With the third annual Brooklyn Horror Film Festival now complete, here are some of the most promising upcoming releases to get excited about.
This year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival proved to be the most impressive edition yet and this festival is only upping their game with each passing year. 2018’s BHFF featured a full week of horror programming that offered plenty of variety to satisfy the cultured appetites of horror lovers. Much like in the festival’s past years, 2018’s priority was to highlight lesser-known, independent fare as well as showcasing horror cinema from around the world. That being said, the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival still featured some more mainstream horror, as well as throwbacks to beloved classics and new restorations of old cult hits, like Blood Harvest.
BHFF also continues to be one of the best places to find an eclectic, impressive library of horror shorts, whether they’re local efforts from Brooklyn or from elsewhere in the world. This year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival also highlights a ton of horror coming from women, whether its female filmmakers or films that star kick-ass women. There was lots of empowering content that depicts society’s marginalization of certain individuals and films that creativity depict that there are scarier things than monsters
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 standout feature film selections (and five more shorts) from the festival that you need to put on your radar and keep an eye out for.
Directed by Veronica Kedar
Israeli filmmaker, Veronica Kedar, writes, directs, and stars in this traumatic glimpse into fractured families. A lot of the films from the festival dig into this territory, but Family perhaps does the best job of the lot, which is saying something. The film explores why Lily would all of a sudden kill her entire family and it presents this traumatic tale in non-linear fashion to keep the audience guessing and to generate mystery. Family even inexplicably occasionally dips into the musical genre for strong, radical effect.
The film opens on a very unsettling introduction where a simple slice of life turns into a gruesome murder scene without a moment’s notice. Family follows a structure that feels almost like a session of therapy, which is a great idea for this dark, deep character study. It’s a psychological puzzle that’s filled with twists and turns of the highest nature. The best part is that all of this centers around a family portrait contest where this picturesque look at a perfect family is taken just moments before the lot ends up dead. It’s brilliant and highlights how people can hide who they are and the lies that photos can tell. This then morphs into the twisted opposite where Lily takes family portraits of the family, but they’re now all brutally murdered. This is their truest selves. It’s a strong juxtaposition to what goes on beforehand.
This non-linear nature jumps through time to chronicle Lily’s various experiences with her family and just how she began to resent them so much. These backstories are subtly woven and don’t feel shoehorned in or awkward diversions. It’s a smart, effective way to layer this story. Lily begins this film as a monster, but she slowly receives her humanity as the experience goes on and by the end it’s hard to not be on her side.
Directed by Yedidya Gorsetman
Now here’s a premise! Empathy Inc. looks at a VR company (actually it’s XtremeVR—the next big thing and it truly “feels real”) that actually allows the rich to take over the bodies of the poor and live forever. Finally, there’s a way to cheat death and play God, so to speak. The film takes the point of view of Joel, a naïve investor who gets involved with this VR company and digs into the horrors that he discovers there and what he can do about this mess. XVR is full of many suspicious caveats and restrictions, but the big twist is that it’s not VR, but actually something much more sinister. It’s pretty damn cool and feels very Tales From the Crypt.
Of course, Joel gets addicted to the experience and needs more, but he then learns of what’s really happening. Things quickly get out of hand. Empathy Inc. gets a lot of mileage out of how this ordeal makes individuals lose their sense of self and who they are. They feel themselves slip away. The experiences irrevocably messes up Joel and disconnects him from those around him and further isolates him. Empathy Inc. is a more slow and methodical film. It isn’t afraid to take its time rather than bombard the audience. This approach works for this kind of story, but it’s also far from a scary movie, per se. It is, however, some great sci-fi with a dark edge. The movie’s stark, chilling black and white cinematography also really works well and this feels like one of Cronenberg’s early “documentaries.”
Empathy Inc. turns into a real story of good versus evil and looks at whether people are inherently just or corrupt. This isn’t a bad angle to take and it boasts a great final twist at the end that will surprise even the most seasoned of horror fans. The film goes out on a bitter finale that’s simultaneously a happy and devastating ending, but that’s the perfect way that a morality play like this should end.
Directed by Luke Jaden
Boo! looks at an innocent, suburban family who gets pranked with a “Boo!” chain letter. They choose to ignore its implications and don’t realize that it’s made them susceptible to a slew of supernatural forces. It’s actually kind of brilliant how innocuously and simple the movie begins, like a jovial Lost Highway, but then it steadily turns up the heat.
Boo! does compelling work to establish the reputation that these “Boo!’s” have in the community and that they’re urban legends or sorts rather than something completely new or unique, which is a slightly better angle for all of this. It’s fascinating to watch the kids in the family conflate the curse into the family’s own religious rules that they hide behind, so it seems like they’re under less of a threat. That being said, everyone shines in this cast though. You want to see this family survive. This loving family fractures on Halloween night and the film follows each of them as this curse slowly strikes. Boo! highlights how the curse gets into each of their heads in different ways and taps into what they’re most afraid and insecure about themselves.
The film excels at creating claustrophobic, house-based horrors, which are ideal for a smaller film of this nature. It’s better to stay in its small space then attempt to get too big with everything. Boo! also captures the fear of what it’s like to be a child that’s home alone and scared, which isn’t as easy to do as it sounds. The “Boo!” curse strikes in random and unexpected ways, like bleeding books, an especially gruesome self-mutilation scene, or a scare that comes from a Viewmaster toy that’s legitimately awesome.
The solution to the family’s problem feels a little cheap, but it never goes too far in that direction. In fact, the family repeatedly make poor decisions when the obvious answer is right in front of them. Boo! slows down a little too much for its own good in the middle and some of its beats don’t land, but it works more than it doesn’t. It’s a strong idea to have this family haunted by their past mistakes, not a ghost, but it’d be even better if it towed the line here a little more and left it up to interpretation. Boo! taps into the Hereditary family horror aspect in that regard, but is ultimately a much more sanitized affair.
Ghost Mask: Scar
Directed by Takeshi Sone
Takeshi Sone’s Ghost Mask: Scar is a film that truly gets under your skin, so it’s only fitting that the movie revolves around plastic surgery in such a disturbing way. Miyu heads to Seoul to look for her older sister who disappeared two years ago. She eventually befriends Hana, a renowned plastic surgeon, who also bears a strange resemblance to Miyu’s sister. As Miyu digs deeper, what she believes is the truth and what’s fiction slowly begin to unravel in unsettling ways.
Ghost Mask: Scar utilizes dream-like cinematography to tell its surreal story. Even though subtlety may not be the film’s strongest skill, it banks on a creepy, creative premise and uses a non-linear narrative that jumps around to keep the story less predictable
The twist and the circumstances around the film’s complex answers really hit hard. The film’s final act doesn’t hold back and crams an entire slasher movie’s worth of violence into a concentrated ten-minute burst of madness. The conclusion plays with plastic surgery and anesthetic in a way that’s sure to give everyone nightmares. It’s frankly shocking to see what a bloodbath the careful film turns into during its ending. The lost protagonist transforms into a beleaguered, blood-soaked lunatic.
Ghost Mask: Scar is also yet another film from this festival that ultimately comes down to familial pain, the desire to be someone who you’re not, and very emotional horrors that eventually become so strong they result in bloodshed, but they start from a place of innocence.
Directed by Daniel Goldhaber
CAM begin as a gripping look at the addictions of celebrity, but then morphs into a twisted stolen identity, body snatcher sort of deal. It’s gripping to see the lengths that Alice, a desperate cam girl, will put herself through and how badly she’s willing to compromise her morals in order to get a higher reputation and generate more views. The fact that the film is inspired by screenwriter Isa Mazzei’s real-life experiences gives the message even more impact.
CAM is very well acted and you actually care about Alice, which makes such a difference here. Madeline Brewer really shines in this role, especially when it turns into a bizarre dual performance of sorts. It’s also nice that in spite of how it doesn’t make sense, it’s nice that others still see and acknowledge what Alice does during her tailspin, rather than just think that she’s crazy.
