★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Kenichi Ugana
Japanese filmmaker Kenichi Ugana makes some seriously messed up films, and the world of cinema is better for it. I first learned of his work last year when I caught Extraneous Matters: Complete Edition, a mind-blowing, bizarre, highly divisive erotic science fiction/horror outing that transcends its initial tentacle porn elements as it heads into philosophical meditations on loneliness, alienation, xenophobia, and other societal issues.
In his latest work, Visitors, Ugana goes for less of an arthouse approach in favor of sheer horror in the vein of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films. Three friends visit a fourth friend who has been out of contact for a while, and they should have made alternate plans. As the host calmly sets about offering and making tea in his cramped, messy apartment, one of the visiting girls steps in green goo and then turns into a cackling, deadly demon.
The ensemble cast of Shiho, Saki Hirai, Haruki Itabashi, and Ryuta Endo give it their all, and Ugana spares no splatter as he delivers a creepy, darkly funny romp that you won’t be able to take your eyes off of, aided by chilling sound design.
★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Michael Biggs
Shot on 16mm and set in the early days of the Internet circa 1997, writer/director Michael Biggs’ short film CD-Trip (U.S., 2022) sees a young woman (Karley Parker) who is computer-programming savvy stumble into the world of a cryptic game, which spells trouble for her spaghetti-addicted roommate (Aaron Kramer). Lo-fi visuals and an offbeat approach highlight this unique science fiction-flavored short with quirky humor.
★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Toon Loenders
A hallucinatory trip through a dangerous world in which everyone wears gas masks, director Toon Loenders’ animated short Scarlet Red (Belgium, 2020) is a bleak, surreal outing that is equal parts Edgar Allan Poe and Monty Python. A king, a lady of the court, a jester, and a Cthulhu-faced bishop frolic and cavort in their castle while the counter on an explosive device ticks down. Drenched in the titular color, the short looks striking, with impressive stop motion animation on display. There’s an off-putting beauty to the proceedings, so viewers will have plenty to delight and disturb their eyes as they ponder the deeper meanings behind Loenders’ twisted short.
Visitors, CD-Trip, and Scarlet Red screen as part of Slamdance, which presents its 28th edition in a virtual format running from January 27 to February 6, 2022. An all-access virtual pass includes accessible on-demand streaming for the duration of the festival and costs just $10. For more information, visit https://slamdance.com/.