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Finding Horror Community in Lockdown: Unnamed Footage Festival Recap

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This is coverage of the Unnamed Footage Film Festival 24-hour webathon, continue reading for a look at the fourth year of the only found footage festival in North America. 

There is no doubt that the way we watch films has been tested in the last year. Theaters struggle to hold on as blockbuster films premiere on streaming sites. Film festivals do the previously unthinkable work of finding a way to go online.

Viewers now have to experience films alone in places where they used to be community events with friends and peers. And it can be isolating. 

Connecting in the Horror Community in the Time of Coronavirus 

So what does this have to do with the Unnamed Footage Festival? The festival was made four years ago with the intention of showing lower-budget, lesser-known found footage horror movies in theaters, an experience many of them wouldn’t get otherwise.

Like a lot of other film festivals and theaters, after the pandemic, UFF had to rethink their entire purpose and form to continue. This year, what they came up with was a 24-hour interactive webathon (the first of its kind, as far as I know) encouraging horror fans to connect with each other while sharing an experience, virtually. 

UFF24hr

Unnamed Footage Festival Schedule

While it was a bit grueling to stay up that long (but then again, what film festival isn’t a little bit grueling?) the marathon-style festival overall was entertaining and encouraging to know I was part of a collective of horror fans experiencing this at the same exact time across America and beyond. 

I don’t know if it was intentional, but the festival couldn’t help but conjure up a similar horror event that happened recently: the 24-hour Last Drive-In marathon on Shudder that brought back Joe Bob Briggs and “broke the internet” in 2018. 

Even though it was simpler times (pre-pandemic), the incredible response to this live show, where people could watch at the same time across the world and make friends with other people watching it on social media, indicated that horror fans were craving connection with each other. 

Similarly, horror Facebook groups host watch parties where they can also chat with each other while simultaneously watching the same movie, as opposed to watching a movie alone, which is becoming the norm with the shift towards streaming sites. 

The UFF embraced the horror fans’ desire for community by structuring their festival as one wacky marathon, while most other film festivals moving online have tried to keep the same format that they would have done live, buying tickets for a showing at a specific time. You can still connect with other viewers via social media this way, but it’s just not the same. 

While Twitter was an option, the UFF also incorporated a chatbox within the same window as the marathon that surprisingly did not self-implode, and was a space where people discussed films as they were happening and shared where they were watching from. 

This all means that connecting with others through this marathon experience was pretty close to a live festival, if not better. In the experiment that has become film festivals, UFF won, and I would not be surprised if other film festivals follow suit. 

The marathon of new and old found footage films itself was not the only thing the creative people behind UFF prepared for this festival. The festival opens with the fest organizers pulling the VHS marathon out of their stomach in a Videodrome-style homage, which you can view below.

Between blocks of films, the webathon was being “hosted” by a crude, dry-humoured host named “Vernon Herman Salinger” who interviewed festival coordinators and put on amusing skits. Film and culture critic Mary Beth McAndrews interviewed multiple film directors throughout the festival, some of which are available on their Youtube. 

The coolest and most intricate addition to the festival was something so clever I actually did not notice at first. Their supposed festival sponsor “Waketrix.” This “company” supposedly makes a sleep suppressant drug, and even has a website that looks pretty legit at a glance. However, inspecting it at all will reveal that it was something the festival created as a spooky found footage experience that has scary notes hidden throughout and apparently games as well. Check it out for yourself. 

All this is to say that the festival was pretty darn cool. Now I’ll share my film highlights of the webathon. 

Short Film Highlights of the Unnamed Footage Festival

Found footage. You love it or you hate it. I, for one, love it and found some great films from this festival that were memorable, for good or bad reasons. There was a lot of great talent represented, with films from Spree director Eugene Kotlyarenko and Harpoon director Rob Grant, and other films that were submitted completely anonymously. 

About 30 shorts and 16 features made up the marathon. Without a doubt, some of them rose above the rest.

The first film that impressed me in conflicting ways was a short called Paloma’s Pit by Michael Arcos. The short combines a poetic yet grungy dedication to a cat that died with spy footage (that was cleared by their lawyer) of the cat’s owners confronting the owner of the dog that killed the cat. It is extremely uncomfortable, especially the disturbing claymation cat that narrates the story, and yet is such a moving, eccentric and personal found footage-style dedication to this cat that I couldn’t help but be grossly enamored. 

