I'm happy to say that the best film I saw at the second annual Brooklyn Horror Film Festival was a gay movie: Rift, an Icelandic feature directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen (his fun, completely different Child Eater closed last year's event). More than a great horror flick—with some truly suspenseful, unnerving moments and great use of eerie, isolated locations—it's also a terrific gay film, with great performances from sexy leads Bjorn Stefansson and Sigurour por Oskarsson as former boyfriends who reconnect at a remote vacation house. Rift deftly weaves in serious issues facing gay men, including addiction and sexual abuse, and I'll be posting a full review when it’s released nationwide in November.
Running a close second was another foreign title: the German Cold Hell, which pits a kickboxing Muslim woman (an awesome Violetta Schurawlow) against a misogynistic fundamentalist serial killer. This unique hybrid blends drama, horror, and action, with some thrillingly edge of your seat set pieces—the taxi cab battle through the streets of Vienna has to be seen to be believed. It’s a thriller that finds time to explore the messy, complicated lives of its protagonists, too.
Then there was the supremely creepy and original 1974, a Mexican found footage odyssey that re-invigorates a well-worn subgenre with subtlety and some real surprises. A couple moves into a cozy vacation home in the forest but it isn't long before Altair (Diana Bovio) falls under the sway of "angels" who instruct her to paint bricks, erect doors out of them, and do other inexplicably eerie things. The super 8 look, period details, and a great sense of humor enrich director Victor Dryere's entertaining scare show. Joe Lynch's Mayhem, starring The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun, isn't particularly scary but it's a lot of fun. Yeun’s lawyer teams up with a luckless client (Samara Weaving, who looks and acts like Margot Robbie's equally spunky sister) to take on his sinister bosses while his office tower is under quarantine for an outbreak of the id-unleashing "red eye" virus. Assorted bloody high-jinks ensue. Subtle it ain't, and there’s an over-reliance on narration in the beginning, but it's a clever premise and the cast relishes the silly script. I also give Lynch props for bucking convention by casting an Asian actor in an “everyman” role; at the post-screening Q&A he explained that "we've seen a white guy in this type of movie before." (He also spun some fun stories out of behind the scenes details like the difficulty of licensing a Dave Matthews Band track for a key scene.)
There were also a number of compelling short films judging from Locals Only, the one shorts collection I managed to screen this year. Are You Wild Like Me? is a breathtakingly beautiful take on the child raised by animals urban legend; Fluffernutter is an amusingly odd mother-sons tale I want to see expanded to feature length; Razor is an eerie period piece so well-crafted that it's like a work of art; and handsome local actor Clay von Carlowitz does solid work opposite Jenny Matlack in the addiction allegory Scorch.
Even the less successful movies I caught had their moments. Mexico's Veronica fell a little flat for me—the big reveal isn't quite as satisfying as the filmmakers seem to think it is—but it's beautifully acted by Arcelia Ramirez and Olga Segura, as a psychiatrist and her new patient. Certain scenes have an undeniable erotic charge, and the black and white cinematography is gorgeous. Gorgeous is a good way to describe storyboard artist Elizabeth E. Schuch’s The Book of Birdie, a bizarre tale of a young girl (doe-eyed Ilirida Memedovski) sent to a convent whose inner world is unusual, to say the least. The slowly paced, virtually plotless movie will test the average viewer's patience, and while Birdie's predilections and visions are definitely original—she chats with a hanging nun and has elaborate masquerade fantasies rich with religious imagery—this is mostly an interesting failure. Birdie’s romance with the tomboyish Julia (Kitty Hall) is arresting, and the all-female cast is a cool choice; I'd like to see what Schuch does next.
I'm also eager to see what the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival brings us next fall. It's an impressive homegrown effort that I hope will become a new Halloween tradition.