For the most part, film festival SXSW’s genre offerings tend to adhere closely to their Midnighter section, dedicated to late-night chills. However, it does spill over into other categories of festival programming. That’s certainly the case with this year’s Episodic Premieres, a programming category dedicated to world premieres of series slated for release.
Nearly all of SXSW 2021’s episodic premieres dabbled in the genre space, from cryptid-based true crime conspiracy to young adult psychological thrills set in the ‘90s. The best part is that every single one is set to release right within the next few weeks.
Here’s a roundup of the SXSW genre series coming our way very soon.
Made for Love –April 1 on HBO Max
Based on Alissa Nutting’s tragicomic novel, Made for Love, this series kicks off with a premise eerily similar to last year’s The Invisible Man. It opens to a thrilling and slightly bloody introduction to Hazel Green (Cristin Milioti), a thirty-something amid an intense escape from her tech-mogul husband, Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen). She’s fleeing from a suffocating 10-year marriage trapped inside their “hub,” a high-tech bio-sphere. Romance turns nightmarish for Hazel, the full scope of which remains to be seen.
The premiere cuts between Hazel’s current attempt to find safety and the events that led up to her escape, and it deftly toggles between sci-fi, comedy, and horror. The primary tone here is humor. The series kicks off with a short 30-minute episode, and Milioti instantly engenders herself to the audience, grounding Hazel amidst the absurdity of this world. Look for Ray Romano to embrace the weird, too, as Hazel’s sex-doll enamored father.
Them – April 9 on Amazon Prime Video
If you only have time for one series to watch, make it this one. Not only is Them firmly planted in horror, but it’s intense from beginning to end- at least of the two episodes screened at SXSW. Read the full review here, or watch the trailer here.
Executive produced by Little Marvin and Lena Waithe, Them stars Deborah Ayorinde, Ashley Thomas, Alison Pill, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Melody Hurd, and Ryan Kwanten.
Confronting a Serial Killer – April 18 on Starz
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 director Joe Berlinger has made a career out of true-crime documentaries. Most recently, he’s tackled Netflix series The Ted Bundy Tapes, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, and Murder Among the Mormons. That string of Netflix releases instantly raises the question, why premium channel Starz instead? The answer comes almost immediately, with graphic descriptions of sexual assault and murder, many via audio by serial killer Samuel Little.
The limited series follows bestselling author/journalist Jillian Lauren as she strikes up a relationship with Little to identify all of his victims. Little may be in jail serving life sentences, but his very lengthy rap sheet indicates an insane number of crimes that he’s gotten away with over his lifetime. Lauren strives to coax confessions out of Little but realizes she may be becoming his last victim on a psychological scale. It’s this critical push-and-pull between journalist and psychopath that makes this documentary series so gripping and chilling.
Cruel Summer – April 20 on Freeform
This psychological thriller produced by Jessica Biel follows the lives of two Texas teens. Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) is the popular girl with a charmed life, and Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia, Gerald’s Game) is the nerdy outcast. Kate goes missing, and Jeanette takes her place as the new popular girl until she’s accused of being connected to Kate’s disappearance. Cruel Summer toggles between 1993, 1994, and 1995 to follow Jeannette’s rise and fall from social grace, raising a slew of intriguing questions in the process. The SXSW premiere gives an overview of Jeannette’s shifting home life and friendships, setting up multiple mysteries tethered to the central one of Kate’s disappearance.
The alternating timelines, steeped in ‘90s nostalgia, works in creating interest but diminishes that with revelations that suggest that the focus might be more related to bullying than murder. That it targets a young adult audience likely means more melodramatic answers to the questions raised, but the timeline hook gets it off to an interesting start.
Sasquatch – April 20 on Hulu
Director Joshua Rofé and producers the Duplass Brothers merge cryptid conspiracy with true-crime in this three-part docuseries investigating a bizarre 25-year-old triple homicide said to be the work of Bigfoot. The series follows investigative journalist David Holthouse as he looks into the murder of three men torn apart in Northern California in 1993.
Using animation and a mix of eccentric talking heads, along with Holthouse, the premiere paints a picture of a conspiracy set in the cannabis farms of the early ‘90s. Unlike most true-crime documentaries, however, there’s no clear case to follow here. Holthouse describes it as the craziest story he’s ever heard, and many talking heads in the first episode ponder Bigfoot as fact or fiction. While there’s an underpinning of light-hearted humor throughout, there’s also a tedious dryness to the storytelling that makes Sasquatch appear to be for avid cryptid hunters only.