Paloma's Pit

Paloma’s Pit – Image Courtesy of Michael Arcos

From the same director was a short about a jaguar that escapes his cage and wreaks havoc on his zoo, Valerio’s Day Out. The found footage features real news reels and narrates from the perspective of the killer cat. You can check the short out below.

Another standout short was one that also showed at the iHorror Film Festival in 2019: Possessions 2. Directed by Zeke Farrow, this short is the live videos of an eccentric man holding a sale of his odd belongings, one of which is not as innocent as it seems. 

I loved the style of the short Wet Nurse Trilogy created by special effects company Feast Effects. This trilogy was basically a goblin-looking guy doing various disgusting things (think vomit and goo) to a pair of fake breasts, and I was definitely about that. Hey, boob goo is cool. Check it out below (NSFW).

The short What’s Craicin’! Directed by Chase Honaker, which shows a man unboxing a strange religious cult’s life advice videos, was also very spooky and original. 

The best shorts of the marathon to me were both directed by video game critic Brian David Gilbert and prolific writer Karen Han. The first was Earn $20K EVERY MONTH by being your own boss, which spoofs life advice Youtube videos in a terrifying paranormal way. 

His other short, which I found to be the best of the fest, was Teaching Jake About the Camcorder, Jan ‘97, which is a terrifying and yet emotional view of a man watching a tape of his dad teach him how to use a camera over and over again. It reminds me of one of my favorite horror films of last year, the funny and experimental VHYes.

 

Feature Highlights of Unnamed Footage Festival

The first feature at the festival was the excellent I Blame Society (2020) directed by Gillian Horvat. The film follows the main character and director, Horvat, playing a woman filmmaker who continues to get rejected for having too disturbing ideas for a girl, instead of helping create “strong female characters.” Dealing with various other personal problems with her life, she realizes that as a woman she can very easily get away with murder. 

I Blame Society

I Blame Society

The film follows a recent resurgence of low budget, dialogue-heavy comedic dark films dubbed “mumblecore horror” or better yet, “mumblegore,” along the likes of Creep and V/H/S. 

The next film was 1974: The Possession of Altair (2016) directed by Victor Dryere, a Mexican ‘70s 8mm-stylized home video from the perspective of a newlywed couple who experience supernatural occurrences as they move into a house. Personally I find the found footage possession genre a bit overplayed (see Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism) but for anyone into possession movies I would recommend this moody flick. 

1974 Unnamed Footage Festival

1974: The Possession of Altair – Image courtesy of Unnamed Footage Festival

A group of feature films at the fest would satisfy the extreme exploitation gore hounds in horror. The first was Long Pigs (2007) a Canadian mockumentary on a serial killer cannibal who has a dream of publishing a cookbook for human meat, directed by Chris Power and Nathan Hymes. This movie was pretty funny and the serial killer at the center was as nice as a dad at a cookout. 

There was also some incredible special effects work going on, with multiple instances of people being cleaved in two while hung up and a really amazing time-lapse of a body being dismembered and prepared as if a pig at a butcher shop. 

Long Pigs Unnamed Footage Film Festival

Long Pigs, image courtesy of Unnamed Footage Film Festival

Next on the disgusting and disturbing list was Descent Into Darkness: My European Nightmare (2013), directed, written and starring Rafael Cherkaski. Now, when someone tells you a movie is disturbing, a horror fan usually scoffs and thinks yeah, right. Believe me when I tell you that this movie is no joke and truly is a “descent into darkness.” It is not for the faint hearted. 

A Latvian journalist sets off to make a documentary on “the European dream” which would have him traveling to various European countries to film his experience, however after running out of money and a series of harrowing events, the director starts to unravel. 

Descent Into Darkness Unnamed Footage Festival

Descent Into Darkness: My European Nightmare- Image courtesy of Unnamed Footage Festival

The last goretastic film wss Reel 2 (2020) from director Chris Good Goodwin. Another movie from the perspective of a serial killer, SlasherVictim 666, who actually is setting out to make a film as he believes he is “the greatest director who ever lived.” This is a sequel and I would recommend both to gorehounds as they feature really intense special effects, reminiscent of a lower budget Texas Chain Saw Massacre from the perspective of the family.

