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[Fantastic Fest] Masking Threshold: A True Macro Exploration of Existential, Ringing Madness

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Fantastic

If you want to feel what going insane is like without actually going insane, boy I have a movie for you. Masking Threshold by Johannes Grenzfurthner is incredible, nauseating, sick, depraved and one-hundred percent directly in your face. That being said, you know damn well, we loved it to death.

Masking Threshold tells the story of a bored, skeptic IT professional who decides to lock himself in his apartment. He does so in order to conduct a study to figure out why he has tinnitus or at least to discover the root of said hearing deficiency.

The film’s intro is the subject going over the equipment that he will use to film his experiments for some sort of quantifiable truth. The filming equipment is primarily made up of macro-lenses. Basically, anything you see here are the tools that are used to lead us down the path of madness.

These lenses are the true horror of the film. We as an audience are locked in this room with him and this incredibly tight focus. So, the entire runtime of the film is maddeningly a series of beautifully harrowing shots that are from an entirely macro perspective.

Along with the macro turn, we also have a keen sense of audio throughout. Since this is a study on tinnitus, we are thrown into a world where all sounds are amplified and the maddening ring, hum and ping of tinnitus is constant and fluctuating.

Sound like it will drive you crazy? Well, it will. There have been a variety of Lovecraftian films as of late, but Masking Threshold truly gets to the core of that mechanic by way of locking an audience in a room with a character straight out of a Lovecraft story and places a macro focus entirely on him.

The film is working on multiple levels of a maddening state of obsession as well. Obsessions that take an individual or online hive mind to the brink of absolute loss of logic. Toxic fandoms and masculinity are definitely at play within the walls of this threshold.

I’m all about watching films that are new. Dark places that we haven’t been before. Sick shit that is challenging. Masking Threshold lives in that arena and doesn’t flinch for its entire runtime. Instead, masterful audio and cinematography pulls you deeper into its framework.

Masking Threshold doesn’t have any limits and it constantly pushes the boundaries by either a gross-out close up or several well written and glued together slices of existential dialogue that Thomas Ligotti would be extremely in love with.

A study having to do with this dude’s hearing ends up engulfing him and taking him down the path of true, suffocating madness and into the realm of gory, unflinching horror… the way we like it.

Masking Threshold is unlike anything you have seen before. It’s a dose of pure insanity that is constantly brought home by macro focus and audio that pushes you all of the damn place. It is never insanity without a multilayered source. The entirety feels dangerous and a lot like riding in a race car with no seatbelt of framework. Grenzfurthner’s work is the pure language of a madman but the kind of madman that iHorror and Fantastic Fest love to death.

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Panic Fest 2024 Review: ‘Haunted Ulster Live’

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Everything old is new again.

On Halloween 1998, the local news of Northern Ireland decide to do a special live report from an allegedly haunted house in Belfast. Hosted by local personality Gerry Burns (Mark Claney) and popular children’s presenter Michelle Kelly (Aimee Richardson) they intend to look at the supernatural forces disturbing the current family living there. With legends and folklore abound, is there an actual spirit curse in the building or something far more insidious at work?

Presented as a series of found footage from a long forgotten broadcast, Haunted Ulster Live follows similar formats and premises as Ghostwatch and The WNUF Halloween Special with a news crew investigating the supernatural for big ratings only to get in over their heads. And while the plot has certainly been done before, director Dominic O’Neill’s 90’s set tale of local access horror manages to stand out on its own ghastly feet. The dynamic between Gerry and Michelle is most prominent, with him being an experienced broadcaster who thinks this production is beneath him and Michelle being fresh blood who is considerably annoyed at being presented as costumed eye candy. This builds as the events within and around the domicile becomes too much to ignore as anything less than the real deal.

The cast of characters is rounded out by the McKillen family who have been dealing with the haunting for some time and how it’s had an effect on them. Experts are brought in to help explain the situation including the paranormal investigator Robert (Dave Fleming) and the psychic Sarah (Antoinette Morelli) who bring their own perspectives and angles to the haunting. A long and colorful history is established about the house, with Robert discussing how it used to be the site of an ancient ceremonial stone, the center of leylines, and how it was possibly possessed by the ghost of a former owner named Mr. Newell. And local legends abound about a nefarious spirit named Blackfoot Jack that would leave trails of dark footprints in his wake. It’s a fun twist having multiple potential explanations for the site’s strange occurrences instead of one end-all be-all source. Especially as the events unfold and the investigators try to discover the truth.

At its 79 minute timelength, and the encompassing broadcast, it’s a bit of a slow burn as the characters and lore is established. Between some news interruptions and behind the scenes footage, the action is mostly focused on Gerry and Michelle and the build up to their actual encounters with forces beyond their comprehension. I will give kudos that it went places I didn’t expect, leading to a surprisingly poignant and spiritually horrifying third act.

So, while Haunted Ulster Live isn’t exactly trendsetting, it definitely follows in the footsteps of similar found footage and broadcast horror films to walk its own path. Making for an entertaining and compact piece of mockumentary. If you’re a fan of the sub-genres, Haunted Ulster Live is well worth a watch.

