Final Girls Berlin Film Festival: Body Horror

Fear of the body, what it can do to you and what it can become is, understandably, a major preoccupation in horror. The Body Horror shorts block explores those fears in a selection of films that take that fear to extremes.

In The Flesh

Tracey has spent enough time masturbating with the assistance of her bath tap that she has started to take notes. Those notes are seen early on, reflecting how much of her time and other life, including work, is being taken up by her hobby. One plumbing disaster later and Tracey is forced to confront the reality behind her odd situation. Many reviews have made comparisons to the leaking fluid from Titane, which is understandable in some ways, although In The Flesh is a more individualistic tale, with Tracey’s state of mind at the centre. Her anxiety spiral, demonstrated by cuts to increasingly unhinged Google search results keeps us with her throughout the runtime, an effect that allows the rest of the film to stretch into other areas and fully bring this story together. The physical and emotional are interlinked in a way perfectly expressed by the film’s take on body horror, resulting in a pretty powerful message.

Violet Daze

Violet and Daisy’s long-time friendship is established early on within Violet Daze and the tension from their changing friendship resulting from a move is central. Daisy is keen to point out that they aren’t 8 years old anymore, but Violet is set on reaffirming their friendship, no matter the cost. This is such a skilful short in that it telegraphs its direction from the outset, yet manages to retain the tension, embracing the inevitability as another layer of horror. Director Marisa Martin drip-feeds the viewer, each moment laden with meaning and increasing dread. Bonnie Ferguson as Violet and Emma Horn as Daisy both portray their roles excellently, crucial when so much rests on their interactions.

Shlop

One of the block’s shortest films is Shlop, coming in at just over two minutes long. If body horror is about finding fear and revulsion in the body, this certainly taps into that, offering ultra close-ups full of movement and squelching. Deliberately difficult to pin down, this denies narrative in favour of feeling and the drive to evoke discomfort.

First Blood

A first period is a stepping stone in many coming-of-age horrors and First Blood functions as a particularly good example. Rather than feeling revulsion or unhappiness at her first period, Mia (Lauryn Sa) instead greets it with a muted, yet prepared response. That initial flatness soon wears off, however, as she finds herself increasingly curious about the process. Mixing music video aesthetics with provocative visuals that Lauryn Sa fully commits to this exploration of awakening female hunger really leaves an impression.

Swallow

On a purely personal level, this film was probably the most difficult for me to watch, such is the effectiveness of what it serves up. After a tense dinner, a self-absorbed actress is invited by another woman to a mysterious club to discuss the secrets of her continued success. The sumptuous visuals draw you in before switching to ever more skin-crawlingly effective imagery. However, it is the dark playfulness of the short that keeps you engaged, toying with punchlines and upping the suspense all the way through.

Love is a Fire

Intimacy issues and a particularly vicious yeast infection present an obstacle for the couple at the centre of Love is a Fire. The couple are presented as struggling with their physical relationship, pitching Olivia’s (Celina Bernstein) desperate attempt to connect against Andrew’s (Kenny Yates) reluctance. In many films exploring the dynamic of a struggling couple, female desire is often sidelined, so it is refreshing to see it front and centre here, even when deriving horror from it. This would perhaps benefit from being slightly longer to more fully explore the couple, although both performers do well to sell their relationship in a short space of time, a little more about them would assist. However, it is the memorable effects that you’ll likely take away with you – like it or not…

Legs

Pregnancy is pretty high on the list of body horror explorations, and for good reason. It is still one of the statistically most dangerous things for a person to do, even with good medical care, so what better phenomenon to mine than that? Joy and her husband are attempting to have a baby and the process is wearing. When Joy accidentally swallows a spider, she thinks there may be another way to be a mother. By mostly adopting the bright colours and peppy soundtrack of something much lighter, Legs gradually dials up the horror until a conclusion that is genuinely unsettling.

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

Something In The Dirt

The cult of Benson and Moorhead deepens with their latest feature which manages to explore fascinating phenomena through a rather more intimate, restricted setting.

