In the last few months, in addition to writing reviews and longer form articles for this blog, I’ve also been lucky enough to write for two other sites, supported by fantastic editors. This post is just to share those and to draw your attention to both sites as honestly, there is an incredible amount of high-quality stuff from both.
First up, British Horror-centric Horrified Magazine. My first piece for them was in September 2020 and concerned the 1989 version of The Woman in Black. As of today, you can also find my detailed exploration of Kill List to celebrate the film’s 10 year anniversary. Please go check out all their in-depth articles, film and book reviews from brilliant writers.
Next is a really exciting new project that I’ve been involved in and I genuinely cannot believe I’m included amongst such amazing writers. Ghouls Magazine is a new collective of female and non-binary voices seeking to explore horror from that perspective. There is already a ton of fascinating content on the site, with much more to come. You can also get yourself some merchandise and keep and eye out for future events. I wrote about Martyrs and the less well-regarded remake for the magazine and you can read it here.
Stay tuned to this page and those sites for more work from me.
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About as far away from its original version as possible, Wrong Turn‘s new direction stands out for its attempts to do something new and interesting with the idea.
Synopsis: Friends hiking the Appalachian Trail are confronted by ‘The Foundation’, a community of people who have lived in the mountains for hundreds of years.
For the same writer to produce two very different takes on much the same subject matter makes the new Wrong Turn something of a curiosity. While the original delights in its grisly narrative of young people coming to unpleasant ends in the woods at the hands of monstrous attackers, this latest version seeks to explore the idea of a hidden, cut-off society with greater depth, while keeping the tension and violence high.
The characters are given more of an introduction here, standing up against the aggression of the townspeople before their hike begins in a sequence that seeks to show how intelligent and capable they all are. Some of this is a little on the nose as it shouldn’t really be a sign of a particularly strong woman in 2021 that Jen (Charlotte Vega) is capable of changing a tyre or that Milla (Emma Dumont) is a doctor. A moment where Luis (Adrian Favela) and Gary (Vardaan Arora) quickly drop any kind of display of affection toward one another in public hits hard as a socially-relevant concern for safety that impacts LGBTQ+ couples. Despite this, of course the group make the same mistakes as any group of young people presented with the opportunity to go off the trail in a horror film and immediately fall into trouble. Furthermore, even when established how different the characters are, this doesn’t account for anything as an early occurrence plays into all the same tensions that would be present without the character backgrounds. What we are told about the characters mostly furthers a sense of dramatic irony, rather than providing greater depth. That these progressive elements are seemingly introduced just to be shed feels frustrating, even though it does enforce the idea that despite all their skills they are no longer in the world they are used to.
In taking this more nuanced view of the hidden society, the film has to balance several things. Inviting the audience to view the characters and, by extension, ourselves as having encroached on a place that doesn’t belong to us without neutralising them as a threat is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve and the film complicates this further still by adding in a third thread of Matthew Modine’s Scott, a worried father searching for his daughter Jen and the home life she left to go hiking. The film switches from his search, to the events of their trip and back and so this does build a rather better idea of the world Jen usually inhabits.
The look of the film is excellent and there is a great eye for detail in creating the costumes of the Foundation. The way the Foundation characters visually blend into their surroundings and utilise the tools of the woods enhances their sense of ownership of and familiarity with the woods. This makes for some strong scares and action as elements of the forest suddenly move. This uneasiness is arguably the greatest point of the tension, although the violence has bite and impact with enough of the kind of gore that would feel at home in the original film present. The scenes away from the woods offer a departure from the sound and visuals of the forest, clearly setting them apart. The film also plays with the format throughout, with important action taking place throughout the credits, to the tune of a cover of “This Land Is Your Land”, no less.
While Wrong Turn serves as a solid reimagining of the original material, there is almost too much going on at once to be able to see each element through satisfactorily. Notable in its departure from the original material to create something more thoughtful, but far from nuanced.
Wrong Turn is released on February 26th on digital platforms including Amazon, iTunes, Sky, Virgin and BT. The film’s physical release can be pre-ordered from Amazon.
Repetition can’t dull the fun of Willy’s Wonderland in this sparky Nicholas Cage vehicle.
Synopsis: A quiet drifter is tricked into a janitorial job at the now condemned Wally’s Wonderland. The mundane tasks suddenly become an all-out fight for survival against wave after wave of demonic animatronics. Fists fly, kicks land, titans clash — and only one side will make it out alive.
Willy’s Wonderland is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a particularly unsubtle production. It combines music video-style storytelling, high-action and leans into its ridiculousness to the extent that it is impossible not to get something out of it. At under 90 minutes, there’s very little let up in the action and the film fully understands what it needs to do, hitting necessary beats at swift pace. If you’ve seen the trailer, you won’t have any huge surprises here, but that’s to be welcomed if you’re just very in the frame of mind for the kind of deadpan to wild, high-energy delivery that Nic Cage has come to embody.
Willy’s Wonderland is a former family restaurant that once threw children’s parties with the assistance of animatronic characters. Long-abandoned and covered in graffiti that hints at a dark past, The Janitor seems blasé about it. As he sets to work cleaning a group of teenagers led by Liv (a confident performance from Emily Tosta) seek to destroy the building to end the trouble by burning down the building. This simple concept allows all the effort to go into creating spirited confrontations and keeping things moving at all times.
The animatronic characters are well-designed, all offering a different look that allows for differing choreography. While there is a slight case of diminishing returns in the format, there’s enough fun to be had to keep it interesting. Cage is excellent, given relatively no dialogue, he musters an entertaining, surly performance that fits the material perfectly. Special mention has to go to the design of Siren Sara (Jessica Graves Davis), whose more human, but still exaggerated and uncanny movements work well to switch up the physicality just when the film needs it.
The character animation is great, with special attention given to eyes for reactions and the lurking of some of the more ridiculous characters hits the right comedic notes. Helped by everyone in the cast playing it relatively straight, there is time for the film to indulge in its slick, dynamic editing and turn up the volume. It makes for an enjoyable caper, even if you’ll not get anything revolutionary from it.
Perfect for those Friday nights where you want to switch your brain off and enjoy, Willy’s Wonderland is ridiculous, but all the better for it.
Willy’s Wonderland is released on February 12th on digital platforms including Amazon, iTunes, Sky, Virgin and BT. The film’s physical release can be pre-ordered from Amazon.
Darkness hits some too-familiar beats in its story of isolation, deception and coming-of-age, but does so with a sense of style of its own.
Synopsis: It’s the story of Stella, a young girl living with her father and two little sisters in an isolated house with bolted windows. Because of a solar explosion occurred years before, the man is the only one able to get out of the house. But his version of the truth seems to hide a huge lie.
Split across several chapters with titles like Daily Life, Luce is Growing and The Sun is Healing, featuring fairy-tale-influenced illustrations, there is an attempt throughout Darkness to highlight the innocence of the three sisters at the heart of the narrative. Valerio Binasco makes for an intimidating presence as Father, a man who controls the house through fearful stories of the outside world having endured a cataclysmic event that means only he can leave, fighting for basic food supplies and witnessing horrific events. Kept compliant by the ferocity of his words and the horror of his descriptions, the girls keep to a strict schedule, waiting for his return every evening.
The use of space within the film contributes a great deal to the sense of seclusion the girls feel, but also how they’ve found a sense of wonder within their walls. An early celebration of Air Day, where the three are allowed into a different room to experience the the dapple of sunlight and breeze of outside air from a crack in their boarded up windows is as much a visual change for the audience as it is the characters. Stella (Denise Tantucci) the only girl old enough to have real memories of the time before the event has her flashbacks intrude on the dark, closed-in space in rich colour. Envisaging herself as a performer, dressing up becomes a part of her and her sisters’ lives and that sense of escapism through different mediums is woven throughout. There is a sense of evolution represented in the soundtrack, moving from the classical music that Father insists on to increasingly modern as the plot develops.
Tantucci is excellent as Stella and we also see the evolution of the plot in terms of her appearance and even movement, escalating from small, strictly-defined moves into something more manic and energetic. Gaia Bocci’s performance is striking, bringing a quiet intensity as the middle daughter. She is more aware of the outside world than youngest Aria (Olimpia Tosatto) but also fully ingrained in her current lifestyle and her lack of belonging fully to one state or the other is well-realised. Bocci and Tantucci move from butting heads to reaching for one another that genuinely makes them feel sisterly.
Crossing some threads with films like We Are What We Are in terms of reliance on a parental figure and Dogtooth in early scenes where there is a reliance on strange family rituals and stilted conversations that feel almost in code, Darkness does step out to become more of its own thing. This does lead to one of the film’s issues with pacing however, as early scenes seem to be leading the audience to only one conclusion, that then takes a surprising amount of time to arrive. While the journey there is visually interesting, there are moments where this makes it feel a little slow.
Darkness occasionally dips in terms of pace, but has enough momentum to drive to a commanding conclusion, with well-calibrated performances and visual flair.
Darkness plays the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival on February 5th from 6pm to 8pm. You can purchase your tickets from the ticket page. The feature is geo-locked to Germany but several shorts blocks and events are available internationally. Please check the festival website for more information.
Sabrina Mertens’ artful but disturbing take on a young girl’s corrupted development is immersive and beautifully designed.
Synopsis: The still life of a family in 57 pictures. Germany in the 1970ies. Stephanie is an intelligent and lively child. But she leads an isolated life with her parents, marked by the symbiotic bonding with her mentally unstable mother. A mother who has never really left her own childhood behind and who lives amidst things of the past and the memories connected to them. Stephanie’s relationship with her father is one of mistrust. The passing years only bring aging, but no future. Unspoken thoughts lurk underneath the surface of everyday life. So Stephanie retreats into a dark world of barbaric fantasies, that are nourished by the traces of the past and only belong to her alone. One day, however, Stephanie’s secret invades the family’s reality.
In taking the approach to tell the story through 57 pictures, director Sabrina Mertens deliberately slows the pace, lingering on the painting-like images at the outset of scenes. It undoubtedly shows off the intricacy of the set design, but more importantly, creates an oppressive kind of immersion. Characters appear frozen in time and the time spent in the same locations lends a sense of both familiarity and overwhelming drudgery. Only early scenes are set outside, before the film retreats to the interior, becoming ever more claustrophobic as the film progresses and Stephanie’s world becomes smaller. This careful construction does a huge amount to create a heavy atmosphere.
Stephanie, played at first by Zelda Espenschied and in a 10-year time jump by Miriam Schiweck, lives a secluded life and even at the outset the film establishes how her home life intrudes on all other aspects. Her desire to invite friends inside is scuppered by her mother feeling unwell and the general clutter that the house contains. The film progresses in terms of what is shown as Stephanie ages, to the degree that one of the scenes featuring young Stephanie is shot almost entirely in darkness, with figures only slightly visible as an attempt at normality is disrupted. In scenes with older Stephanie, we’re given increasingly disturbing visions of her activities. An early, deeply unpleasant revelation of her private activities is distanced for much of the time, only moving closer to allow the full weight and horror of the action to sink in. Much later in the film, the actions play out with far more clarity, a visual representation of the evolution of her anger and interests.
In the sections of the film concerning Stephanie’s life as a child, chilling moments are driven by things left unsaid, the silence evoking a level of tension that would be undermined by filling it with dialogue. With such difficult, grim content, Espenschied does excellent work to put across the weight of these moments, despite her young age. Schiweck, taking up the role of Stephanie ten years later delivers a forceful performance, by turns quietly intense and openly explosive. Time of Moulting is a film fascinated by the act of concealing and revealing with grave attention is paid to the opening of boxes and latches on doors as Stephanie indulges her curiosities. Of course, this is a film set in 1970s Germany, so that sense of youth seeking out the details of a recent, horrible past is very much open text rather than subtle subtext, but the framing and pacing also allows you to lose yourself in the given situation as well as looking to that wider context. The film is bookended by attempts to cover up a patch bleeding through the wall and that sense of repetition and inability to resolve the past is a feature throughout.
A grim, but stunningly rendered exploration of the secrets of the past having devastating effects on the present, Time of Moulting succeeds in creating a profoundly uneasy atmosphere that proves difficult to leave at the close of the film.
Fellwechselzeit plays the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival on February 4th from 8pm until 10pm. This film is geo-locked to German viewers. Please see the ticket page for more information.
Comedy and horror make for perfect bedfellows as both seek to gain an immediate, impulsive response from their audiences. The films in this block marry the elements to create films that are by turns, odd, touching and timely. All films are available to watch on February 6th from 9 until 11pm CET. You can see more about the shorts and buy tickets from the Comedy Horror webpage. The block is available internationally, but not in Canada.
Le Jet / Stream
Directed by Eve Dufaud
I have to admit to being slightly perplexed by this short, although the fact that it is based on a section of a novel may mean I’m missing something. Working from the quote, “When they piss standing, all men are works of art.” Le Jet puts its voyeuristic protagonist in a bathroom stall, staring at the men using the facilities around her. Turning this simple, private act into a spectacle, Le Jet employs neon visuals and slow motion to romanticise the act of watching.
Directed by Allison Miller
Allison Miller takes directing, writing and lead performer duties in Growth about a woman who is struggling with extreme pain that only seems to dull if she gives into the urge to post vicious online comments. The striking image of green bile dripping from the woman’s chin throughout the film works as a prominent reminder of her inner, concealed anger in civilised spaces. While it is difficult to see it as too much of a critique of social media its veering to body horror elements is a welcome touch.
Hitte / Heat
Directed by Thessa Meijer
Another of the shorts with a very short runtime at just over two minutes, Hitte utilises a simple idea but pulls it off with a huge helping of style, engaging effects and a soundtrack that compliments the off-kilter idea and serves to turn up the temperature a little higher.
You Don’t Know Me
Directed by Isabelle Giroux & David Emond-Ferrat
A darkly comic tale of a derailed road trip turned claustrophobic, comedy-of-errors farce. You Don’t Know Me first appears as a road movie, complete with soaring drone shots, but Paul (Stephen Maclean Rogers) and Sarah’s (Métushalème Dary) stop at a petrol station takes them on a very different journey when they discover a dead body. The comic timing is excellent, with a particularly fun performance from Claire Jacques.
Directed by Hope Olaidé Wilson
Vera’s trip to a farmer’s market takes a strange turn when an overly-friendly kombucha seller invites her to meet his mother. Initially reluctant, but intrigued Vera finds herself going along with it, despite the objections from her friend. This quietly sinister film leads into its absurdity and is all the better for it.
Make A Wish
Directed by Dinh Thai
Receiving a birthday gift has never been more tense than in this sparky, wish-fulfilment shocker. Josephine Chang stars as Lexie, a woman under pressure when her partner Freddie (Edward Hong) isn’t as enamoured with his gift as she expected. The key is in the performances here as Chang and Hong both escalate to mania throughout the narrative. The idea is a simple one, but is enhanced considerably by the two being so game.
Directed by Carlyn Hudson
Waffle was paired with Homewrecker at the Fractured Visions Film Festival and the two feel genuinely made for one another as portraits of female loneliness turned dangerous. Katie Marovitch’s highly-strung performance as isolated waffle heiress Katie is excellent, as is Kerry Baker’s gradual realisation that something is very wrong. Despite the comedy, there’s a sad undercurrent of the commodity of company that stays with you, beyond the dark scenario.
Directed by Suki-Rose
The glossy, minimalistic shooting of Ding-Dong works in its favour, allowing the sci-fi elements to take centre stage. The drop in sound as Cricket Arrison zones out at her self-obsessed friend’s chatter does a great deal to enhance the inanity of the situation before it is disrupted. Those zone outs recur throughout the film and give it a great sense of detached strangeness.
Directed by Lael Rogers
This punchy comedy about a struggling band whose primary concern of getting their setlist exactly right means they ignore the plight of Kiran, who is steadily growing a claw. A punk-rock meditation on pre-show nerves and wider anxieties with a deadpan sense of humour that keeps its tone light and irreverent.
Directed by Nikki Chapman
An adorable animation that explores some very deep, dramatic topics after the purchase of an ice cream triggers an existential crisis for Nora. The animation is wonderful, fluid and energetic with a brightness even over lines like “ice cream melts while dead flesh rots”. Short, but sweet.
Directed by Caroline Lindy
One of my favourite shorts of the block, this tale of Laura (Kimiko Glenn) and her monster (Tommy Dewey) is an oddly sweet and charming film about rediscovering self-esteem and a sense of place in the world. Balancing its charm with moments of pathos and bite, the chemistry between Laura and the monster extends the film from beyond a quirky idea into something that feels far more touching.
Directed by Emily Wilson
A frantic and strange tale of the first meeting of a long-distance relationship and the new things the central couple discover about one another, including a particularly unusual possession. An unashamedly madcap film that embraces animation in its stranger moments, but really rests on the gameness of Rémy Bennett and Danny Dikel’s performances.
Check out the full line-up for Final Girls Berlin Festival 2021 at their program page.
Much horror draws on the technique of using young eyes to show a different side to the world and the genre regularly deals in coming-0f-age tales that alter the protagonist completely. The wealth of young talent on display in this block is incredible, with bold performances across a range of supernatural or all-too-real horror. All films are available to watch on February 6th from 5pm until 7pm CET. You can see more about the shorts and buy tickets from the Young Blood webpage. These shorts are not geo-locked and can be enjoyed internationally.
Directed by Lorraine Caffery
The Rougarou features Gerty (Victoria Dellamea), a young girl who is forced to confront an ugly truth when her gang member father Vin (Jacob Tolano) is released from prison. Their distance from one another is enhanced by their repeated needs to question one another on favourite foods, animals and other trivial content that serves to show how superficial their relationship is due to Vin’s lifestyle. The film views the aftermath of violence through Gerty’s eyes, with the acts blamed on the titular Rougarou. All the dialogue feels deeply meaningful, especially sections where Gerty’s love of unicorns seemingly hints at something more than surface beauty. The camera places us alongside Gerty as she starts to explore her surroundings, finding awe in the smallest places to great effect.
Directed by Fanny Oveson
A small moment of defiance sparks increasingly transgressive chaos in this film of a young girl’s birthday pool party gone awry as the group test their power and push boundaries. Starting with the small act of taking “too much” cake and escalating to drink-related testing of one another’s nerves that genuinely made me feel a little unwell, before spilling out into the wider pool area this is a film that gradually turns up the volume. A scene of the girls screaming an insult directed at them, turning it into a rallying cry and badge of honour, is provocative but empowering, pushing back against the expectation for the girls to be meek and quiet.
The Little Demon
Directed by Carol Van Hemelrjick
The Little Demon examines the rising tensions in the house where two parents (Sean Van Lee and Giles Cooper) have become petrified of their daughter (Kaedi Atkins). While she’s outwardly happy with them, despite not being allowed to watch horror films, at night she scratches their door and appears to have a second voice that expresses them harm and a growing appetite that causes further concern. Despite being excellent at drawing on this tension and sense of threat, The Little Demon is also an incredibly sweet tale of a family trying to adapt to the needs of one another.
Directed by Ellie Stewart
One of the shortest run times, but The Curse still has a fully developed, fun and excellently styled idea. While it is difficult to say too much about this without spoiling it (although the title should go some way to letting you know what you’re in for here), there’s a comic attention to detail here that deserves celebration.
Directed by Sumire Takamatsu
I’ve been lucky enough to see this delightful short previously as part of the LAAPFF horror shorts block. An act of rebellion from Ayumi (Claudia Fabella) during a hallowed tradition extends an invitation to an unwelcome entity. The effects showing the presence are excellent and keep the tone light enough without losing the sense that it is a horror film.
Directed by Roney
The first thing to highlight about Fish Whiskers is how brilliant each of the young performers is. Introducing us to Agnes (Juliet Di Gioacchino), Grace (Rebecca Chan) and Hannah (Holly Macintyre) as they discuss Agnes’ sporting prowess there’s a sense of sparky confidence that ebbs throughout the film. Grace has a moment of excellent comic timing but it’s Macintyre that has the most difficult role, adding a considerable sense of sadness and later intensity. There’s an excellent building of mood and tone that strikes a very different chord than the opening positivity.
Check out the full line-up for Final Girls Berlin Festival 2021 at their program page.
Horror is one of the strongest genres for harnessing the acts that inspire revenge and the act of taking revenge itself. This block of films runs through many reactions to revenge, from the cathartic to the empty disappointment of unserved justice. All films are available to watch on February 5th from 10pm until midnight CET. You can see more about the shorts and buy tickets from the Revenge Horror webpage.
There Will Be Monsters
Directed by Carlota Pereda
There Will Be Monsters operates as a smart and hard-hitting story with meta elements. Introducing an initially incredibly unpleasant encounter involving a group of men who stop to harass an intoxicated and vulnerable woman on a bench there is a palpable sense of danger. Of course, it wouldn’t be in the revenge category if her initial vulnerability wasn’t turned on its head, which the film manages in economic fashion without ever fully revealing what she is. The final moments are quietly foreboding and sadly relevant, offering comment on the escapism that horror fiction provides from real horror.
Girls’ Night out of Body
Directed by Hillary & Courtney Andujar
A neon skull lollipop looks to spell disaster for the three friends who have taken it from a shop, despite it not being for sale. The set design in this is wonderful, with the motel they stop at full of retro, tacky furnishings that lend the film a lurid and otherworldly sense of style. In another example of this block’s layered storytelling, the revenge being taken for the theft is taken in another direction that ups the style factor even further with a great soundtrack and impressive effects.
La Caza / The Hunt
Directed by Amy Fajardo
La Caza departs from the focus of younger women taking revenge and takes the viewpoint of Alba (Teresa del Olmo). Alba is worn down by her daughter’s marriage to Arturo (Sergio Reques) and given the way he speaks to her, it is understandable. The film deals in the starkness and remote nature of the surroundings, making the trio feel all the more trapped together. Teresa del Olmo’s performance is incredible in its sense of hardly restrained bitterness and that tension manifests physically in every movement. The elements of repetition also assist in creating a stifling atmosphere.
Directed by Indira Iman
This hyper-stylised and slickly edited short about a woman attempting to walk home alone hits all the right notes for revenge horror. Introductory shorts of men looking at a woman are drenched in silent threats and the escalation of that threat is played in suitably sinister fashion. Skilful in both its use of studied closeups as well as making the most of its secluded location with dramatic lighting it is visually striking even as it explores the deeply unpalatable. Clever in its use of repeated dialogue and with an dark sense of magic in its movement, Rong leaves an impact.
Directed by Kodie Bedford
While none of the films in this section make for particularly comfortable viewing, Scout is arguably the most difficult. Scout (Katherine Beckett) is kidnapped from her flat and finds herself held captive in a trafficking ring. There, she is involved in tense companionship with Jodie (Shakira Clanton) and Andy (Tamala Shelton) as the trio come to terms with their situation. The contrast between their living conditions and the club they are brought to operates as a powerful visual for the difference in power relations between the groups. Those power relations are played with throughout, in the differing reactions among the women, some forming intense attachments with captors while Jodie’s anger at the way missing women are treated depending on their race strikes a chord. Building a truly ominous tone and not shying away from the grimness of the situation, Scout is an effective, empathic film.
The Fourth Wall
Directed by Kelsey Bollig
From the opening moments, featuring a woman’s voice directing and altering the opening credits, The Fourth Wall presents itself as a film about subjectivity, perfectionism and taking control. Lizzie Brocheré’s Chloé is aggrieved by her co-stars, with their sexual relationships and lack of ability to speak French disrupting her own sense of performance. Chloé’s frustration translates into self-destructive rage that the film draws you further into with a near-constant low-level thrum on the soundtrack as she moves through neon-lit corridors. Brocheré’s magnetic presence, the flowing backstage camera work and darkly comic edge all combine to create something really special.
Check out the full line-up for Final Girls Berlin Festival 2021 at their program page.
Isolation has been a prominent and let’s face it, valid concern for some time. Humans are social animals and strange things can happen when loneliness takes hold. The shorts in this block all serve to look at the horror that loneliness and isolation can create. All films are available to watch on February 5th from 4 until 6pm CET. You can see more about the shorts and buy tickets from the Isolation Horror webpage. These shorts are not geo-locked and can be watched internationally.
Nyt Kun Olet Minun (Now That You’re Mine)
Directed by Petra Lumioksa
One of the longer shorts in the block, at almost 40 minutes long, Now That You’re Mine is a deliberately plotted tale of increasing anxieties and mistrust as Aava returns home with her partner Heidi to a frosty reception from her sister. The run time works in its favour – there’s too much the film wants to do to be less than 20 minutes but it doesn’t fall into the habit of adding padding to push up the run time either. To some degree the film plays its hand too early, numbing the sense of surprise involved in numerous reveals, but the changing hostilities between the women are still enough to sustain it. Aava’s growing sense of threat is punctuated by startling dream sequences The isolated location that the two sisters know better than Heidi adds a further sense of risk and alienation. One of the more memorable stylistic moments of the film sees Aava listening to an old CD and as the CD skips, so do the images she is recalling, making for a visual take on the fluidity and unreliability of memories that forms the backbone of the tension.
Directed by AJ Taylor & Maximilian Clark
Lose It expertly uses music to tell a tale of seclusion, introducing the rich sounds as a soundtrack to the woman’s solo dinner that create an absorbing atmosphere. As she realises her keys are missing and she is trapped, that music is abruptly taken away, leaving a considerable void in the film that draws a sharp intake of breath. A powerful, punchy portrayal of how isolation can take everything from someone.
A Dinner Party
Directed by Michèle Kaye
Squirreled away in the aftermath of an apocalyptic incident, Ruby (Alyssa Capriotti) is holding a dinner party. Her unusual guests react overenthusiastically to her offerings and their attempts to replicate the normality of a dinner party in such a bleak situation soon take a turn for the grotesque. The design of this is excellent, with plenty of attention to detail in costuming and unpleasant details. Striking a balance between its moments of deadpan, near-comic dialogue and the intensifying feeling of dread, this is a film about responsibility and desperation.
Directed by England Simpson
One of the lower budget films within the block, Fat Henry uses its handheld, intimate camera to disquieting effect in this desperately tragic tale. Likely a side effect of Simpson taking on directorial and lead performer duties, central character Jada is repeatedly seen walking into frame, a quirk that lends the film a sense of something or someone consistently watching and following her. Jada is plagued by her loneliness and there is a sense that her drug use and self-harm are both a coping strategy as well as something that keeps her from her daughter. When she sees an advertisement for a role in Fat Henry, she’s led into an increasingly nightmarish scenario with a bleak punchline.
Directed by Janina Gavankar
Stucco is a film I’ve been able to see previously at Fractured Visions Festival and the effect of it definitely doesn’t dull with repeat viewings. A woman creates a whole in the wall of her home and has a rather surprising reaction to it. In an early scene, we see how J (Janina Gavankar) is confined to her house and how this fear of the outside leads her to probe the unknown space within the wall. The effects are excellent and the piling on of atmosphere and strangeness enhances some of the more dreamlike elements.
Check out the full line-up for Final Girls Berlin Festival 2021 at their program page.
The Cyber Horror strand of short films at this year’s Final Girls Festival feels like a nod to the increased time we’ve all spent in front of our devices and online as part of the pandemic. In terms of working, being social and entertaining ourselves, the good and troubling aspects of the internet have arguably never been in sharper focus. This collection of shorts explores these themes of online identity, exploitation and connection. All films are available to watch on February 4th from 6 until 8pm CET. You can see more about the shorts and buy tickets from the Cyber Horror webpage.
Directed by Javi Prada
Challenges on social media are not new – whether they be good-natured awareness raising for charity, celebrating a song or skill, they’re everywhere. Spyglass takes this to a darker spot, with the pink lighting and unicorn photographs in the background contrasting heavily with the rising anger of Sara (Paula Muñoz). Intending to test the speed of an ambulance to an emergency, she tells her followers that they are about to watch her drink hydrochloric acid. The style of this short works in its favour, with comments from the stream repeatedly confronting the viewer. Muñoz’ development from outward anger and reckless point-proving to a more restrained, bitterly furious when she feels she isn’t’ receiving the appropriate reaction is genuinely chilling. Prada’s direction teases the act of witnessing something awful throughout but the restraint employed when that shock arrives has an even greater impact. A film that at first feels like it treads familiar ‘anything for followers’ ground, has a real sting and something far more harsh to say about courting attention online.
Don’t Text Back
Directed by Kaye Adelaide and Mariel Sharp
I have been lucky enough to have seen Don’t Text Back a few times throughout 2020 but it is a film that due to its sparky dialogue and chemistry between lead performers that never fails to raise a smile. Turning its critique on toxic relationships and portraying the magnetic pull to keep engaging with damaging apps into a physically and emotionally punishing behaviour without ever losing its sense of comedy, this is an excellent short. I’ve linked to my full review from the Summer for greater depth.
Directed by Alison-Eve Hammersley
Alison-Eve Hammersley has created a deeply affecting portrayal of manipulation and an exploration of how anything can become a commodity online: even emotional pain. Mara (a delicate and well-rounded performance from Carly Stewart) is struggling to connect with the men around her and despite feeling a connection on stage with one boy, she is subject to rejection – something furthered by showy “prom-posals” going on around her. Her fortunes appear to change when she meets Duco (Colin Woodell) who sees the beauty in her crying. What unfolds is a methodical and often detached, but stylish deconstruction of groomers and their methods, taking on themes of dissociation and online performativity as it progresses through some excellent sequences that highlight Mara’s duality. The way that some fragile.com subscribers react to the emotional distress on display is chilling, as are the signs that Mara’s identity and psyche are under threat. In all, this is effective, nightmarish horror with roots in all-too-real dynamics.
Swipe Up, Vivian!
Directed by Hannah Welever
Set in a version of the future (that doesn’t feel too different to our current situation) where people are confined to their homes, Swipe Up, Vivian! takes the block in a rather more hopeful direction than some of the other entries. Astrology enthusiast and agoraphobe Vivian (Emily Marso) is largely content with her life of solitude, despite her sister’s concerns. This is until a moment where she accidentally begins to choke and realises that there would be no one there to save her. That anxiety prompts her to sign in to Bliss, the film’s hologram-based take on Tinder. After matching with Katrina (Mary Williamson), Vivian is forced to confront numerous breaches of privacy and even worse, opening up to another human, despite a case of chronic overthinking. The tentative chemistry between Marso and Williamson works well as the story develops into the difference a connection can make to someone.
Kalley’s Last Review
Directed by Julia Bailey Johnson
Heartbreakingly earnest and hopeful beauty vlogger Kalley (director Julia Bailey Johnson) has been given the opportunity to review an at-home chemical peel. Taking on all the qualities of YouTube beauty videos, Kalley is initially a bubbly personality keen to improve her following and this sense of desperation to please permeates everything about her. Showing almost boundless positivity even when the peel begins to have unwanted effects and indulging in self-blame (maybe her skin is too sensitive) her nature makes this all the more difficult to watch. Switching effortlessly from reasonably light critique of desperation to be popular and fitting a ‘type’ online, to something far darker that hits far harder, Kalley’s Last Review is the kind of film to really stay with you.
Check out the full line-up for Final Girls Berlin Festival 2021 at their program page.