Fantastic Fest 2022: Satanic Hispanics

A collaborative effort, awarded the Best Directors in the Fantastic Fest Horror Features category brings plenty of variety to this solid anthology.

Synopsis: A police raid uncovers a mysterious man chained up in a locked room. This mysterious man, who only refers to himself as the Traveler, leads us through four stories.

The Traveler (Efren Ramirez) is taken into police questioning following the gruesome discovery of a warehouse in which numerous people have been killed. As the lone survivor, he is of particular interest in finding out what has happened, but as the questioning progresses he seems to reveal more questions than answers.

Anthology films have to achieve a balance between their stories – too much comedy and each segment starts to feel similar, too much outright horror and the overall feel is too heavy. Satanic Hispanics, while leaning somewhat towards the more comic side just about gets this right. The wraparound set in the police station offers plenty of moments for the film to poke fun at itself as increasingly puzzled Detective Gibbons (Sonya Eddy) and Arden (Greg Grunberg) try to keep pace with his fantastic stories. The easy chemistry between the trio allows the film to rest between segments, building up to a visually impressive, music video-like finale.

Director Demian Rugna immediately delivers on the scare factor with a story about a man named Gustavo (Demián Salomón) who has seemingly found a way to make contact with the afterlife. However, as with many otherworldly discoveries, this has implications that he is soon forced to confront. This has a few well-pitched scares, coupled with a genuinely engaging concept, making it the perfect introduction.

Immediately switching tones, we head into the proudly silly El Vampiro, in which a mix-up over timings sends the titular vampire (a strong comedic showing for Hemky Madera) into a panicked rush for home. After the weight of the first entry, this provides a much-needed reset. This section is one of two that I would really appreciate seeing with a crowd (the other being the Hammer of Zanzibar) as the construction and escalation of the comic elements feel specifically designed for a late-night festival audience.

That isn’t to say that Satanic Hispanic forgets to provide horror, however, Gigi Saul Guerrero’s segment provides an emphasis on ritual and pain. While there is plenty of horror action elsewhere, this is the section that leans into a sense of brutality, seeking to make the most of the physicality. Close-ups enhance the sense of suffering throughout, making it one of the film’s most tactile entries. The placement allows for an ebb and flow of tone, offering the darker entries a lighter counterpart.

Impressive in its ease of atmosphere and keeping the number of stories manageable, Satanic Hispanics stands to be a real festival crowd pleaser.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

Satanic Hispanics screened as part of Fantastic Fest 2022. Find out more about the festival at their webpage.

Fantastic Fest 2022: The Offering

High energy frights, religion and family ties make for an overly familiar horror outing, albeit one with a pleasingly mean streak.

Synopsis: A family struggling with loss finds themselves at the mercy of an ancient demon trying to destroy them from the inside.

Arthur (Nick Blood) is returning to his roots, bringing along his wife Claire (Emily Wiseman) for what will be a tense reunion. While his father Saul (Allan Corduner) does seem to want to welcome him back, a more chilly reception awaits him from Heimish (Paul Kaye). Familial differences are not the only issue, however, as a body brought to the funeral home proves to be anything but routine.

The opening scene of The Offering functions as a decent showcase for what is to come, introducing a scene of religious-leaning horror, based around a demon known as ‘the taker of children’. With that unpleasant groundwork laid, the film switches to Arthur and Emily, starting to foreground Arthur’s departure from his community and the tension that brings to both of them. That they are visiting a funeral home soon sets expectations for creepy goings-on that the film is keen to progress.

Placing the action in a Jewish community presents an opportunity for the film to explore some often-underexplored customs and beliefs but this is arguably one of the film’s weaknesses. Throughout, you want more of that identity, more of those elements that could help it stand out. Aside from a few moments of ritual that are both compelling as well as important set ups for later events, this feels far too divorced from it, resulting in a film that feels too similar to many other horror films. This is not aided by some uninspiring CGI and a colour scheme that fails to differentiate it from other genre pieces.

Where the film works well is in the way it mostly confines characters to the funeral home, building up the pressure but also a kind of geography of the house that translates to the viewer, adding to the anticipation of the next scare. The Offering does possess some great kinetic energy with the funeral home doors slamming and swinging to avoid things feeling static in the same surroundings. Elsewhere an otherwise well-worn scare involving a camera finds a partial swerve that satisfies. However, much of this became standard jump scare fare with sudden bursts of volume drawing attention over anything more unique.