Synopsis: When neighbors John and Levi witness supernatural events in their Los Angeles apartment building, they realize documenting the paranormal could inject some fame and fortune into their wasted lives. An ever-deeper, darker rabbit hole, their friendship frays as they uncover the dangers of the phenomena, the city and each other.

Across their previous work, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have established a knack for bringing engaging characters to the screen, foregrounding those relationships as an anchor for their explorations of sci-fi concepts. Something In The Dirt continues that preoccupation with intense male friendships while also adding a detailed, sinister, and, at times, playful, exploration of conspiracy thinking.

A meeting between divorcé John (Aaron Moorhead) and drifting barman Levi (Justin Benson) soon transforms into a folie à deux relationship of mutual manipulation and a desperate search for meaning after the discovery of strange phenomena in Levi’s new apartment. Moorhead and Benson are no strangers to acting opposite one another, allowing them to centre that chemistry, bringing a likeability to both characters even when playing with evolving audience perceptions of them. While films like Resolution, The Endless and Synchronic all focus on long-term relationships and the baggage that comes with them, Something In The Dirt finds tension in the new, unpredictable partnership they find themselves in.

The production design is excellent, bringing to life the apartment where the pair spend the bulk of their time. Much is made of the escalating heat within the space, with the walls seeming to sweat and buckle under it. There is an initial simplicity to the phenomena that aids the development too – too much too soon and the believability of the scenario is lost so the initial visual hook proves essential for providing that first spark. This attention to detail delivers further when the pair venture outside in search of further clues with symbols, shapes, and even references to their previous work (most specifically The Endless) appearing. The entire design places the viewer in the same space as Levi and John, challenging them to find the same clues (or even different ones) to the two men. Despite being a pandemic project, there is very little mention of those circumstances, with Levi and John isolated not by any outside restrictions but by their own directions in life. Both are defined, to some degree, by their loss of connection to those around them.

Los Angeles also plays a crucial role in the film in terms of how it can be demonised or romanticised as ‘LA Magic’. Levi’s video of a coyote wandering near the apartment operates as a moment of quiet beauty and danger simultaneously. Recent conspiracy thriller The Scary of Sixty-First used New York to the same effect, making the city an integral part of the mood and tone of the film in their contrasts between festive advertising and buildings adorned with gargoyles. The relative anonymity of a big city makes the connection between two people who appear to share the same vision a rather more seductive one and that sense of being lost to the conspiracy as an escape from an otherwise disappointing reality is one that is impossible to ignore. However you choose to interpret the film’s reality of ‘what actually happened’ that thread remains. From the outset, the seemingly constant noisy hum, heat and movement of LA is foregrounded with wildfires, earthquakes and low-flying planes all a quietly accepted part of life.

In terms of the references to their other work, it feels important to note that previous knowledge is not essential and elements like a photograph, film poster, or beer advertisement will strike a chord with fans without disrupting the experience for unfamiliar viewers. More rewarding for fans of their previous work is that this feels like a culmination of the pair’s aesthetic and thematic interests. The addition of ‘meta’ elements like the documentary footage wraparound, clips of their own home movies and dramatically elevated reconstructions make Something In The Dirt a film constantly on the move and constantly challenging the viewer to keep up with the thought processes of the central duo. The performances are excellent, with Benson’s rather more sensitive portrayal of Levi pitched against Moorhead’s more intense John to frequently disquieting effect. The talking heads in the documentary portions are convincing too, perfectly adopting the accepted tone of the documentary being pulled together.

Matryoshka dolls that feature as part of a wind chime outside the apartment appear at distinct moments throughout the film as it explores its layers. This is rarely a linear film, especially with the segues to different formats but it somehow finds cohesion in this scattering. Like John and Levi, the viewer becomes free to start imprinting their own meanings and conclusions onto the film, taking up only the threads that resonate.

An entirely magnetic and absorbing work that invites and rewards repeat viewings, Something In The Dirt is a film content to go at its own pace and truly indulges in the strangeness and human nature it wishes to explore.

5 out of 5 stars

5 out of 5 stars

Lightbulb Film Distribution release Something in the Dirt in select cinemas on November 4th. Find the list of cinemas here.

Fantastic Fest 2022: Lynch/Oz

Alexandre O. Philippe continues to deliver absorbing studies of his subjects, accompanied by a host of creatives.

Synopsis: Victor Fleming’s film The Wizard of Oz (1939) is one of David Lynch’s most enduring obsessions. This documentary goes over the rainbow to explore this Technicolor through-line in Lynch’s work.

If you are familiar with Alexandre O. Philippe documentaries, Lynch/Oz will be unlikely to surprise you. This does not buck the trend of engaging, aborbing, video-essay style explorations that are focused on how the smaller moments come to build a much bigger picture. This time the focus is on the collision of two seemingly distinct types of media: the classic film The Wizard of Oz and the films of David Lynch. Lynch, the film posits, has been inspired by Oz more than anything else and the threads are there to unpick in all of his work.

The documentary is divided into sections, each narrated by a creative with their own specific interest to highlight. Rodney Ascher, himself no stranger to the obsessive detail that documentary can bring following his own Room 237, takes on the ‘Oz narrative’, doubles and the ‘fish out of water’ character that has come to influence Lynch so heavily in Membranes. John Waters explores his and Lynch’s love-hate relationships with villains and the 1950s as well as their personal interactions in Kindred.

Elsewhere, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson dig into Lynch’s playfulness as a ‘populist surrealist’ and the way he plays with American myth and collective fetish in Judy. Amy Nicholson too, draws attention to the moments where a film ‘looks at’ an audience, inviting them on the rest of the journey in Wind. The film finds perhaps its central thesis in Karyn Kusama’s section, Multitudes, in which Lynch is directly quoted as saying, ‘there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the Wizard of Oz‘. Drawn together neatly David Lowery’s final section, Dig, focused on journeys and transportation finds space to discuss the wider impact of artistic influences.

The variety of contributors, whether they know Lynch personally or are inspired by his work adds a great deal to the documentary. Lynch’s many years of work can, at first, seem sprawling and difficult to connect beyond a few of his well-discussed tropes. However, as the film progresses, like the colour arriving as Dorothy enters Oz, more and more light is shed upon those influences, the lens of Oz offering a magical view of Lynch as a prominent American film-maker with much to say, often working in a system that finds his work knotty and difficult to unpick.

The voiceover work is clear, with carefully selected clips keeping a steady rhythm, allowing each contributor the chance to highlight their view. Some will undoubtedly find this slow in places, but it would be more accurate to say unhurried and keen to dwell on those moments. This allows those influences to become ever-clearer, strengthening each section as they come to build on one another.

An often hypnotic journey through the origins of what is now commonly known as Lynchian, this celebrates both Oz as a film and a cultural institution, responsible for providing the building blocks for some of the most engaging American film-making of the last few decades. An absolute must for David Lynch fans.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

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

Fantastic Fest 2022: Nothing (Intet)

A tumultuous coming-of-age tale that indulges the darkness under the surface of a ‘perfect town’.

Synopsis: A group of 8th graders who confront the meaningless of life and leave behind the innocence of childhood.

There are two distinct worlds established at the outset of Nothing – the outward-facing, rule-observant idealistic one, full of parents who want their children to be guided in the right direction and the one beneath that image, of children left alone to fill their time, resulting in the group starting to explore their own directions and meanings in life.

Writer-director Trine Piil Christensen, adapting from Janne Teller’s novel situates herself firmly in the world occupied by the children, keenly aware of the adult’s indiscretions and relative lack of interest. The film’s inciting incident in which school boy Pierre Anthon (Harald Kaiser Hermann) has an outburst at school, declaring everything meaningless, before retreating to the safety of a nearby tree and refusing to come back down is an unusual one, seemingly purposely chosen to showcase the ineffectual parenting surrounding them. The rest of the children begin to mount a campaign to show him what they find meaningful, but Pierre Anthon’s existential crisis soon sets in motion an epidemic of nihilistic thinking amongst the group.

