Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2023: Close to Home

Taking something of a departure from the otherworldly elements of horror, the Close to Home shorts block features films that seek to explore everyday social, cultural and political concerns through the lens of horror.

Everybody Goes to the Hospital

Everybody Goes to the Hospital takes a distinctive animation style and marries it to an absolutely traumatising story of familial apathy and medical torment. Made all the more painful by hearing each detail in the voice of a child, the film unfolds in chapters that detail the medical issues of the girl, sometimes confused in her explanations as she tries to put together what is happening to her. Truly heartbreaking.

Merah Bawang Putih (Shallots & Garlic)

Generational divides, eating disorders and lockdown ennui all come together in this mix of family traditions and modern concerns. This adaptation of the folklore brings it to that modern setting and indulges in body horror (both external and internal, via calorie counts appearing on screen early in the narrative) along the way. An underlying soundtrack maintains a steady tension as the film unfolds.


Like Everybody Goes to the Hospital, Ethel makes use of textured stop-motion animation to explore the nature of unpacking trauma as a child. In Ethel, the discovery of a box of outfits leads to a disquieting, fantastical dance with her mother’s passions surfacing in interesting ways.


Seafoam excellently uses extreme close-ups to constrict space and imbue a real feeling of claustrophobia throughout. Director and performer Izzy Stevens infuses the metaphor into every frame, with each moment increasingly feeling like an intrusion. Form and meaning are built well, with the splits in images and those close-ups contributing to a discomfort that grows ever more intense.


I have been lucky enough to see Scooter a few times now and I appreciate it a little more each time. This story of a girl walking home alone at night is not what you expect and is all the more engaging for it. Anita Abdinezhad as Adrienne is a likeable screen presence and her reactions anchor the direction the film takes.

The Close to Home shorts block screened as part of the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2023. Find out more about the festival at their webpage.

The Outwaters

The Outwaters exploits the trappings of found-footage that we’ve all come to know and love (or loathe) to create something distinctly different.

Synopsis: Four travelers encounter menacing phenomena while camping in a remote stretch of the Mojave Desert.

Found-footage remains a subgenre that really divides people. Years of sub-par offerings have, somewhat understandably, led to viewer fatigue and even further scepticism when it is suggested that a new film has rewritten the rules or provided a fresh take on it. The Outwaters presents a challenge to the conventional found-footage presentation, although opinions will be understandably split as to whether that challenge satisfies.

In typical found-footage fashion, our story begins with a panicked emergency phone call and details of the missing people our story follows. The introduction goes on to explain that Michelle (Michelle May), Angela (Angela Basolis), Scott (Scott Schamell) and Robbie (Robbie Banfitch, also directing and writing) were last seen in August 2017. Memory cards have been recovered and the findings of those cards are presented in unedited fashion.

If you are not already a found-footage fan, this is unlikely to convert you. It suffers from many of the same problems that films before it do, with extended sequences of getting to know characters through their recordings and plenty of dark spaces, loud noises and rattling cameras. These issues are compounded by the film’s length at around 1 hour and 50 minutes, including an opening section that definitely feels overlong. While that scene-setting is important, some may find the lingering and lack of momentum a struggle, especially when contrasted with the loud noises and frenzied style of the third act.

The four characters are in the desert to make a music video, the concept of which is suggested early in the recordings. Their idealised view of the desert and ‘Coachella’ stylings is soon ruptured, ranging from the odd but benign groups of donkeys that keep appearing to the more overtly sinister appearance of rattlesnakes and a hatchet thrown into the scenery. That the desert is not only terrifying but also spiritually further away from the rest of the world is really palpable here and the style ably captures the scale of it.

There were times during The Outwaters when I questioned the use of the found-footage storytelling method with some sections near-abandoning the conceit to add atmosphere. Despite this, by the film’s conclusion, I had come back around to understanding why this was used. The fragmentation of visuals and the ability of the camera in such settings to show ‘just enough’ protects the integrity of solid practical effects and skirts around the issues of trying to portray the cosmic. That first-person view of the chaos that unfolds in the final third would not be nearly as powerful if it attempted to show the full picture. Still, there will be frustrations around this as the viewer is kept, deliberately and repeatedly in the dark. Other imagery, when it appears is arresting enough that you are torn between wanting to immediately look away but also being completely compelled by it.

