Grimmfest Easter 2022: Woodland Grey

Atmosphere and indulgent imagery makes this an interesting, if not altogether successful woodlands horror.

Synopsis: When a man living alone in the woods saves the life of a young woman, they are forced to coexist. Chaos ensues when the woman makes a terrifying discovery in the woods behind the man’s home and unleashes something truly haunting.

We initially meet William (Ryan Blakely) in the woods, far from other people and carrying out what amounts to his day-to-day life. That quiet is soon disrupted by the arrival of Emily (Jenny Raven), a woman he finds injured in the area. Their initial interactions are tense, with William having adjusted to not speaking to other people and Emily keen to probe the situation. That probing leads to further issues between them when she discovers that William may have a dark secret.

The real strength of Woodland Grey is in director Adam Reider’s handling of the swirling confusion that punctuates much of the film’s action. This is a film that is not in a rush and certainly has even less urgency to provide answers to the many questions it offers. Instead, there is confidence in the repeated phrases, images and other motifs, including an ominous whisper that holds it all in place. While not all of these images come to something entirely satisfying, the opportunity it affords to extend that well-realised imagery is welcome. From an initially slow pace, it picks up and starts to pick at the state of mind of the characters, creatively weaving these increasingly unsettling images into the narrative.

William and Emily are forced into a situation where they alternate between trust and intense mistrust. Both Blakely and Raven manage their roles well, especially when they are called upon to produce a lot of tension within a short space of time. With the other elements all competing for attention, the performances still have to provide a base for the other, more abstract elements to be successful. Each new piece of information forces you to look at previous actions differently, leading you into a cyclical viewing experience. Their initial interactions seem slightly stilted, but this soon plays into both the characters and also the wider sense of the film being rather more surreal and unnatural, despite the very natural location. That sense of being unable to hide is at the film’s heart, forcing confrontation to the fore.

The film is beautiful, leaning into the enclosed setting of the wooded area, isolating the characters from the outside world and really adding a lot to the nightmarish feel. The trees looming over and the separation from the ‘normal’ world allows for the characters to become unmoored rather more quickly as all the competing tensions soon add up. For those looking for a straightforward experience, this is likely to frustrate and even with my enjoyment of it, the film doesn’t quite satisfy, lacking a little power in some sections.

This is also a very difficult film to review, as the central discovery is best kept a mystery until watching the film itself. Emily’s reaction to her discovery is one of panic and disgust, but her situation forces her to engage further. Blakely’s performance, veering from forcefulness to terror does much to wrongfoot the viewer at every turn.

Woodland Grey is an ambitious horror that uses everything at its disposal to create a mood-heavy film that indulges in both emotional and physical horror.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

Woodland Grey plays as part of Grimmfest Easter on Friday April 15th at 8.20pm. Please see the Grimmfest schedule for more information and tickets.

Grimmfest Easter 2022: The Cellar

A strong, spooky idea that can’t quite make the leap to feature-length.

Synopsis: Keira Woods’ daughter mysteriously vanishes in the cellar of their new house. She soon discovers there is an ancient and powerful entity controlling their home that she will have to face or risk losing her family’s souls forever.

Writer-director Brendan Muldowney returns to the idea behind his excellent short film The Ten Steps to expand the story, to limited success. Viewers of the original (and brilliantly executed) short will be familiar with the concept – some busy parents head out to a work dinner, leaving their children at home. When the lights go out their teenage daughter has to go into the cellar to fix the issue, guided over the phone to walk the ten steps. The short packs a powerfully creepy punch, so a continuation of that idea may make sense, although the feature-length production highlights that the short’s power lies in both its brevity and lack of explanation.

Focused around the Woods family, The Cellar‘s opening moments play out in much the same way as the short, with sullen teenager Ellie (Abby Fitz) at odds with her parents, Keira (Elisha Cuthbert) and Brian (Eoin Macken) as well as younger brother Steven (Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady) as they move into their new, suspiciously cheap house. On the first night of the move, Brian and Keira are at a meeting, leaving Ellie to look after Steven. Creepy goings-on in the house ensue and soon Ellie is having to make the scary trip into the cellar, resulting in a disappearance that Keira has to take exceptional measures to resolve.

