With the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival over and down with, here are some of the most promising horror oebrteleases coming out of the festival
The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival splashed onto the scene this past week with a lot of admirable efforts coming out of the festival. The three-day long programming schedule seemed to take a priority towards highlighting horror from other countries and facilitating the premieres of lesser known endeavors rather than filling a schedule with wide releases that will be coming to your local theater soon enough anyway. The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival worked hard to cater towards creating a chameleon of a line-up that indulges in all the different facets of horror that make the genre so rich and satisfying in the first place. In addition to the strong features that BHFF had on display, just as much of an impression was made with their impressive line-up of horror shorts. Some of the content in these shorts arguably affected me more than anything else in the festival, with selections from across the globe as well as within Brooklyn featuring a wealth of talent on display. There was a lot to get excited about at BHFF, but here are five of the most powerful films (and three shorts) from the festival that you need to put on your radar and keep an eye out for.
Directed by: Erlingur Óttar Thoroddsen
Thoroddsen hits the scene with a very moving picture that’s just as much a haunted fairy tale as it is a horror film. Child Eater beautifully taps into the all-too-real fears that we all experience involving the shadows in our rooms or what’s hiding in the unknown darkness of our closets or basement. Our protagonist, Lucas, is constantly seen leaning into empty frames, feeling small, and this open space emphasizing his powerlessness. With only a few strokes the film taps into that feeling of what it feels like to be a scared child all over again. Then, on the whole other side of things, there is a very legitimate threat going on in the form of Robert Bowery, the titular “Child Eater,” who basically looks like a scarier version of Christopher Lloyd’s character in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? There’s something primal and simple about an old serial killer who eats children’s eyes, thinking it’ll heal the eye disease that he’s suffering from. Throw in a creepy death mask and a disturbing parable about a reverse stork with black feathers who doesn’t bring babies but takes them, and you’ve got a winner on your hands. It also goes a long way that you actually care about Lucas through all of this and don’t want to see him become the latest victim of Bowery. Child Eater takes a lot of classic horror staples and injects them with life while applying a disturbing degree of commitment to make all of this connect. Child Eater is the perfect sort of movie monster that could stand a future installment.
Beyond the Gates
Directed by: Jackson Stewart
Beyond the Gates is far from a perfect horror film, but the more I kept thinking back on it, the more its charm, chemistry, and devastatingly apparent love for its medium would push it over the edge and have me only thinking of its triumphs. Beyond the Gates is basically a “Horror Jumanji” and really, do you have to be told anything other than that? The film pulls its premise from the old time-y VHS horror board games like “Nightmare” and “Gatekeeper,” and Beyond the Gates wears its love for this bygone era very clearly on its sleeve. Coursing through all of the rich board game material, this film tells the story of two estranged brothers who are pushed into reconnecting over the loss of their father. The chemistry between the two of them is glowing stuff and it really helps sell their struggle. You not only want to see them win this twisted board game, you want to see them repair their relationship, too. Oh, and staying consistent with the ‘80s horror motif (there’s also lots of gorgeous pink and blue lights on high alert here, a la Poltergeist), there’s plenty of practical gore on display here, from exploding heads to intestines getting torn out of someone’s stomach. Beyond the Gates uses its energy and the fun that everyone is having to distract from its ultra-low budget, while Stewart also hints at a universe here that is ripe for returning to as well.
Directed by: Lorcan Finnegan
Without Name is the very best sort of horror in my opinion, where rather than there being some clear, external antagonist, the horror is instead built from the protagonist’s journey inward. Irish filmmaker Lorcan Finnegan builds a wonderfully defined world that is ready to fly off the rails at any moment. Without Name is scarce in plot, with the story really just being that Eric (Alan McKenna) goes out to a cabin in the woods in Dublin to study the plant life and fauna of the surroundings, with its focus being on Eric’s stability through all of this. Charting Eric’s position on his path to insanity is essentially the plot here. Lost in the woods horror has become increasingly popular lately but thankfully Without Name has the skills to fall back on. Finnegan borrows a page from Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England or even Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge by presenting psychotropic images and distorting the edit and sound design as a means of conveying Eric’s decline. McKenna’s performance is incredible stuff here and you truly believe the turmoil he’s going through, with all of this being much more of a case of style over substance, but goddamn that style. Without Name was the big winner of the bulk of the awards at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, but every one is rightfully deserved.
