TCFF19 CringeFest Shorts Block Reviews – chills, thrills, & post-apocalyptic frills

TCFF may have come and gone, but hey, doesn’t mean that we’re all done with our coverage and reviews. Just in time for Halloween, we’ve got reviews of 9 horror/thriller films in the Cringe-fest shorts block. Thanks to our horror reviewer Laura Schaubschlager.

For all the TCFF coverage, type TCFF2019 in the search box on our homepage.


I was lucky enough to spend my Tuesday night at TCFF’s Cringe Fest – a block of 9 short horror films advertised as “chills, thrills, and post-apocalyptic frills.” Because of the number of films, I’ll keep my reviews of each brief, but overall, this was a spectacular variety of shorts and it absolutely delivered on its promised chills and thrills.

Killer Hike 7

I had the same problem with this film that I had with Puppet Killer: it makes fun of teen slasher movies, but it doesn’t have any new takes-it just points out how the teens are played by older actors and the characters each fit into specific tropes; again, even the jokes about the horror cliches are cliches themselves. I will say that the cast was a lot of fun to watch despite the stale material; they all gave really over-the-top performances that could have been embarrassing if done wrong, but were genuinely entertaining thanks to this talented group of actors.

Meat Eater

I’m not even sure I should review this one, since it is really short-a couple minutes long at most. We see a young woman running through the woods, trying to escape an unseen tormentor, towards what she hopes will be her salvation. It does manage to keep the suspense high despite its short run time, which is impressive.

Footprints

This one could have easily been boring-a supernatural found footage movie sounds almost lazy-but I really enjoyed it. The found-footage style really worked with the dark, snowy forest setting, and using the set-up of a husband suspecting his wife of cheating as a framing device was a creative way to tell a story about an otherwise traditional movie monster.

Wrong Level

Based on “The Elevator Game,” an internet urban legend about riding an elevator to a different dimension, Wrong Level follows a young man trying to rescue his girlfriend by playing the game himself. As silly as it sounds, I actually think the “Elevator Game” story is kind of creepy, and it’s a great idea for a short film; the tension literally rises as the elevator ascends. The set-up allows for excellent pacing, which isn’t easy for a short film.

Break In Break Out

This was another suspenseful, well-paced short, and is one of two fantastic films by the talented Michael Drisoll in the Cringe Fest block. Not only is it wonderfully tense and full of twists (I don’t even want to try and describe the plot because I worry I’ll give too much away), but the color scheme and lighting are also gorgeous in a gritty sort of way.

Frost Bite

I didn’t expect a zombie movie to make me cry, but Frost Bite managed it. The young actress playing the girl leading the zombie across the frozen wasteland is incredibly talented. The zombie effects are creepy and well-done. And if the ending doesn’t make you shed at least one tear, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am.

The Birdwatcher

A quiet, awkward corporate employee on a birdwatching hike through the woods stumbles upon a potentially dangerous situation and has to decide what to do. With the majority of the focus on one actor with absolutely no dialogue, The Birdwatcher is lucky to have a talented lead- he’s goofy and charming but mysterious enough to make you wonder if there’s something darker going on with him. I also really enjoyed the ending; the short did a great job of building up to it, and it struck the perfect balance of comedy and horror.

To The Boats

The second film in the Cringe Fest lineup by Michael Driscoll, To the Boats follows two men running to the coast of England, trying to reach their final method of escape from the horror of their once beloved home country. This movie is visually stunning, with some gorgeous, sweeping shots of the countryside and coast, and the actors give a gripping, emotional performance.

Check out Ruth’s interview from last year with Michael about this film.

Mr. Sam

Oh, boy. This movie was…a lot. It’s about Sam, an eccentric mortician and his relationship with his mother, a young girl he tutors, and the corpse of a man he’s infatuated with. There are a lot of incredibly dark topics in this film-rape, incest, child abuse, and necrophilia-that feel like they’re mostly there for shock value. I’m not saying dark subjects shouldn’t be included in movies, but because this was a short, there was no time to explore them, and it never felt like there was a real reason for them to be there, as there barely seems to even be a narrative arc, just these loosely strung-together plot points. The cast is good, with Sam and his young student being the stand-outs, and hopefully their roles in this lead to bigger projects, but this was an uncomfortable film to end on.


Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!