Much of the early parts of the film rely heavily on a voiceover from Agnes (Vivelill Søgaard Holm) who calmly intones about tragedies yet to unfold. At times, this feels like too much of a shortcut, with much of what we know about the characters delivered through that voiceover, rather than in more organic ways. This does occasionally feel clumsy, introducing snippets of exposition just before dramatic events without allowing the viewer to understand entirely. However, given that this film is largely concerned with the troubles of meaning (or lack of meaning) this does function on another level, prompting the audience to view each incident through both Agnes’ meaning and what plays out in front of them.

The sedate pacing too, imbues the film with the same impression the audience is given of the children’s lives. These are children with lots of time to spend together and they struggle to fill that time. Even those who are given parental figures with more status or involvement, like Frederik (Frederic Linde-Fleron), the head teacher’s son, are only viewed fleetingly, based on the ideas the group have about them. This, again, is assisted by the voiceover but the need for it to do quite so much of the heavy lifting in building that world sometimes bristles. This, along with a swerve into an odd direction during the third act that is not quite given the time it requires, hints at a sense that this would perhaps sit more comfortably in a much longer, episodic format.

This is, perhaps obviously, given the subject matter, an incredibly dark film, especially with so many younger performers involved. These dark moments are handled with an appropriate sense of dread and while many of the scenarios could easily stray into the exploitative (and may well overstep that line for some), there is an impressive amount of restraint employed, holding back so the moments that are fully revealed to the audience hit all the harder. The escalating trades the children begin to make in their search for meaning grow steadily darker and the young cast are all excellent at conveying their sways from innocence, to sadistic behaviour, all with a sense of insecurity at the heart of it. Maya Louise Skipper Gonzales is a standout as Sofie, taking a role that could easily become cliche and making it compelling.

While Speak No Evil may be the Danish horror that has everyone talking this year, Nothing also offers that very European darkness and unsettling themes that linger beyond the credits.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

Nothing 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.

Orphan: First Kill

A wildly entertaining prequel befitting the return of Esther to the big screen.

Synopsis: After orchestrating a brilliant escape from an Estonian psychiatric facility, Esther travels to America by impersonating the missing daughter of a wealthy family.

Crafting a prequel to 2009’s Orphan presents a daunting task. So much of the original film’s tension and perhaps more importantly, discomfort, rests on the perception of Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) being a child and how at odds her behaviour is as a result. Any prequel has a challenge in building to what is, essentially, a foregone conclusion so trying to surprise the viewer becomes difficult. Impressively, First Kill builds upon the campier, trashier elements of the original managing to wring further tension from the narrative.

Part of this is down to impressive pacing, with an opening 15-minutes that manages to introduce a reminder of Esther’s unique condition while also swiftly kicking off some action. As Esther tries to find her footing in the wealthy Albright family the pace is kept buoyant by a steady stream of knowing dialogue and set pieces that are, at least for me, exactly what you want from this kind of story. The initial presentation of the Albright family, made up of Tricia (Julia Stiles), Allen (Rossif Sutherland) and son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) highlights their wealth and status in Connecticut. This is by no means an incisive tearing down of the American class system, but the representation of that kind of family is an element the film has a lot of fun with.

A couple of the technical and CGI elements are a little unconvincing. The multiple methods used to de-age Fuhrman are jarring at times, particularly where the child stand-ins are most obvious in wide shots. This was relatively easy for me to overlook with the amount of fun to be had elsewhere. However, I can imagine that if the film hasn’t won you over by that point that those elements may become more distracting. First Kill is not only an echo of Orphan, genuinely presenting a take on the character that feels engaging.

For the most part, performance-wise, the film belongs once again to Isabelle Fuhrman, returning to the part after a long absence, but seemingly slipping into it with ease. Her take is different here, largely led by no longer having to conceal the depths of her character and so she is able to swap between the child-like presentation and more overt horror character more swiftly than in the original. Elsewhere, Julia Stiles brings buckets of charisma to her role, juggling the role of adoring mother while also becoming ever more skeptical of Esther’s unusual behaviour. The performances, particularly in the latter part of the film are a true highlight as the film really comes into its own.

