The Retaliators

Morality and metal music underpins this revenge horror.

Synopsis: An upstanding pastor uncovers a dark and twisted underworld as he searches for answers surrounding his daughter’s brutal murder.

Pastor Bishop (Michael Lombardi – also co-directing) is having something of an identity crisis. His church sermons are popular, drawing crowds due to his preaching of life lessons and including musical performances. He turns his easygoing nature and reluctance to challenge aggression around him into teachable moments for his followers but increasingly his daughters are questioning him, challenging him on his risk-aversion. In an attempt to loosen the reins on oldest daughter Sarah (Katie Kelly) he allows her to borrow the car to attend a Christmas party, setting in place a sequence of events that sees the teenager brutally murdered. Reeling from the loss, Bishop is drawn further into the murky side of the area, confronting violence, drugs and the seductive power of revenge.

On the surface (especially from the excellent poster art) it would be easy to assume that The Retaliators will offer an all-out, pulpy revenge film but the end result is actually more complex. The timeline moves around, offering an opening scene that returns with greater meaning and relevance much later in the narrative. These time shifts are furthered by a shift to different characters and a dedication to world-building. The move away from Bishop’s pristine, brightly-lit domestic space to the gloomy underground spaces really sets out well the darkness hiding just under the surface. Despite the focus on energetic, metal music throughout, this is a far more moody film than initial appearances suggest.

This creation of mood does take time, however, and there is an imbalance in how the film unravels. Placing some scenes out of sequence and spinning them off into different character concerns leaves the film with a dip in which nothing appears to connect for almost too long. Despite the satisfaction gained when everything does click into place, this does occasionally make it feel directionless. It does allow you to gain a greater understanding of the characters, with Bishop’s reckoning with his morality called into question by Jed (Marc Menchaca) a detective fighting his own demons. The time afforded to their positions is well-earned, while some of the underground scenes distract from that for a little too long.

Dynamic camera work comes into effect for later action scenes and the gore on offer is well-realised. Violence is given an impact, for the most part, allowing the time and space for the viewer to feel the hits as they land. As the film progresses into gorier territory that fades somewhat, allowing a little more inventiveness and even fun with its set pieces. With such a long time afforded to build the texture and detail of the area and characters this almost feels like a different kind of film, bringing a lot of energy late on. This is a film that wants to pursue both the lure of violence and the morality of revenge, both elements that do not always sit comfortably together.

Musical performers being involved in films can often seem like gimmick casting but The Retaliators weaves its cast well. If you are familiar with performers like Jacoby Shaddix, Spencer Charnas and Ivan Moody then you’ll recognise them and there is fun to be had in that recognition, but it isn’t essential. The soundtrack is obviously influenced by this, but it never feels like stunt or gimmick casting. Shaddix in particular holds his own as the deeply disturbed Quinn Brady.

If you like a decent helping of blood and angst in your Christmas horror films, you’ll find much to like here. Moody and pulpy by turns, The Retaliators makes for an uneven yet enjoyable ride.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Retaliators will be in Cinemas worldwide from 14th September. Tickets are on sale now at https://www.retaliatorsmovie.com

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: 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.

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).

Master

An impressive and harrowing portrayal of two Black women struggling within the confines of a prestigious school with a dark secret.

Synopsis: Two African American women begin to share disturbing experiences at a predominantly white college in New England.

Gail (Regina Hall) has been promoted to Master of Ancaster College – a prestigious University that has long struggled with diversity. Her appointment is one that the school is keen to publicise, as is the tenure track of Liv (Amber Gray). That the pair have experienced success is held as an example of the school’s changing attitudes. However, when Jasmine (Zoe Renee) joins the school she immediately faces microaggressions and overt discrimination. This, coupled with a story about a haunting at the school, threatens Jasmine’s peace of mind.

The most impressive element of Mariama Diallo’s film (her feature debut, no less) is that it uses Jasmine’s sleepwalking condition as a way to destabilise every moment, seamlessly integrating reality and dream-like sequences. The cumulative effect is disarming, throwing the viewer into that space with the characters. Seemingly normal situations transform into sinister set pieces within the blink of an eye, benign interactions become probing interrogations or other acts of aggression, reflecting the experiences of the women navigating this often unwelcoming space. The flow between states is as absorbing as it is confronting, trading on quieter, creepier moments as opposed to sudden jolts. Nightmarish visions emerge bathed in red light, signifying the shift after it has occurred.