While Muldowney very clearly has a great sense of what makes something scary and a good grasp on how to bring that to the screen this cannot overcome the fact that this is an 80 minute film built around an idea that makes for a very strong short film punchline. Outside of that punchline, the film is forced into recreating the usual ‘haunted house’ tropes. Internet symbolism research and expositional historians make appearances almost like clockwork. The addition of a mathematically-focused expert does add something not seen as often, but the delivery is just as undynamic and stalls momentum. The Woods parents’ social media company meeting is full of vague references to previous campaigns and ‘going viral’ but fails to establish sufficiently high stakes for them leaving the children alone in a new, unknown house.

The use of light and shadow is very impressive, providing some standout moments of tension and horror. Even as the film often lurches into scenes you have seen previously, they are, undoubtedly well-realised. However, as the film needs to expand further toward its conclusion there is some straining at the seams as the images can’t quite live up to the film’s ambitions, resulting in the mood and atmosphere from all those well-earned scares sadly escaping at the conclusion. This leads to the film ending on a whimper, rather than the bang of the original short.

Elisha Cuthbert’s performance provides the main focus here, solidly selling the concept of a worried, yet determined mother trying to come to terms with her loss and the desire to keep searching into an entirely unknown world. The film affords a few starring segments for Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady’s Steven, under threat from the house perhaps more than anyone. Eoin Macken is just as solid, although he appears more sparingly, allowing Cuthbert to take centre stage as the driving force. This does lead to the family feeling rather more fractured as the film moves on, fitting, given the strain placed upon them.

Some pleasing horror moments and the undeniable shudder that the film’s borrowed set piece brings can’t quite elevate this to the heights of the short it is based on.

2.5 out of 5 stars

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Cellar plays as part of Grimmfest Easter on Friday April 15th at 4pm. Please see the Grimmfest schedule for more information and tickets. The Cellar will also begin streaming on Shudder from April 15th.

Glasgow Film Festival 2022: Murina

A coming-of-age story contained within a sun-bleached thriller.

Synopsis: A teenage girl decides to replace her controlling father with his wealthy foreign friend during a weekend trip to the Adriatic Sea.

Named for the eels that Julija (Gracija Filipovic) and her father Ante (Leon Lucev) hunt together to sell as delicacies, Murina is a directorial debut that is as tightly controlled as the protagonist at the outset of the film. Julija is central for much of the runtime and both the way she is looked at and the way she observes the looks between others is a dominant narrative force. The swimsuit she wears for much of the film has a practical purpose, but also displays her to the men around her father, creating discomfort and furthering his desire to hide her away. This enhanced control coincides with a visit from Javier (Cliff Curtis), her father’s wealthy friend and prompts Julija to consider a life with him, given his clear fondness for her mother, Nela (Danica Curcic).

Gracija Filipovic carries much of the film on her shoulders, navigating a character who is naive but also given to fantasies about improving her life, even if that is achieved through sinister means. Her anger for her father comes in the outright anger and darkly rendered underwater fantasies that hint at an altogether more dangerous outlook. Meanwhile, she saves verbal barbs for her mother, angry at the control Ante has over the way they dress and live their lives. There is also a reckoning with becoming a woman, recognising that her mother is the object of Javier’s affection that could be used as leverage, a realisation that prompts her to say, “If I had your power, I would use it”. The relationship between the pair is subject to negotiation as Julija refuses to follow her lead.

First-time feature director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic uses the beautiful location to her advantage, injecting proceedings with an almost magical touch that fuses Julija with her surroundings. When she is in the water, she is at her most free and confident, allowing the film to weave in a fable related to coming-of-age in a way that feels both satisfactory in narrative terms as well as providing memorable visuals. The shift from a sticky, tense atmosphere when Ante is around to the rather more tranquil sensuality when Javier takes centre stage is deftly handled.

Underwater scenes become a space for uncovering desires and removal from reality which the film indulges in long sequences. The film creates the idea that Julija is at her most uncomfortable on land and it is in these sequences, especially a notably tense party scene that she appears as a fish out of water, not content to follow her parent’s lifestyles or adhere to the occasion. Filipovic is excellent, never less than captivating as she inhabits Julija’s questioning and refusal to stay quiet.