Fury of the Demon
Directed by: Fabien Delage
The premise behind Fabien Delage’s documentary, Fury of the Demon, is so damn compelling I think it might be impossible to not want to hear more. The documentary digs into famous early French filmmaker, George Melies, whose film, La Rage du Demon, would apparently cause anyone who viewed it to go insane and erupt in bursts of violence (which is also blissfully similar to The Ring’s plot). The film has since been regarded as “cursed” accordingly with the film in its entirety getting lost to history. Delage attempts to unpack Melies’ fascinating, seemingly impossible film with the help of other acclaimed voices in horror like Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension), Christophe Gans (Silent Hill), and more. It’s not only interesting to see how many contemporary names in horror are familiar with this urban legend of a film, but also in the pieces of history (and footage) that Delage is able to find to go along with things. Fury of the Demon explores a truly incredible subject where the worst thing about the documentary is that it’s only 60 minutes long. I need more on all of this immediately. I want to go insane here!
The Master Cleanse
Directed by: Bobby Miller
The Master Cleanse is the sort of off kilter horror-comedy hybrid that you’re either going to be crazy about or it’s just going to rub you the wrong way. There’s a lot of creativity being pushed forth here though, with Miller’s film doing a masterful job at taking that concept of “conquering your inner demons” and externalizing that to the extreme. It also doesn’t hurt that the humor actually connects here with Miller wielding a commendable wit. Johnny Galecki of Big Bang Theory fame plays Paul, who’s a desperately lonely individual who’s just lose his fiancée, job, and eager to find any sort of connection. I’ve never particularly been a big fan of Galecki but he really delivers an impressive performance here. His degree of being nonplussed is perfect and his reactions as the cleanse goes further along are continually satisfying. While all of this subtext and literal metaphor work is fun, the real focal point of The Master Cleanse are the bonkers monsters that end up coming out of these people and appearing as the result of this purging. These creatures look legitimately gross and have a definite Ghoulies vibe to them, and thinking of this as some modern update on the series wouldn’t be the worst idea either. The Master Cleanse has the humor and the effects to pull off the boldness that it goes for.
And now for the shorts:
Directed by: Robert Kotecki
Truth be told, Robert Kotecki’s Tilly is likely the piece that stuck with me most from out of the entire festival. Kotecki’s short wisely plays with childhood staples of fear as a father and daughter hunt an imaginary monster, while a major upheaval is afoot. Tilly is all about the too-common story of a man getting beaten down, losing at life, and snapping accordingly. Maybe this father murdered his family, maybe he’s about to, but all of that can be interpreted from this beautifully minimalistic story. The monster here is life itself. Kotecki’s short does a lot of smart tactics like staying on a stationary shot for most of the film that’s also mostly cast in shadow with a glimmer of light and escape still visible. The father’s voice (Brian Kimmet) is also an incredible performance where you even initially wonder if maybe he’s the monster. There’s a real sense of unnerving tension that just grows as the short goes on and it completely sticks the landing with immaculate editing that uses the short’s haunted nursery rhyme to perfect degree. On top of that there’s a brilliant twist that happens early on and it doesn’t dick around with you. Instead it lets you stew in it all, with all of this being incredibly economical in its seven and a half minutes. Oh, and the work done on “Tilly” itself is outstanding, bizarre stuff that just works, when making something like this look laughable could be a real danger.
The Puppet Man
Directed by: Jacqueline Castel
Tilly might have been the standout piece from out of BHFF for me, but Jacqueline Castel’s The Puppet Man came pretty damn close to hitting the same highs. Castel’s short is a glowing love letter to ‘80s horror cinema, specifically leaning heavily into some competent John Carpenter homages. Castel goes about all of this properly with not only a booming ‘80s synth soundtrack (which is composed by Carpenter himself, who also cameos as the cab driver), but also actually shooting the piece on film in order to give it a more appropriate look for a period piece. Castel also puts some excellent camerawork and aesthetics in general into play that help to sell this illusion. Not to mention there’s some pretty inspired used of diegetic music too, such as a scene set to the “Puppet Man” track. The Puppet Man is a classic urban legend sort of story that ends up being more fact than fiction. Castel manages to make the Puppet Man look as frightening as Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees, which seems crazy, but is the truth. In the end, The Puppet Man is just such a well-polished, passionate, effective horror short that has me wanting to see more content from out of Castel immediately.
Directed by: Brian Lonano
Gwilliam is one of the few horror installments from the festival that goes for laughs rather than genuine scares, but Gwilliam is so off putting and ballsy (literally), the humor ends up working because you truly can’t believe what you’re seeing. Gwilliam is a basic love story in the end, as well as a story to suit the idea of how everyone gets lonely, but it goes about all of this by pushing such radical, unbelievable images in your face. Like you really just need to see this thing.
Funnily enough, Gwilliam was a lot lower on my list of content from the festival, but the more time went on and I thought about it, Gwilliam kept coming to the surface rather than films I had higher on my list that actually scared me. Gwilliam was the film that I was telling people about though, and the piece of work that sticks with you in this manner is clearly more the sign of which film connected more as a whole in the end. Or maybe I just don’t have a choice in the matter because as you know, You’ll never forget about your Gwilliam…
Don’t let any of these soon-to-be horror hits pass you by when they end up seeing release!