It’s that time of year: pumpkin-spiced everything has snuck onto every grocery store shelf, zeitgeisty costume-making is in full swing; and the Spooky Movie International Film Festival—the D.C. area’s annual celebration of horror—is back.
Now in its tenth year, Spooky Movie seems to have grown up a bit. Whereas past years have been heavy on stomach-churning blood and guts, the films we previewed for this year’s fest are more highbrow horror than gore-filled camp. That’s not to say these films take themselves too seriously—far from it, especially considering the one in which a man’s dead girlfriend comes to life whenever he has sex—but that the quality of filmmaking is more Sundance and less late night cable access.
That being said, this year’s fest does feature a film in which a woman’s breast implants turn into man-eating monsters, so perhaps Spooky Movie still has some growing up to do. Select reviews, below!
The Final Girls
At the time of their release, slasher classics like Friday the 13th and Halloween were considered pinnacles of horror. But after countless hackneyed sequels beat the formula—promiscuous teens are picked off one by one—to a bloody pulp, it’s hard to look back at any of these films without a lens of camp. Enter The Final Girls, a humorous riff on ‘80s slasher films with a modern meta twist. On the anniversary of her mother’s death, Max (Taissa Farmiga) and her friends are mysteriously transported into the ‘80s slasher film that her mom starred in. But the reunion is less than celebratory—the group quickly realize they’re going to meet the same ill fate by a deranged masked killer as the characters in the movie unless they act fast. The premise of The Final Girls is clever, but ultimately the jokes run dry and the film becomes nothing more than a one-trick pony. Shows Thursday, Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre.
Patience is a virtue when it comes to Karyn Kusama’s excellent slow-burn thriller, The Invitation. It’s been two years since Will (Logan Marshall-Green) has seen or heard from his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard), so it comes as quite a surprise when he and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) get a fancy invitation to a dinner party hosted by Eden and her new husband, David (Michiel Huisman). It’s a reunion of sorts with a bunch of Will and Eden’s old friends, but there’s an underlying sense of dread hanging in the air—there’s something off about the hosts and the nature of the dinner. Kusama’s mastery of pacing is on full display here as the dinner party progresses and subtle odd behavior Will notices slowly reveals Eden and Adam’s insidious agenda. Shows Saturday, Oct. 10 at 4:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre.
Everyone has baggage. But for Rob (Cian Barry), the baggage he carries when he strikes up a new relationship with his co-worker Holly (Abigail Hardingham) is, well, unprecedented: Whenever they have sex, the corpse of his dead girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) reanimates to sarcastically heckle them. At first, Holly is—understandably—horrified, but she soon learns to accept it and decides to pursue a relationship with Rob as they both work to find a way to let Nina’s soul rest in peace. Not an easy task, it turns out. With Nina Forever, writers/directors Ben and Chris Blaine create a truly melancholic black comedy that manages to convey a sweet message of coping with loss and learning to move on layered underneath a bloody and, uh, complex love triangle. Shows Friday, Oct. 9 at 9:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre.
There’s a number of influences at play in Corin Hardy’s frightening folk-horror film, The Hallow—creature design akin to that of Guillermo del Toro and Ray Harryhousen; body horror elements that harken back to the early films of David Cronenberg; and lush cinematography with shades of Peter Jackson. But ultimately, Hardy’s film is entirely his own; a refined, masterfully crafted story of a conservationist, Adam (Joseph Mawle), who moves his wife and baby to an isolated forest house near a small village in order to survey the land for future construction, only to unleash dark forces that wreak havoc on his family. As Adam fights off the fabled creatures desperate to steal his baby, he battles his own physical transformation into something horrifying. Never has a film made the woods seem so terrifying since The Blair Witch Project. Shows Saturday, Oct. 10 at 9:30 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre.
They Look Like People
If it weren’t for the final ten minutes, you’d hardly know They Look Like People is a horror film. Still, it’s a stretch to call it such. Writer/director Perry Blackshear’s lo-fi film is more like a psychological thriller disguised as a charming buddy drama. It’s been years since Christian (Evan Dumouchel) has seen his old childhood pal Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews), so he’s a little bit jarred when Wyatt appears out of the blue in front of his New York apartment. At first, Christian just thinks Wyatt needs a place to crash while he gets back on his feet, but Blackshear’s restrained pacing slowly reveals the true nature of their reunion: Wyatt believes that demons are possessing humans in preparation for an impending war. Is he crazy or is that really happening? Blackshear keeps you guessing up until the haunting final frames. Shows Friday, Oct. 16 at 7:10 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre.