coolest horror and genre film fests on the planet.
The truth is she was going anyway and has graciously agreed to send us reviews of some of the stuff she saw there. Please enjoy her awesome coverage of Fantastic Fest!
We all have regrets. We’ve made split decisions in times of crisis and made selfish choices, misguided choices, or just plain wrong ones. These are the ghosts of the distracted mind; popping out from behind the corners of meandering thought and making us flinch. We all fantasize about the clean slate, the do-over, a second chance at a first chance. Film is the place where we live out this fantasy – an alternate reality where a benevolent providence continues to hit the reset button to a single point in time until we finally get things right, a time loop that you can only escape by being your best self. While Groundhog Day is not the first time-loop film, it is the definitive time loop film in which jaded weather man Phil Connors (Bill Murray) relives the same day until all of his narcissistic asshole fetters fall away and he is worthy of his true love, Rita (Andie McDowell). Other films have followed suit – Live. Die. Repeat. and the upcoming Happy Death Day – making this a beloved sub-sub-genre of supernatural and science fiction films that I wish to plumb the deepest depths of.
The Japanese film 3ft Ball & Souls played as one of the opening night films of Fantastic Fest and stated itself as a worthy entry into the time loop sub-sub-genre. It sweetly captures the story of four individuals facing the spirit’s most indomitable foe - despair. The film opens with a somber man pushing a large, eggshell colored sphere to the center of an open, unfurnished shed. Three others join him and they all introduce themselves by their chatroom handles. They’re an online “Life Club,” created to plan their group suicide. The 3-foot ball is full of explosives and all they have to do is detonate, but they’re taken aback when the final member of their group is a bubbly high-schooler who, in their estimation, has every reason to live. Each time the red button is slammed the blast occurs, the searing pain is felt, but the timeline returns to the first man alone in a room. Every time until the last time, of course.
While the circumstances of their meeting may be tragic, these are not tragic characters. They are kind, funny, compassionate, confused, and broken. The genuine goodness of each of the members of the “Life Club” keeps the film buoyant and charming despite the gravity of their meeting.
The film, directed by Yoshiro Kato, feels like an intimate stage play with few frills and physically confined. The majority of the story happens in that shed as the four souls justify, negotiate and beg for their right to die. Everywhere outside the time loop is brightly lit and colorful, but it is inside the beigeness of the shed where things feel the most real and raw. It can get very claustrophobic being trapped in both space and time.
The time loop film gives us the sense that each of us has a destiny, a more perfect timeline that we can find if given a chance or two (or probably more). 3ft Ball & Souls is a loving exploration of despair, desperation, and humanity. As each of these characters cautiously reveal the most vulnerable parts of themselves, the parts that make them want to dispatch the whole, they receive understanding and hope. There is so much to be gained by watching 3ft Ball & Souls, from the stunning cinematography to the wonderful performances of the actors, but the greatest gift is the gentle reminder that we have better odds of finding our best timeline if we do it together.