Some may find the film’s pace too slow and too content to allow its characters to bake in the surroundings. Sequences that turn up the tempo considerably are few and far between, but even so, there is a palpable tension throughout that maintains that interest. The pace of the film reflects the pace of Julija’s life, prone to periods of stillness set against short outbursts of frustration.

An excellent central performance and composed, unhurried handling make Murina a film to get lost in.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Murina screened as the Closing Gala of Glasgow Film Festival 2022.

Murina is released in cinemas nationwide on 8 April, with Q&A screenings with the director this weekend, details at  https://www.modernfilms.com/murina

FrightFest Glasgow 2022: Mandrake

A fevered folk-horror with plenty of attention on ritual and lore.

Synopsis: A probation officer, Cathy Madden, is tasked with rehabilitating a notorious killer named ‘Bloody’ Mary Laidlaw back into society following a two-decade sentence.

One of the ways in which Irish horror stands out, for me, is in its mix of current social issues and fully realised folkloric elements. Mandrake, like You Are Not My Mother is a film constantly straddling the line between everyday life and the otherworldly. When Cathy (Deirdre Mullins) is tasked with the case of ‘Bloody’ Mary Laidlaw (Derbhle Crotty) it seems a far cry from her usual work. The violence of Mary’s crime and the rumours surrounding it all contribute to a vast sense of unease that permeates every part of the film. Both Mullins and Crotty inhabit their roles with a believability that sustains even the film’s most unmoored elements.

Mandrake excels by virtue of commitment to the ritual elements and boldness in the intersection between the banal and the fantastic. The effects and droning soundtrack contribute to the atmosphere, allowing the film to tip back and forth between concrete reality and something more ancient and magical. Cathy’s work as a probation officer places her on the frontline of modern Ireland’s issues, striking up relationships and connections with those who feel removed from society due to their criminality and circumstances. These connections stand apart from her troubled failed relationship with police officer Jason (Paul Kennedy). That they are responsible for vastly different stages of the process, with hers a focus on rehabilitation, a key difference that seems part of the reason for their issues. Working together to care for their young son still connects them, as does living in the same area.

Cathy appears uniquely placed to deal with Mary Laidlaw, having accepted the job without seemingly placing too much emphasis on the gory (and impossible) details of her original crime. Considering the retelling of the circumstances to be little more than rumour, the film treats the discovery of burns on Mary’s legs as an important confirmation of both what she has been through and what she may be. The impact of swirling rumour and mob mentality trickles throughout, with Cathy forced to negotiate her belief and understanding at every turn. Her openness, as compared to the superstition of the worker originally assigned to Mary’s case buries her in layers of risk, placing her in the league of other well-meaning but out of depth folk horror protagonists. I

Mandrake is unafraid to indulge in horror imagery, bringing fevered ritual and symbolism to the forefront as the narrative progresses. Director Lynn Davison carefully turns up the temperature and allows things to escalate into outright weirdness, leaning on mythology for stability. The film’s initial coldness, brought from the damp mud of its intriguing opening turns to a sweaty, panicked and all-round heightened affair. That dedication to providing that horror spectacle is much appreciated when other films seem uncertain of allowing those uncanny elements to take centre stage.

Mandrake uses its rural location, paranoid environment and lashings of folk horror to bring its story and characters to life.

4 out of 5 stars

Mandrake screened courtesy of Blue Finch Film Releasing as part of FrightFest Glasgow 2022.

Glasgow Film Festival 2022: Silent Land

An unsubtle but confident satirical thriller on privileged disconnection.

Synopsis: A perfect couple rents a holiday home on a sunny Italian island. The reality does not live up to their expectations when they find out that the pool in the house is broken. Ignorant of the fact that the island faces water shortage, they ask for someone to fix it. The constant presence of a stranger invades the couple’s idea of safety and starts a chain of events, which makes them act instinctively and irrationally, heading to the darkest place in their relationship.

Adam (Dobromir Dymecki) and Anna (Agnieszka Zulewska) are looking to enjoy a holiday together, remaining mostly secluded in an expensive villa home. Their ideas of remaining isolated are scuppered, however, when they demand to have their pool fixed. During the maintenance, an accident occurs that throws their holiday and relationship into flux in a deliberately told study of privileged apathy.

