With the second annual Brooklyn Horror Film Festival now complete, here are some of the most promising releases to get excited over
The second annual Brooklyn Horror Film Festival came at audiences like a rampaging chainsaw-wielding maniac. In other words, this festival seriously killed it this year and it continues to proves that it’s just a fun festival run by people with such a clear love for all things horror. BHFF 17 featured four days packed with horror entertainment that had plenty of variety to satisfy the appetites of the horror lovers with an eclectic appetite. Much like in the festival’s inaugural year, this year’s focus was to highlight lesser-known, independent fare as well as importing horror cinema from around the world. That being said, there’s still some more mainstream horror coming out of the fest, as well as throwbacks to some old classics, like a Friday the 13th marathon.
BHFF also continues to be one of the best places to find a strong library of horror shorts, whether they’re coming locally from Brooklyn or elsewhere. The festival knows how to cultivate a strong line-up and if you stuck to seeing short films alone you’d still have a very satisfying experience. Plus, the festival also offers up weirder more eclectic things too, like their midnight drunken ghost hunt through Williamsburg or retrospectives and discussions on certain pieces of horror canon. This year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival also highlights a ton of horror coming from women, whether its female filmmakers or films that star ass-kicking women. It’s a nice little priority for the festival’s programming to take and whether it’s intentional or not, by the end of the fest I was filled with a strong sense of female empowerment from these collective films more than anything else. It feels like this festival is only getting stronger with each year and it will hopefully become a permanent fixture in the horror festival circuit.
There was a lot to get excited about at this year’s BHFF, but here are five of the most powerful films (and four shorts) from the festival that you need to put on your radar and keep an eye out for.
Get My Gun
Directed by Brian Darwas
Get My Gun is straight up brutal right from its opening minutes and it drags you along for a twisted journey that is both relentless and empowering. The “grindhouse” genre of horror has become increasingly popular through the years, but it’s also something that’s easy to screw up. It’s a fine line between embracing campiness and the madness of B-horror and just becoming the thing that you’re trying to lampoon. Darwas knows when to play into the genre and when to let up. Get My Gun tells the unflinching revenge story of Amanda, who’s played to perfection by Kate Hoffman. She gets raped and becomes pregnant, but her problems are far from over when she finds herself eventually being hunted by a deranged woman who wants her unborn child. There’s a heavy resemblance to L’Interieur, but the film doesn’t break under the pressure. What follows is a thoroughly intense story that shows a woman in the height of helplessness clawing and fighting for her life. A lot of revenge stories came out of Brooklyn Horror this year, but Get My Gun is without a doubt the one that stuck with me the most. Everything about this one works.
Directed by Carlos Algara & Alejandro Martinez-Beltran
Cat and mouse thrillers are fun as hell when they’re done right, especially when there’s some sort of unconventional twist placed on the structure. Veronica is an isolating black-and-white Spanish horror film that tells the story of a specialized psychologist who comes out of retirement to study a special case, the 25-year old Veronica, who she insists moves in with her for full supervision. This in turn morphs in a battle of wits and secrets and lies between them, with this dripping of early Polanski in the best possible way. The film plays with the obvious power dynamics between patient and doctor, but it manages to find fresh takes on these archetypal ideas and then unravel them. There are few moments that aren’t tense throughout this film because Veronica continues to be a mystery. The film blurs lines and delivers a dizzying final act that doesn’t disappoint. This is also just a beautiful film to watch unfold and it uses shadows and lighting in amazing ways. Algara and Martinez-Beltran are goddamn pros.
The ending of this film also really got me and actually had me yell out loud! Just when you think things are worked out, Veronica goes in a totally other direction, making for an extremely satisfying conclusion. It’s something that’s been on the surface of the film the whole time, but it’s suddenly actualized in the most thrilling way possible. Films like this almost always come down to whether the big reveal of what the “big trauma” is ultimately satisfying enough and if this has been worth it. In the case of Veronica, it absolutely is and it demands to be seen.
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky
If Veronica is an ode to Repulsion and Polanski, then German horror film Cold Hell certainly feels like a love letter to Brian De Palma. Cold Hell is another example of a brutal girl power revenge story, but it wraps this together with a disturbing serial killer narrative. Ozge is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnesses something that she shouldn’t have, but she spends the rest of the film running for her life. Ozge is one of those glorious characters who does such violent, brutal things, but you’re cheering her on so hard in spire of it all. All of her fights feel like the Bride and Vernita Green’s kitchen fight from Kill Bill.
There’s a very De Palma vibe present right from the film’s voyeuristic, brutal opening, to the claustrophobic chase that’s set on the subway, to the film’s unreal ending. The film’s lead gets set on fire and she still keeps kicking ass and doesn’t give up. There are all sorts of moments in Cold Hell that even give Atomic Blonde a run for its money. And nothing can touch what this film does with a car trunk and a brick wall. There are plenty of impressive action set pieces in Cold Hell (including one of the best car crashes/chases I’ve ever seen), but the film also gets a lot of mileage from its creepy serial killer angle, which feels like something from out of a Fincher film or episode of Hannibal mixed with the best of Giallo. Whether Cold Hell’s mystery grabs you or its protagonist wins you over, there’s no denying that this film will still manage to surprise you in some way. This is a horror film that attempts to do a lot, but it does it all well.