 

 

TCFF19 Horror/Thriller Reviews: Puppet Killer + Scream, Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street + 3 Day Weekend

We’ve already reached halfway of the film fest!! You can search TCFF2019 for ALL of the posts we’ve done so far this year.

Check out the recap from Saturday (thanks to our media producers + TCFF interns!):

Well, since it’s almost Halloween, here are a trio of horror/thriller reviews of films screening at TCFF! Thanks to our horror reviewer Laura Schaubschlager. Two of the films below are screening Wednesday night.


I love that Twin Cities Film Fest happens to be right before my favorite holiday (Halloween, in case that wasn’t obvious). I’m already in the mood to binge watch horror movies in the weeks leading up to the 31st, and the festival gives me a chance to see ones that I might not have heard of otherwise. I’ve been lucky enough to watch a few screeners ahead of the festival, and what I’ve seen is a promising sign of what should be another fantastic TCFF season.


Puppet Killer

Looking for a more traditional horror flick for your Halloween fix? Check out Puppet Killer for a fun, bloody parody of teen slasher movies. When Jamie (Aleks Paunovic) is a little boy, his stepmother mysteriously goes missing-but he’s convinced she was murdered by Simon, the fluffy pink puppet his late mother gave him. Ten years later, Alex returns to the cabin in the woods where his stepmother disappeared for Christmas break with his girlfriend Jessie (Lisa Durupt) and their friends Curtis (Lee Majdoub), Rick (Richard Harmon), Brooke (Gigi Saul Guerrero), and Lee (Kyle Cassie).  They find the seemingly innocent puppet in the basement, and soon after, the bloodbath begins.

The writing in this movie isn’t spectacular; it’s clearly meant to poke fun at teen slasher movies, but it doesn’t say anything new about the subject, and some of the jokes about horror cliches feel like cliches themselves. There are also these two characters, a couple sisters trying to hide the body of a guy one of them killed, who show up maybe 20 minutes before the end of the movie whose subplot is never acknowledged or resolved; they’re pretty much just there for a couple extra kills, and considering the movie already has a solid group of high schoolers, more serial killer fodder seems unnecessary, especially when the characters add nothing else to the story.

That said, this is still a really fun movie. In traditional teen slasher fashion, the actors cast as high schoolers are obviously older than their characters, and in this movie, I mean obviously; Alex Paunovic as the main teen, Jamie, is 50 years old. This makes several bits of dialogue extra funny, and the actors are clearly having a lot of fun in their performances as obnoxious, melodramatic adolescents. As far as horror goes, the movie has some fun, solid kills, with decent and bloody practical effects.


Scream, Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street (doc)

If you’re not a Nightmare on Elm Street fan, you might wonder why anyone would make a documentary about the second installment of the popular 80’s slasher franchise. But Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is more than just one of many sequels: it’s a movie laden with gay subtext and stars a young gay actor, Mark Patton, who, at the time of filming, hadn’t come out. The mid-80’s were especially hard for the LGBTQ community, thanks to the AIDS epidemic being at its peak and causing the public to demonize homosexuality. For an up and coming movie star who felt like he had to stay in the closet to protect his career, the overt homosexual tone of Freddy’s Revenge– and writer David Chaskin’s insistence, after the movie received negative reviews, that he hadn’t written it that way and that it was Mark’s performance that made the movie gay- halted his path to stardom and forced him into a life of obscurity. He went off the grid, living in a small town in Mexico until 2010, when he was tracked down to be a part of Never Sleep Again, a documentary about the Nightmare franchise.

Since then, Mark has embraced his role as a male “scream queen” and gay horror icon, attending several conventions and using his celebrity platform to talk about bullying and homophobia in the horror community. The documentary is not only a fascinating exploration of Mark’s acting and personal journey, but an insightful look at how homosexuality was viewed in the 80’s (especially in Hollywood), and why many members of the LGBTQ community connect with the horror genre.

The documentary is also narrated by Cecil Baldwin, a gay horror icon in his own right (he’s the lead in the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale), adding to what is already an excellent film.


3 Day Weekend

Okay, this isn’t exactly horror-it’s more of a thriller- but the idea of being alone in the woods and stumbling across what at first appears to be a kidnapping gone wrong, then trying to evade the criminals with no car and a phone with no service, is a pretty scary concept. When Ben Boyd (Morgan Krantz) goes on a solo camping trip in the middle of the woods, he discovers a bloody mess in the front seat of one car, a woman (Maya Stojan) bound and gagged in the trunk of another, and the apparent kidnapper (Nathan Phillips) chasing after him. But all is not as it seems, as more of the story is revealed through the different characters’ perspectives.

