Torn Hearts

Deadly ambition is at the centre of this thriller, offering style, substance and Southern charm.

Synopsis: Follows a country music duo who seek out the private mansion of their idol and end up in a twisted series of horrors that force them to confront the limits they’d go for their dreams.

When we first encounter Leigh (Alexxis Lemire) and Jordan (Abby Quinn) they are in their element, happily performing on stage together as country music duo Torn Hearts. Only moments after stepping off stage, however, cracks in their relationship begin to show, exacerbated by Leigh’s relationship with their manager Ritchie (Joshua Leonard). Jordan craves making her own vision a reality, fearing that they are being forced to become ‘robotic country-pop princesses’. A chance encounter with Caleb Crawford (Shiloh Fernandez) secures her the address of former ‘Dutchess Sisters’ mega-star Harper Dutch (Katey Sagal) to pursue that new direction. However, as Jordan and Leigh arrive, tensions threaten more than their musical partnership.

Torn Hearts is steeped in the duality of fame. From its opening chipper interview with the Dutchess Sisters intercut with more sinister scenes, the film is constantly pushing artifice to the fore, probing at the darkness behind the neon lights. That sense of duality extends to other characters too, words are twisted and promises are broken with no concern. Early on, Ritchie explains that a company need more women, quickly followed by ‘for the optics’. Despite their hard work in refining songs and the clear enjoyment of their audiences, Torn Hearts, are still seen for their potential to tick a box, rather than genuine investment.

The glossy interview that starts the film introduces the Dutchess Sisters as a typical country music duo from the past, with big hair, big smiles and gaudy colours as a kind of uniform. By contrast, Torn Hearts are introduced as bolder and more energetic, keeping a modern look and stage performance style. The pastel pinks and glitter in the Dutchess Sisters’ aesthetic extend into Harper’s home, but that duality features again surfacing signs of decay and unpleasantness from digging through boxes or cracking an egg. The richness of colour in the surroundings and costumes gives every scene a tactile depth. This is a film that is stunning to look at, with perfect lighting choices and real attention to detail that serves it so well. Deep reds, neon pinks and mirrored disco ball effects leap off the screen, with those normally ‘girly’ aesthetics staying in place as the tension and threat escalate.

Of course, given the subject matter, it is difficult not to see hagsploitation hints within the film. With that said, this is high-glamour hagsploitation, with Sagal’s Harper seemingly in a new costume and immaculate makeup with every appearance, even when only minutes apart. Furthermore, whereas many of those films have their central figure as a has-been, desperate to reclaim past glory, Harper does not fit into that box, with the younger characters in pursuit of her wisdom and prestige. Sagal’s performance is excellent, commanding attention every time she appears on the screen. Her mix of Southern charm with sudden bursts of unpredictability adds to the tension. That surface welcoming charm moves from friendly to insistent and demanding throughout, dialling up and down the sense of danger.

Abby Quinn and Alexxis Lemire as Leigh and Jordan respectively are convincing as a partnership, managing to convey their frustrations with one another as well as a deeply-held affection. Quinn’s Jordan is the rather more spiky, sarcastic and openly frustrated of the pair, with Leigh a softer presence, more inclined to do as she is told to by others. In many films that call for tension between two women, the writing can make it hard to see why they were ever friends at all or imply that there has always been a deep-rooted dislike. That many of their disagreements come from outside forces that wish to place them into distinct roles is a major thread within the film.

Brea Grant’s directorial debut 12 Hour Shift displayed an awareness of how to create standout moments using music, so her handling of the musical elements here is notable. Given that this is a film primarily about the way genuine talent can often be buried under enforced, constructed narratives, Grant offers space for the talent to shine. A scene featuring the three women singing acapella together (released as a clip from the film, but best avoided until you have seen the film) hits the pause button in a moment of reverence for their skill, shot simply but effectively to make them the focal point. Writer Rachel Koller Croft’s script has a throughline of dark comic lines but also delivers on the weightier material, never losing sight of the central message.

Excellent performances, lavish style and a focused central message make Torn Hearts an engaging and meaningful watch.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars

Torn Hearts is available On Paramount Home Entertainment on May 20th. You can pre-order now.

The Innocents

A mostly successful examination of the capacity for cruelty that spotlights a talented young cast.

Synopsis: During the bright Nordic summer, a group of children reveal their dark and mysterious powers when the adults aren’t looking. In this original and gripping supernatural thriller, playtime takes a dangerous turn.

We are first introduced to Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) as she indulges in two moments of unprovoked cruelty. She forcefully steps on a worm and in the car with her non-verbal sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) turns to pinch her, seemingly testing the boundaries for inflicting pain without being stopped. This simmering anger is brought into sharp focus by a burgeoning new friendship with Ben (Sam Ashraf), a young boy displaying otherworldly abilities. Along with Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), the group begin to expand their abilities, but soon distinct personal differences begin to drive a substantial wedge between them.

Sinister children are nothing new in horror, but Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents is a film unafraid to head in some dark directions, primarily functioning as a study of developing empathy (or the lack of) in its young characters. The characters testing their limits, studying surroundings and consequences of actions and the imapct on other people does lead to some grisly scenes. One scene in question will be an incredibly difficult watch for cat lovers and mileage will vary on how necessary viewers deem it. Personally, I found it a vital scene that portrays the differences between the characters involved incredibly effectively, but it is justly difficult to watch nonetheless.

Another element that some may struggle with is neurotypical performer Alva Brynsmo Ramstad portraying neurodivergent, non-verbal character Anna. While the presentation of Anna is positive (especially in contrast to Ida’s anger) and her relationship with Aisha is moving, there are moments where this veers into the trope of the ‘magical disabled person’ and a particular plot thread involving her condition sits uncomfortably. Vogt did consult with families with autistic children as part of the writing process but the final product does, at times, fall back into more regressive representation.

Where the film undoubtedly succeeds is in its use of space and movement. The flats that the children occupy are large, identical structures, appearing the same even when the camera swirls upside-down around them. The chilly, anonymous effect this creates lends a huge amount of atmosphere and the nearby woodland that the children take to exploring is, at first, a freer, more relaxed space of texture and opportunity. That space is more malleable, more open to warping as the plot develops. There is a geography at work with the film returning to key areas like the woozy heights of the stairwell throughout the runtime. The relative anonymity and isolation that the flats offer, despite their proximity to one another comes to the surface in several important scenes to particularly upsetting effect.

The performances are excellent, especially as everyone involved is so young. Sam Ashraf perfectly embodies the hardly in control rage of Ben, answering every displayed vulnerability with a negative reaction. In contrast, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim brings a huge amount of sensitivity and likeability to her role as Aisha with her seemingly cosmic empathy. Despite the potential discomfort around representation, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad is good as Anna, especially given her lack of dialogue. It is, however, Rakel Lenora Fløttum’s Ida who is the focal point here and deservedly so. Ida as a character is on the cusp of leaning into her cruelty or discovering compassion and Fløttum handles these changing positions incredibly well.

While the film is good at the more grounded, social elements of the plot, the central powers feel ill-defined. Early supernatural moments are technically competent, using more subtle means for the most part and it is this grounding that makes them work. The logic of those powers (even with the suspension of disbelief that comes with this kind of narrative) can be called into question, with some leaps in ability appearing so suddenly it feels like scenes have been cut. There is a sense that these developments are made specifically to drive moments of spectacle, which even when well-realised feel unnecessary when compared to the more effective, grounded and altogether more impactful moments. In addition to adding spectacle, these supplementary powers also serve as a functional way of moving the narrative along when it feels like the film has somewhat written itself into a corner.

The Innocents makes for a frequently uncomfortable watch, unafraid to indulge in its darker impulses and this is to its credit. While not wholly successful, a horror film that leans into making an unsettling atmosphere, disturbing set pieces and even some hard-won emotional threads should be on everyone’s radar.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Innocents is released by Signature Entertainment in cinemas on May 20th.

Glasgow Film Festival 2022: Murina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

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

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

Menopause

An interesting idea gives way to a muted and misdirected satire.

Synopsis: A solar eclipse turns the women of a New Jersey Town into enraged, psychopaths.