Agnieszka Woszczynska’s debut feature may be one of the most confident and tightly controlled debuts for some time. Long, static shots focus on the beauty of pastel-coloured surroundings while building an oppressive atmosphere. The camera moves slowly from these static bases, often panning to find characters in new moments of stillness. These moments come to reflect the film’s wider messaging about inaction with long pauses allowing the film’s decisions to rest heavily on those within and outside the frame.

Dymecki and Zulewska handle the material well, especially given how disconnected they have to be for much of the run time. The couple, although close, feel distant throughout, with even their intimacy and passion for one another becoming presented as detached and shrouded in darkness. Their increasingly terse interactions and particularly the unfurling of Adam’s confidence requires a lot from them, that they deliver convincingly, even when the situation leans into the more surreal side of satire. Language barriers create further tension as they are drawn into a process that neither entirely understand.

The political commentary on display is far from subtle and at times, this is to its detriment. The class divide is on stark display, as is the concept of entitlement. A recurring dog that encounters both the pool repair man and the couple at various points is the film’s most successful visual motif, reflecting the differences between them and the evolution of characters. The couple refer to the event that has thrown their holiday into chaos as an ‘uncomfortable situation’, seeking to play down its importance and impact.

Woszczynkska’s technical choices support the film’s power. With so many scenes involving the central pair remaining static, the brief sections where the pair attend a restaurant or town offer an element of vibrant respite from the coldness elsewhere. The warm colours and movement in a scene from the village highlight the difference between their increasingly closed off experience, punctuated by evolving paranoisa and self-questioning. Moments of jovial conversation are overlapped by the hum of a car engine, denying that connection. While all this builds tension and provides food for thought, the final scene offers perhaps the film’s most effective scene, arresting in its simplicity.

Agnieszka Woszczynska displays a tight control over her characters, bringing a sprawling, beautiful location into something sinister. The unrushed pace of this may not be for everyone, but its thematic power emanates from every scene.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Silent Land screened as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2022.

Glasgow Film Festival 2022: Ashgrove

A thoughtful and enveloping domestic drama that successfully balances the central relationship and sci-fi concept.

Synopsis: Set in the not-so-distant future, Dr. Jennifer Ashgrove – one of the world’s top scientists – is battling to find a cure to a crisis that affects the world’s water supply. As the weight of the world takes its toll, she retreats to the countryside with her husband in a bid to clear her mind. But their relationship is strained, and they soon realise that their ability to save their marriage will literally determine the fate of humankind itself.

The opening moments of Ashgrove set out a rather grim scenario the characters find themselves in. The water supply is slowly poisoning the population due to a vaccine-resistant pandemic event. Jennifer Ashgrove (Amanda Brugel) is one of the scientists tasked with finding a cure, but the pressure of her job, the challenge of carefully portioning and monitoring water intake plus her increasingly fraught marriage to Jason (Jonas Chernick) results in her eureka moment being disrupted by a sudden blackout and resultant memory loss. Advised to recuperate, she and Jason head to the countryside but both the pandemic and their relationship woes prove difficult to put behind them.

The continuous risk assessments that characters undertake in measuring water allowances, while obviously very different to the events of the last few years, may still be too close to everyday anxieties for some, but this is not a film concerned with escapism, instead turning a global concern into an incredibly personal, individual one. The film does well to communicate the situation and impact on the characters. Marked water bottles for allowances and an app for testing toxicity have become routine, but the overriding threat of how too much or too little water impacts on health casts a weight over proceedings, making Jennifer’s recovery all the more vital.

The decision to shoot the film in chronological order, while likely challenging, benefits the film greatly. Brugel has a writing credit, alongside Chernick and director Jeremy LaLonde, indicating that this is a project where collaboration is at the forefront. This benefit is felt in how natural and assured the performances are. It also adds an overall sense of cohesion, with each performer matching the other’s energy and heading in the same direction. Each development is carefully built upon the last, skillfully drip-feeding details as it moves along.

Chernick and Brugel work well together, able to manage both the tense moments of the relationship, while also providing much-needed moments of levity where fond feelings surface. A scene featuring an impromptu song establishes what they once saw in one another, amidst all the tension. Finding those moments of rediscovery while also not undermining the conflict and gravity speaks to the easy chemistry they share. When friends Elliot (Shawn Doyle) and Sammy (Natalie Brown) arrive later, their after-dinner games begin to unpick at painful rifts. So often, it is easy to view these characters as additions purely to say something more about the central couple, but the relationships feel fully-formed, adding considerably to the tension.

