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[Nightstream Review] ‘Name Above Title’ is a Giallo Serial Killer Fever Dream

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fio baba Escarlate

In a year that brought us many throwback horror films — such as James Wan’s Malignant or  V/H/S/94 — a small Portuguese film called Name Above Title (it’s original title is Um Fio De Baba Escarlate, translated as “A Scarlet Little Thread”) flew under the radar playing at horror film festivals, such as Nightstream where I was able to catch it. 

Heavily inspired by 1970s giallo violence and eroticism, Name Above Title presents a retro look to a modern setting of the beautiful Lisbon, Portugal in a short runtime of only 59 minutes. It follows a charismatic serial killer around the city, crafting a bizarre and unsettling narrative entirely without dialogue, making it a particularly emotive silent film.

With its lack of dialogue, it’s definitely not going to appeal to every horror fan out there, but those who enjoy stylistic, arthouse horror films and violent, ‘70s exploitation films will swoon over this uniquely Portuguese foray into Giallo. 

A handsome serial killer (played by Matthieu Charneau) seduces a woman in his car on a moonlit beach before strangling her with his phone charger and stuffing her corpse in his trunk. As he drives through the city, he stops on the road as a woman falls to her death from a roof above right next to him. People gather around them and record as he lifts her head as she whispers something in his ear then passionately kisses her as she dies in his arms. The footage of this encounter spreads and launches the mysterious serial killer into local fame. This is just how Name Above Title begins and goes to some unexpected places by the time it ends. 

Name Above Title

Image courtesy of Nightstream

Even without dialogue, the acting in this is so precise and purposeful that it’s always perfectly clear what the few characters in this film are trying to say. Charneau embodies the sensual, mysterious Gialli murderer, obsessed with his victims as well as himself as he grows in fame. Joana Ribeiro expertly plays all of the killed women in this film, changing her personality and look to almost trick you into thinking it’s different actresses. 

The serial killer is seen as very attractive and objectified through the story, bringing to mind society’s fascination with serial killers. As it is, the film opens with a quote from Ted Bundy, often controversial for being perceived as attractive and lusted after despite his atrocities.   

Name Above Title

Image courtesy of Nightstream

The serial killer’s name, Candide, is most likely a reference to Voltaire’s Candide, a satirical story coincidentally inspired by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, a cataclysmic natural disaster that killed 90% of the population of the city and led to a complete religious reversal in Portugal. A heavily Christian country suddenly found it hard to believe in a God that would allow such things to happen. Candide and Name Above Title both end up containing subtle Christian themes as well as satirizing the romantic adventure genre. 

The choice to have all the victims played by the same actress also seems ripe for interpretation. Perhaps it comments on the lack of identity murdered women receive compared to their murderers, or simply that the serial killer sees women as all the same, disposable. 

Name Above Title

Image courtesy of Nightstream

Another interesting choice is to make the film dialogue-free, not silent. Combined with the gender dynamics hinted at, the lack of voice could indicate the voice being taken away from victimized women.

These modern issues almost seem out of place in this incredibly anachronistic film, with nods to 1960s Hitchcockian camera work, 1970s exploitation flicks, and a synthy 1980s score. 

Perhaps the best part of this film is the look of it. Filmed in a 4:3 aspect ratio with mesmerizing cinematography from Vasco Viana, Lisbon becomes a nightmare dream that lends itself to the more abstract ending. 

As the second feature of Carlos Conceição, this film stood out as particularly arresting to me and will easily be remembered as one, if not the best of the year personally.  

Check out the poster and trailer below.

Name Above Title

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Review: Is There ‘No Way Up’ For This Shark Film?

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A flock of birds flies into the jet engine of a commercial airliner making it crash into the ocean with only a handful of survivors tasked with escaping the sinking plane while also enduring depleting oxygen and nasty sharks in No Way Up. But does this low-budget film rise above its shopworn monster trope or sink beneath the weight of its shoestring budget?

First, this film obviously isn’t on the level of another popular survival film, Society of the Snow, but surprisingly it isn’t Sharknado either. You can tell a lot of good direction went into making it and its stars are up for the task. The histrionics are kept at a bare minimum and unfortunately the same can be said about the suspense. That isn’t to say that No Way Up is a limp noodle, there is plenty here to keep you watching until the end, even if the last two minutes is offensive to your suspension of disbelief.