Outside of the extreme gore, I wasn’t really a fan of this, however I haven’t seen the first and have heard it is better. 

On the subject of gore, Harpoon director Rob Grant’s film Fake Blood (2017) is a pretty good faux documentary looking at the effects of violence in his previous films on real violence.

Fake Blood Unnamed Footage Film Festival

Fake Blood – image courtesy of Unnamed Footage Film Festival

Additional noteworthy films included a new cut of Murder Death Koreatown (2020), one of my favorite films of last year, that follows a white man that becomes convinced of a murder conspiracy after someone is murdered in the apartment complex next to him, which actually happened in real life. This film is completely anonymous and apparently most of the people he interrogates throughout the film are non-actors who were not aware that this was a film (which brings up questions of exploitation and ethics in filmmaking).

This new cut was given to the film festival as a VHS that was supposedly the only copy that existed, with instructions to destroy it immediately after airing, which they did on air by running it over with a car. The new cut, according to the festival coordinators, was the so-called “conspiracy cut” that emphasized the conspiracy at the center of the film and made it seem more real. It also included a new creepy beginning. 

Murder Death Koreatown

Murder Death Koreatown

The last film of the festival is perhaps one of the most crazy, batshi*t insane horror films I have had the pleasure of viewing. The Video Diary of Madi O: Final Entries (2012), with no director or cast attached, is a film that the festival personally vouched for as a future cult classic. I didn’t believe them for the first cringy half of this film but was definitely convinced by the end. I wouldn’t consider it a good movie, but I would definitely consider it a movie that will challenge your idea of what a horror movie is, or what a “plot” is. 

Final Entries The Video Diary of Madi O Poster

Final Entries The Video Diary of Madi O Poster – Image courtesy of Unnamed Footage Festival

The film follows two girls who decide to run away from home and find a house to squat in. That’s really all that can be said without spoiling the weirdness of this film, and also can be said coherently. It ties in legit academic film theory in in ways that make me question if the creator is a genius, or a madman. 

It is also available for free on Plex and has a very Blair Witch Project online campaign purporting the veracity of it, including a website to find the missing girls and a Change.org Petition. It resembles Megan Is Missing, but on lots of drugs. 

My top film from the festival is actually not a film at all, but an edited together version of a Youtube channel. I Am Sophie (2021) was a somewhat viral Youtube series that tricked a few different people into thinking it was real, starting off as a rich girl’s blog about her life. What it turns into, however, is a terrifying Alternate Reality Game (ARG) that will definitely stay on the mind after viewing.

I Am Sophie

I Am Sophie – Image courtesy of Unnamed Footage Festival

As it came out on Youtube with no indication that it was fake, I also think this film captures the spirit of the festival the best, as a realistic found footage experience with a fake Instagram going along with it. It also has a similar style to some Adult Swim horror infomercials, which I’m a fan of. 

Overall, this was a great festival, between the great collection of films and creative and artistic execution, this was probably one of the best film festivals I’ve “attended.” They will most likely return to a more traditional festival setting next year in California, COVID-19 willing, but anyone in that area I highly recommend to attend. 

Even if festivals do return to the real world in the future, I hope other festivals find ways to stylize and create an intimate and connected experience like this festival did, and I’m sure anyone who attending this year will remember that 24 hours fondly. 

All of the funds made by the festival went towards keeping theaters opened, and while the festival is over, if you still want to make a donation you can at this link. If you want to keep up with the Unnamed Footage Festival, they have a Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

Keep up to date with iHorror for more festival coverage, and look out for incoming reviews.

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Movie Reviews

[Sundance Review] ‘The Night Logan Woke Up’ Bares Dark, Familial Teeth in Gripping Thriller

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Sundance Film Festival 2023 is underway and as always, is offering the best of the best in and out of the horror genre for its audiences including The Night Logan Woke Up, a new episodic thriller from multi-hyphenate talent, Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother).

Set in Quebec and presented in Canadian French, Sundance presented the first two hour-long episodes of the new series as part of its Indie Episodic program. Dolan and a brilliant cast tell the story of a family who gathers together as its matriarch dies.