While the film’s intimacy with characters and the closed-off setting drive much of the narrative, the film does occasionally over-explain itself. Each carefully woven element comes to portray further meaning in a way that satisfies, but at times, lacks confidence. The messaging is clearly articulated, so attempts to further explain stall the pace a little, especially as this becomes quite dialogue-heavy. This is easily recovered, however, with the central story continuing on the basis of our relationship to these characters. That Jennifer’s dedication to her work has come at a considerable personal cost is never far from the surface. It is this tension that threatens to break through the film’s otherwise mellow, measured exterior.

While this is likely best described as a relationship drama viewed through a dystopian near-future lens, those dystopic elements have a real strength. Themes of autonomy, personal sacrifice and professional dedication all surface throughout the film with a sinister undertone that becomes more overt as the film progresses. The idea is unique and best experienced as the gradual unfurling of the film, so this is definitely one best watched without too much prior knowledge of these developments.

Ashgrove is a well-constructed story of a marriage in crisis and the immense personal cost endured by those called upon to assist during crises.

4 out of 5 stars

Ashgrove screened as part of Glasgow Film Festival 2022.

Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2022: Good Madam (Mlungu Wam)

A few technical choices occasionally undermine this otherwise solid exploration of familial, historical trauma.

Synopsis: An eerie psychological thriller about Tsidi, who is forced to move in with her estranged mother, a live-in domestic worker caring obsessively for her catatonic white ‘Madam’ in the wealthy Cape Town suburbs. But as Tsidi tries to heal her family, the ‘spectre’ of ‘Madam’ begins to stir.

Tackling the subject of apartheid within a genre film is no easy feat, especially when embedding it within the more intimate setting of an estranged family. In this, Good Madam gives itself a weighty task, something which is evidenced in the 12 writing credits on the film. While collaboration is to be celebrated, this does lack a throughline, sometimes feeling that directional switches belong in entirely different films.

Chumisa Cosa excels as Tsidi, a woman forced to move in with her mother, Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe). Mavis’ work as a carer for a wealthy white woman has driven a wedge between the women. As the house rules are laid out to Tsidi and her daughter Winnie (Kamvalethu Jonas Raziya), this tension surfaces once again, with the strict rules requiring them all to behave as if they are not there, making no impact on their surroundings. The control that Mavis exerts over the space and objects like cups becomes the focus of the conflict between mother and daughter.

Long, lingering shots of the outside of the house and a camera that comes to rest among various curios on shelves, untouched but still somehow filled with menace. Mavis carefully continues the same rituals and adheres to the same rules as before, even though her ‘madam’ is largely out of sight, creating an oppressive atmosphere. Flashes of conventionally scary set pieces cut through only infrequently, pushing the familial tensions to the fore with flashbacks and glimpses of the outside world. Flashbacks to initially jovial dinners that erupt into arguments further how deep the tension runs.

The tendency to focus on small, details throughout the film does lead to some of the film’s most striking moments, closing in on incredibly tactile sequences and leaning into the excellent sound design. On the other hand, this isolation does obscure the performers to some degree, especially where actions take over. While Chumisa Cosa’s performance is incredible, only she is often afforded the whole frame. There are moments where she looks genuinely like she is holding her breath as she moves through the house, something which inspires the same action in the viewer. With so many good performances it is a shame to not give everyone the same space to flesh out their characters, resulting in some elements that fall a little flat.

Overall, Good Madam does well to create tension and explore more intimately the long-lasting effects of such a damaging regime, drawing on some genuinely uncomfortable sequences to further this. Arguably a greater focus and space for performances to grow would elevate it even further.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

Good Madam played the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival. More information on the festival is available from their webpage. The film will also play as part of Glasgow Film Festival.

Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2022: Gluttony Shorts Block

Gluttony is another of the Seven Deadly Sins that the 7th edition of Final Girls has built a shorts block around. For a genre like horror that often seeks to explore excesses, the sin of gluttony often comes to the fore. These films are about far more than just taking more than your share.

Ghoul Log

I am always in awe of stop-motion animation and Ghoul Log is yet another example of the incredible craft. The texture is amazing here, offering close-ups of detail and a scratching soundtrack that really ups the level of discomfort. The sheer artistry and creation of atmosphere here is incredible.