Those with more of an appetite for this kind of horror will likely rate this much higher and it should certainly find an audience looking for a late-night creep-fest.

2.5 out of 5 stars

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Offering screened as part of Fantastic Fest 2022. Find out more about the festival at their webpage.

Fantastic Fest 2022: Tropic

Edouard Salier’s vision of brothers coming to terms with a life-changing event is striking, absorbing work.

Synopsis: Year 2041, France, two trained astronaut twins go through a lot when one of them is contaminated with a mysterious residue from space.

Tristan (Louis Peres) and Lazaro (Pablo Cobo) are twin brothers, deep in training for a desperate colonisation mission named the Eternity mission. With their physical and mental condition of primary importance, both of their lives are thrown into chaos when Tristan is injured during a late-night swim.

The genre elements of Tropic are fairly light-touch, for the most part, allowing the film to focus on the characters rather than the specifically ‘sci-fi’ trappings. Much of the early part of the film is given over to getting to know the brothers and witnessing their training. That context and foregrounding of their relationship set the tone for what follows. That said, those elements are well realised, with Tristan’s condition managing to convey a sense of the otherworldly alongside very human pain. The inciting incident is handled brilliantly, giving a sense of scale without feeling out of place for an otherwise entirely grounded film.

Setting the action only around 20 years in the future frees the film from needing to add too much in the way of on-screen technology or effects. Rolling news channels may be discussing space in a way that feels futuristic but they still look very much like today’s offerings. This is a film that is more concerned with exploring the casualties of relentless progress and the cost of that to everyone. The Eternity mission is given vital importance in the film’s world, thanks to ecological concerns on Earth reaching a dangerous peak. The solution to colonise another planet, requiring immense efforts and damage is one that the film allows to hang over its characters for the duration.

Salier provides a contrast between the intensity of the brother’s training and their more relaxed home life. The switch from the stark surroundings of the training facility and the sun streaming through the windows of their home perfectly shows the strange situation the young men find themselves in. The pair playfully joking with their mother about her dating prospects feel worlds apart from the stoic men we see during their training. An intimate, hand-held camera enhances the closeness to the characters and is allowed to become almost dizzying when the action calls for it. Brief, tranquil chapter cards appear over scenes of nature, offering pause from the film’s emotional and physical movement.

For the most part, this rests on the performances. Peres’ Tristan is sidelined to some degree by the nature of what has happened to him but still delivers a solid performance with deeply affecting moments. As Lazarou, Cobo takes up a lot of the film’s space – it is his reckoning with the world he finds his brother in, with its cruelty and pushing progress above all else. It is a magnetic performance, full of moments of hypocrisy, tenderness and rage. Marta Nieto completes the family with a performance that grapples with keeping her commitments to both her sons. While the central family takes up much of the time, a strong supporting cast provides the links to the other trainees as well as a group that Tristan finds a kinship with.

A stunning, light-touch genre effort with haunting, human moments.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars

Tropic screened as part of Fantastic Fest 2022. Find out more about the festival at their webpage.

North Bend Film Fest 2022: The Civil Dead

A quirky horror-adjacent piece that hides a real darkness behind its quirks.

Synopsis: A misanthropic, struggling photographer just wants to watch TV and eat candy while his wife is out of town, but when a desperate old pal resurfaces, his plans are thwarted, with spooky consequences.

Clay (Clay Tatum – also writing and directing) is in a slump. His photography work is not going well, the pressure is on him to help pay the bills and his wife Whitney (Whitney Weir) is growing frustrated with his lack of action. While out attempting to take photographs he meets old friend Whit (Whitmer Thomas, also co-writing) who appears to have a rather more serious problem of his own. As the pair reconnect, Whit’s escalating demands and neediness further challenge Clay’s frame of mind.

With a pace frequently as laid back as its protagonist, The Civil Dead is rather sedate, trading jump scares for a steady build of discomfort and study of connection. This is definitely in the realms of ‘horror with a small h’, in that it adopts the idea of a supernatural being and certainly some dark themes but is not particularly interested in scaring its audience. At times, this translates to the film’s surface quirks and offbeat humour as twee. However, as it progresses, the steady lean into moments of outright absurdity in some sections begins to unmoor it. Later still, the film delivers a powerful gut punch that genuinely elicited a gasp from me on first viewing. These carefully crafted moments of shock delivered without any boost in the soundtrack or jolting camera movements are really where this film sets itself apart.

