The current COVID 19 pandemic has brought many things in day to day life to a standstill, including the distribution and exhibition of films. While some big releases have found themselves delayed in hope of a cinema release, smaller outlets have gone online to continue to bring films to audiences. Back in May, the SoHo Horror Film Festival put on a day of films, rebranding as the SoHome Horror Film Festival for the occasion. To celebrate Pride Month, the festival returned with a curated lineup of LGBTQ+ films and events spread across three days with profits donated to Black Pride. This article will focus on Saturday’s lineup of features and shorts.
First up was short film Unusual Attachment, directed by Michael Varrati. Centred around Hunter (Ben Baur) as he tries to reconnect with a man using Chat Roulette-style website Man Bingo, this was the perfect way to kick off. Made entirely under quarantine conditions, the short combined humour (including an excellent cameo by a well-loved horror actress) and a wider message that feels incredibly relevant and important. The second short was The Pain Within Us which uses dripping water as both a creepy device and a metaphor for the way grief and loss can overwhelm a person. This proved to be an excellent lead-in for the visually-impressive and woozy The Fear of Looking Up. Visual effects artist Konstantinos Koutsoliotas manages some impressive world-building, where details become increasingly important as they become more difficult to interpret. Starting as a seemingly run-of-the-mill thriller where the girlfriend of cop Jamie (Friday Chamberlain) falls foul of the serial killer she is hunting, this soon moves in thoroughly more interesting directions. Elements of intrusive sound design muffle interactions and create a sense of detachment between the audience and other characters, leaving Jamie as the centre. Chamberlain makes for a wonderful central focus, bringing a quiet strength and anchoring the piece. As expected from someone involved in visual effects, it is beautifully photographed and this allows the stranger elements to be incredibly effective.
Next up was the Queer Fears showcase. Bringing a selection of short films that focused on the still all too present danger that queer people face. Kicking off the section was Conversion Therapist: an impactful and gory exploration of revenge. Utilising the Pulse massacre in Orlando as a sign of how violence against queer people is still an issue, this short has serious weight. Chipper lead-torturer Justine is wonderfully played by Sara Fletcher with Evelyn Jake providing a deeply emotional performance as Salina. Wrapped up with an excellent punchline, Conversion Therapist is seriously impressive with an even more important message. Please consider signing this petition to make conversion therapy illegal: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/300976
Estigma’s screening was unfortunately scuppered by technical difficulties meaning the second film was Innocent Boy. This grim, but stylish and otherworldly portrait of exploitation, greed and suffering throws you into a disarming and disquieting neon-soaked world. The visuals are so involved I can’t pretend to fully understand everything that happened, but the technical aspects and atmosphere worked incredibly well. Following this was Labrys, BJ Colangelo’s short featuring a first date with a difference. I covered this one as part of the LGBT shorts block from the Final Girls Berlin Festival and it was a joy to see it again.
Next up was Jeremiah, a short film about a teenager who decides to open up about his inner feelings after a strange encounter. The idea that the inner anger from suppression and rejection can manifest a monster or at least monstrous behaviour, is a compelling one that director Kenya Gillespie handles sensitively with so much of the scare coming from a wonderful performance by Alan Trong as the titular Jeremiah. The theme of repressed feelings and experiences continued into the feature David’s Secret. Beautifully photographed, which is befitting of a film so concerned with the act of seeing and being seen, there is a lot to unpack within the film’s many twists and turns. Nicolas Prattes delivers a stunning and frequently unnerving performance as David, a young man obsessed with people-watching and filming. His use of film to collect moments, people and move to manipulate and share them soon exposes something much darker within him. Spaces within the film are queered by way of their secrecy and importance to individual characters. Dealing with trauma and longing for normality, this is layered, nuanced film-making.
In a short break from films (to some extent) the festival brought a special interview with Nicholas Vince, including snippets from his one-man show I Am Monsters. From moving and upsetting stories from the passing of Section 28 to more humorous stories about clingfilm loincloths the show appears to be packed full of anecdotes and feelings. I sincerely hope I’ll be able to attend the show when it tours again. This was followed by an exclusive showing of his latest short film, Necessary Evils.
Vampires in horror have almost always focused on sexuality and temptation. The next shorts Tea Parties Are For Babies (also covered in my Berlin write-up) and Thirst Trap continued this with the former as an Alice in Wonderland-style tale and the latter taking vampires into the modern age of digital hookups. Thirst Trap‘s monologue and simple setup, allowing director and star Steve Flavin to take centre stage make for compelling viewing and while it works within a short format the concepts within make it easy to imagine a feature adaptation. These vampiric tales led into After Dark (will be released as Vampire Virus), a perhaps too familiar tale of vampiric corruption made incredibly fun by its comfort in leaning into campy elements. The cast’s great chemistry with a particularly strong lead in Jen (Natalie Martins) elevates the film to something that would be incredibly fun with a large, appreciative audience. Moments including a gender-swap of the conventional ‘Brides of Dracula’ characters and numerous witty one-liners add to that sense of fun and lack of taking things too seriously.
The last block of films included two shorts, A Halloween Trick (the second appearance for both Michael Varrati as director and Ben Baur as lead actor) and Demons. Demons used quirky humour to create a world in which being a violent killer is accepted and even embraced by society while being gay is held to a different standard. In using the absurdity of that situation it calls attention to the fact that there is still inequality in many areas. While the film is a relatively gentle, comic production, it still draws attention to how there are still things to fight for. A Halloween Trick continued with comedy elements, drawing on the tensions between two ill-suited neighbours in the run-up to Halloween. The closing feature film was Killer Unicorn, a film that brought plenty of colourful characters and piercingly acerbic humour in its runtime. Focused around a community of drag artists who find themselves picked off by an assailant in pink hot pants and a unicorn mask, Killer Unicorn toys with the more ridiculous slasher tropes as well as managing some genuinely nasty and transgressive deaths. As an aside, if you watch this and don’t fall entirely in love with Markus Kelle as MDME Mortimer I don’t think we can be friends.
The variety of films featured, some celebratory, others introspective and some pushing for the need to keep fighting for rights shows the volume and quality of LGBTQ+ film-making and the strength of those often marginalised voices. It is so important that events like SoHome offer those films an audience and a chance to interact with creators and other film lovers to celebrate those achievements.