The set design is to be commended, with the school and particularly the Master’s house all embedded with a sense of history and threat. Dusty paintings and archaic elements of the house all carry considerable weight as Gail explores her new surroundings. Even in the more modern areas of the school, the weight of expectation surrounds the characters, providing reminders that they are in a minority. Intrusions from the institution’s glossy, diverse advertising campaign cut through to maximum effect, the bright photography in stark contrast to the unwelcoming rooms and tense gatherings the rest of the film shows. Carefully straddling the line between the supernatural and genuine headline-grabbing news stories, the command over the material is seriously impressive.

White characters compare the women to existing popular and accomplished Black notable names, from Barack Obama to Beyonce, showing their lack of diversity – their only references distant and exceptional, rather than people they directly know and value. That they engage in co-opting elements of Black culture while dismissing the women’s lived experience is a recurring feature throughout the film. In one of the film’s most alarming sequences, primarily white students gather to aggressively chant along, disturbingly relishing the moment to repeat the song’s use of the n-word. There is a sadistic glee in their repetition, as they indulge in the damaging taboo and it is clear to see why Jasmine finds herself driven from the room by it.

As much as the design excels, Master also functions as a fascinating character study, spanning three women at different life stages. Each performer thoroughly sells their role. Regina Hall so perfectly inhabits a woman battling with her new role and the history it comes with, by turns confident and frustrated as she finds herself embroiled in the kind of academic gate-keeping that holds so many at arms-length. Zoe Renee brings a fragility to Jasmine, but she also has such a compelling spark that carries her through the film. While Liv is a more peripheral character, for the most part, Amber Gray’s interactions with both Hall and Renee add a certain depth as competing interests and world views collide.

This is magnetic, poised film-making with a keen eye for both social commentary and horror imagery that lingers beyond the credits. This is a film that treats its performers with reverence, resulting in a truly engaging experience.

5 out of 5 stars

5 out of 5 stars

Master is released on Amazon Prime Video on March 18th.

Demigod

Pacing issues and an abundance of exposition dampen an otherwise solid attempt at a folk horror story.

Synopsis: Upon the death of her grandfather, a woman and her husband return to her birthplace in Germany’s Black Forest, only to find a terrifying secret awaits them.

Demigod veers between carefully working around its limitations and introducing extended scenes that put these flaws under greater focus. In some sections, the presentation of brutality is impactful, with good effects to back it up. On the other hand, long expositional scenes draw less successful elements like costuming into focus, undermining some of the world-building and overall tension. That this instinct is present in some sections but not others makes this a slightly frustrating watch as it feels like there is potential for more.

After an intriguing opening sequence that sets out the folk-supernatural leanings, we are introduced to our main characters, Robin (Rachel Nichols) and her husband Leo (Yohance Myles) who are returning to a place she lived as a child. As they head to her grandfather’s home, the threats of her past and the forest soon emerge.

It is clear that Demigod is not made for a great deal of money. As already mentioned, there are some impressive effects on show during some scenes that genuinely deliver the impact and action. It is in these moments that you feel the film is pushing to the very boundary of its budget, which is to be celebrated. However, the film does end up fairly repetitive, with multiple scene transitions made through someone coming round after being knocked out as a way to move on action.

Following the initial sequence, there are around 30 minutes of scene-setting. While this time would be well spent developing those characters, this is delivered mainly through long instances of dialogue. Throughout the film, the need to explain everything rather than show it via other means results in long sequences of dialogue. Character monologues drag the film to a halt at times, having to constantly reset its own momentum. The different languages of the characters also means that there are perfectly-placed pauses for one character to translate for the others, further drawing out the scene and creating unnatural performances to some degree.

When the film needs to up the ante in terms of the supernatural elements, it does so, even if its costuming and effects leave a little to be desired at times. A few musical cues feel ill-fitting, although in at least one sequence this provides an extra jolt, furthering the disruption felt by the characters and contributes to the overall chaos of the scene, so sometimes the decision to not stay entirely within the expected sound works well. There are some strong instincts at work for certain points of the film, but there is a lack of consistency.

Many will find Demigod an ambitious, if flawed entry into the folk horror subgenre with some interesting ideas, that even if are not entirely successful, certainly hint at a desire to do something different.

2.5 out of 5 stars

2.5 out of 5 stars

Demigod is available to rent or own on digital HD from Bulldog Film Distribution on 21 February 2022

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: You Are Not My Mother

Kate Dolan’s powerful examination of a household in turmoil provides heaps of atmosphere.

Synopsis: In a North Dublin housing estate Char’s mother goes missing. When she returns Char is determined to uncover the truth of her disappearance and unearth the dark secrets of her family.

Horror that examines three generations of women trying to exist in the same space is having something of a moment in horror. Notably, Relic and A Banquet both adopt a similar structure in exploring how family trauma trickles through grandmothers, mothers and daughters. You Are Not My Mother shares further similarities with Relic, involving reappearances that are arguably more mysterious than the initial disappearance. Despite sharing an overarching theme, all three of these films retain their own strong sense of identity and confident directorial voices.

