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By title alone, the Spooky Movie Film Festival immediately suggests the sort of kid-friendly collection of movies curated by a Mr. Rogers-type, but a word of warning: These movies will fuck your kids up.
Spread out over nine nights at the AFI Silver Theater, this year’s festival is its largest—and perhaps strongest—year yet, boasting more than 50 features, shorts, and documentaries devoted to chilling, thrilling, and overall stomach-churning gore.
But just how brutal is this year’s festival? Well, in a preview event we watched a selection of this year’s offering and it’s, uh, pretty ruthless stuff. Decapitation? Check. Incest? Yup. A self-given abortion? Yes, there’s also that. But beyond the gore and grand guignol, there’s a lot of brains behind these films—and no, not the edible kind. Tackling a variety of themes from the psychological trauma of child abuse to a meta-deconstruction of narrative storytelling, most of these films will induce a visceral reaction as much as a physical one. Select reviews follow!
A Carrie-by-way-of David Cronenberg tale for the ADD generation, Excision is a darkly comic and deeply disturbing riff on the classic teen-outcast-seeks-revenge model. From writer/director Richard Bates Jr., this Sundance favorite follows Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord), a pimply, sexually precocious high-school outcast with a biting sense of cruelness to her, who has demented aspirations of becoming a surgeon. Plagued by disturbing, blood-soaked sexual fantasies, Pauline is constantly chastised by classmates and misunderstood by her controlling and insufferably religious mother. But she never lets these things get in the way of achieving her goals—whether it be perfecting her surgical techniques or her quest to lose her virginity…on her period. A splatter-filled slow-burner, the film has a familiar formula should be an obvious misstep for Bates, but he manages to fuse cringe-inducing gore and bizarrely nightmarish imagery into a pitch-black satire of suburban domesticity to create an altogether unique film. Excision is a rare treat—at least for those who can stomach it. Also, bonus points to Bates for casting John Waters as a priest. Shows Oct. 10 at 8 p.m.
Chained—the newest film from Jennifer Lynch (yes, David’s daughter)—first gained notoriety back in February when the MPAA slapped it with an NC-17 rating. For horror aficionados, that’s an instant confirmation for “Oh hell yes, this movie’s going to be so fucked up!” But Chained isn’t exactly the gore fest that torture-porn hounds clamor for. Instead, Lynch forgoes gratuitous gore in favor of a gritty sense of realism, and a profoundly disturbing psychosexual ennui, to make the events of the film all the more brutal. Eight-year-old Tim and his mother are picked up by a demented cabbie-cum-serial killer named Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio), who abducts the pair and later viciously rapes and murders Tim’s mom. Instead of offing the kid, however, he opts to keep him around, chaining him to a kitchen pipe with just enough length to perform household tasks and serve as Bob’s slave. As the years pass, however, stockholm syndrome takes hold of Tim (renamed Rabbit by Bob), and soon Bob begins to train him to follow in his sadistic footsteps. Shows Oct. 12 at 9:20 p.m. Motion Sickness
A cerebral head case of a film, Motion Sickness strives to achieve the kind of nightmarish imagery and camera tricks mastered by David Lynch and the early films of Darren Aronofsky. But it doesn’t stick the landing. A reformed rabbinical student visits a doctor in regards to crippling leg pain that forces him to walk around with a cane. After the doctor tells him the pain is all in his head, he slips in and out of lucidity, unable to differentiate between reality and sick visions he sees in his head. Though there’s not much of a narrative to follow along to in the first place, it’s the second-class acting—which is cringe-worthy at best—that really makes this film hard to watch. Though it tries to employ slick, but altogether clumsy editing, as well as gruesome imagery throughout, not even a severed head or two can save this one. Shows Oct. 14 at 9:30 p.m.
Some Guy Who Kills People
The cliche that “it’s always the quiet ones who snap” is the impetus for this campy serial killer flick, but beyond the chintziness there’s some sweetness to Jack Perez’s film. Kevin Corrigan stars as Ken Boyd, a manic-depressive ice cream clerk whose reunion with his estranged 11-year-old daughter suspiciously coincides with a string of grisly murders of some of his former classmates. Ken’s favorite hobby centers around cathartically drawing revenge fantasies of his high-school tormentors, leaving little doubt to the viewer as to his innocence (present-day scenes are interspersed with flashbacks of the cruel bullying that left Ken emotionally—and physically—scarred). Bolstered by a solid script and the off-kilter turn by the always reliable Corrigan, Some Guy Who Kills People is a darkly hilarious, if utterly predictable, splatter-fest in the vein of the slasher-satire Sleepaway Camp series. It’s fun but retreaded ground. Shows Oct. 10 at 10:30 p.m.
Resolution I first caught Resolution at its world premiere last spring at the Tribeca Film Festival. I had absolutely no idea what I was walking into, but when I left the theater, I was shaken for hours. Resolution is that creepy. A horror/comedy hybrid that boasts as many gut-busting laughs as it does gut-wrenching chills, the film follows the great lengths Mike, a devoted and concerned newlywed, will go through to help his old buddy Chris kick his bad drug habit. After receiving a mysterious video of Chris, strung out and on a psychotic rampage, Mike tracks him down at the remote cabin he’s been squatting in to try and persuade him to go to rehab. When plan A fails, Mike resorts to more desperate measures and cuffs him to a pipe, agreeing to stay and take care of him for a week while he detoxes. Though their unceremonious reunion quickly spirals into sinister territory as mysterious and disturbing pictures and videotapes surface, indicating that someone—or something—is watching them, and directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead keep the mystery close to the chest right up until the film’s chilling final shot. Benson and Moorhead also employ some particularly effective camera tricks to bring a primal sense of dread to their cleverly and eerie screenplay. Resolution is a rare breed of horror, one that doesn’t rely on violence, gore, or nightmarish imagery to send shivers down your spine—it hits you on a much more visceral level. I can’t wait to see it again. Shows Oct. 13 at 9:30 p.m.
Being a single mother of two and running a farm is no easy feat. A taut thriller that immediately calls to mind Cape Fear and the gory French revenge thriller High Tension, Susan Jacobson’s The Holding follows tough farm owner and single mother Cassie, who runs into trouble when she lets a mysterious gruff loner Aden into her life. At first she’s weary, but warms up when he helps her take care of business around the farm, and soon a brief romance ensues. With some choice scenes including a slaughtered baby calf and blunt force trauma abound, the film certainly meets its gore quota, but the flaccid screenplay doesn’t exactly veer us into directions we haven’t already seen. Instead, The Holding’s scattered successes are limited to barren, bleak cinematography, a clever feminist subtext, and a truly terrifying villain. Shows Oct. 11 at 8 p.m.
The festival runs Oct. 10 to Oct. 18 at AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring.