LFF 2020: New Order (Nuevo orden)

New Order is an uneasy view of an uprising crossing class boundaries in this frantic, nihilistic outing from Michel Franco.

Synopsis: A high-society wedding is interrupted by the arrival of unwelcome guests.

Revolutions are painful. The dismantling of embedded power structures and the overthrowing of existing ways of life creates power vacuums and has the potential to quickly turn violent as those struggles come to the fore. Revolution in film, however, is often more sanitised, finding heroes within the chaos. New Order quickly dispenses with any romantic ideals of revolution and throws the viewer into a nightmare from very early on.

Marian (Naian González Norvind) is getting married. She and her husband’s family have enough money for a lavish affair, staffed by hired help and the event is largely secluded from the streets where a violent uprising is occurring. As events progress, it becomes clear that the rebellion is causing more than delayed guests resulting in the day and several lives being turned upside down.

New Order makes for uncomfortable viewing. There is a sense of nihilism here with very little affection for any characters. As a result, the characters are thinly written and feel mostly like conduits for the message under discussion, rather than fully formed characters with their own motivations. Everyone is a cog in a broken system. Ronaldo (Eligio Meléndez) is seen to take the risk of going to the house because he needs money urgently for his sick wife as the unrest has meant she’s unable to receive cheaper treatment. While he’s turned away by some, Marian presents as far more empathic and vows to provide the money, setting her apart from her other wealthy family members and in-laws. Her willingness to help puts her in the path of the uprising. After the chaos blocks a road, she’s assisted by people who appear to be military officers, but as the journey continues, she realises they are not there to guarantee her safety.

Presenting all sides as flawed and capable of cruelty feels like a bold move, intended to introduce complexity, but in some senses, it does the opposite because the type of cruelty is so defined and borderline reductive. The wealthy are cruel in their dismissal of people and avoidance of issues and the non-wealthy are presented as both brutal and eager to usurp their employers. Rather than Us vs. Them, New Order seeks to explore the inability of the cause to organise in ways that do not damage themselves or one another and how every move for power is corrupted along the way. It makes the audience a spectator to horrible acts, rather than becoming too immersive. To have too much focus on characters holds a certain amount of risk by detracting from the bigger picture and those classes that are immune from the effects of structural inequality. It is an exceptionally bleak take on power relations.

The subject matter obviously lends itself to representations of cruelty and violence, including sexual violence. This desire to foreground human cruelty and the suffering that comes from it does not, however, translate to dwelling on these moments. Quick flashes of violence, although brutal pass fairly swiftly and more graphic details are shown but not lingered upon. This speed makes the film feel more like an onslaught, less anchored and more effective as a result. The early setup is well defined with surreal moments like the water from a tap running green (the paint colour choice of the uprising) and cars daubed with the paint really building a sense of unease.

A short, sharp blast of frenetic energy that suffers somewhat from simplistic character traits and motivations, New Order makes for a suitably uncomfortable viewing experience.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

New Order played at the BFI London Film Festival

Occurrence at Mills Creek

Languid pacing holds this narrative of familial tragedy and fate back from realising more of its creepy potential.

Synopsis: Haunted by the death of her sister, a young woman’s reality erodes as she is plagued by a darkness hidden in her family’s past.

Clara (Ava Psoras) is a young woman beset by tragedy and grief. The opening shots of Occurrence show her and sister Cassandra (Alexa Mechling) openly sobbing as their mother takes her last breaths. Their estranged father Victor emerges after a long period of neglect only for the pair to refuse and decide to go it alone. However, Clara’s troubles are far from over as Cassandra is killed in an accident, leaving her to confront her demons.

Occurrence is a rather strange film and that isn’t always a terrible thing, but there are some choices here which feel very unusual. For example, the early scene of the sisters rejecting their father is shot almost like a conclusion, complete with an incredibly long static camera as they walk into the distance. There are further parts of the film where this tendency to dwell on scenes impacts the pacing – a certain amount of allowing the tone and atmosphere to wash over the viewer is welcome, but the balance falters throughout. This need to draw out scenes also impacts the performances to a degree – there are moments where there are very effective displays of emotion, but also a flatness where you need that heightened drama to come through.

Joining the characters at a moment of incredible grief is an excellent way to introduce them – immediately the viewer is thrown into a time of turmoil and that sense of sadness characterises the whole film. There’s a slow melancholy that appears throughout. This does, however, mean that those looking for jump scares or more confrontational moments will be disappointed. Ghosts, for the most part in this supernatural tale appear without any fanfare, which lends itself to being far more an exploration of Clara’s mental state than anything otherworldly, which is certainly more interesting. The pace is further slowed by the addition of a few too many characters who take up run time for little to no ultimate purpose.

The use of music within the film could throw people off as at times it veers almost into music video territory, although this is less about the music and more about the other pacing issues. The high-quality polish of the music used does contribute greatly to the atmosphere in a bar scene, so while some may see the use of a near-full performance in a bar the characters attend mid-film as indulgent there is an excellent, eerie quality gained from it. Ava Psoras is given a huge amount of work here and handles it well. The photography makes the most of modern gothic styling indoors and stark, chilly exteriors.

Overall, Occurrence at Mills Creek is a quiet, measured and solidly constructed film about the nature of lineage, grief and guilt with a pace that will try the patience of some.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Kingdom of Var

Low production values and uncertainty about the sincerity of the film’s content make Kingdom of Var an ultimately frustrating watch.

Synopsis: College student Sonja summons the demonic sorcerer Var after viewing a 500-year-old film containing his spirit.

I would like to preface this review with the fact that film-making, especially at an independent, non-funded level is an incredible achievement and anyone who picks up a camera and makes their vision happen is to be commended. However, I really struggled with Kingdom of Var, particularly in terms of being unable to tell at times if some elements were satirical or were a genuine missing of the mark.

Kingdom of Var follows student Sonja (Vida Zukauskas) who discovers an old VHS tape. After watching the tape it becomes clear that something is very wrong and logical Sonja has to reckon with the idea that the tape can summon a demonic sorcerer, Var. Plagued by a cast of unhelpful and dangerous characters, she struggles to find a way to save herself from becoming another victim of Var.

Being largely unable to determine if this is a parody piece, a comedy-horror or a serious horror made this a difficult watch for me. That is mostly on me as some people will either come to a determination early on or won’t be as concerned about it but it is something I struggled to grasp. Some elements are too ridiculous to be anything other than intentional comedy, but the comedy within it is mean-spirited. On a personal level, it isn’t my kind of humour and seeks to unbalance the tone and makes it difficult to engage with. Zukauskas is a stand up comedian, so this adds a little more weight to the feeling that the film is attempting to be ‘knowingly-bad’. Her deadpan delivery suits this but it is otherwise a very game performance with her in almost every scene. The concept is an interesting one but a few too many diversions from that concept introduce too many extra factors to allow for everything to be successful.

Opening on a disclaimer that ‘this film should be played loud’ very much sets the tone for this brash feature. Dispensing with anything approaching good taste, Var is stacked with a fixation on flatulence, body parts, sexual threat against Sonja, something which meets its full form in Elmer (Mark Brombacher), a campus security guard who routinely bothers Sonja. In technical terms, cinematic language is frequently abandoned with off-kilter framing, strange wipes from scene-to scene and a general sense of the film being photographed in a very offbeat way. The narrative often falls into repetition, especially in moments where Sonja is confronted with the escalating threat of Var. In some ways, it feels like the tone and content would be better suited to a shorter run time where some of this could be trimmed.

A jarring and confusing experience, Kingdom of Var is not for me, but those who are open to the lo-fi, DIY and confrontational spirit of it may find some enjoyment here.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Kingdom of Var is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime.

Salem Horror Festival: Vise

Initially vibrant and interesting storytelling methods give way to increasing strangeness in this hit-and-miss horror about the pressure to conform to beauty ideals.

Synopsis: When Nature isn’t enough… A suave beautician offers patients the chance to correct what they feel nature has gotten wrong. Governed by an unconventional morality, the beautician instead employs a deadly contraption to bring patients in line with the beautician’s unnatural notions of beauty.

The opening sequence of Vise may be its peak. Immediately, viewers are thrown into a strange space of image-obsession where intense workouts and otherworldly filters skew a young woman’s appearance into cartoonish imagery. From this, we are introduced to a young girl (Julian Koike) with a desire to model, but who is haunted by her appearance, believing that her face is too big. Discovering a clinic with a surgeon promising a solution, she takes drastic action. The fall out from the surgery causes the surgeon to flee.

There are several gaps in that plot overview, because I don’t think I’m capable of describing Vise in a way that would make sense anyway. Vise is much more a collection of vignettes along a theme of consequences, the fall out and attempt to escape from them. Relying on nightmarish and surreal images, almost setup like music videos away from the main narrative, there initially feels like there is a lot of sharp commentary on the ways that the beauty industry exploits women with low self-esteem to prompt expensive and potentially dangerous cosmetic procedures. However, for me, this suffers as the narrative progresses into a series of women eager to please men who had to their exploitation, pain and even demise in a way that feels less like a comment and more like revelling in the misery of these situations and the unfortunate women who find themselves in them.

This isn’t to say that the men are not criticised – far from it. There is a theme throughout about the men within the film taking an eroticised pleasure in sadistic acts. There is a keen sense of the grotesque and fantastic throughout but the strangeness, rapidly changing story and skit-based nature make it difficult to find an anchor to maintain engagement with the film as it evolves. That said, the style of the film is fascinating and the effects work is stellar which adds a lot to the way the grotesque elements come to life.

Undoubtedly a technical achievement, Vise has a strong first act with a strong message about the pressures of body image but dwindles as the world it seeks to cover expands.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Vise played as part of Salem Horror Festival

Salem Horror Festival: Displaced

With a refreshing take on a well-trodden narrative, Displaced mostly plays to its strengths.

Synopsis: A young black man in Brooklyn must prove his new white neighbors are emissaries from the Satanic cult they both survived as children.

Displaced is an occult horror that foregrounds concerns about gentrification and how it displaces Black Americans from their homes and areas of social and cultural value. Further than this, it includes moments of how protagonist Nathan (Philip Jayoni) is treated differently by police for the colour of his skin and other threats. While this is a lot to include on its own, the film also manages to weave a complex narrative about family, fate and duty that really makes it stand out.

Nathan is a social worker, struggling with the cruelty he sees in every day life and still processing a traumatic childhood. He maintains a close relationship to his grandmother Loretta (Hope Harley) who is a landlord for their Brooklyn-based building. The latest tenants represent a further blow to his psyche as his paranoia, sparked by a shocking sleepwalking incident drives him to increasingly desperate measures, becoming convinced that they are part of the Temple of the Jackal cult he escaped from.

First off, Displaced is very much a micro budget effort and this is something that mostly comes through in terms of the effects. Happily, director Josh Atkinson mostly sidesteps this with well-timed cutaways to maximise the impact without showing too much so there are only one or two instances where you can see the limitations. A couple of performances are a little stilted, although, honestly, this kind of suits the characters, so could even be intentional. Importantly, leading actor Philip Jayoni is excellent, producing a sympathetic and occasionally imposing performance that keeps everything on track. The film has a strange way of handling exposition, managing to include a genuinely surprising and inventive way to deliver it, but also falling back on a very lengthy, almost static sequence of explanation. Thankfully, Mia Y. Anderson as Camilla Clay has the acting chops to pull this off, but there are a few moments where you feel it could have been handled with the same impact of the earlier scenes.

With those relatively minor critiques aside, there is still a great deal to commend Displacement for. Much of the imagery employed has a great impact, thanks to keeping many elements as simple as possible – as from the poster, the use of lights in eyes is very effective in creating a sense of otherness where necessary. There is a brilliant eye for more subtle creepy details but an ASMR video turning into a direct address provides a real high point. There is a skilful and gradual build of pressure and the layering of messages developing into an incredibly powerful conclusion. The exploration of trauma, guilt and the fragility of memory is nuanced and foregrounded in a contemporary, ever-changing social context. The film cleverly utilises minimal locations that you quickly become familiar with, meaning even the smallest changes have an impact. Shaquanna Williams has an excellent turn as Nathan’s forthright, but caring love interest, Jasmine.

Displaced is a great example of what can be achieved with a great idea and a dedicated collaborative effort within independent horror.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Displaced screened as part of the Salem Horror Festival.

LFF 2020: Possessor

Possessor is indulgent in moments of pulpy violence while exploring altogether more abstract and powerful themes of agency and desperation.

Synopsis: Possessor follows an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies – ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients.

Brandon Cronenberg’s debut feature Antiviral was notable for its skewering of celebrity culture taken to extremes, but more than that, it was a study of connection and what lengths people would go to in order to find that closeness, no matter how dark. Possessor continues that exploration – what would it mean to inhabit someone else’s life and body to disrupt both completely? That’s not to say we get too much in the way of answers to that question as Possessor is a film that thrives on alienation of the characters within it and the audience as observers, despite inhabiting the same spaces.

Andrea Riseborough plays Tasya Vos, a woman employed by a shady corporation that supplies assassins with a difference. To escape the practicalities of needing eradicate traceable forensic evidence, the corporation use brain implants to allow their agents to hijack the minds and bodies of those close to targets. Each hit becomes a grisly murder-suicide that disguises the true nature. With her detached, crumbling personal life weighing heavily, Tasya’s assignment to inhabit Colin (Christopher Abbott) begins to take a dangerous turn as her control over the situation is called into question.

The fascinating thing about Possessor is that it is a character piece where the characters are incredibly distant. Riseborough perfectly portrays the cold, yet fragile Tasya who struggles in her own skin. Her debrief with her handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) evokes the spirit of the Voight-Kampff test from Blade Runner in its chilly, detached nature. Perhaps more detailed is Abbott’s performance, requiring him to play Colin, Tasya playing Colin and sometimes both at once. The combination of the characters results in moments of physical discovery, starting with idle curiosity and developing into something more sexually-charged. The battle between the active and passive parts of both personalities is written on the screen in a way that is so magnetic, even if some of the imagery might prompt you to look away. The mission using Colin is a deeply personal one, making the corporation’s approach all the more cruel.

From the opening moments the film lays its cards on the table in terms of its preoccupation with penetration and explosive, unflinching violence. I like to think of myself as someone with a reasonably high tolerance for violence but found myself openly gasping at some of the film’s more drastic acts. The locations are expressionist switching from luxe and grandeur to more brutalist-inspired buildings and textures. No matter how dark and surreal the imagery gets there’s a remarkable attention to detail that adds so much to the atmosphere. There are elements of critique in terms of the power and control that large corporations can have over people. In addition, how our own consent to surveillance exposes so much of ourselves to be potentially exploited and weaponised feels built into the film.

Possessor pulls no punches, especially as it reaches a stunning conclusion, but I sincerely hope that the violence and body horror is not the only takeaway people get from this. The treatment of the body may be the headline, but the longer-lasting impact is in the exploration of desperation, autonomy and control.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Signature Entertainment will release Possessor in UK cinemas on November 27th.

LAAPFF: The Long Walk

Mattie Do’s third feature is an elegantly woven, spiritual, time-travel piece with a deeply affecting narrative.

Synopsis: An old Laotian hermit discovers that the ghost of a road accident victim can transport him back in time fifty years to the moment of his mother’s painful death.

There is arguably nothing better than settling down to a film that is clever, without needing to expend a lot of energy telling you how clever it is. The Long Walk absolutely fulfils this. Christopher Larsen’s writing does not resort to any expositional dialogue or offer too much in the way of explanation – instead the narrative is left almost entirely to Do’s direction with the focus on the characters and gradually altering locations to start to build that picture. Some may find this frustrating, but this is one of its stronger points for me as so much science fiction spends far too much time establishing a set of rules that become so complex that it slows all development to a standstill. The Long Walk, instead, chooses to imbue everything with meaning and is all the richer for it.

Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy plays a character credited only as The Old Man. His gift is that he can speak to the dead, so when Lina (Vilouna Phetmany) returns from the city to find that her mother is missing and presumed dead she seeks his assistance in locating her body. In a parallel timeline The Boy (Por Silatsa) tries to come to terms with the ailing health of his mother and changes to his family home, further complicated by a growing friendship with The Girl (Noutnapha Soydara).

As in Do’s other works Chanthaly and Dearest Sister, ghosts are presented as a fact of life. There are no drastic moments of realisation for characters about their existence but their introduction to the audience, often in a group and featured throughout the film in the form of whispers is no less unsettling. In fact, the background whispers add to that sense of omnipresence and enhance the atmosphere. Importantly, they are largely benign, only escalating to something more sinister when the plot demands. Similarly, the chips implanted in characters are not subject to any explanation but a small exchange between a trader and The Old Man makes clear the futuristic setting for some of the film and the progression of technology. There are no visual distinctions made between the past, present or future which gives the film a real fluidity. Despite the slower pace for much of it, there are a few incredibly impactful and grisly moments, made all the more shocking for the time taken in progressing to that.

The influence of technology is furthered by the appearance of foreign developers, who look to The Boy’s family as an opportunity to provide solar panels. The English-speaking developers appear briefly, mostly to tell the villagers that they are welcome, all while The Boy’s father laments that he needed a tractor. This critique works well – the later technological developments are not attributed to any foreign influence, suggesting a culture that has been burned by Western interference and built for itself instead.

The performances are incredible and it feels essential to draw attention to Por Silatsa, who despite his young age handles the often solemn and taxing material with a sense of confidence and maturity that indicates a very bright acting future. Chanthalungsy’s performance as The Old Man is focused and adds a tremendous amount to some of the film’s initially ambiguous moments. At almost two hours long, it would be easy to lose focus, but in its carefully orchestrated flow The Long Walk retains an ability to surprise until the final frame.

A powerful film with a beautiful level of detail and texture, this cleverly intertwined examination of love, loss and the darker elements of both is a journey that you’ll definitely want to take.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

The Long Walk is available to viewers in Southern California (excluding San Diego County) from October 15, 2020 at 12pm PT to October 18, 2020 at 11:59pm PT. Please see The Long Walk page at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

BFI London Film Festival 2020: Rose: A Love Story

Insecurity and co-dependency are explored, with a side of leeches in this minimalistic, slow-burn horror.

Synopsis: Gripped by a violent, terrifying illness, Rose lives in seclusion with her husband, but the arrival of a stranger shatters the fragile refuge they have built.

The strengths of Rose are all based on the intimate, contained nature of it. Jennifer Sheridan’s feature directorial debut in which she also takes on editing duties uses limited, minimalistic locations, shifting all the tension into the relationship between Sam (Matt Stokoe) and Rose (Sophie Rundle). Stokoe wrote the film, but also credits Rundle with developing Rose’s character. The impact of a real couple devising and portraying the characters is that the chemistry is immediate and the comfort between the pair allows for the ebb and flow of Sam and Rose’s relationship to unfurl more elegantly.

Rose has a condition. The condition is never vocalised and instead is shown through Sam keeping the house in darkness, ordering a steady stream of leeches and being the only one to leave their isolated home for supplies. Rose, confined to the cabin, writes and shares her work with Sam, who is endlessly enthusiastic. Despite their relatively cosy existence, cracks begin to show. Is Sam’s isolation of Rose justified, or is it tipping into control? Sam’s need to protect begins to manifest as anger and even violence against those who may threaten it. Rose, however, maintains a sense of strength and at times a chirpy nature that seeks to soften Sam’s paranoid energy. The tension is never used at the expense of how much they clearly care about one another. Rundle’s Rose switches from calm, civilised and friendly, to fragile and tensed to strike. Stokoe keeps the momentum going with a script that seeks to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

For the bulk of the film, the focus is upon Rose and Sam. Those looking for an action-packed vampire film will not find what they are looking for here. This is an altogether slower, more delicate vision of a condition lying under the surface for most of the time. That said, the connection with the characters and their plight makes the bursts of horror all the more impactful. It is achingly sad to see Sam and Rose deal with Amber (Olive Gray), taking on almost surrogate parenting roles and the film invites you to imagine what could have been for them. The kitchen-sink-style drama and horror ambiance make this a haunting metaphor for the struggles of caring for someone with an incurable condition. Other films would be tempted to make the relationship too one-sided, but there is a great balance here where you feel like you know and understand both. Olive Gray’s performance perfectly compliments the central duo. Troubled Amber’s circumstances lead her to view the situation with a sense of fear, coupled with curiosity and Gray, as a late arrival to the film is given a great deal to do in a short time, gains a huge amount of sympathy and feeling for Amber.

Beautifully shot on location in Powys, the wintery landscape adds a great deal to the sense of isolation and remoteness. The house itself is shot wonderfully, with the darkness adding considerably to the atmosphere and sense of walls closing in. Sheridan’s direction is all about faces and allowing moments to breathe. The film’s pace may be frustrating to some, but the more gentle exploration of a couple forced into a life they would never have chosen more than ramps up the more horrific elements.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

You can watch Rose: A Love Story as part of the BFI London Film Festival until 8.30pm on October 16th.

Nightstream 2020

During the Covid-19 pandemic numerous festivals and other events have had to make difficult decisions, often cancelling their in-person events and screenings. Nightstream is the result of numerous festivals coming together in a fundraising event featuring the Boston Underground Film Festival, Brooklyn Horror Festival, North Bend Film Festival, Overlook Film Festival and Popcorn Frights. Event proceeds are shared with filmmakers, artists and businesses within the local areas, offering support to those who need assistance in recovering from the effects of loss of business. In return, attendees received an incredible lineup of films, panels and even a Gather social space. I managed to take a look at a few of the panels on offer over the weekend 8th-11th October.

Horror Camp!
This panel is available until October 15th. Please see the Nightstream festival site for more information.
Hosted by Peaches Christ and featuring discussion from Renée “Nay” Bever (Attack of the Queerwolf), Stacie Ponder (writer, Final Girl) and William O. Tyler (Theater of Terror: Revenge of the Queers), the Horror Camp panel offered an exploration of what ‘camp’ is in terms of horror. All the contributors were open about their own experiences within horror and the kind of content they consumed and created. Crucially, the concept of being ‘extra’ was taken as a signifier for camp in horror – drawing upon dramatic performances like those in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and others where strong, female characters were the focus. Discussion around Sleepaway Camp focused upon how a film that is so openly problematic with damaging stereotypes has actually been embraced by many in the LGBT community. For all the issues within Sleepaway Camp, it does feature an explicitly queer character, rather than the coded characters found and often denied an outed space in other works. Peaches Christ’s own work, the meta-tinged All About Evil (which looks fantastic, by the way) was raised with hopes for a release at some stage. As ever, the bold work of Don Mancini with overtly queer themes, characters and aesthetics was celebrated, especially with Seed of Chucky. Hearing the experience of contributors and how they found themselves within horror’s opportunity for pushing boundaries and providing representation felt hugely inspiring and comforting.

