Per usual, 2023’s Overlook Film Festival features several horror gems that viewers will need to put on their radar in the year to come. Check out our full coverage of the festival after the jump, including titles from the lineup that we have previously reviewed at other fests!
SXSW Midnighters are often host to some of my favorite movies at the festival; last year, Hypochondriac, Sissy, Watcher, and X all emerged from this category. Thus, my expectations for Mongolian import Aberrance were rather high indeed. A middle-aged couple settling down in a cabin deep out in the wilderness almost instantly meet their friendly neighbor. Strange behavior begins occurring, particularly at the behest of the nurturing husband Erkhme (Erkhembayar Ganbat), helpless to what may be happening to his artistic wife, Selenge (Selenge Chadraabal). Selenge’s health seems to be waning as she slams her head against walls and has jarring breakdowns. An axe is always tantalizingly close to the action. At only seventy-five minutes in length, one would expect the film to be rather fast-paced in nature. This could not be further from the truth, as Aberrance saves its only nasty bits for the final ten minutes, attempting to pack on multiple twists to make up for its obvious narrative shortcomings. An erratic filmmaking style and inconsistent performances add to a relatively underwhelming whole.
Accused is a captivating thriller that places toxic cancel culture and doxxing at center stage, amplifying blatant racism we see on the regular in places like Twitter and Facebook. After a horrifying bombing at London’s central station goes viral as Harri (Sex Education’s Chaneil Kular) commutes to his parent’s home, his girlfriend, Chloe (Lauryn Ajufo), video chats him. The prime suspect looks an awful lot like Harri; in fact, he could be Harri’s doppelgänger. We are forced to watch as news of Harri’s alleged involvement in the #LondonBombing spreads like wildfire, all over a classmate revealing his identity online and similarities to the perpetrator. Harri’s Facebook practically implodes, inundated with messages and friend requests. The finger pointed squarely at a “brown man” in the wake of an obvious terrorist attack simply reinforces the unfortunate stereotyping and abhorrent behavior the people in this culture are forced to face on a daily basis. Before long, the film devolves into a basic home invasion gone awry as it spirals wildly out of control. While Accused mainly excels at being a surface-level propulsive thriller, its timely focus on one man’s harrowing experience definitely leaves a bloody mark. Beware: dead dog alert.
THE ANGRY BLACK GIRL AND HER MONSTER
(Written by Allison Brown) In a time where police brutality, gun violence, and extreme racism are at the forefront, it is surprising that no other horror film until The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster has really tried to explore the “angry black female” archetype. The scene is perfectly set with an atrocious “Karen” to match as lead character Vicaria’s (Laya DeLeon Hayes) teacher. Director Bomani J. Story thankfully handles these sensitive, imperative topics with care and ties them in creatively with a disturbing body horror concept. Step inside “mad scientist” Vicaria’s world, where “death is a disease” and “there’s a cure.” A deliciously gory young adult Frankenstein delight where a well-intentioned endeavor to resurrect fallen family evolves into a monster revenge tale for all to enjoy.
Previously reviewed for SXSW Film Festival.
THE ARTIFICE GIRL
(Written by Allison Brown) Deceivingly profound work of cinema, The Artifice Girl, forces the viewer to evaluate what constitutes humanity. What I perceived as a shallow sci-fi thriller since its inclusion in the 2022 Fantasia lineup materialized as something deeper than I could ever imagine. Initiating with an interrogation between special agents Deena (Sinda Nichols), Amos (David Girard), and shifty programmer Gareth (played by writer/director Franklin Ritch), there is pervasive pressure to find missing minor Cherry (Tatum Matthews). Deena and Amos, who investigate and prosecute online sex crimes against children, are heated and want answers to explain the illicit photos of the girl on Gareth’s leaked hard drive. As we move further, it becomes clear that Cherry is not real at all; rather, she is a CGI-rendered artificial intelligence with the sole aim of entrapping sexual predators. Gareth and Cherry have been feeding the prosecuting department evidence for years to put nearly two hundred criminals behind bars. After a lengthy investigation into his history, as well as a consultation with Cherry herself, Gareth decides to partner with Deena and Amos to push the limits of what Cherry can do. Tatum Matthews gives one of the best performances from a child actor in recent years. She plays a believable program and an evolving entity with such dimension and realism. One could feel the gravity of her pain with stunning solemnity. Although broken up into three parts, this is essentially only set in three locations, aside from a small flashback towards the end. Emotional, existential discussions fill each scene, surprisingly making the mundane visuals astoundingly compelling in a similar fashion as 2021’s Mass. The trio debate the ethics of Cherry’s consciousness solely performing grueling and disgusting work, day in and day out. In this way, the direction focuses more on the implications of artificial intelligence and consent over exposing sex offenders. Sometimes the technical language of Cherry’s origination and duties will go above one’s head unless they happen to be completely fluid in the language of software development. The Artifice Girl is a heavy watch that will force the audience to pause and evaluate the gravity of the topics at hand as the credits roll.
