TCFF 2022 Halloween Special Triple Reviews: MURMUR + ESME, MY LOVE + VALENTINE CRUSH


Thanks to FlixChatter’s horror correspondent Laura Schaubschlager for these TCFF reviews!


It’s TCFF time again! As usual, I gravitated toward the spookier films in the lineup. I had time to watch three- Murmur, Esme, My Love, and Valentine Crush– and all were wildly different experiences.


In Michael Polish‘s Murmur, a group of five teenage YouTubers ventures into the woods to test out an augmented-reality game on their phones. However, the lines between the virtual and real worlds are soon blurred, putting all involved in a dangerous position.

My main takeaway from this movie was “great concept, sloppy execution.” I love the idea of a video game having real-life stakes, and the found footage style would work well for it…if the writing were any good. The plot is an incoherent mess, the characters range from boring to painfully unpleasant, and the dialogue is so forced and tries so hard to make the characters sound like perpetually online gen Z-ers (one character utters “Okay, boomer” completely out of context, and another asks if someone is going “Joe Exotic” on him- a nearly 3-year-old reference at this point).


That said, there are things about this film that I liked. Despite the characters being poorly written, the cast does a great job with what they’re given, with Megan Lee as Kenzie and Logan Polish as Tiger being the standouts. The visual effects are really creative and the production design is cool, especially in the second half. Overall though, Murmur is an attempt at horror comedy satirizing social media influencers and doesn’t quite succeed.  


The second film I watched, Esme, My Love, follows Hannah (Stacey Weckenstein) as she takes her young daughter Esme (Audrey Grace Marshall) to her family’s old farm when she notices symptoms of a painful and terminal illness in the girl. 

This might be one of my favorite TCFF films I’ve seen in my time writing for FlixChatter. It’s technically well made by director Cory Choy, with several beautiful shots and a simple but lovely and haunting score. Despite it being a cast of only two, both actors are fantastic and work so well together. I’m especially impressed with Audrey Grace Marshall as Esme; as young as she is, she gives an incredibly strong performance.


My only real gripe with this film is the pacing. The story is excellent and keeps you on the edge of your seat, but things move a little too slowly. There’s a fine line between a slow burn and a drag, and at 104 minutes, this movie crosses that line a little too much in parts. Still, I would absolutely recommend checking this one out. 


The last film from TCFF lineup that I watched, Jamie Wede‘s Valentine Crush, centers around tough roller derby girl Vicky (AKA Funny Valentine on the rink, played by Kate Robertson Pryor), who, after meeting a man claiming to be her biggest fan (Anthony Hunke), finds herself in a terrifying situation.

While this movie is a little rough-the editing is a little sloppy in the first half, there are some weird sound issues in the second half, and some of the line read sound wooden- it was filmed in only eight days, so considering what a small window they had to work in, I’m pretty impressed with what they accomplished. The costume, hair, and makeup design all look great, the second half of the movie is genuinely terrifying, thanks in large part to Anthony Hunke’s unhinged performance as superfan Beau Gilen, and there are a couple other standout performances, specifically from Kristen Ford as Knockout Nancy (who also kills it as a singer in a couple post-credits music videos) and Sarah Brings Three White Horses as Sneak Easy, who, while she struggles a bit with her line delivery, brings a sweetness and sincerity to the character that I really enjoy. 


The best part about Valentine Crush, however, is the soundtrack. This movie is packed with fantastic music from nearly 30 bands and performers- many smaller local acts, but some more well-known ones like Venus de Mars. The soundtrack is practically a character itself, switching from upbeat punk rock in the first half to softer folk/country in the second half as Vicky finds herself in unfamiliar territory. It’s an incredibly creative way to incorporate music into the storytelling. While Valentine Crush wasn’t necessarily my favorite of the three I covered, it was still a really fun watch with an incredible soundtrack, so I would still recommend checking it out.


Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews in the coming weeks:
She Said, Women Talking + Empire of Light… as well as recent blockbusters Black Adam + Trip To Paradise

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