The Future of Horror is Female – Presented by Arrow
This panel is available until October 15th. Please see the Nightstream festival site for more information.
Introduced by Caryn Coleman of The Future of Film is Female, this panel was an incredible look at the work of female and non-binary filmmakers within horror. Earlier in the day, the BFI London Film Festival presented a similar panel about the Female Horror Renaissance, which, while insightful, was lacking in diversity. Hearing how filmmakers like Laura Casabé (cannot wait to see The Returned at Abertoir later this month), Mariama Diallo, Nikyatu Jusu and Laura Moss navigate bringing their stories to the screen was fascinating to hear. Nikyatu Jusu in particular discussed her desire to bring more West African mythology to the screen, hinting at a future of fascinating stories (non-binary mermaids, anyone?) and enhanced representations, especially within the context of colonialised places and people. All the filmmakers were keen to stress that horror is a language that can be used to address social issues – something that certainly rings true. Honestly, throughout this panel, there are moments I had to suspend note-taking as everything was so engaging. The panel was later joined by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas whose research for her book 1000 Women in Horror, revealed not only that women have always occupied space in horror both behind and in front of the camera, but also mentioned the loss of women’s work and the importance of archiving material so further work is not cast aside. Furthermore, writer Jordan Crucchiola in her ongoing reappraisal and celebration of Jennifer’s Body urged for viewers to question the existing canon of films considered to be classics and indeed, who sets the canon in the first place. Overall, this was a beautifully articulated and intelligent panel but the keen sense of humour and joy taken from the medium felt uplifting and certainly gave food for thought in terms of my own horror consumption.

Benson & Moorhead & Lopez Home Movies
This panel was only shown at its listed showtime and is not currently available on demand.
Shamefully, I’ve yet to see Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid, but from the incredible reception it has received I really need to make that happen. Still, even without seeing her work it was interesting to get an insight into her creative background as a writer for telenovelas, leading her to write more than 250 episodes per day. Featuring a montage of incredible slaps, López provided a huge amount of context for the way she had to work, often writing more than 21 pages per day. Incredibly, she also detailed that some of her work only gave her the credit of dialogue supervisor, despite the body of work she had provided. Being unfamiliar with telenovelas it was wonderful to receive an insight from someone who had worked so heavily within the format.
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead also presented some of their early work, including some pretty spectacular, effects-laden films Moorhead made in high school, creating crane shots using boat masts and other feats of DIY ingenuity. For long-term fans of Benson and Moorhead, seeing their early spec adverts for Fat Cat lager and a spoof for match.com starring Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran, who later became the stars of Resolution is a great insight into the development of their style, bolstered by the pair’s undeniable chemistry. Featuring discussions of changing technology, abandoned projects and also more emotional beats like maintaining older footage and how important that is this was a frequently funny, emotive and utterly charming way to spend some time. I would love to see this format repeated with other filmmakers in the future.

Indonesian Horror Panel presented by Shudder
This panel is available until October 15th. Please see the Nightstream festival site for more information.
Moderated by Sam Zimmerman of Shudder, this discussion of Indonesian horror was an interesting insight into the way that the film business operates in Indonesia and how that influences the kind of films emerging from the area. Both Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel (collectively known as The Mo Brothers) were on hand for the discussion. The trajectory of Indonesian genre cinema is an interesting one, especially concerning these directors as they strayed away from the conventional supernatural films within Indonesian horror to create gorier pieces based on American-style horrors, an influence clearly felt in Macabre. The pair also discussed the nature of filmmaking under ever-changing censors where each change represents a different emphasis on dealing with sex and violence within film and the desire to receive 17+ certification instead of 21+. The pair also discussed returning to the supernatural content of previous films, including a remake of The Queen of Black Magic from Stamboel, teaming up with Joko Anwar and Tjahjanto exploring the demonic with May The Devil Take You Too. Interestingly, the pair stressed how important the festival circuit has been for some films, with interest in Indonesian films like The Raid, gaining more of an audience in Indonesia after picking up festival plaudits and attention. Of note to many Giallo-lovers, it seems Tjahjanto is teasing a potential Indonesian Giallo which would certainly be something to see!