The film’s limited locations and focus on characters puts a great deal of pressure on the two main performers to deliver. Thankfully they do, allowing Clay and Whit’s uneasy rapport to ebb and flow. The strength of this likely stems from them also writing the script, allowing them to play the roles in exactly the way they imagine. Clay’s downbeat nature clashes with Whit’s excitement at being seen. The pair do well to create a world in which the supernatural experience is one of mundanity, with a sustained reliance on the humans they have left behind to validate and entertain them. Clay’s reluctance to do anything with his life other than getting a questionable haircut becomes a central point of tension. The pair continuously bounce off one another, cementing this as the kind of ‘hangout horror’ where the lack of more traditional supernatural motifs are replaced by human emotion. The cringe humour at times won’t be for everyone and neither will the stillness of much of the film. If you are looking for loud, jangling horror, you won’t find it here. Similarly, if you find it difficult to connect with the characters, you may well struggle here.

What you will find, however, is two writers who are incredibly skilled at weaving multiple callbacks and layers into their film which adds so much to it. As the relationship builds, so do these layers, giving it a greater depth. That clever pulling together of all threads really does lend it a power that sneaks up on you. That this often uses daytime locations or a cosy cabin as a setting to lull the viewer to relax and spend time with the characters heightens the drama when tensions begin to stir again. It is very clear throughout that every detail has been carefully considered, but it never feels like it is obviously drawing your attention to it. On the first watch, it can feel like almost nothing is happening, with the hard work taking place in the background. For those fully immersed in the rest of the story, the result is effective.

An excellently written character study that presents a different view of a ghost story.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Civil Dead screened as part of North Bend Film Festival 2022.

Horror Shorts at North Bend Film Fest 2022

The North Bend Film Fest 2022 hosted numerous horror shorts, all with different styles and approaches that really sum up the current creativity in short filmmaking within the genre.

Darker (Donkerster)

Darker is a hugely atmospheric and eerie piece. Based around a young girl called Rhena whose father disappears after telling her the legend of Atlas, this has the feel of a dark fairytale. That sense of something magical but also sinister is really captured here. Adriana Bakker’s performance as Rhena fits perfectly for the overall tone. The whole construction of this is excellent, from the central concept to the handling of imagery.

They See You

They See You is a short that both works well within its runtime while also showing the potential for a wider, longer story to be told. Starting with a panicked phone call from Dina to her sister Robin drawing her to a remote location, this creates an instant tension. As the reasons for Dina’s call begin to surface the fractured relationship between the sisters becomes clearer. Despite a stripped-back nature of this it really delivers on some great effects and a strong narrative that grips all the way through.

Baby Fever

A candy-coated period piece with a real punch, especially concerning women’s bodily autonomy. The attention paid to the 1972 details and styling gives this a fun presentation. Throughout, the balance is perfectly pitched between a fun horror film with plenty of nods to other films from the period it reflects without becoming too referential and a potent social message, which is incredibly difficult to pull off. Helena Berens’ performance as Donna, a student who finds herself undergoing an unusual pregnancy underpins it all, offering sympathy for her predicament while retaining a sparky, spiky personality. There is a justified anger at the heart of the film that lends it a great energy.

Black Dragon (Rồng đen)

As with Baby Fever, Black Dragon is a short that uses genre conventions to address history and the current implications of that history. Starting with a frenetic Vietnam war-time sequence, the film really delves into the claustrophobic paranoia as a group of soldiers take a young girl hostage. There is an almost overbearing sense of dread throughout the film as the situation progresses. An incredibly sobering post-script at the film’s end offers further weight to the scenes before, really allowing it to linger in the viewer’s mind.

Death in a Box

As far as short film titles go, this may well be the winner. Even better, the sci-fi/horror concept that accompanies that title is captivating, managing to draw out its true nature, keeping the viewer guessing until a conclusion that becomes visually arresting and deeply scary. The visuals throughout are excellent, with the floating box a simple, yet compelling idea for it to rest on. Ava (Sloan Mannino) and Samara’s (BreeAna Miyuki Eisel) early interactions feel convincing and well-realised.

Scooter

Walking home alone at night as a woman is rarely fun, Adrienne’s (Anita Abdinezhad) experience is even worse. Abandoned by her controlling boyfriend about the work party they have just attended, a scooter provides a quicker way of navigating the night. When she stops for food she notices a woman may be being held captive in a van and has to act quickly before harm is done. Interestingly, despite probing the fears of being a woman alone at night, this takes a wholly different direction that while being less serious, still delivers an engaging narrative with memorable moments.

