The Scariest Things at The Overlook Film Festival: Day 1

We’re just getting started in the Big Easy… the first two movies are in the bank.

This is the premier event for independent horror films, and the setting is perfect.  (And so is the weather in New Orleans!) The buzz is just beginning, as the Thursday session is rather light, but the whole treatment of the attendees has been fantastic and engaging, everyone wants to know my story.  I guess that’s what happens when you have a little convention with everyone of the same mind.  I even got something of a celebrity treatment when I checked in as some of the people at the front desk wanted to take pictures with me because of my “credentials”!  I tried my best to fluff up our website and podcast, and am lamenting terribly that I didn’t get business cards or stickers printed in time.  But, I do have the website, and it’s impressing so far.

One of the biggest things I’m looking forward to is a session called “The Canon Podcast” which is happening on Saturday, where the debate will rage about what horror films belong in the canon or not.  I’ll have a take or two there, I’m sure.  And the two big premieres of St. Agatha and Hereditary should be impressive.  And I have to figure out how many movies I can catch between BBQ and French Cuisine outings.  Such a tricky conundrum!

Thursday is just the starter courses.  For the first offering, I picked an English indie picture called “Beast” described as “A brutal sexy, critically acclaimed debut thriller”  instead of the more conventional Unfriended Dark Web.  I probably should have gone with Unfriended Dark Web.

ATMOSfx! Woo!

Beast brought the acting, and the drama, but failed to provide any horror. These people have issues, but not really scary issues.

Beast: ★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

Beast is a perfectly serviceable Thriller.  And it is kinda sexy… but it really is lacking in the horror department.  A good film, but it’s a real slow burner, and chews up an inordinate amount of time developing how much distrust Moll (Jessie Buckley doing her best Minnie Driver impersonation), the protagonist has with her family.  She falls for a handsome loner, Pascal, (Johnny Flynn doing his best Draco Malfoy) who rescues her from a “Me Too” harassment dilemma, with his 30-06 rifle at the ready.  The story is a familiar tale of two outcast lovers who find kinship in that they are societal rejects, because though both of them are quite attractive, they harbor violent pasts.  The question is whether their respective mental issues are still violent enough to be guilty of a series of teenage girl murders.  This has much more of the feel of crime dramas, and if you like antihero mystery plots, you might like this, but it really lacks in the scary. Well made, well acted, and provided with a plot that builds to an interesting conclusion… but it drags too much in the first two acts.

Downrange ★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

For my second film I went to see Downrange, a group of young carpoolers gets ambushed on a country road by a sniper. The Director, Ryuhei Kitamura was in attendance, as was the writer, Joey O’Brien.  In this day and age, I think it’s apropos that the active shooter is as scary as any mad slasher.  The images of Las Vegas, Parkland and Orlando still fresh in our minds.  I had the opportunity to ask Kitamura about the current shooter environment, and he admitted that this is a bit of a touchy subject, and that they came up with idea six years ago, prior to most of the mass shooting issues.  He also told me that he considers shooters the most vile people around… and I think he has managed to channel that into this film.  He does have a knack for the gory.  His previous films included The Midnight Meat Train, and Versus, and Downrange makes a particularly splattery mess of things.  This is Jason Vorhees with a sniper rifle.  Multiple times in the theater the audience would go WHOOOOAAAA!

The movie starts off with some awkward exposition, as we get to know the characters, and some of the dialogue comes off like peeling paint, and the acting is merely passable. The script shines though, in the logistics and the pacing.  Under duress our crew thinks things through.  They are inventive and they are courageous.   O’Brien though likes to pull the rug out from underneath you.  And (spoiler alerts) There are many times in which we are let do believe “Hooray!  They’re saved! Oh NO!  OOOOOH!”  This is essentially a one stage drama.  The ambush site is the only set in the movie, but Kitamura is really inventive with his camera, swooping and spinning around the action.  Drone cameras and cameras hidden in strange spots all are used to creative effect.  Kitamura told me that his movie took 20 days to shoot, but it looks seamless, like one clean shoot.

This isn’t going to go down as a revolutionary horror film, but it does mix in the 90’s horror vibe along with some grindhouse nihilism.  It was a lot of fun and very enjoyable, and I was happy to tell that to Kitamura in person! I particularly needed this action packed movie after the more desultory fare of Beast.

Friday, I am going to try and see What Keeps You Alive, St. Agatha, Blood Fest, and a whole bunch of short films!

Keep an eye on the site!  It’s going to be busy!

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