Virtual Fireside with Nia DaCosta
This panel is available until October 15th. Please see the Nightstream festival site for more information.
One of my most anticipated films of 2020 (now delayed) was Nia DaCosta’s Candyman. The trailer and a fantastic short film featuring Candyman in the context of wider racial violence promised a daring reimagining of the original film. Hunter Harris’ interview with Nia DaCosta was an excellent, probing but warm interview about the film that was light on specific details (no spoilers here) but with plenty to whet appetites for the final product. Coming at a time when racial violence and the effects of systemic inequality in medicine, housing and other areas now in sharp focus, DaCosta’s Candyman seeks to shift the perspective from the original film in which Tony Todd’s character arrives as a fully-fledged villain into something where viewers will see the development of that on both an emotional and physical level. DaCosta promises body horror and style, using reference points of Cronenberg’s The Fly and Rosemary’s Baby as works she drew from and advised the cast to watch. Furthermore, the new version is set in the art world, both paying homage to Daniel Robitaille’s backstory involving art and the potential to explore critiques of gentrification and the need for self-expression. If anyone had any doubts about what the new film will be like this interview definitely offered a brilliant insight into what DaCosta is bringing to the table. I can’t wait to see it.

Horror at LFF

The move of the BFI London Film Festival to an online platform with limited in-person screenings due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis has made the festival more accessible than ever. Rather than restricting content to cinemas across London, regional cinemas have been able to showcase a few of the films to local audiences. Digital screenings have also made it easier for people to experience films without the need to travel. This has also had implications for press, especially people like myself who have benefitted from access that would have previously felt out of reach.

Here is a preview of sorts, of the horror (or at least genre-adjacent) films showing from the CULT and DARE strands.

Rose: A Love Story
Showing from 8.30pm on Tuesday 13 October (the World Premiere) until 8.30pm on Friday 16 October, this British horror film marks the feature debut of director Jennifer Sheridan (perhaps more well known for her work in television editing). The trailer promises a claustrophobic and tense examination of a couple trying to prevent their secret emerging when visited by a mysterious stranger.

Bad Tales
Showing on Wednesday 14 October at 8.45pm. A second feature for the D’Innocenzo brothers – a satire focused on an area where the tensions between cruel adults and their children is set to cause damage. Not strictly a horror, but its framing as a dark fairy tale definitely marks it as one to watch.

The Intruder
Available from 8.30pm on Monday 12 October until 8.30pm Thursday 15 October. Joining the list of films with a female director, The Intruder is Natalia Meta’s second feature. With a trailer containing some excellent sound design and note-perfect reveals I can’t wait to see all of this one unfold.

New Order
Showing on Friday 16 October at 6.30pm. Featuring a warning for graphic violence, this dystopian drama set at a wedding looks to have a ton of energy and some incredibly disturbing imagery within the short teaser. Teased as Michel Franco’s most ambitious film, this definitely looks like one to check out.

Possessor
Showing on Friday 16 October at 9pm. Possessor is, without doubt, one of my most anticipated films of the year. Like New Order, this has a warning for graphic violence. Director Brandon Cronenberg has a great vision for body horror and Possessor looks to blur the lines between sci fi and horror in satisfying and bloody fashion. His debut Antiviral was a searing commentary on celebrity culture and I cannot wait to see what he has in store.

Shirley
Showing from Friday 9 October 2020 – 6.30pm to Monday 12 October 2020 – 6.30pm. Helmed by Josephine Decker Elisabeth Moss this biopic boasts the fantastic Elisabeth Moss as the titular Shirley in what is sure to be an immersive character study.

Relic
Showing from 8.45pm on Friday 9 October until 8.45pm on Monday 12 October Natalie Erika James’ feature debut has proven to be a hit in genre circles, balancing the emotional family drama of dealing with a loved one suffering from dementia with genuine scares and a captivating finale. Relic is very likely to feature in many ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year. Click here to read my review.