The second annual GenreBlast Film Festival took place in Winchester, Virginia, from September 8–10. Festival Director and Lead Programmer Nathan Ludwig, Promotional and Marketing Director Raygan Ketterer, and Festival Producer and Programmer Chad Farmer chose a terrific group of films that truly live up to the fest’s name.
Happy Hunting, a cross between survival horror and the man hunting man as prey subgenre spawned by The Most Dangerous Game, won both the Best Feature Film and Excellence in Violence awards at GenreBlast. As substance abuser Warren Novak (Australian actor Martin Dingle Wall) tries to make his way through Texas to Mexico to try and find his young daughter, he finds himself in a very wrong place at the worst possible time: a tiny, remote town is about to have its annual human hunting festival. Co-directors and co-writers Joe Dietsch and Lucian Gibson have crafted a taut, exciting tale that also offers food for thought regarding current social commentary, as well. For my full review, visit Diabolique Magazine here.
Monica Demes won the fest’s Best Director Feature Film award for her surreal, engrossing effort Lilith’s Awakening, which she also wrote. This startling black-and-white debut feature effort strikes a fine balance of arthouse horror and immediate accessibility. Lucy (Sophia Woodward in a stirring turn) is stuck in a marriage that means less to her husband than his potential for a promotion at work, and she has recently begun having dreams about an exotic, baleful woman (Barbara Eugenia as Lilith). Lucy begins to fear that the woman is coming after her. Demes invests the film with an ever-increasing sense of foreboding and dread. I had the privilege of first catching Lilith’s Awakening last year when it began its film festival run. For my full Gruesome Magazine review, click here.
In related news, Lilith’s Awakening won the Artistic Innovation Award at the American Indie Film Festival in Belgrade this month. The festival stated: “The Award for the Best Artistic Innovation – A Special Mention for camera work – goes to: Gregor Kresal, for the film photography of Lilith’s Awakening, directed by Monica Demes. In Lilith’s Awakening, Kresal showed a very brave approach to the art of film photography. The aesthetic contribution of photography in this film is enormous: it stands above a classical film narration, achieving an excellent postmodern quality through the means of applying an influence of classical 1930s cinema photography as well as all of today’s superior recording technology.”
South Carolina–based filmmaker Tommy Faircloth’s slasher film by way of supernatural mystery Family Possessions captured the Best Actress award for Leah Wiseman and the Best Special Effects award for Tony Rosen’s work. Wiseman is marvelous as Rachel Dunn, whose dreams of moving away from the family and starting university are put on indefinite hold when her financially strapped parents (indie genre stalwart Jason Vail and Morgan Monnig, both recent Faircloth regulars) agree to the terms of inheritance regarding the home of Rachel’s recently deceased grandmother. Rachel must live in the house; otherwise, it will be sold and the money will be donated to charity. An unhappy Rachel befriends neighbor Maggie (Erika Edward), who shares gossip that local residents believe that Grandmother Dunn was involved with the occult. This fun shocker goes for an old-fashioned feel with Rosen’s practical effects (doll manufacturer of Annabelle in both The Conjuring (2013) and its spin-off film Annabelle (2014), adding a gory modern touch that pays homage to 1970s vintage effects. I was also fortunate enough to see Family Possessions earlier this year; for my full Gruesome Magazine review, visit here.
Dark comedy/crime caper movie Camino won Funniest Feature Film and Best On-Screen Duo awards. The pair behind that latter prize is Cody Michael Davids and Matthew James. Mark Allmand (James) learns that he is about to become a father; he is woefully unprepared for this responsibility. His buddy Jack Hayes (Davids) suggests that the two of them indulge in one of their favorite pastimes: stealing other people’s coolers in hopes of scoring free beer and food. Unfortunately, these young slackers steal a cooler containing human organs, and the criminals to whom the cooler belongs go on a hunt to track down the perpetrators. Director Justin Herring and co-writer John Patrick Hughes serve up a funny, big-hearted film that also offers a fair share of violence. For my full That’s Not Current review, visit here.