The film is excellent at generating suspense and dread throughout Alice’s ordeal. Once the big turn happens, Alice becomes addicted to watching her double’s videos rather than the endorphin high that she’d receive from actually performing in them. It’s an inspired twist to what she’s gone through. Alice experiences the same lows of addiction that her admirers experience and she turns into a masochist against herself. CAM’s final act turns up the paranoia factor as Alice gets deeper into this mystery. The violence and gore that she must expose herself to also continues to increase when all she wants to do is just get her identity back. CAM finds very real insecurities that lie in all of us and then blows them up to take them to a truly terrifying place.
Directed by Santiago Manghini
A young boy gets a late-night glass of milk and encounters his strict, yet troubled mother. The mother is shrouded in shadow the whole time and the short film just drips in atmosphere. Suddenly a second mother appears and the child doesn’t know which one to trust, especially when the one he thought was real grows increasingly aggressive. Milk is pure terror and is expertly acted and shot. The visual of milk turning black is such an eerie touch. The short is likely an allegory for abuse and Munchausen syndrome, but it takes a strong minimalist approach with its storytelling. It’s seriously one of the best short horror films that I’ve seen in a while.
Directed by Reiki Tsuno
Crying Bitch explores a callous husband who consistently cheats on his wife and even gets off on this skewed power dynamic. Eventually his wife figures it all out and her eerily cheerful, loyal demeanor warps in disturbing ways. Crying Bitch operates like a more concentrated, low-grade version of Audition at first, but then inexplicably incorporates an absurdist sense of humor that makes this feel like a Stephen Chow film. One hilarious scene involves the husband walking in on his wife as she practices her attempts to murder him. It’s a brilliant undercutting of expectations and plays with the typical norms.
The short presents an impressive story that makes females the competent aggressors and men are the fools. The wife soon goes all crazy vengeance on everyone, but it’s ridiculous how they almost steal her thunder with an early entrance. Crying Bitch carries a fun stylized energy to it and features multiple crotch kicks for good measure. There’s also an amazing stunt where a neck gets repeatedly wound up that’s unreal and there’s incredible foley work, too. The ending to Crying Bitch is honestly so good and more than anything else Reiki Tsuno has to be allowed to make a feature film as soon as possible.
BEC (Black Eyed Child)
Directed by Tony Morales
Black Eyed Child is really just a story about a young kid taking advantage of his decrepit grandmother. That being said, the way in which BEC is shot, its haunting use of sound design, its color palette, and everything that’s in play here contributes to such a tense short film that makes the most out of every minute. The result is an enormously spooky game of cat and mouse where you can’t quite tell if what’s happening is real or not. BEC features some genuine scares towards its end that are so well done and off-putting. This is really a gem and the kind of short—much like Lights Out—that could easily sustain a full-length feature adaptation. There are plenty of gaps to fill in with Morales’ moving horror short.
Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre
Directed by Ilja Rautsi
Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre may hail from Finland, but it presents a message that’s certainly relevant across America at the moment. The ridiculous horror-comedy hybrid provides a truly stunning take on the idea that men believe that they’re invincible and their tendency to over-explain everything. Director Ilja Rautsi works with an incredibly skilled eye and the short shifts from a Fulci-like sensibility to a more Argento-esque style at a moment’s notice. Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre doesn’t know the meaning of the word restraint and there are plenty of brilliant shots that get creative by going into character’s brains in order to deliver their interior monologue. This short is hilarious, creative, maddeningly prescient, and one of the highlights of this year’s BHFF.
The Bloody Ballad of Squirt Reynolds
Directed by Anthony Cousins
The Bloody Ballad of Squirt Reynolds identifies itself as a campier short right from the start. The film takes the form of a twisted campfire tale about a serial killer who dons a Burt Reynolds mask and while it leans hard into its comedic sensibilities, there are still some genuine scares in this short. Director Anthony Cousins employs an appropriate vintage look to the film and the cinematography and art design are equally impressive. Squirt Reynolds contains fun performances that help anchor this well done, self-aware, hyperbolized horror story. The short also acts as an important reminder that throat rips are an underrated way to kill someone. Squirt Reynolds also concludes with a fucking amazingly brutal murder that feels like it belongs in Ash Vs. The Evil Dead. This short is the perfect balance to some of the more relentless, melodramatic horror to come out of the festival.
Keep an eye out for all of these horror classics-in-the-making, which will hopefully hit theaters and see release sooner rather than later!