3 eyes out of 5
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Panic Fest 2024 Review: ‘Never Hike Alone 2’

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There are fewer icons more recognizable than the slasher. Freddy Krueger. Michael Myers. Victor Crowley. Notorious killers who always seem to come back for more no matter how many times they are slain or their franchises seemingly put to a final chapter or nightmare. And so it seems that even some legal disputes cannot stop one of the most memorable movie murderers of all: Jason Voorhees!

Following the events of the first Never Hike Alone, outdoorsman and YouTuber Kyle McLeod (Drew Leighty) has been hospitalized after his encounter with the long thought dead Jason Voorhees, saved by perhaps the hockey masked killer’s greatest adversary Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) who now currently works as an EMT around Crystal Lake. Still haunted by Jason, Tommy Jarvis struggles to find a sense of stability and this latest encounter is pushing him to end the reign of Voorhees once and for all…

Never Hike Alone made a splash online as a well shot and thoughtful fan film continuation of the classic slasher franchise that was built up with the snowbound follow up Never Hike In The Snow and now climaxing with this direct sequel. It’s not only an incredible Friday The 13th love letter, but a well thought out and entertaining epilogue of sorts to the infamous ‘Tommy Jarvis Trilogy’ from within the franchise that encapsulated Friday The 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter, Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning, and Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Even getting some of the original cast back as their characters to continue the tale! Thom Mathews being the most prominent as Tommy Jarvis, but with other series casting like Vincent Guastaferro returning as now Sheriff Rick Cologne and still having a bone to pick with Jarvis and the mess around Jason Voorhees. Even featuring some Friday The 13th alumni like Part III‘s Larry Zerner as the mayor of Crystal Lake!

On top of that, the movie delivers on kills and action. Taking turns that some of the previous fils never got the chance to deliver on. Most prominently, Jason Voorhees going on a rampage through Crystal Lake proper when he slices his way through a hospital! Creating a nice throughline of the mythology of Friday The 13th, Tommy Jarvis and the cast’s trauma, and Jason doing what he does best in the most cinematically gory ways possible.

The Never Hike Alone films from Womp Stomp Films and Vincente DiSanti are a testament to the fanbase of Friday The 13th and the still enduring popularity of those films and of Jason Voorhees. And while officially, no new movie in the franchise is on the horizon for the foreseeable future, at the very least there is some comfort knowing fans are willing to go to these lengths to fill the void.

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Panic Fest 2024 Review: ‘The Ceremony Is About To Begin’

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People will look for answers and belonging in the darkest places and the darkest people. The Osiris Collective is a commune predicated upon ancient Egyptian theology and was run by the mysterious Father Osiris. The group boasted dozens of members, each forgoing their old lives for one held in the Egyptian themed land owned by Osiris in Northern California. But the good times take a turn for the worst when in 2018, an upstart member of the collective named Anubis (Chad Westbrook Hinds) reports Osiris disappearing while mountain climbing and declaring himself the new leader. A schism ensued with many members leaving the cult under Anubis’ unhinged leadership. A documentary is being made by a young man named Keith (John Laird) whose fixation with The Osiris Collective stems from his girlfriend Maddy leaving him for the group several years ago. When Keith gets invited to document the commune by Anubis himself, he decides to investigate, only to get wrapped up in horrors he couldn’t even imagine…

The Ceremony Is About To Begin is the latest genre twisting horror film from Red Snow‘s Sean Nichols Lynch. This time tackling cultist horror along with a mockumentary style and the Egyptian mythology theme for the cherry on top. I was a big fan of Red Snow‘s subversiveness of the vampire romance sub-genre and was excited to see what this take would bring. While the movie has some interesting ideas and a decent tension between the meek Keith and the erratic Anubis, it just doesn’t exactly thread everything together in a succinct fashion.

The story begins with a true crime documentary style interviewing former members of The Osiris Collective and sets-up what led the cult to where it is now. This aspect of the storyline, especially Keith’s own personal interest in the cult, made it an interesting plotline. But aside from some clips later on, it doesn’t play as much a factor. The focus is largely on the dynamic between Anubis and Keith, which is toxic to put it lightly. Interestingly, Chad Westbrook Hinds and John Lairds are both credited as writers on The Ceremony Is About To Begin and definitely feel like they’re putting their all into these characters. Anubis is the very definition of a cult leader. Charismatic, philosophical, whimsical, and threateningly dangerous at the drop of a hat.

Yet strangely, the commune is deserted of all cult members. Creating a ghost town that only amps up the danger as Keith documents Anubis’ alleged utopia. A lot of the back and forth between them drags at times as they struggle for control and Anubis keeps continuing to convince Keith to stick around despite the threatening situation. This does lead to a pretty fun and bloody finale that fully leans into mummy horror.

Overall, despite meandering and having a bit of a slow pace, The ceremony Is About To Begin is a fairly entertaining cult, found footage, and mummy horror hybrid. If you want mummies, it delivers on mummies!

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