Three Ways To Dine Well

This great visual essay places a focus on eating in horror films, especially where women are concerned, based on a Virginia Woolf speech. Split into three sections and using well-selected clips to illustrate each point, this is a fascinating journey through the act of eating in horror. In addition, the decision to focus on films made by women but expanding that from the expected writer/director role as a filmmaker showcases just how many women have always worked within horror at every level of production. Visual essays can be tricky to get the balance of clips vs narration right, but this is a wonderful example of the form.

Demon Juice

A girl’s weekend away turns sour when the arrival of the least-favourite member of the group turns about to be the least of their worries. The fractured friend group encounter a strange bottle in their holiday rental home and things escalate considerably from there. While some elements feel a little rough around the edges, this is a fun take that leans into its chaos with some excellent effects.

Binge and Purgatory

This sub-5 minute short comes with a content warning for eating disorders and yes, this angry film could not be accused of sensitive handling. A row over a birthday cake between two women boils over into something far more sinister. The palpable rage and DIY aesthetic in this make it perfect for its short run time. Anything longer would lose some of the punchy power it has. Not one for everyone, but certainly leaves an impression.

Misophonia

Misophonia is the name given to intense feelings around noises, mainly that of chewing, so it makes sense that the phenomenon would be explored in a horror setting. It would be no surprise to state that the sound design here is incredible, with the chewing, smacking and slurping woven throughout the film. It would perhaps be understandable that the focus on the audio would somehow detract from the attention paid elsewhere, but this is a film that crafts the visuals to be just as important and impactful as the source of the sound is revealed throughout the runtime.

Such Small Hands

Children are terrifying at the best of times, but Such Small Hands takes this to incredibly uncomfortable lengths. The girls at an orphanage find themselves partaking in a game that seeks to balance the power between them. The invention of the game in which one girl has to be ‘the doll’ creates a pressure cooker environment, punctuated by haunting visuals that linger. This feels like the quieter, more overtly sinister cousin to She-Pack from a few years ago, exploring what that group mentality can do.

The Gluttony shorts block played as part of the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival. More information on the festival is available from their webpage

Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2022: Envy

Another of the Seven Deadly Sins that lends itself very easily to horror is envy. The green-eyed monster can raise its head for a variety of reasons and lead to dramatic and even dangerous behaviour. The Envy shorts block all feature envy for different reasons, but all present how all-consuming the feeling can be for some. Please note: not all shorts were provided as part of press coverage.

Red is the Colour of Envy

Beck Kitsis follows her stirring gut-punch short The Three Men You Meet At Night with a different, but no less impactful story about a necklace that has strange, desirable properties. The film is bathed in red light, lending it an otherworldly quality. There is a real punch to the short, conveying its interesting idea quickly and efficiently allowing the Tales of the Unexpected style tale to take centre stage.

Inch Thick Knee Deep

Inch Thick Knee Deep primarily rests on the dialogue between two women, for the most part, cleverly unfolding the reasons for their conflict. Their tense, terse conversation dials up the pressure, switching audience sympathies. As the film progresses, so does the pressure between them. The increasing cruelty is held at a distance, suggesting horror to the viewer without indulging it graphically. This, rather than dulling the effect, adds to it considerably, allowing the audience to imagine the horror rather than being directly confronted with it. A skillfully drawn tale that perfectly fits the short film format.

Hannya

Meeting a partner’s friends can be a daunting experience and Hannya really creates a pressure-cooker like environment around it. Ana (Anaïs Parello) is in just this situation and immediately comes face-to-face with Marie (Sophie de Fürst), an old friend of her boyfriend’s who seems a little too close for comfort. Drinking games become weighty tests of Ana’s spiralling jealousy, while Marie seems determined to get closer to her. Interspersed with folklore tales and a panicked phone call, this slow-burn constantly teases out the conflict. The performances take centre stage, bouncing off one another in a way that carries an uneasy feeling throughout.

Girls Night In

One of the more overtly comic entries in this short, Girls Night In sees two friends (although given the rest of the film, friends might be a strong word) whose girls night in is interrupted by the presence of an intruder. Punchy, antagonistic dialogue sets the pair at odds as they try to convey their situation to an emergency call handler. The film sets out to have a little fun with conventional slasher tropes and will leave you chuckling at some of the one-liners, although there are moments in the pair’s exchanges of harsh words that may have you wincing too.