The opening, frenzied sequence of a woman dramatically stabbing a man, lets Menopause set a tone for itself that matches the film’s description, but also one that it struggles to sustain. The cut from this into a throaty, breathy cover of The House of the Rising Sun probably better illustrates the kind of film to follow. Despite the initial exploitation look and feel, Menopause relies far more on dialogue, arguably to its detriment, resulting in a film that feels like it is straining to be bigger, but can’t quite get there.

The explosive first scene gives way to far more explanation and setup than would usually be expected of this kind of film. In a way, that is admirable, allowing characters to emerge and allow their plights to become more meaningful to the audience. Unfortunately, many characters are overwritten and given to quoting swathes of ‘did you know’ factoids that outstay their welcome. Although this is a satire, the broad characters and this unnatural style of speaking blocks a connection to the characters and definitely has an impact on some performances. Certainly, some elements feel reductive beyond the realms of satire.

At first, the addition of numerous characters feels superfluous but as everything unfolds this does give it a sense of scale as the effects of the eclipse begin to take hold. It also allows the film to explore the variety of reactions to those effects. Eschewing the practice of having everyone overcome by the effect and losing their existing feelings as some would, Menopause instead retains elements from the character build. It is, after all, far more interesting to consider the impact on a happy couple than one at odds so it is buoying to see this feature.

Ultimately, a few of the film’s flaws come from its limitations and while effects are not everything, some of the violence here lacks impact in order to work around the available effects. This is no surprise for a low-budget production and certainly there is a lot of creativity behind creating these, but it does somewhat dull the overall impact. Still, independent productions like this one are sure to develop and expand into evermore polished efforts with great ideas as a promising starting point.

Arguably a film that will land better with those not expecting an all-out action-packed gorefest, Menopause has an interesting idea at its heart.

2 out of 5 stars

2 out of 5 stars

Menopause will be released by BayView Entertainment.

Grimmfest Christmas Horror Nights: The House of Snails

A writer’s inspiration takes a sinister (and sometimes confounding) turn in The House of Snails.

Synopsis: Writer Antonio Prieto decides to spend the summer in the mountains outside Malaga, where he hopes to find peace and quiet and inspiration for his next novel. Here he meets Berta, a woman he feels instantly attracted to, and quickly finds himself drawn into the lives of the locals, who he soon realises are hiding many sinister secrets. As he investigates, and writes, he finds himself confronted by a terrifying local legend, and the gradual realisation that, sometimes, reality is much stranger than fiction…

It is often difficult to write about films like The House of Snails, simply because it sets out to uproot and disjoint itself (and, by extension, the audience) repeatedly throughout its runtime. This is perhaps no surprise as this is an adaptation of a novel about a writer so the layers of reference and desire to fold in on itself are already running fairly deeply. Director Macarena Astorga takes on Sandra García Nieto’s novel with enthusiasm, swiftly layering different ideas and recognisable horror trappings that disrupt one another as the film progresses.

Antonio Prieto (Javier Rey) finds himself in the town of Quintanar while seeking inspiration for his new book. Quintanar is seemingly surrounded by wolves, keeping everyone within, seemingly subject to a long-standing curse that results in numerous strange beliefs and rituals.

The nature of The House of Snails is in that it is constantly seeking to add more layers and to some viewers, this may feel too scattered and overloaded. However, it is difficult to argue with the approach when the film is able to play off all these moments successfully. The beautiful location allows Antonio to wander into different areas, each with its own distinct look and feel. In some sections, you are in folk horror territory, focused on the things that people do to feel safe or explain things that are unexplainable. At other times, you are in supernatural creature territory, with both threads finding common ground in the film’s weaving of legend.

The Vimero legend that underpins both these elements comes to represent something altogether more powerful by the film’s conclusion. While young children like Rosita (Luna Fulgencio) regard the Vimero as a very real threat, the more sceptical Padre (Carlos Alcántara) details the kind of taboos the legend could be a cover and explanation for. Again, this frequent switching of viewpoint and refusal to commit to a straight line may alienate some viewers, but there is something immediately compelling about the strange town and its strange ways that keeps everything moving. The myth-building that takes place and the questioning of how legends start to impact reality is a real strength of the film.