Another fine comedy effort is the U.K. entry Guardians, winner of the Best Ensemble prize and the Best Supporting Actress, Feature Film award for Victoria Johnson. Writer/director Mark A.C. Brown’s uproarious feature film debut blends supernatural tones, home invasion elements, and unconventional humor in its tale of Carlson (Matt Prendergast), a down-on-his luck man who has just been given his walking papers by ex-girlfriend Eleanor (Johnston). He takes on a rent-free job of watching over an old house that may have spirits residing within its walls. He shares the guardian duties with Lavender (David Whitney), a compulsive liar and eccentric personality. As Carlson begins to slowly discover the true secrets behind the house, a band of robbers breaks in, seeking gold about which Lavender has boasted. Prendergast is fantastic as the nebbish Carlson, and Whitney is outstanding as the hard-drinking, braggadocious Lavender. Every cast member, from stars to supporting actors, deliver spot-on comic gold. Brown puts his characters through some wildly unexpected predicaments, and the laughs rarely cease. Guardians is certain to wind up on my list of top 10 favorite genre films for this year. Keep an eye out for this one!
Co-directors Rob Cousineau and Chris Rosik round out a triple treat of outrageous comedy features at Genre Blast with Future, a time travel tale involving slacker and future suicide case Doug Erickson (Joshua P. Cousineau) and the deal he makes with a character simply referred to as Time Traveler (Phreddy Wischusen). Time Traveler and his two eerily silent masked companions confront Doug one night, and the Traveler tells him that he will commit suicide in a matter of days; the only way to prevent it is for Doug to kill a certain human target within a short time frame. Doug decides to try to find purpose in life, but circumstances both comic and tragic get in his way. Claire Sloma gives a fine supporting turn as Alma, Doug’s recent girlfriend. Joshua P. Cousineau (who cowrote the script with Rob Cousineau and Doug Kolbicz) and Wischusen play off of each other spectacularly. Doug feels like an everyman who has tired of not catching a break in life, and Time Traveler has the aura of a party crasher who doesn’t care that it is time to go home long after all of the other guests have left. Rob Cousineau and Chris Rosik helm this unusual, loveable film with a confident flair, and because the characters are so strong, the climax and final shot are bound to leave lumps in viewers’ throats. Future is also destined for my list of favorite genre films for 2017.
Director Toni Comas’s Indiana is a rather low-key supernatural character study that examines the life of Michael (Gabe Fazio), an executive by day and a self-professed “Spirit Doctor” after hours. He and his partner Josh (Bradford West) allege that they can free victims of demonic and other similar attachments from the things that possess them. After a radio interview goes south quickly when Josh goes off on the host and a skeptical for asking about tangible evidence, Michael wants to disband the Spirit Doctors. He realizes, though how important the project is to Josh, who seems to have nothing else working for him in his life other than his shared custody of his teenage son Peter (Noah McCarty-Slaughter). In an important subplot, an elderly man (Stuart Rudin) goes on a deadly quest for revenge. Comas, who co-wrote the screenplay with Charlie Williams, has crafted a supernatural drama that unfolds slowly. Both lead actors are solid in their roles as men who believe they are helping others who are haunted by demons and ghosts that may be either supernatural or of their own making. Indiana doesn’t offer startling scares or gruesome special effects, but viewers interested in unusual fare with emotional gravity should seek out this film.
When I reviewed writer/director Michael Reich’s horror-tinged quasi-romance She’s Allergic to Cats for Diabolique Magazine earlier this year as part of the Boston Underground Film Festival (full review here), I wrote, “At times it feels like a calculated, clever slice of eccentric personal cinema, and at other times it feels like a student video project about to go off the rails. It has a ruffian charm that, after all is said and done, manages to slightly outweigh its forays into self indulgence.” It is a divisive film but never an uninteresting one. Mike Pinkney stars as Mike Pinkney, a socially awkward young man who moved to Hollywood with dreams of making films. Instead, he creates video projects that even he knows nobody wants to see, while barely paying rent by grooming pets of movie stars. His dream labor of love is a remake of Carrie with cats for actors, an idea about which his producer — played by YouTube celebrity Flula Borg, who won the fest’s Best Guest Star award — is quite unenthusiastic. Mike meets the alluring Cora (Sonja Kinski) at his job. When they go on a first date, their time together goes from awkward to bizarre.
Watch for future reviews of Genre Blast’s two other feature offerings, the modern western tale Dead Bullet (for which Ray Trickitt won Best Supporting Actor, Feature Film, and Jose Rosete won Best Villain) and the postapocalyptic satire Hot here at That’s Not Current. In addition to these fabulous features, Genre Blast hosted a wealth of short films. The team behind Genre Blast are to be commended for putting together such a strong selection in the fest’s sophomore year. I’m looking forward to next year’s fest!