Find out more about the North Bend Film Fest.

Soho Horror Film Festival First Wave

The Soho Horror Film Festival returns this November and the first teases are here.

Throughout the pandemic, Soho Horror Film Festival has shown a dedication to accessible, affordable horror events with a focus on curating a community around excellent films, boasting a host of UK premieres and a focus on queer cinema in their lineups. This looks set to continue with their first wave announcements for both their in-person and online event.

The in-person event returns to the Whirled Cinema in Brixton from 11th-13th November. The first announcement for that part of the festival is the International Premiere of Daniel Montgomery’s heartbreak haunter THE JESSICA CABIN. This LGBTQ+ focused horror comedy is sure to win hearts at the festival. A so-far unnamed film also promises a first for the festival, offering a screening that will be accessible to all ages, offering younger viewers their first chance to see a horror film in a festival setting.

While other festivals may have moved away from online options, Soho is offering a second festival the week after the in-person event. The first film announced is the UK Premiere of Elias Manar’s harrowing found-footage shocker WHAT IS BURIED MUST REMAIN. The festival has a great track record with found-footage offerings with past screenings and this film, made in collaboration with the Lighthouse Peace Initiative promises to be deeply affecting. The Lighthouse Peace Initiative is an organisation giving young Syrian refugees an education and a safe environment to express repressed emotions through art

On these films festival director Mitch Harrod shared “We could not be more proud as a festival to present such essential pieces of film as this; ones that bolster our ethos in the power, catharsis and community that horror filmmaking and films can create. Both THE JESSICA CABIN and WHAT IS BURIED MUST REMAIN are perfect examples and champions of this very philosophy; but these are just 2 of over 25 incredible and diverse films that we will be presenting as part of our hybrid festival this year. Your nightmares are due a system update, and we’ve got you covered this November”

The full line-up of films will be revealed on Tuesday the 1st of October and more information, as well as contact details, submissions, ticketing, and volunteer opportunities can be found at www.sohohorrorfest.com. Limited early bird festival passes are on sale now.

North Bend Film Fest 2022: Next Exit

A beautiful exploration of accountability, belief and connection.

Synopsis: The world changes in a flash when a scientist shockingly claims she’s able to track consciousness after death hence proving the existence of an afterlife. Rose and Teddy, two deeply tormented strangers on their way to join this new study, cross paths and reluctantly agree to travel together cross-country. The journey to voluntarily end their lives proves not to be such an easy exit plan as they’re haunted both literally and figuratively by the ghosts of their pasts.

It is a well-worn fact that I will cry at a film at least once at every film festival I attend. Next Exit is a deeply emotional journey, taken with flawed but immensely charming characters and immense control over the material that could easily slip into something mawkish in the wrong hands. As a feature debut for director and writer Mali Elfman it suggests a promising future with a confident use of genre elements to tell a touching story. As a sufferer of depression, the condition can often make you feel like a passenger in your own life, so the use of a literal journey within the film perfectly echoes not only that personal experience but also unpacking of the film’s themes of accountability and taking control.

Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli) are two people who are dissatisfied with their lives. Estranged from family and friends, they both seem to have found an answer to their dissatisfaction with life in the need for Dr. Stevensen’s (Karen Gillan) call for volunteers to assist in further study. A travel mix-up results in the pair sharing a car to the facility. Throughout the journey, the pair begin to unpick their differences and similarities in approaches to life (and death).

As the synopsis suggests, this is not a film that is going all out to scare, placing the focus on the relationship between the characters as they progress on their journey, both with one another and the others they encounter. Whether speaking to strangers or revisiting figures from their pasts, those conversations are woven into both characters’ individual reckonings as well as the way they relate to one another.

The setup is an excellent one, delivered simply and effectively via video footage of a young boy sitting to play a game with his deceased father. That search for connection to an afterlife and an ability to reconnect with those who have passed is an understandably seductive concept. However, the film posits that such a discovery would also unearth panic and a crisis of faith amongst the wider population. Much of this discussion is background noise within the film, with Dr Stevensen appearing via brief talk show clips to discuss the findings and debate around ‘the right to die’. Taking the journey with two people who have already made up their minds about their decision allows the film to focus on their characters and their humanity, rather than more broad ethical concerns.