To some degree, the film gives itself too much to do and so some elements do unfortunately feel underdeveloped and so lack a necessary punch. Antonio’s love interest Berta (Paz Vega) for example, feels like a character with more to offer than what she receives. Despite all the performances being excellent, it is only Javier Rey who truly gets to stretch and deliver, simply because his character is given the most to do. In keeping with its playfulness with horror and narrative elements, the film gives the impression that everything is being delivered with a wry smile. Even the film’s bleakest moments have a throughline of dark humour or a nod to the audience. To do this, without undercutting the seriousness of one of the film’s prevailing messages shows the skill with which this has been developed.

A compelling study of myth-making, taboo and uncovered secrets, set in a location that feels as uncanny as the townspeople within it, The House of Snails is one to watch.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

The House of Snails plays Grimmfest’s Christmas Horror Nights on December 11th. You can buy tickets here and read more about the event here.

Grimmfest Christmas Horror Nights: Dark Cloud

Dark Cloud is a slick, tech-focused sci-fi with a few tricks up its sleeve.

Synopsis: Following the aftermath of a horrific accident, a woman is voluntarily subjected to artificial intelligence for rehabilitation.

In horror (and taking that wider, sci-fi too) we are all well conditioned to know that certain concepts will result in disaster. Arguably the concept that has been represented as going wrong far more than ever going right is that of the ‘smart home’. It is a particularly well-worn narrative in which our reliance on technology and that we permit it into almost every element of our lives becomes dangerous, with the elements designed to help us becoming threatening and all-consuming. Dark Cloud raises the stakes in this regard, by having the smart home as a site for a rehabilitation process.

Alexys Gabrielle plays Chloe Temple, a young woman struggling to recover from an accident. As part of her recovery, she undertakes a new method being pushed by Aquarius Inc – a company specialising in a new kind of assisted living, which involves being housed in a state-of-the-art home, with virtual assistant AIDA (voiced by Emily Atack) able to cater to her needs.

Dark Cloud adds a layer to the usual smart home premise. Chloe is not in the house through the pursuit of wealth, status or technology, but is taking part in the project in an attempt to regain confidence, independence and improve her memory – all issues the accident has left her with. Her sister Lucy (Anna Stranz) is concerned about her living alone and so the experiment seems to present a compromise between the pair. As an early adopter of the technology, Chloe is told to think of herself as a pioneer, rather than a test subject. The focus on the porousness and power of memory that is often effectively represented throughout is engaging.

The secluded house makes for an excellent location and while the visuals are very much what you would expect from a sci-fi (lots of sleek surfaces, bright white areas and intrusive lighting) they are rendered well by the first-time feature director Jay Ness. Alexys Gabrielle is solid as Chloe, often left to only play against the disembodied voice of AIDA which can so easily lead to a disconnected performance that is thankfully avoided here. Emily Atack’s vocal performance is good too, bringing warmth to their interactions. That the house provides companionship as well as more functional reminders feeds further into Chloe’s rebuilding of her life.

The biggest issue with Dark Cloud is that it follows very set narrative points that will feel overly familiar. While these moments are often striking, there is still a sense that you feel like you know what is about to happen just before it does. Although this is an obvious comparison to make of any one-off sci-fi property, there is more than a hint of Black Mirror here, especially in the film’s ability to weave the protagonist’s human feelings into the more outlandish tech developments and horror leanings. It is this layering that gives the film that extra spark but doesn’t quite make it to new heights.

Dark Cloud is an engaging sci-fi that succeeds in its desire to probe human emotion and needs like companionship in an otherwise well-trodden narrative path.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

Dark Cloud plays Grimmfest’s Christmas Horror Nights on December 10th. You can buy tickets here and read more about the event here.

Salem Horror Festival 2021: What Happens Next Will Scare You

A tour through the weirder side of the internet that makes the most of its concept and resources.

Synopsis: Working late on their Halloween feed, a motley crew of internet journalists share their top thirteen scariest viral videos, but when an early entry curses our snarky hipsters, they must distinguish fact from fiction before a tidal wave of terrifying supernatural activity leads to real-life murders.

The last film with a clickbait title I watched was 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot (I believe the film has now been renamed for brevity’s sake as I’m pretty sure it also had a further extension of the title into Number One Will Surprise You or something similar) so What Happens Next Will Scare You had plenty to live up to in those terms. What we get over the course of a relatively short runtime is a mostly effective skewering of internet tropes and the scares promised too.