Orphan: First Kill is not without flaws, but the overall impression is one of a fun horror that builds on a compelling character in a way destined to be a crowd-pleaser – trashy in the best possible way.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Signature Entertainment presents Orphan: First Kill exclusively in Cinemas from 19th August

Camping Trip

A host of interesting stylistic choices can’t sell this muddled horror.

Synopsis: In the summer of 2020, two couples decide to go on a COVID era camping trip after months of being in lockdown. The freedom of nature and the company of their best friends offer the group a rare sense of normality, but though secluded, they’re not alone. Nearby, during a botched drop off, two goons decide to go rogue; inadvertently, implicating the campers. What started as a fun-filled vacation quickly turns into a test of loyalty and survival. Suddenly the pandemic is the least of their worries.

Ace (Alex Gravenstein), Coco (Hannah Forest Briand), Enzo (Leonardo Fuica) and Polly (Caitlin Cameron) are two couples, heading into the wilderness for a much-needed catch-up after they have been separated by the pandemic. As ever, in the horror genre, their trip does not go as planned, throwing them into a dire situation.

Camping Trip will immediately split viewers, depending on the individual capacity for mentions of Covid (including the now very unnatural sounding use of Covid-19 which outside of medical briefings has largely disappeared from conversational use). Each reference that the script makes feels clumsy, so focused on positioning itself within a time and place that it almost forgets to weave it into normal conversation. The virus is a recurring theme and driving force within the film, taking on various functions as the film progresses. Whereas some pandemic films use the situation as a means to explore loneliness or the need for connection, this keeps returning to a far more literal take.

The film itself was shot in 2020 with strict health and safety measures in place, so it is likely that the use of this language and the preoccupation with it is largely due to the proximity to the initial wave. It does present the risk of filmmaking so reliant on a specific time, however, as it ages rather quickly. Other productions tend to offer little in terms of actually naming the pandemic, or avoid it entirely, so this complete focus does jar somewhat.

There is a relatively simple story throughout the film, although this is clouded by lengthy sequences (almost always featuring time-lapse photography) that linger, rather than add to either plot or tone. It has the effect of making it feel much longer than it is for the story to be told. Character decisions and motivations do not hold up to any scrutiny, resulting in times when the film is almost directionless. The slower opening that takes time to introduce the characters and their dynamics is solid and it is a shame this isn’t felt more keenly throughout.

The third act, in particular, feels like a vast departure from the rest and unfortunately ends up leaning into some tired tropes, including the threat of sexual violence as shorthand for villainy. That sense of it being ‘thrown in’ for that effect quickly sours. That last act, however, does feature some of the film’s more interesting choices, opting for a revolving camera to punctuate its sudden burst of action. In doing so, directors Demian and Leonardo Fuica manage to make the most of their effects in addition to adding a sense of chaos to proceedings. With numerous scenes feeling somewhat static, the use of this device does assist in adding drama.

Overall, Camping Trip is perhaps best viewed as an example of the kind of filmmaking that comes from restrictions. Despite the flaws, it exists as a display of how filmmakers can react to world events and capture those moments.

2 out of 5 stars

2 out of 5 stars

Camping Trip will be available on Digital Download from 16th August and available to pre-order here.

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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Quiet Hours

A spirited short that pays homage to teen Summer slashers with energy and heart.

Synopsis: A group of friends just want to have a fun night, but someone knows what they did last summer.

The legacy of the 90s/early 2000s teen slasher and numerous franchise opportunities is writ large across the horror genre. It is no surprise then that their ‘whodunnit’ format has continued to inspire new horror filmmakers. Quiet Hours feels indebted to the genre and despite limited means manages to effectively evoke many of the elements that appeal to those fans.

Named for the ‘quiet hours’ of a holiday rental that the friends attend, the film focuses on a dangerous secret between a small friendship group after a night of fun turns into something far more sinister.

From the film’s opening inciting incident that debt to that era of slasher is evident, mixing the kind of upbeat, peppy soundtrack with location-establishing drone shots as the friends return to the house. Given the budgetary constraints, the film does an excellent job at investing in the unique, confined situation, skilfully utilising montage sequences to add a sense of scale and passage of time within the sub-30 minute run time.

