MassIndieFilmThis season, the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival recognized women working in genre film by devoting a program of films exhibiting ‘women in horror.’ While the notion of ‘women in horror’ may, in the opinion of some, box female directors up as a novelty, it can also be argued that grouping a trio of kick ass films that happen to be created by women is a good way to bring them much deserved attention. Increasing awareness and expanding opportunities for women working behind the camera is paramount, but a woman’s point-of-view in storytelling also holds a significant place in the discussion of equality.

The three films referred to here are Karen Lam’s The Stolen (2012), Izzy Lee’s Legitimate (2013), and Lou Simon’s Hazmat (2013), respectively. Though each film varies in everything from tone to style, each is also a stunning representation of the type of dazzling and original storytelling we can expect when the industry opens up to diversity.

StolenVancouver’s own Karen Lam (Stained, The Cabinet) follows up her brutal short Doll Parts (2011) with The Stolen, a dark fairy tale dripping with the gloomy atmosphere of British Columbia’s provincial forests. The story follows Essie (Lilah Fitzgerald), a young girl who is granted a wish when she frees a mysterious boy (Morgan Roff) from bullies. All is not as it seems, however, when the Fairy Queene (Sarah Lind) harbors secret plans for Essie. Lam’s chilling film provides subtle commentary on the challenges of traumatized war veterans re-integrating into society, and the detrimental effects post-traumatic stress disorder can have on families and communities.

LegitLegitimate is a provocative short directed by Boston’s Izzy Lee. The foundation for the film is based upon incendiary words of U.S. Representative Todd Akin during a heated debate about women’s reproductive rights when he remarked, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Lee, in a fit of outrage, concocted the film to exorcise her rage in a style that’s aptly been described as Dario Argento meets David Lynch.

Lee (thankfully) refuses to address the issue with subtlety, and turns the tables on a patriarchal society that dares try to control women’s bodies by making a man—in this case a politician—walk in their shoes. In the film, a Senator (Michael Thurber) is treated to a mesmerizing show by a sultry rope clad dancer (Karin Webb). What follows is an electrifying revenge film that makes for one of the boldest political statements in this or any genre as the Senator slowly loses consciousness and awakens covered in blood; for him, the worst is yet to come in a shocking moment where he learns what it’s like to lose control of his body. Legitimate is crafted with such confidence and conviction; viewers might have a hard time believing this is Lee’s first film. Click here for full review

HazMatLou Simon’s HazMat (2013), a refreshing surprise at the festival, is a satirical horror feature that pokes fun at slasher films, paranormal reality TV shows, and YouTube culture without winking at the audience. Simon finds a nice balance between humor and horror that allows the viewer to feel tension, while defusing it with laughter. The film is bolstered by great performances and a clever script by Simon, and doesn’t shy away from delivering the bloody goods when it matters.

The film is the story of a crew from the TV show Scary Antics who target a disturbed man for a scary practical joke that will appear on their nationally televised show. The crew, along with the man’s friends, is locked in an abandoned chemical plant. When it’s revealed to him that everything is an elaborate set up, he snaps; shortly after, bodies begin to fall, and the hapless survivors find themselves trapped with a masked ax-wielding madman.

The greatest strength of HaZmat is a likable, believable cast. Simon assembled a diverse group of talented actors and avoids assigning them the typical archetypes found in the horror genre. Rather than exist as fodder for our entertainment, we feel genuine sadness when a character gets hacked. Simon also interjects subtext about “reality” as viewed through the lens, and the ramifications it holds for a society screaming for attention.

~ By Chris Hallock