What Happens Next Will Scare You deserves a great deal of praise for the way it handles the movement through different internet aesthetics to showcase the viral videos. Constructing the perfect mean girl vlog, grainy VHS recordings and dimly lit dashcam footage to name but a few means all the videos feel distinctly different and as a result, allow the film to have more fun with the format. This follows an opening sequence consisting of a collage featuring links and clickbait headlines that escalate in their strangeness. It evokes that feeling of stumbling into an internet rabbit hole, sent to stranger and stranger videos. While it does occasionally take the easy way out (there is a screamer gag here early on, for those who struggle with that kind of thing), it does so to further its observations of online culture.

Within that online culture, it looks at the creation of new content, but also positions the internet as a space for found artefacts – previously forgotten videos and curiosities that when divorced from their wider context tend to take on even more sinister qualities. While this is a film primarily focused on trying to have fun with its scares, its treatment of online culture and related media gives it a little extra weight.

Some performances occasionally feel flat but this is more a consequence of not spending that much time with the characters themselves, meaning performers have less time to make a mark, as opposed to having to react to the videos in fairly quick succession. Crowding the space with so many performers when factoring in those featured in the videos does make it difficult to connect on a deeper level, but that is a small complaint when the star is the treatment of the internet and the ability to cram in as many different kinds of scares as possible.

Overall, this is a film that manages to echo the culture it seeks to represent, despite limited means (and sometimes these limits are a little too visible) and has plenty of fun and jolts along the way.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

For more information on the Salem Horror Festival please see their webpage.

Fantastic Fest 2021: V/H/S/94

A break from the format for several years and a more timely period setting finds a more comfortable space for the franchise’s return.

– V/H/S/94 – Photo Credit: Shudder

Synopsis: A police S.W.A.T. team investigates about a mysterious VHS tape and discovers a sinister cult that has pre-recorded material which uncovers a nightmarish conspiracy.

I’ve always found the V/H/S series to be a bit of a mixed bag, something which impacts numerous anthology-style productions. Depending on your tastes, you’ll either find invention or be completely turned off by a format that restricts film makers while also needing to make an immediate impact. Add to this the fact that the previous films have all felt very ‘boy’s club’ there is perhaps no surprise that the entries have variable reviews. A particular highlight in the series, for me, was Safe Haven from V/H/S/2 so that Timo Tjahjanto was returning for this entry added to the interest in it. More than that, though, was the inclusion of the series’ first female directors, Jennifer Reader and Chloe Okuno.

Jennifer Reader gets the film’s introduction with Holy Hell, introducing the police S.W.A.T team discovering the VHS tapes at a cult compound with an unsettling, if unfocused tour of the house. These discoveries provide the lead-ins to the other films and while it is difficult to see too much of Reader’s stamp, the segments are competent enough and serve their purpose. Okuno’s segment Storm Drain is far and away my favourite of the film, with a balance of observational humour that leans into the time period alongside some of the weirder scares that the film has to offer. Anna Hopkins plays Holly Marciano, an ambitious local news reporter whose desire to unveil the truth behind the ‘Rat Man’ leads her to an exploration of the tunnels under the city. That mix of frights and fun is something I’ve always found absent for much of V/H/S but is very welcome. There is a bonus here for fans of Astron-6 that delights in being able to properly situate itself within the 90s rather than the present-day trappings of the earlier films.

The Empty Wake follows director Simon Barrett’s usual flair for mixing subgenres, setting up a spooky scenario in which an under-attended wake begins to play on the woman assigned to keep watch. The Empty Wake is definitely not one for those who tire easily of motion sickness inducing camera work as much of this segment switches between the static cameras to the fluid camera, swung around doorways and corners with a pace that will likely annoy more than terrify. The result is a mixed bag that struggles to pay off its moments of well-earned tension with a satisfactory conclusion.

Timo Tjahjanto takes the reins for the most dynamic and action-packed entry of the film, The Subject. Tjahjanto is adept at getting his idea over in a short space of time and then allowing the action to speak for itself and this is no different. This segment sets up and delivers on call backs in an effective way, contributing some of the film’s best visuals and visceral impact. This is also the one that turns the furthest away from V/H/S as the medium, presenting something that looks much cleaner and more crisp than the other sections. This crispness better allows for the bloodshed to receive further attention, but in its handling of the fusing of people and machines manages to capture another interesting, dynamic way of capturing first-person focused scenes.