Of course, all is not well in the family. If it were, there wouldn’t be much to talk about, right?

Over the course of two intense episodes, we play voyeur to eldest brother Julien’s infidelity, younger brother Denis’s strained relationship with his ex-wife and daughters, and youngest brother Elliot’s iffy recovery from drugs and alcohol.

And then there’s Mireille, the only sister in the family, estranged from them for years after the events that took place thirty years before when she snuck into her crush’s room in the middle of the night. Something horrific happened that night, something that changed the family forever, and we’re given the first initial inklings of that as the series begins.

Dolan, who also plays youngest brother Elliot, wrote and directed the series based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard, and he’s assembled a dynamic cast, many of whom starred in the original theatrical production, to bring the story to life.

The Night Logan Woke Up
A family gathers as their matriarch dies in The Night Logan Woke Up

Patrick Hivon bristles as Julien, who holds onto the past almost suffocating under the weight of it. Eric Bruneau brings heart and emotional availability as the middle son, always trying to please, always trying to do the right thing. As Elliott, Dolan treats us to a hyper-charged performance. You can feel him teetering, threatening to fall into old habits. His world is made of cracked glass that could shatter beneath him at any moment.

As for Mireille, Julie LeBreton brings a beautifully layered performance to the series. She is the darkened heart of this family mystery, and her every move and turn of phrase seems calculated to the tiniest decimal point. She decimates and heals with alacrity heightened by LeBreton’s ability to deliver rage at a whisper.

By the end of the second episode, I was on the edge of my seat.

I don’t just want to know what happens next; I need to know. Dolan has done a fine job teasing out the backstory of The Night Logan Woke Up. He seems to have an innate understanding of how much detail is just enough to keep his audience interested without giving too much away.

It’s a talent that far too few writers in genre entertainment seem to possess anymore, and it’s a treat to see it play out so beautifully.

The Night Logan Woke Up is brought to the screen by StudioCanal. The series premiered in 2022 on Club Illico in Canada and is set for a wider relase after its Sundance screenings.

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[Sundance Review] Brutal ‘Talk to Me’ Might Be Festival’s Best Midnight Title

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Australian horror movies are some of the best of the genre. They aren’t afraid to push the limits of both stories or gore. It’s apparent from the beginning that Talk to Me is moving across — way across — those same lines. 

In this film, zoomers are caught in the supernatural crossfire after performing a trendy seance challenge by using a preserved hand and forearm of a psychic. This is their gateway to the other world where demons plot to manipulate human lives. All it takes is to shake the outreaching hand like a “test your strength” carnival game to make contact. It’s also a great Tik Tok ready experiment where views are likely to climb.

With all their teenage pomp, when these friends get together, it feels a bit like HBO’s Euphoria with a Conjuring twist. I’d even go so far as to compare it to The Evil Dead, the monsters here are just as intense and ugly. There is also a heavy James Wan influence from back in his Insidious days. Couple all of these things with a Creepypasta-type story and you can imagine what kind of hell is going to cross over.

At first, the teens have fun getting possessed one by one, filming each scenario. That is until one of them is overtaken by a forceful spirit that violently injures its host by forcing him to bash his head against hard surfaces. But not before manipulating him to pluck out his own eye and then squeamishly performing in a tongues-and-all-make-out session with a pet bulldog. You read that right.

The brutality is unhinged. 

The adults are certain the teens are doing hard drugs in the aftermath of the injuries. If only real drugs were the case. The kids get a “high” on these possessions, but in doing so, have unknowingly ripped a hole between the real world and the hereafter where evil spirits come through and manipulate the game’s participants. 

Our troubled protagonist, Mia (Sophie Wilde) is convinced she has made contact with her dead mother through one of the sessions. It’s a heartwarming moment, the only one, in this relentless barrage of disturbing images you can’t unsee.

The film is directed by YouTuber twins Danny and Michael Philippou. Despite their small screen medium, these guys have a future on larger venues. Talk to Me is an amalgam of mined ideas but this duo makes them better. Even as far as sticking an almost perfect landing which you know in this genre is a rarity. 

It’s also refreshing to see them allow our main character, Mia, to slowly slip into madness without pulling cheap stunts just to appease the intended audience. Each scare is purposeful, each monster is developed and what they have to say is important.