The film kicks off with an arrestingly dark and impactful scene that acts as a great tone-setter for what is to follow. After this, we first see Char’s (Hazel Doupe) home life as a sad one, a space full of whispers and disorder. Struggling to get to school on time, her ailing grandmother (Ingrid Craigie) is unable to take her, telling her to ask her mother, Angela (Carolyn Bracken) instead. It is clear from the outset that there are severe tensions at work. Angela and Char’s drive to the school is a fraught one, ending in an argument which feels like familiar territory for the pair. After Angela disappears, there is almost an acceptance from everyone but when she returns just as suddenly as she has left, her behaviour is even more concerning.

Carolyn Bracken delivers an electric performance, by turns sullen and even near-catatonic to sudden bursts of frenetic energy. Those energetic bursts make for some of the film’s most memorable moments with Bracken entirely embodying both states. Hazel Doupe is also fantastic in her role, embodying the nervous energy that comes from living with such unpredictable circumstances. The scenes where the pair are together have a heavy sadness to them, especially in moments where the possibility of a ‘normal’ relationship between them feels within reach. The troubled history of the family looms large over every interaction

Kate Dolan uses overt horror imagery sparingly at first, offering glimpses without pay-off for some of the runtime. This tendency to hold back does however, mean that those pay-offs are incredibly impactful and fully commit to the imagery it has so carefully teased. Without the need to fill the film with unnecessary jolts or false scares, what emerges is an incredible control over the film’s oppressive atmosphere. In amongst the horror and mythology, the more real-world fears also pack a punch, presenting the area that Char finds herself in as one of constant threat, with little comfort to be found either at home or school. Refreshingly, when these scares appear they are fully-formed and incorporated into the more down-to-earth scenes.

You Are Not My Mother is a darkly magical tale, with plenty of impactful scares, underpinned by incredible performances that make this a must-see.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars

You Are Not My Mother played the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival. More information on the festival is available from their webpage. It also plays as part of Glasgow FrightFest 2022.

Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2022: Queer Horror Shorts Block

Final Girls Berlin Film Festival has always included LGBTQ+ voices throughout their line-ups, but the queer horror block allows for a collection of shorts that centre queer voices, characters and creatives within one section to showcase the variety of talent available.

Gay Teen Werewolf

Utilising the traditional aesthetic of teen movies with added grunge and even a little riot girl flavour, Gay Teen Werewolf presents an alternate reality, of sorts, in which supernatural creatures are a noted part of the school. Adding a darker level to those visuals we are all used to allows the film to indulge in anxiety-ridden dream imagery that supports a story of becoming and self-discovery. The world-building in this is strong, to the point that you can easily see how that world could be expanded and the story deepened.

Itch

This black and white lensed film follows a nun besieged by lustful thoughts for her fellow nuns and the alarming physical ways this manifests thanks to an ongoing itch. Despite the black and white, the physical manifestation retains a shock value, thanks to some vivid effects. A dramatic progression that really leaves an impression.

Protection Spell

I like to consider myself as someone with a pretty strong stomach, but there is something about the construction about this film that had me looking at some of it through my fingers. A squelchy, bodily-fluid-heavy, eerie ritual that extends throughout the runtime that has a sense of texture that truly escapes the screen.

New Flesh For The Old Ceremony

New Flesh is a disquieting fable centred on grief. Focusing on two women who live an isolated life together and the event that changes that connection this unfolds in near-silence in its later sections, explaining things through carefully chosen shots rather than clunky exposition. Hyper-focused on its ritual elements, this quietly compelling film offers a jarring difference between the dimly lit cabin and the bleaching light outside, presented as an intrusion into their space.

Sundown Town

Sundown Town made it onto my list of favourite short films of 2021, after seeing it at both Salem and SoHo Horror Film Festivals. A couple are on a getaway when they are involved in an altercation with police, due to the unwelcoming atmosphere in the town. Centring a gay couple of different races, both the gay and Black experiences of being involved in this situation are heightened by invoking the images too often seen in the news. What unfolds here has an emotional, but almost magical quality as the horror elements make themselves known. Beautifully shot with a powerful message.

MonsterDykë

Fed up with the men she is associating with a trans sculptor receives a welcome surprise when her latest creation comes to life with more to offer. MonsterDykë is a very DIY affair, but the creature effects are well-rendered, nonetheless. This is a film that comments on the way that transwomen are often fetishised, rather than appreciated for who they are by transforming their own desire into something unusual and otherworldly in a piece that is both interesting as well as quietly empowering.

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