The length of the work does hinder some elements, mainly around the development of characters. The need for more of a connection to and understanding of them would likely add more emotional weight to proceedings. The need to capture the history and connection of characters does end up requiring a considerable amount of exposition that does slow the pace. Still, it manages to hit many appropriate dramatic notes and well-tuned horror moments to hint at a lot of promise.

Managing specific references that will land with and entertain fans of the genre while also representing its own brand of queer-lensed, DIY aesthetic horror, Quiet Hours will be making festival appearances from August 2022. The first screenings have been announced:

8/21 – 1 pm @ The Guild Cinema – Albuquerque, NM

8/26-27 – 6 & 8 pm @ Cinemaestudios – El Paso, TX

8/28 – 5 pm @ The Fountain Theatre – Mesilla, NM

Playdurizm

Heady, stylish surface visuals hide a sinister secret in this arresting work.

Synopsis: When a teenager finds himself caught in a glitchy-glitzy reality with his onscreen male idol, he does all he can to be possessed by this man and ignore the violent clues of how he got there.

I was lucky enough to first see Playdurizm when it was screened as part of SoHo Horror Film Festival’s Pride edition in 2021. Playdurizm is emblematic of the kind of content of the festival, bringing attention to daring, sometimes experimental films that demand attention. Director (also co-writer and star) Gem Deger has crafted a neon-soaked, pop-art world with pulpy action film influences and a self-contained psychological thriller. If that sounds like a lot, then that makes it an accurate reflection of the film itself. Despite these seemingly disparate elements, as a final product, Playdurizm feels like a cohesive unit.

Demir (Gem Deger) awakes in an unknown location with no memory of how he arrived there or who the people he is around are. Andrew (Austin Chunn) and Drew (Issy Stewart) are an unconventional couple whose impulses around drugs, sex and taboo are instantly brought to the fore. As Demir tries to piece together how he came to be in the house with them he begins to explore his own identity and past as a host of unusual characters engage with him in this otherworldly space..

Aside from the film’s meticulous design and arty non-sequiturs, the real charm is in the performances. Even in a smaller role, Issy Stewart as Drew delivers her barbed one-liners with relish, really selling the campy, melodramatic quality, but finding a heart within that. Chunn too excels as Andrew, needing to balance the excesses of his character, an alternate reality in which he is a movie star in addition to his more sober interactions with Demir. It is, however, Deger’s film, with his at first perhaps oddly pitched performance transforming into an incredibly powerful one. His ability to portray an aching vulnerability in melodramatic lines like, ‘I feel like a manufacturing defect every time I look at you’, perfectly captures Demir as someone in flux or a state of becoming.

A side plot involving an external threat to Demir and Andrew’s burgeoning relationship is home to the film’s few slight missteps, drawing the action and focus away from them. While it does, undoubtedly, have a pay-off, these moments sag the pace to some degree. Alongside the frequently irreverent dialogue and segues into outright strangeness lies a reflexive film with a keen connection to other media, including film and art. For all the exuberant design it is the darker moments where the film’s true power lies. As the film begins to fold in on itself it makes its references to the likes of Videodrome more explicit, evoking the connections between porous media, film escapism and physical transformation.

The film starts with references to Francis Bacon quotations that ‘we are meat, we are potential carcasses’ and that connection to (and more importantly, separation from) physical reality bleeds through the entire film. While the film undoubtedly heads in a thunderously dark direction, it comes to a conclusion that finds beauty and healing outside of that darkness. That Playdurizm is able to conjure both the high-energy, schlocky style with the deeply moving makes it an utterly unique production.

Fiercely original, even when homaging some of the horror genre’s biggest hitters, Playdurizm stands out as a unique, affecting experience that deserves to be seen.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Playdurizm is currently available for rent and purchase on Amazon Prime Video, GooglePlay, Youtube Movies, iTunes (Apple TV), Vudu (Fandango) and Kino Now (Kino Lorber’s VOD platform), plus on Blu-ray and DVD in the USA. It is also available in Canada on Google Play, Youtube Movies and iTunes (Apple TV).