This movie jumps into the suspense quickly and maintains that tension throughout the hour and twenty minute run time. There’s next to no dialogue, which allows the actors’ talent to really shine. It’s well-paced, allowing a pretty even amount of time to focus on each character’s perspective.

The story-telling gets a little murky and convoluted toward the very end, and some of the brief bits of dialogue feel forced or out of place, but overall it’s a gripping mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat and constantly going “Wait, what?!” at every new reveal.


Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!

 

 

FlixChatter Review: PET SEMATARY (2019)

GuestPost_Vince

Directed by: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence and John Lithgow

A year prior to graduating high school I had seen Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary in the theaters. Yeah – remember those? (I’m looking at you streaming fans). I was on a date and a horror movie seemed like a perfect choice at the time and King’s novels were very popular with the bookish kids in my grade, although I was still wading my way through the first hundred or so pages of The Stand notwithstanding (to pardon a pun). While I recall the slickness of the production, and perhaps a Ramones song or two in the film, it did its purpose but not much else. Scary it was not at the time but I enjoyed seeing Fred Gwynn in a role sans Munster makeup. He was quite good in it.

Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s 2019 adaptation sticks with the original premise: Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel Creed (Amy Seimetz) have moved their family (daughter Ellie and toddler Gage) out to the country to escape the stresses of the big city and in Louis’ case, the pressures of being an ER doc at the city hospital. Once settled in, they discover a makeshift pet cemetery the neighborhood kids created. Apparently, as the film implies, the road that passes through the area takes many pets’ lives.

John Lithgow plays Jud, their amiable, strange and dusty next door neighbor who gives them a vague history of the place and whom Ellie strikes up an innocent friendship. On Halloween, the Creed’s cat Church (after Churchill, funnily one of Lithgow’s famous roles) is killed on said road. Rather than telling Ellie the truth, the couple tells her Church ran away. Jud, conscious of Ellie’s feelings decides to help out by leading Louis to an ancient site in the forest beyond the cemetery and instructs Louis to bury their cat. A day later, Church is reanimated and returns to the house but something isn’t quite right. This is when the story takes a terrifying turn… (I’ll stop there to avoid spoilers).

Now in 2019, as a father of two young kids, I can understand why King considered this novel as awful and terrible and one he was reluctant to publish as “it just spirals down into darkness.” The themes here are familiar: guilt, trauma, denial and grief. However, King’s story and the filmmakers’ use of them with effective means and from a cerebral level is outright horrifying. You could call it a twisted Lazarus or Frankenstein story with dashes of the Golem.

The first 2/3 of the film is all this, effective, dreamlike with a touch of simplicity. It’s a great modern day horror story in the traditional sense with great atmospherics and good performances by Clarke, Seimetz and Lithgow. The last 1/3 of the film settles into predictability but in a sense, it really couldn’t go any other way. When the campiness started creeping in during the film’s finale, I must admit I welcomed it. It gave me respite from the story’s main themes – a sense of relief. While it is a flawed film, the filmmakers’ choice to keep it simple and not inundate it with effects and adrenalized editing is commendable.

At its core Pet Sematary is a family tragedy; loving parents who with their overprotectiveness and good intentions set into motion a terrible chain of events. The worst part is that we can relate to Louis’ actions even in its insanity – above all, when loss is coupled with guilt and denial and not given the right to mourn or grieve thus preventing it from running its natural course. As a horror film, Pet Sematary works quite well. But it is the idea in King’s story that really makes it horrifying at a deep archetypical level.

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So what do you think of PET SEMATARY? Let us know what you think!

TCFF Day 2 reviews: ‘Gladiators: The Uncertain Future of American Football documentary, We Are What We Are and Honeymoon Suite shorts

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Gladiators_FootballDoc
I’m not a huge fan of football but I watch enough of it as I sometimes accompany my husband watch a Vikings game. Even a casual watcher would realize how violent American football is, but just how violent? Well, this documentary sure is an eye-opener if you will. I read a comment how this documentary ‘tackles the issue of brain injury head-on.’ Can’t say it better myself and filmmaker Todd Trigsted and writer Michael Oriard gave us a well-researched and well-crafted about an intriguing subject matter and made something that’s thought-provoking and educational in an entertaining way.