Full review at the link.
LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL
Full review at the link.
(Written by Allison Brown) New Zealand documentarian David Ferrier is known for turning the genre on its head with compelling stories of oddity and the bizarre. While his newest investigation Mister Organ is not as intriguing as Tickled, it is enjoyable, nonetheless. The tale follows pathological liar David Organ from the discovery of his profitable car clamping scheme in front of an antique shop, to his apparent romance with an elderly woman thirty years his senior, to his psychological warfare on a surprisingly large number of roommates, to his weird affinity towards impersonating a lawyer, and his strange and fraudulent identity crisis. Some of the story does feels padded, but it seems to be a result of interviewees scared to go on the record in fear of Michael Organ’s retaliation. Surely, Ferrier did not expect to become a subject of his own documentary, but Organ’s peculiar obsession throws him into the center of it. The fact that he had to move to an unlisted location for his own safety just shows the lengths which Ferrier will go to make a good film.
(Written by Allison Brown) I didn’t quite know what to expect with Matt Vesely’s sci-fi/horror/thriller, Monolith, but I have to say I am impressed. For some reason that is not explained, the lead never leaves her apartment, even before the adventure transpires, making the pandemic production glaringly obvious. It is rare for a single location film to be so compelling, let alone with only one actor, Lily Sullivan, on screen. After a public fall from grace as a reporter at The Evening Journal due to lack of fact-checking, the unnamed lead (Sullivan) goes down a rabbit hole of phone calls following an anonymous email addressed to her new podcast, Beyond Believable. Vesely manages to craft the setting to his advantage with a powerful script and a strong array of voice performances. When the afflicted share their stories, eerie empty rooms are presented in a manner like the sexual harassment experiences disclosed in She Said. Monolith is best compared to the investigative portion of The Ring, with the entity instead spreading through audio rather than VHS tape. What better way to tackle this contagion than through a podcast reaching millions! The messages behind the film tackle how selfish decisions can cause a ripple effect in others’ lives, how a traumatic experience can permanently change someone, and is also a foreboding behind the circulation of conspiracy theories. The one caveat that must be pointed out is that the script would work just as well as a podcast. The visual meat is not really served up until the final third, and once we reach this point, it is exhilarating to watch. Perhaps more could have been added to justify Monolith’s existence as a film early on. Nevertheless, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the black brick’s true reveal; the twist at the end caught me by surprise and did not disappoint. Do not miss this one!
Part of the Midnights selection at Sundance and already picked up by Paramount for global distribution, horror/romance/drama My Animal is an easy film to recommend. A lesbian-charged werewolf movie unlike any other, director Jacqueline Castel brings an erotic, surrealistic touch to the proceedings. Heather (Bobbi Salvor Menuez) has a complicated home life to put it mildly—this includes attempting to manage her raging alcoholic mother, and Heather’s own lycanthropic tendencies at the approach of each full moon. Complicated figure skater Jonny (Amandla Stenberg) enters Heather’s life at just the right time. Both women have bruises and scratches, whether physical or mental. Rippling with rich chemistry between Bobbi and Amandla, My Animal is a dark and stylish find that could be a future LGBT favorite for many.
As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the medicinal properties in cannabis, I was very excited for a little horror movie called Trim Season. It certainly starts interestingly enough—a gory opening sequence that results in two girls completely mutilating one another against their will using thick scissors is quite nasty indeed. Next, we follow Emma, freshly fired from a diner job and looking for a way to make up her three-months-past-due rent. Good thing it is bud trimming season, in which the lucky few can make big bucks simply curing and trimming weed for consumption. With the prospect of making as much as $5,000 for simply two weeks of work, Emma and a batch of others head to “The Hollow,” deep out in “Cannabis Country” lorded over by the intimidating Mona. While the setup of Trim Season drew me in, it is quickly let down by shoddy effects, spotty acting, nonsensical supernatural elements, and a final act worthy of major eye rolls. Stick with David Arquette’s deliciously oddball slasher The Tripper or even 2007’s ultra-silly Shrooms the next time an itch for the psychedelic crops up.
My favorite new film of the fest was definitely Late Night with the Devil, and Allison loved Monolith and Accused. We hope to revisit this epic festival again next year, regardless of what spooky delights it will hold!