Let’s start with the good. No Way Up has plenty of good acting, especially from its lead Sophie McIntosh who plays Ava, a rich governor’s daughter with a heart of gold. Inside, she is struggling with the memory of her mother’s drowning and is never far from her overprotective older bodyguard Brandon played with nannyish diligence by Colm Meaney. McIntosh doesn’t reduce herself to the size of a B-movie, she is fully committed and gives a strong performance even if the material is trodden.

No Way Up

Another standout is Grace Nettle playing the 12-year-old Rosa who is traveling with her grandparents Hank (James Caroll Jordan) and Mardy (Phyllis Logan). Nettle doesn’t reduce her character to a delicate tween. She’s scared yes, but she also has some input and pretty good advice about surviving the situation.

Will Attenborough plays the unfiltered Kyle who I imagine was there for comic relief, but the young actor never successfully tempers his meanness with nuance, therefore he just comes across as a die-cut archetypical asshole inserted to complete the diverse ensemble.

Rounding out the cast is Manuel Pacific who plays Danilo the flight attendant who is the mark of Kyle’s homophobic aggressions. That whole interaction feels a bit outdated, but again Attenborough hasn’t fleshed out his character well enough to warrant any.

No Way Up

Continuing on with what is good in the film are the special effects. The plane crash scene, as they always are, is terrifying and realistic. Director Claudio Fäh has spared no expense in that department. You have seen it all before, but here, since you know they are crashing into the Pacific it’s more tense and when the plane hits the water you’ll wonder how they did it.

As for the sharks they are equally impressive. It’s hard to tell if they used live ones. There are no hints of CGI, no uncanny valley to speak of and the fish are genuinely threatening, although they don’t get the screentime you might be expecting.

Now with the bad. No Way Up is a great idea on paper, but the reality is something like this couldn’t happen in real life, especially with a jumbo jet crashing into the Pacific Ocean at such a fast speed. And even though the director has successfully made it seem like it could happen, there are so many factors that just don’t make sense when you think about it. Underwater air pressure is the first to come to mind.

It also lacks a cinematic polish. It has this straight-to-video feel, but the effects are so good that you can’t help but feel the cinematography, especially inside the plane should have been slightly elevated. But I’m being pedantic, No Way Up is a good time.

The ending doesn’t quite live up to the film’s potential and you will be questioning the limits of the human respiratory system, but again, that’s nitpicking.

Overall, No Way Up is a great way to spend an evening watching a survival horror movie with the family. There are some bloody images, but nothing too bad, and the shark scenes can be mildly intense. It is rated R on the low end.

No Way Up might not be the “next great shark” movie, but it is a thrilling drama that rises above the other chum so easily thrown into the waters of Hollywood thanks to the dedication of its stars and believable special effects.

No Way Up is now available to rent on digital platforms.

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TADFF: ‘Founders Day’ is a Sly Cynical Slasher [Movie Review]

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Founders Day

The horror genre is inherently socio-political. For every zombie film there’s a theme of social unrest; with each monster or mayhem there’s an exploration of our cultural fears. Even the slasher subgenre isn’t immune, with meditations on gender politics, morality, and (quite often) sexuality. With Founders Day, brothers Erik and Carson Bloomquist take the political leanings of horror and make them far more literal.

Short clip from Founders Day

In Founders Day, a small town is shaken by a series of ominous killings in the days leading up to a heated mayoral election. As accusations fly and the threat of a masked killer darkens every street corner, the residents must race to uncover the truth before fear consumes the town.

The film stars Devin Druid (13 Reasons Why), Emilia McCarthy (SkyMed), Naomi Grace (NCIS), Olivia Nikkanen (The Society), Amy Hargreaves (Homeland), Catherine Curtin (Stranger Things), Jayce Bartok (SubUrbia), and William Russ (Boy Meets World). The cast are all very strong in their roles, with particular praise to the two smarmy politicians, played by Hargreaves and Bartok. 

As a Zoomer-facing horror film, Founders Day feels heavily inspired by the 90s teen horror cycle. There’s a wide cast of characters (each a very specific and easily identifiable “type”), some sexy brooding pop music, slashtacular violence, and a whodunnit mystery that pulls the pace. But there’s a lot going on inside the engine; a strong “this social structure is bullshit” energy makes certain scenes all the more relevant. 