Wilde never lets the genre get the better of her. She plays Mia with a subdued sense of weakness. You can see, had it not been for the passing of her mother, this young lady would not fall under the traps of silly peer pressure. To pull that many layers out of an actress is not the result of an expensive acting workshop, but the sign of a future star honing her craft.

It appears the directors saw the talent in Wilde and focused on that instead of some of the other actors. Alexandra Jensen as Jade plays the supportive best friend, but not to the levels of a final girl we are used to. And Joe Bird as Riley, the possessed one, is terrifying as the harbinger of hell.

The Philippou’s probably screamed out loud when veteran actress Miranda Otto (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Annabelle: Creation) said okay to the script. She is amazing in everything she does. She brings polish to an already shining movie.

There isn’t much fault to be pointed out in Talk to Me. The cinematography deserves a slight upgrade, and the collective ideas of past works are undeniably present, but the film never tries to improve upon those ideas by being extra. It’s fully aware that it is borrowing, but what the filmmakers pay back is worth far more than what was taken.

Talk to Me is a part of the Midnight section of Sundance Film Festival 2023.

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[Sundance Review] ‘Infinity Pool’ is a Bleak Examination of Identity

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Infinity Pool

Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool arrived at Sundance Film Festival with a not-so-surprisingly bleak look at wealth, sex, and identity with body horror to spare.

Alexander Skarsgard stars as James Foster, an author suffering from writer’s block, who travels with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) to the fictional island of La Tolqa. Visitors to the island are required by law to stay inside their resort compound, but after meeting up with the mysterious uber-wealthy couple Alban and Gabi (Jalil Espert and Mia Goth), they find themselves outside the gates.

On their way back to the compound, James hits a man with his car, killing him instantly, and is subsequently–without trial–sentenced to death. That’s when they offer him a deal. They have the technology to create a complete replica of him, with all his memories intact, who can die in his place.

Who would turn down a deal like that?

It begs the question, however: What does one do after you’ve seen yourself die? How do you recover from that?

Of course, James struggles with the answers for the next two hours. Skarsgard gives a brilliant performance in the role. Watching him break over and over and over again is terrifying and heart-breaking. And yet, there was more than one occasion where I wanted to shake him and tell him to snap out of it.

This is, in large part, due to Cronenberg’s writing and direction. He has taken a page out of his father’s handbook, broadly painting a canvas in which the wealthy cannot be trusted (duh), the poor will continue to do what’s bad for them because the rich tell them to (again, duh), and the only person who will suffer consequences of their actions are the poor who allowed themselves to be manipulated by the wealthy.

Sex is bad. Abstaining is bad. Wealth is bad. Being poor is bad. Life is bad. Death is bad. Making mistakes is bad. There is no such thing as a moral high ground except where Cronenberg, himself, is standing as the director/writer/god of the world he’s created.

Bleak, bleak, bleak, bleak, bleak.

Don’t get me wrong. It works. I enjoy the darkness of this kind of story. The visuals in the film will stick with you long after the credits roll. The body horror, itself, puts his father’s work to shame at times, as does his handling of the sex in Infinity Pool.

The problem was, as I sat considering the film afterward, I couldn’t help that I’d seen it all before, so the question becomes, “Was it all really necessary and could the same story be told in a way that was more effective?”

Mostly, I would say yes. Along with Skarsgard’s performance, Mia Goth is ravenous and wild in the role of Gabi. She is unhinged in interesting ways, often taking on the role of aggressor in unexpected twists. She is, ultimately, James’s foil, and she knows it almost from the moment they meet.

Goth reportedly received the sript for Infinity Pool while filming Pearl, the sequel to Ti West’s X. One can see a bit of overlap in the characters. The only real difference is that Pearl is the opposite of wealthy and therefore, her decisions come from an entirely different place.

Unfortunately, there’s not much else to be discussed without getting into heavy spoilers, and I do try to avoid those as much as possible. The only question that really remains is: Was it good?

Well…

It’s Cronenberg.

For some, this will be the best movie of the year. For others, it will be hated on principle. For this viewer, there is only one unforgivable sin a horror film can commit, and that is to be boring. Whatever else it is, Infinity Pool is not boring.

Check out the trailer below!

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