The Forest of Lost Souls
Directed by José Pedro Lopes
There are plenty of films from this festival that highlight the gory, stabbier aspects of horror, but Forest of Lost Souls is a beautiful step in the other direction. The film delivers a trippy, philosophical look at death and the afterlife as an old man and younger girl find themselves wandering a landscape where they’re not quite dead yet and lost in some sort of flux. As these two characters pepper each other with questions about death and living the film explores heavier ideas like how to make life worth living. Basically imagine if Samuel Beckett wrote a Hellraiser film.
Forest of Lost Souls is a gorgeous, contemplative film, but it also excels by hinting at this larger universe that it creates, like how the afterlife is segmented into different areas (such as where suicide victims go). While Forest of Lost Souls spends most of its time asking questions, its terror slowly shifts from being philosophical to visceral in nature as the film’s final act takes on this aspect of being hunted. It so casually morphs into a revenge tale that you don’t even realize it as it’s happening. Forest of Lost Souls still has a lot to say and certainly goes about it all in a firmly unique nature. Plus, who doesn’t love the idea of some self-appointed purgatory assassin?
Mexico Barbaro II
Directed by Lex Ortega, Sergio Tello, Diego Cohen, Fernando Urdapilleta, Michel Garza, Carlos Melendez, Ricardo Farías, Christian Cueva, Abraham Sanchez
I’m a sucker for anthology horror and so some Mexican equivalent of Creepshow that’s all about celebrating Mexican horror directors is very appealing to me. The film boasts eight short films, none of which are misfires, but what’s so cool here is that most of these films touch on Mexican history and points of culture in a very, Paris Je T’aime sort of way. You could call this Mexico, I Want To Kill You and it wouldn’t be off base. There’s a lot on display in this film, but the “Vitriol” segment tells a stunning story about vanity, numbness, being disgusted with who you are, even if it seems like you’re beautiful to everyone else. Beauty can sometimes be a terrible curse or scar, too. As strong as it is, “Potzonalli” directed by Fernando Urdapilleta is one of the most memorable shorts I’ve seen in a long time and is reason alone to check out this anthology.
Mexico Barbaro II is a surprisingly consistent film, with only one of the shorts being uneventful and even then it’s not outright bad. Due to the high success rate here, the wide subject matter, and the creativity on display by new filmmakers, this is one of the more satisfying anthology segments that you’ll come across, especially if you go in with an open mind and modest expectations.
Directed by Tara Price
Holy cow, this short has a bit of everything and it’s just super effective and powerful in the way that only horror can deliver. Earworm takes that relatable feeling of getting a song stuck in your head, but in this case, that repeating song is actually due to a literal bug that’s inside of your head. Ernest L. Thomas gives a masterclass performance here and watching him grimace and writhe in pain is tremendously effective. You’ll wince right along with him. Earworm’s ending even had me shouting out loud a bunch, which is exactly what you want from horror of this nature. Earworm makes for a great short, but I’d love to see something even longer that deals with a predator that works through music and sound. There’s a lot to this that works and it’s impossible for this short to not leave a mark on you.
Directed by Guy Shelmerdine
Night Night is a VR horror film that involves clowns. That in itself should be enough to get people’s attention, but Guy Shelmerdine truly goes above and beyond here to elevate his film into something higher and make even terrifying second count. Night Night puts the viewer in the first-person perspective of a young boy who’s having trouble going to sleep and plagued with visions of clowns. All of the visuals here manage to be disturbing in different ways, whether it’s the clowns in the picture book or the literal ones that appear in the haunting dreamscape. Furthermore, Shelmerdine smartly composes his frames in a way that force the viewer to look around the environment and make themselves feel as vulnerable as the boy in the film. He takes that archetypal experience of being afraid when a child’s going to bed and makes that frightening again in a very real way.
Even if Night Night wasn’t an immersive virtual reality film, the performances, level of production detail, and its pacing would still result in it being a deeply unsettling piece of horror. The fact that Shelmerdine makes it possible to enter his twisted world is just the icing on the cake here.
Directed by Matt Mercer
Feeding Time is one of the longer shorts to come out of Brooklyn Horror this year. Matt Mercer’s film clocks in at 12 minutes, but certainly isn’t wasteful with that time. As soon as it begins, Feeding Time comes off as a very confident film, right down to the shot composition, dialogue, and score. It absolutely makes the most out of every opportunity and it’s full of quirky personalities that you want to see more of, which is the perfect sort of approach for a short film. Not to mention, the whole “babysitter in peril” angle is such a fun sub-genre of horror and this particular take on it doesn’t disappoint. The film’s very in your face and there are some reasonable gore and effects work that go down, too. All of this amounts in Feeding Time being a fun, supernatural snippet of horror and something that has me eager to see Matt Mercer tackle something longer.
Directed by Alfonso García
Alfonso Garcia’s iMedium poses a creative idea that feels like it would be the sort of thing that you’d see as the basis for a Black Mirror episode. The short deals with a new phone app that connects you directly with dead people, which eerily seems like the natural extension of where technology and programming is heading. iMedium turns into an incredibly chaotic segment that tells a story of loss and grief as this mother and daughter connect across the afterlife. The mom tries to connect the dots to where her daughter’s unfound body is in order to get some closure. All the while, this emotional, atypical story continues to play out via a phone app. iMedium presents a shockingly concise story in its five and some odd minutes, with the results having a big pay off in the end.
Don’t let any of these soon-to-be horror hits pass you by when they eventually see release!