At the other extreme comes Terror from director Ryan Prows. This is the film’s grimiest entry, both in terms of the degradation of the visuals and the subject matter. The segment follows a white terror group who have found a unique weapon to assist them in their preparations to attack the government. The group are depicted as bumbling but vicious, making this likely the most difficult segment to derive any enjoyment from, but it is constructed in a way that exploits that sense of discomfort and ugliness to good effect. The ultimate wraparound feels a little deflating, given the variety of segments featured, although it could be said that that same variety somewhat limits how they can be linked.

V/H/S/94 proves that there is still room for the format to grow and evolve, providing interesting, if imperfect stories that fuse medium, nostalgia and recurring fears. As with any anthology, everyone will likely have their favourites and the ones that fail to impact and this certainly feels like Okuno and Tjahjanto will be the standout names.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

V/H/S/94 screened as part of Fantastic Fest 2021. See the schedule for more information. It arrives on Shudder platforms on October 6th.

Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2021: Young Blood

Much horror draws on the technique of using young eyes to show a different side to the world and the genre regularly deals in coming-0f-age tales that alter the protagonist completely. The wealth of young talent on display in this block is incredible, with bold performances across a range of supernatural or all-too-real horror. All films are available to watch on February 6th from 5pm until 7pm CET. You can see more about the shorts and buy tickets from the Young Blood webpage. These shorts are not geo-locked and can be enjoyed internationally.

The Rougarou

Directed by Lorraine Caffery

The Rougarou features Gerty (Victoria Dellamea), a young girl who is forced to confront an ugly truth when her gang member father Vin (Jacob Tolano) is released from prison. Their distance from one another is enhanced by their repeated needs to question one another on favourite foods, animals and other trivial content that serves to show how superficial their relationship is due to Vin’s lifestyle. The film views the aftermath of violence through Gerty’s eyes, with the acts blamed on the titular Rougarou. All the dialogue feels deeply meaningful, especially sections where Gerty’s love of unicorns seemingly hints at something more than surface beauty. The camera places us alongside Gerty as she starts to explore her surroundings, finding awe in the smallest places to great effect.

She-Pack

Directed by Fanny Oveson

A small moment of defiance sparks increasingly transgressive chaos in this film of a young girl’s birthday pool party gone awry as the group test their power and push boundaries. Starting with the small act of taking “too much” cake and escalating to drink-related testing of one another’s nerves that genuinely made me feel a little unwell, before spilling out into the wider pool area this is a film that gradually turns up the volume. A scene of the girls screaming an insult directed at them, turning it into a rallying cry and badge of honour, is provocative but empowering, pushing back against the expectation for the girls to be meek and quiet.

The Little Demon

Directed by Carol Van Hemelrjick

The Little Demon examines the rising tensions in the house where two parents (Sean Van Lee and Giles Cooper) have become petrified of their daughter (Kaedi Atkins). While she’s outwardly happy with them, despite not being allowed to watch horror films, at night she scratches their door and appears to have a second voice that expresses them harm and a growing appetite that causes further concern. Despite being excellent at drawing on this tension and sense of threat, The Little Demon is also an incredibly sweet tale of a family trying to adapt to the needs of one another.

The Curse

Directed by Ellie Stewart

One of the shortest run times, but The Curse still has a fully developed, fun and excellently styled idea. While it is difficult to say too much about this without spoiling it (although the title should go some way to letting you know what you’re in for here), there’s a comic attention to detail here that deserves celebration.

Bakemono

Directed by Sumire Takamatsu

I’ve been lucky enough to see this delightful short previously as part of the LAAPFF horror shorts block. An act of rebellion from Ayumi (Claudia Fabella) during a hallowed tradition extends an invitation to an unwelcome entity. The effects showing the presence are excellent and keep the tone light enough without losing the sense that it is a horror film.

