Canadian horror-comedy Vicious Fun (2020) absolutely lives up to its name. Set in the 1980s but not overly indulgent in that decade’s fright-fare trappings, director Cody Calahan’s (The Oak Room [2020]; Let Her Out [2016]) latest feature sees twentysomething low-level but highly opinionated horror magazine writer Joel (Evan Marsh), who has an unrequited crush on his roommate Sarah (Alexa Rose Steele), follow one of her dates, Bob (Ari Millen), to a bar. The two get to talking and drinking until Joel overdoes the imbibing and accidentally stumbles into a meeting in which he is decidedly out of place. I’ll avoid spoiler territory here about who is at the meeting and what the agenda is, and just say that it launches Joel into a whole lot of hilarious and gory trouble. Another important character is Carrie (Amber Goldfarb), who shares great chemistry with Marsh and does a fine job in her suspense sequences. Calahan, working from a crackerjack screenplay by James Villeneuve (Callahan receives a story credit), paces the proceedings masterfully, balancing the humor and horror splendidly. The ensemble cast is marvelous, led by Marsh, whose facial expressions and comic timing are highly impressive. Horror comedy fans need to put Vicious Fun on their must-see lists. It’s a shoo-in for my top 10 list of fear-fare for 2021. 

Writer/director Alexis Bruchon’s The Woman with Leopard Shoes (La Femme aux Chaussures Leopard, 2020) is a black-and-white French film noir about a burglar (Alexis’ brother Paul Bruchon) hired by the titular female character to steal a box from the bedroom of a powerful, devious lawyer. The burglar finds himself trapped in that room when guests arrive for a party that was supposedly scheduled for a different night. The film is almost completely free of dialogue and shows only two faces on screen, using text messaging and people’s legs and shoes (shot from the POV of the protagonist), respectively, in their places. Alexis Bruchon’s film flirts with the experimental, but sticks to its conceits well and offers a cool, fitting, jazzy soundtrack scored by the director, who also shot and edited the film. Suspense lies in how the burglar might escape his predicament, if possible, as he seeks clues in the room in which he is trapped, and where most of the film takes place, and the director paces the film well. The Woman with Leopard Shoes is a cinematic labor of love that is absolutely worth seeking out.

Kirk Caouette wrote, directed, did the fight choreography for, and stars in the Canadian action thriller American Badger (2021), which follows familiar genre beats about philosophical hitmen who fall for their next appointed target but delivers big time with grueling, sometimes gruesome set pieces. Caouette — who has a long, impressive resume as a fight choreographer and stuntman, among other film credits — stars as the titular assassin, who suffers from PTSD and mourns for his deceased wife. He is tasked with tailing Velvet (Andrea Stefancivoka), a Slovakian cam girl who is the long-time squeeze of Russian mob boss Vasily (Michael Kopsa), when he receives the order to take her out of the picture. Caouette plays the Badger as stoic to the point of sometimes feeling wooden, though there is no questioning his talent when it comes to the action scenes, from hand-to-hand combat to gunplay and more. 

French film Out of The World (Hors du Monde, 2020) follows tropes and well-worn beats in its subgenre, too, which is a serial killer character study, though writer/director Marc Fouchard’s film is gorgeously shot by Pascal Boudet, superbly acted, and artfully directed. Its content, however, is brutal and at times unpleasant. Léo (Kevin Mischel) is a taxi driver, frustrated musician, child abuse victim, and a serial murderer of women. When he meets deaf dancer Amélie (Aurélia Poirier) as a fare one day, he feels for her in a different way than he does other women, and tries to pursue her as a love interest, including in one chilling scene involving him grilling a possible future victim on how to properly romance a woman. Fantasy scenes mix with reality to keep the proceedings feeling off-kilter and jarring, and a surprising third-act occurrence steps that approach up a notch. Out of The World is easy to look at but hard to watch.

Vicious Fun, The Woman with Leopard Shoes, American Badger, and Out of The World (Hors du Monde) screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow, which ran from 5–7 March, 2021.