Katie Parker and Rahul Kohli are excellent as co-leads and their chemistry is undoubtedly a highlight. Parker is captivating as a woman so outwardly furious at herself and the world around her but is also able to capture the fragility underneath. A particular scene is utterly heartbreaking for the way she is able to shift between these states in a way that perfectly illustrates how she has lived her life. The impact on others of her self-destructive cycles is evident and the pain is palpable. From a starting point of wise-cracking and excellent comic timing from Kohli, Teddy too evolves into showcasing his own troubles in ways that tug at the heartstrings. Each revelation feels messy and more importantly, human.

While Next Exit does involve some creepy imagery and well-staged moments that capture a sense of dread, this is not the focal point of the film. If you are looking for scares and a traditional ‘ghost story’ you won’t find it here. In fact, it is arguably the scene that leans most into genre elements that worked the least for me. For all the subtlety the rest of the film possesses a sudden, more literal take does somewhat jar.

Next Exit is one of those uniquely touching films that handles an immensely sensitive subject with care, insight and empathy.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars

Next Exit played as part of the North Bend Film Fest 2022.

North Bend Film Fest 2022: Swallowed

A tense, harrowing and deeply character-driven study that plays out like a nightmare.

Synopsis: Follows two best friends on their final night together, with a nightmare of drugs, bugs, and horrific intimacy.

Friends Benjamin (Cooper Koch) and Dom (Jose Colon) are enjoying one last night together before Benjamin leaves to start his porn career in Los Angeles. In an attempt to secure some last-minute funding Dom agrees to a one-off drug deal that he hopes will set Benjamin on the right course in his new life. However, when the terms of the deal are revealed it soon transpires that the pair are at far more risk than they ever imagined.

Despite the tension that Swallowed maintains throughout, whether that comes from the ticking clock of the drug cargo or the behaviour of characters, it still retains a deeply emotional thread, never allowing you to separate the characters from their situation. The narrative calls for graphic content at times, but this doesn’t feel gratuitous, even without shying away from intimate details. What is shown is arguably not as powerful as the descriptions given in dialogue, delivering on details and effects that would be almost impossible to show, yet add so much to the horror.

This is an openly queer story, with the central relationship evolving throughout the film in a way that feels organic and earned. Both Koch and Colon have an immense charm that carries those interactions smoothly, anchoring their care for one another. An encounter in a public bathroom in which a slur is levelled at them prompts one of the film’s most open reckonings with their experiences. Benjamin’s idealised view of a totally accepting LA in which he is free from prejudice is ruptured by Dom’s reply that “guys like that live everywhere”. That Benjamin’s escape may not be the escape he is seeking is understandably placed under the microscope by his ordeal and it is through the course of the film that his ability to face up to ugly realities is repeatedly challenged.

With the leads producing two excellent performances it would be easy for the supporting cast to be overshadowed. However, Jena Malone is pitch perfect as Alice with her ability to switch between hyper-focused and intense while also allowing slips of humanity. Mark Patton bursts into the film as Rich, leaving a mark almost instantly. The extremes of his performance are genuinely difficult to watch at times, with rage seemingly constantly at risk of boiling over. The ebb and flow of intensity never gives way entirely, leaving the whole film with a deep sense of unease that holds the viewer in its grip.

Outside of this, that connection to the characters continues to pay off and it is to the film’s credit that it is able to keep the unpleasantness as well as providing distinctly beautiful, affecting moments. As a result, the pacing is near-perfect, never allowing a moment to relax while still providing space for the characters and scenario to take on wider meaning and explore those themes. Writer-director Carter Smith has precise control at all times and that results in the narrative becoming all the more impactful.

Swallowed is a powerful and uneasy film with an incredible energy that does not let up throughout the run time.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Swallowed played as part of the North Bend Film Fest 2022.

North Bend Film Fest 2022

The North Bend Film Fest returns for 2022 from August 4th – 7th, bringing independent shorts and features that highlight both established and emerging creatives.

I was lucky enough to cover last year’s festival and am thrilled to be doing so again. You’ll be able to see reviews from the festival soon. You can find these posts by searching North Bend. Many of the short films made it into my favourite short films of 2021 with a huge variety of genre and genre-adjacent material available, from the impactful stop-motion The Expected to deeply scary podcast horror Skinner 1929.

