The intimate, lesser known New York Horror Film Festival, held at Tribeca Cinemas on its 11th anniversary, this year hosted a few of horror’s heavy hitters – among them, Rob Zombie and Wes Craven. Perhaps, by word of mouth, the festival will expand in its 12th year, or, like this year, will be preserved for those “in the know.”
Both Friday and Saturday nights brought an excellent roster of intelligent independent filmmakers for the shorts competition. While some filmmakers clearly sought nothing more than an outlet to express their fandom, others took an atypical approach to the genre, leaving room for introspection. Here are my top three selections:
Deer Head Valley
Directed by Travis Greene
Written by Ronnie Prouty
It’s safe to say that many young genre filmmakers are inspired by the great works Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch. Yet it’s rare that any of them can adapt the same stylistic devices without an evocation of the amateur. Once in a while though, these works dispel counterfeit, and get it right. Such is the case for Greene and Prouty, whose ten-minute story about a cannibalistic capitalist who carves the insides of a captive to feed to his “sweet tart” girlfriend leaves one equally sated and disgusted.
In one of the film’s opening shots, tension festers in an office meeting, as a wide-angle lens creeps in on some dubious characters – one reminiscent of Wild At Heart’s Bobby Peru (Willem DaFoe). Hovering over is an ambient buzzing, and some Mullholland Drive behind-the-dumpster antics become slowly inevitable. Prouty, who plays the lead (or shall I say, cannibal) resurrects a Sam Rockwell breed of weird (think The Green Mile), as the sunlight painfully exposes his blood-stained wife beater.
“I don’t think it was written with any style in mind,” Prouty says. “It was based strictly on location–on this ranch, which got me thinking about what people do there.” What prevents the piece from becoming a copy-cat, is its clever insight into human nature, and its function as a parable that reminds us to peek below surfaces. The political question of a white-collar conspiracy remains subtle, while the film more overtly reminds us that we are all, in fact, just animals.
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Writer: Garret Shanley
If the NYHFF were a game of “which one is not the like the others?,” the answer would be Foxes. Set against an eerie backdrop of a deserted Stepford-like housing development, Ellen (Marie Ruane) and James (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) are at an economic stand-still, due to Ellen’s waning photography career. After noticing a group of foxes wreaking havoc in their trash cans, Ellen becomes obsessed with photographing them, eventually finding a feral freedom that edges on insanity.
Foxes could easily be an episode of The Twilight Zone, as it rides on a dawdling progression into the bizarre, something not easily consumable by todays media-saturated viewers. The atypical narrative finds us wondering just what is so creepy about this work, and we are never given a deliberate answer apart from Ellen’s decent into bestial proclivities, and the constant shrieking of foxes.
Rather than annoyances, the foxes’ calls are a reminder of the disparate environment in which this couple lives. Ellen, trapped by the four-walled demands of contemporary life, simply needs to run wild. It’s hardly surprising that Lorcan’s work was accepted to both SXSW and Tribeca Film Festival this year, and I’m thrilled to see what future works lie in store for the director.
Writer/Director: Erlingur Thoroddsen
When it comes to horror these days, sometimes just the ability to shock alone isn’t enough. We are a jaded people; we have seen it all. What Thoroddsen does in Child Eater is something rare: he creates a tangible vision of a mythic fantasy, an effigy of a boogeyman (T. Boomer Tibbs) that is actually unnerving.
As the film opened, I sighed at the prospect of “another babysitting thrasher film.” Helen (Cait Bliss) tucks in Lucas (Cameron Ocasio), who is terrified of the a man in his closet, and shortly after her boyfriend Tom (Dan Reiss) comes over trying to put the moves on. We have seen it before (Halloween, When a Stranger Calls, etc.). Yet, the man Lucas is afraid of is another kind – one who eats childrens’ eyes to regain his vision. I had to be skeptical of this idea, as it takes from so many former ghost tales, but decided to ride with it, and along came an image that has since been haunting my hippocampus.
There was a fateful moment in Child Eater during which the audience gasped and reeled. This phenomenon was a bitter-sweet gesture at what horror has been missing. While there may have been moments of plot-holing or wobbly acting, the monster reflected an artistry that is rarely found. In this sense, Thoroddsen earned his spot at the festival.
~ by Olivia Saperstein