There are rewards to be had in surrendering yourself to The Outwaters and it certainly represents fierce creativity and an attempt to do something different, which should be celebrated, even if this does feel that it would be a more precise, impactful experience with a shorter runtime.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

You can find a screening of The Outwaters (in US and Canada for now) at the following link.

Irreversible: Straight Cut

Gaspar Noé’s controversial cult classic faces a director’s re-cut that manages to offer a more conventional narrative while also adding meaning to the original. Reader discretion is advised as this review will contain discussion of the film’s sexual violence.

Synopsis: One night. An unforgivable act. A tale told in reverse. Not for the faint of heart, easily offended, or anyone with photosensitivity, this is Noé’s dark
masterpiece, in ‘reverse’ and ‘re-reversed’ versions.

It would be easy to consider Irreversible‘s structure to be a gimmick intended to distance and confound a viewer, but in releasing this re-cut, the original film’s provocative artistry is even easier to appreciate. Those screenings that intend to show both versions back-to-back, I hope, allow viewers to really examine the subjectivity and layers that they provide. For anyone not already familiar with 2002’s Irreversible there will be more discussion of plot points than would normally be expected in a review, so be warned of spoilers.

Irreversible introduces us to our characters in the midst of violence and chaos, landing on Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) on the worst day of their life. As we watch them navigate the seemingly endless swirling tunnels of The Rectum and the journey to the club we view Marcus as a man enraged, regressive in his language and on the cusp of lashing out. The original version of the film forces us to confront this version of Marcus, making the move to see him as the charismatic figure that we see with Alex (Monica Bellucci) all the more jarring. In the Straight Cut, his descent is obviously more linear and it is easier to feel warmth toward him. By the same token, in the original we see Alex first in the aftermath of what has happened to her and we then need the rest of the film to provide us with who she is, rather than just a victim. In the Straight Cut, we are allowed to grow closer to her first and while I don’t think it strictly makes the scene more impactful, there is certainly a case to be made for it feeling mildly less exploitative.

The Straight Cut is slightly shorter than the original, but Noé has been keen to stress that these edits have been made for rhythm and trims to dialogue rather than censorship or any attempt to walk back any of the film’s original controversies. This cut perhaps works best if you have already seen the original cut as every scene provides a new kind of dreadful anticipation as you get to know the characters with full knowledge of what happens to them. In addition, one of the film’s most crucial points about revenge is perhaps too easily lost in the onslaught of the original cut, obscuring a further injustice. By running as a more conventional narrative that element of the horror is far more obvious when we have been given more time to know Le Tenia’s (Jo Prestia) face.

There is a reason that this kind of cinema has been coined the ‘cinema of sensation’ by Martine Beugnet and Irreversible is a film that is impossible not to feel, regardless of the version. Whether it is the sustained violence, intense strobing or soundtrack frequencies intended to induce nausea in those who hear it, Irreversible is very clear that it intends to move the viewer and trap them within the nightmare. Throughout the film, the camera consistently has a nervous energy, always moving, frequently too close to the characters. That the only time the camera is noticeably still and at ground level is for the film’s notorious underpass scene is laden with meaning, inviting viewer complicity in a scene that should never lose its power. Some of the longer, out-of-context dialogue scenes would likely not be missed, although they do provide quieter padding before the thunderous set pieces to follow.

It is hard to believe that the film is 20 years old as it still has a fresh, unforgettable energy. Many will question the logic of this re-cut, but it confirms the original as more than just a provocative experiment. That it retains power even when run as a more conventional narrative exposes the thought and care in the characters and plot. While there are now more films that challenge the conventional rape-revenge narrative satisfaction (Violation, Promising Young Woman) Irreversible is truly a one-off in the hollowness of revenge and ultimate horror it portrays. The duality of the statements, ‘time reveals all things’ and ‘time destroys all things’ is perfectly encapsulated by both versions working in harmony.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars

You can find screenings at this link.