Fish Whiskers

Directed by Roney

The first thing to highlight about Fish Whiskers is how brilliant each of the young performers is. Introducing us to Agnes (Juliet Di Gioacchino), Grace (Rebecca Chan) and Hannah (Holly Macintyre) as they discuss Agnes’ sporting prowess there’s a sense of sparky confidence that ebbs throughout the film. Grace has a moment of excellent comic timing but it’s Macintyre that has the most difficult role, adding a considerable sense of sadness and later intensity. There’s an excellent building of mood and tone that strikes a very different chord than the opening positivity.

Check out the full line-up for Final Girls Berlin Festival 2021 at their program page.

Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2021: An Eye for an Eye – Revenge Horror

Horror is one of the strongest genres for harnessing the acts that inspire revenge and the act of taking revenge itself. This block of films runs through many reactions to revenge, from the cathartic to the empty disappointment of unserved justice. All films are available to watch on February 5th from 10pm until midnight CET. You can see more about the shorts and buy tickets from the Revenge Horror webpage.

There Will Be Monsters

Directed by Carlota Pereda

There Will Be Monsters operates as a smart and hard-hitting story with meta elements. Introducing an initially incredibly unpleasant encounter involving a group of men who stop to harass an intoxicated and vulnerable woman on a bench there is a palpable sense of danger. Of course, it wouldn’t be in the revenge category if her initial vulnerability wasn’t turned on its head, which the film manages in economic fashion without ever fully revealing what she is. The final moments are quietly foreboding and sadly relevant, offering comment on the escapism that horror fiction provides from real horror.

Girls’ Night out of Body

Directed by Hillary & Courtney Andujar

A neon skull lollipop looks to spell disaster for the three friends who have taken it from a shop, despite it not being for sale. The set design in this is wonderful, with the motel they stop at full of retro, tacky furnishings that lend the film a lurid and otherworldly sense of style. In another example of this block’s layered storytelling, the revenge being taken for the theft is taken in another direction that ups the style factor even further with a great soundtrack and impressive effects.

La Caza / The Hunt

Directed by Amy Fajardo

La Caza departs from the focus of younger women taking revenge and takes the viewpoint of Alba (Teresa del Olmo). Alba is worn down by her daughter’s marriage to Arturo (Sergio Reques) and given the way he speaks to her, it is understandable. The film deals in the starkness and remote nature of the surroundings, making the trio feel all the more trapped together. Teresa del Olmo’s performance is incredible in its sense of hardly restrained bitterness and that tension manifests physically in every movement. The elements of repetition also assist in creating a stifling atmosphere.

Rong

Directed by Indira Iman

This hyper-stylised and slickly edited short about a woman attempting to walk home alone hits all the right notes for revenge horror. Introductory shorts of men looking at a woman are drenched in silent threats and the escalation of that threat is played in suitably sinister fashion. Skilful in both its use of studied closeups as well as making the most of its secluded location with dramatic lighting it is visually striking even as it explores the deeply unpalatable. Clever in its use of repeated dialogue and with an dark sense of magic in its movement, Rong leaves an impact.

Scout

Directed by Kodie Bedford

While none of the films in this section make for particularly comfortable viewing, Scout is arguably the most difficult. Scout (Katherine Beckett) is kidnapped from her flat and finds herself held captive in a trafficking ring. There, she is involved in tense companionship with Jodie (Shakira Clanton) and Andy (Tamala Shelton) as the trio come to terms with their situation. The contrast between their living conditions and the club they are brought to operates as a powerful visual for the difference in power relations between the groups. Those power relations are played with throughout, in the differing reactions among the women, some forming intense attachments with captors while Jodie’s anger at the way missing women are treated depending on their race strikes a chord. Building a truly ominous tone and not shying away from the grimness of the situation, Scout is an effective, empathic film.

The Fourth Wall

Directed by Kelsey Bollig

From the opening moments, featuring a woman’s voice directing and altering the opening credits, The Fourth Wall presents itself as a film about subjectivity, perfectionism and taking control. Lizzie Brocheré’s Chloé is aggrieved by her co-stars, with their sexual relationships and lack of ability to speak French disrupting her own sense of performance. Chloé’s frustration translates into self-destructive rage that the film draws you further into with a near-constant low-level thrum on the soundtrack as she moves through neon-lit corridors. Brocheré’s magnetic presence, the flowing backstage camera work and darkly comic edge all combine to create something really special.

Check out the full line-up for Final Girls Berlin Festival 2021 at their program page.