One scene shows a feuding protest mob drop their signs to fight over who gets to comfort and protect a queer woman of colour (each claiming “she’s with us”). Another shows a politician attempting to rile up their constituents with an impassioned speech, calling them to storm the town in an offensive defense. Even the diametrically opposed mayoral candidates wear their allegiances on their sleeve (a vote for “change” versus a vote for “consistency”). There’s a whole overarching theme of popularity and profiting from tragedy. It’s not subtle, but dammit it works. 

Behind the commentary is director/co-writer/actor Erik Bloomquist, a two-time New England Emmy Award Winner (Outstanding Writer and Director for The Cobblestone Corridor) and former Top 200 Director on HBO’s Project Greenlight. His work on this film is slasher-horror  comprehensive; from tense single-take shots and excessive violence to a potentially iconic killer’s weapon and costume (that cleverly incorporates the Sock and Buskin comedy/tragedy mask).

Founders Day offers the basic necessities of the slasher subgenre (including some well-timed comedic delivery) while poking a middle finger at political institutions. It presents unflattering commentary on both sides of the fence, suggesting less “right versus left” ideology and more “burn it all down and start over” cynicism. It’s a surprisingly effective inspiration. 

If political horror isn’t for you, that’s… fine, but there’s some bad news. Horror is commentary. Horror is a reflection of our anxieties; it’s a reaction to politics, economy, tension, and history. It’s a counterculture that acts as a mirror on culture, and it’s meant to engage and challenge. 

Films like Night of the Living Dead, Soft and Quiet, and The Purge franchise present a biting commentary on the damaging effects of strong politics; Founders Day cynically reflects on the absurd theatre of these politics. It’s poignant that the suggested target audience for this film is the next generation of voters and leaders. Through all the slashing, stabbing, and screaming, it’s a powerful way to promote change. 

Founders Day played as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. For more on the politics of horror, read about Mia Goth defending the genre.

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[Fantastic Fest] ‘Infested’ is Guaranteed to Make Audiences Squirm, Jump and Scream

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Infested

It has been a while since spiders were effective in making folks lose their minds with fear in theaters. The last time I recall it being lose your mind suspenseful was with Arachnophobia. The latest from director, Sébastien Vaniček creates the same event cinema that Arachnophobia did when it was originally released.

Infested begins with a few individuals out in the middle of desert looking for exotic spiders under rocks. Once located, the spider is taken in a container to be sold to collectors.

Flash to Kaleb an individual absolutely obsessed with exotic pets. In fact, he has an illegal mini collection of them in his flat. Of course, Kaleb makes the desert spider a nice little home in a shoe box complete with cozy bits for the spider to relax. To his astonishment, the spider manages to escape from the box. It doesn’t take long to discover that this spider is deadly and it reproduces at alarming rates. Soon, the building is completely packed with them.

Infested

You know those little moments we all have had with unwelcome insects that come into our home. You know those instants right before we hit them with a broom or before we put a glass over them. Those little moments in which they suddenly launch at us or decide to run at the speed of light are what Infested does flawlessly. There are plenty of moments in which someone attempts to kill them with a broom, only to be shocked that the spider runs right up their arm and onto their face or neck. shudders

The residents of the building are also quarantined by the police who initially believe that there is a viral outbreak in the building. So, these unfortunate residents are stuck inside with tons of spiders moving freely in vents, corners and anywhere else you can think of. There are scenes in which you can see someone in the restroom washing their face/hands and also happen to see a whole lot of spiders crawling out of the vent behind them. The film is filled with plenty of big chilling moments like that which don’t let up.

The ensemble of characters is all brilliant. Each of them perfectly draws from the drama, comedy, and terror and makes that work in every beat of the film.

The film also plays on current tensions in the world between police states and people who attempt to speak out when in need of real help. The rock and a hard place architecture of the film is a perfect contrast.

In fact, once Kaleb and his neighbors decide they are locked inside, the chills and body count begin to rise as the spiders begin to grow and reproduce.

Infested is Arachnophobia meets a Safdie Brothers film such as Uncut Diamonds. Add the Safdie Brothers intense moments filled with characters talking over each other and shouting in fast-talking, anxiety-inducing conversations to a chilling environment filled with deadly spiders crawling all over people and you have Infested.

Infested is unnerving and seethes with second-to-second nail-biting terrors. This is the scariest time you are likely to have in a movie theater for a long time. If you didn’t have arachnophobia before watching Infested, you will after.

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