Murderers Prefer Blondes

Last up is delightfully surreal, thoroughly DIY effort Murderers Prefer Blondes, focused on two sisters in conflict. While this is undoubtedly rough around the edges, it is bound to raise a smile as melodrama, strange voices and a sense of fun spirit come to the surface.

For more information on Final Girls Berlin Film Festival including their ongoing Patreon content, please check out their webpage.

Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2022: Medical Horror Shorts Block

Horror has always delighted in wringing terror from the body, whether that is the internal fear of illness or more prominent, unavoidable physical complaints the sensation that something is wrong is one we have all felt. Perhaps less so, is the fear that comes from not being listened to by those who are treating us or feeling restricted by those things seen as being for our own benefit. The films in the Medical Horror shorts block explore all these anxieties.

Occupational Hazard

Starting in an explosive fashion during a mining accident, Occupational Hazard explores one woman’s struggle with the after-effects of that event. Following the loud, chaotic opening, the film settles into a quieter mode of address, staying level with Diana’s (Virginia Newcomb) new need for rest and recuperation. Lack of camera focus places the viewer in her position as she struggles with the paperwork related to the event. In addition to her hazy vision, Diana is also feeling progressively more unwell, sold by impressive effects that develop throughout the runtime. This is perhaps not a new idea, but one that is solidly told.

Freya

Arguably my favourite of the block, the Freya of the title is a health monitoring and social media system in one, capable of ordering food, providing healthcare advisories and setting up one night stands to name only a few functions. Rhona Rees plays Jade, a woman who, other than the regular offerings of the system, is living a normal life. However, the control that the system has over her soon becomes too intrusive and she starts to try and regain some autonomy. The presentation of the Freya system is excellent, evoking the familiarity of current social media apps with a ‘day after tomorrow’ sci-fi dystopian overlay that really seeps into every frame. The commentary is sharp too, with the gender differences in the hook-up app review criteria a stark reminder about how they are treated. There is an undercurrent of well-placed anger within the film but under all the sleek critique there is also a wealth of human emotion that hits hard as to the demands placed on women and their health.

They Called Me David

Predominantly a collage of black and white archive-style POV shots from a medical facility, anchored by a voiceover, They Called Me David feels more like an exercise in tone than a conventionally narrative piece. Instead, it uses the immediacy of its imagery and the personalising voice to centre it. The film cleverly employs colour at various points to great effect, selling its central message but staying within its means.

Hysteria

There is nothing more frustrating than having your medical complaints dismissed without investigation and Hysteria takes that frustration to the kind of conclusion that only horror can. One of the shortest offerings in the block Hysteria manages to pack a punch. Shot in lockdown, the film embraces its need for a rough-around-the-edges aesthetic and leans into it, imbuing the film with a jumpy, frazzled quality that perfectly matches the increasing frustration of the central character. Keeping the run time short means it stays punchy and delivers on impact.

Our First Priority

Full disclosure ahead of this: I was a backer of this project when it was crowd-funded. However, this has not impacted my review and the film has been judged purely objectively.
If Hysteria functions as a short, sharp burst of rage in response to medical gaslighting, Our First Priority is the slower but still as angry counterpart. Hannah (a confident performance from Violet Gotcher) is visiting her doctor with a pre-prepared list of the symptoms she is struggling with. Despite her careful efforts to list everything, learn the meanings and rule things out, she is still dismissed. As the film unfolds, other forces appear to be at work. At the outset of Our First Priority some exchanges feel somewhat stilted in a way that holds the viewer at arm’s length, in keeping with the clinical context. Director Baska swaps clinically sterile light for more in the reds and purples, again adding to this sense of unreality that bubbles under the confrontation. This ebbs and flows throughout, subject to the interplay between the characters. For the most part, this is a pleasingly internalised film, reflecting the way that Hannah is forced to internalise, not act out at the professionals for fear of being dismissed once more. The bubbling tension serves it well as it heads steadily toward an intriguing conclusion.

For more information on Final Girls Berlin Film Festival including their ongoing Patreon content, please check out their webpage.