The horror shorts advertised for this year include Baby Fever, Black Dragon, Bug Bites, Darker, Death in a Box, Scooter and They See You. Featuring some truly evocative imagery, these films represent a wealth of short film talent and celebrate the art form.

2021’s event brought fast-paced action in the form of Tailgate and a more introspective, quirky look at relationships between sisters in Superior. This year’s event is no different, offering several Centerpiece screenings, including Rahul Kohli-starring Next Exit and tense horror Swallowed. In addition, Next Exit Mali Elfman director will be awarded the Dulac Vanguard Filmmaker Award as recognition for her feature debut.

From opening film I Love My Dad to closing film Please Baby Please, plus an anniversary screening of Bubba Ho-Tep, North Bend truly has something for everyone. You can check out the Film Guide to attend if you are in North Bend and stay tuned to their social media channels for news and events.

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Family Dinner

An exercise in tension that goes far beyond the realm of awkward dinner conversation.

Synopsis: An overweight teenager spends the holidays at her aunt’s farm in the hope of getting help to lose weight, but soon after her arrival, she begins to suspect that something is very wrong at this place.

Simi (Nina Katlein) is a teenager struggling with her weight. Despite assurances from her mother that she is beautiful, her body image is at a low. Desperate to make a change, she turns to her Aunt Claudia (Pia Hierzegger), who has retained contact with the teenager despite being divorced from Simi’s uncle. The atmosphere in Claudia’s home is tense as Easter approaches with Simi alternating between feeling welcomed and pushed away by the troubled family unit.

Positioning an overweight teenager at the centre of this story allows the film to explore something relatively underexplored within the genre. As Hannah Ogilvie of Ghouls Magazine writes, ‘fat bodies in horror tend to be expendable as ‘deserved’ victims or to provide another level of repulsion to an antagonist’. Also in that article, you will find citations for evidence that those who are overweight suffer from delayed or inappropriate medical care and even stand to earn less money due to discrimination. In placing Simi front and centre in the story, it bucks the trend to some degree while also exploring why Simi wants to make changes. While the resulting film doesn’t have solutions, it is at least more balanced than a lot of representation.

The use of only four central characters means every performer has a significant impact and thankfully there are no weak links here as all are required to portray characters with an element of secrecy. Nina Katlein is excellent as Simi, managing to capture the duelling sides of her personality as she negotiates with the escalating tension at the house with her personal goals. Hierzegger’s Claudia is by turns nurturing, but this comes with a strict edge. Stefan’s (Michael Pink) lack of patience with often sullen stepson Filipp (Alexander Sladek) is held in contrast to his response to Simi – a frequently more forgiving presence but capable of considerable anger. The small cast makes this feel even more claustrophobic and allows those nuances in behaviour to be explored more efficiently. Pink has the necessary intensity for his role and Sladek too gives Filipp an appropriately terse and troubled manner.

There is a lot seeded throughout the film and unfortunately, not all of this develops in an entirely satisfying way. Some scenes work well with early scenes echoed by the climax but the small setting renders this lacking in spectacle. The push-pull nature of the characters and their unfolding secrets contributes to this. Originally effective and offering a sense of intrigue, those shifts soon create a distance between viewer and character that becomes difficult to overcome. This is a film with a surface theme that many will find challenging, with the swings from acceptance to rejection and what people will do to achieve that acceptance playing out in an unsettling way.

Still, there are technical touches that impress, with slick, inventive editing in one sequence a notable and effective way of handling the material. The need to recall previous scenes is also handled skillfully. The sound design too, impresses, with the grumbles and gurgles from Simi’s stomach as she faces Claudia’s regime. These clash with the sights and sounds of elaborate meals being prepared, enhancing Claudia’s cruelty. Every difficulty that Simi faces in her diet is met with an affirmation about how ‘worth it’ the results will be, calling to mind the kind of eating disorder aligned ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ mantras that are so insidious. Alongside this, there is a healthy helping of folk and religious horror here and the two never quite worked for me as one cohesive story. That feeling of two films in one does, however, align with the duality of all characters involved so I’m willing to accept that this is intentional, rather than being overstuffed and undercooked.

While the pace is undoubtedly impacted negatively at times by the desire to explore the grey areas, it is also the thing that most stands out about the film. A compelling, if lacking in focus, entry into the ongoing exploration of the relationship between horror, food and societal expectations.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

Family Dinner received its World Premiere at Tribeca. Further screenings are scheduled. The film is currently seeking distribution.