I like how the documentary gave us a history of America’s favorite spectator sport from the late nineteenth century and the huge part it plays in the educational system as well as the economic and social aspect. It’d be unthinkable to see this sport being banned, though it did came close a few times in the past for being too violent. The numbers of victims the ‘gladiatorial’ sports claimed year after year is staggering, not just the professionals in the NFL but also in schools and colleges throughout the country. Thus the title of the doc is so fitting as it’s really no different from the deathly games of the Roman republic where gladiators fought to the death. The only difference is the time it took for the players to finally succumb to it. I guess it’s inevitable that players would get injured, we know it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ Yet few knows the danger of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which refers to the long-term brain damage that occurs from multiple concussion or brain injury. It’s nuts to learn that a high percentage of players actually get back playing again after being unconscious on the same day, when the doctors say they should at least be off the field for at least a week after that happens!

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Through talking heads of former NFL players as well as medical experts in the field, complete with all kinds of data and imagery of the brains of people with CTE, I don’t think I can look at American football the same way again. It’s similar to how watching The Cove documentary would not make me want to go to SeaWorld again, I don’t know if I’d let my kids play football. Of course it’s not as simple as that and this film isn’t just blindly against the sport. In fact, some of the former NFL players talked about how all the surgeries and pain they went through is worth it because they got to play a sport that they love. Even one of the brain surgeons talk about how all his boys play Football even though he knew the danger of the sport.

I think people who enjoy American football or even those who are only a casual watcher like me should see this documentary. Unlike some documentaries that often felt tedious and bogged down by all the statistics, Gladiators always kept me engaged and entertained. The score by bassist Michael Manring adds so much to the tone of the film, which is key in making an entertaining film in general. I don’t even mind watching this again when it’s out on Netflix as I’d love my hubby to see it. It’s perhaps one of the best documentaries I’ve seen to date that strikes the perfect balance between enlightening and entertaining.


4.5 out of 5 reels

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WeAreWhatWeAreposter

We Are What We Are is a horror film about a family with a secret that spans hundreds of years. It stars Bill Sage as Frank Parker, the father of a family of three who’s wife has just unexpectedly died, as well as Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner who play the daughters of Frank Parker who are also grieving to start the film over the loss of their mother. Another major player in this film is Michael Parks, recently acted in Red State and Django Unchained who plays Doc Barrow, the local town’s doctor who is starting to uncover the Parker’s family secret.

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This movie is spectacular not just as a horror film but just a film to experience. It keeps the viewer guessing as to what exactly is going on with the Parker family. Even when the secret is revealed the film still has some shocking moments most audience members won’t see coming.

The movie takes place in a small town with forest all around and has just been hit by a flood. The film has a very gloomy look to it. The cinematography is very well done. The film’s gloomy look adds to the tone of the movie as the plot unravels to reveal itself. The shots taking place at night are lit well enough to know and understand what is going on, and keep the gloomy look to the film in a sort of blue and green color palette.

Bill Sage puts on a great performance as Frank Parker. The sympathy factor on whether to love or hate his character is all over the place throughout the film, due to his performance and understanding of the character. He’s able to hook the audience early on due to his grieving but slowly as more is revealed about himself and his family, his performance becomes more awestruck as well as the opinion of whether he is a good guy or a bad guy.

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We Are What We Are is a great thriller to enjoy. It does have a bit of violent content but if you can deal with some gore, this is a horror movie to experience. Through its mysterious plot, engaging characters and performances and the gloomy tone, We Are What We Are is a rarity among horror films as this film is willing to keep going darker and darker in its plot and content. Whereas some other horror movies would let up before the audience gets too uncomfortable, We Are What We Are will keep most audiences uncomfortable in certain scenes for much longer than what they are accustomed to experiencing.

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4 out of 5 reels

TCFF_reviewer_Adam


Honeymoon Suite

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Honeymoon Suite is a Chinese short film about a hotel manager and an American guest who requires extra care due to his situation. This movie, though a short film, has a plot that should not be spoiled in its nature, and should be seen with fresh eyes. The movie has excellent prosthetic special effects and a clever script for the story its telling. It uses the short film form very well and while some great short films usually make the viewer want more of that story in a feature film, Honeymoon Suite gives you just enough to make the viewer satisfied. A must see among short films.


4.5 out of 5 reels

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So that about wraps up our Day 2 reviews. Any thoughts about any of these films?