2017 Overlook Film Festival Reviews: Everything We Saw At The Inaugural Horror Fest

There are few better locations to watch horror movies than in the iconic hotel that was featured in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, and the inaugural Overlook Film Festival, which I wrote about in great detail, took full advantage of this. Along with some possible classics (you can read my review of It Comes At Night right now and a full review of Hounds of Love is coming) I spent much of my time there watching movie after movie, and was pleased by the variety of genre films on hand.

Let's take a look at what I saw, in order that I watched them!

Stephanie

Stephanie

Directed by Akiva Goldsman

The latest entry in the "creepy kid" subgenre, Stephanie is a mess of a film, one that tries to be many things and fails at most of them.

Stephanie is a little kid who's living all by herself. Her parents are gone, her brother is lying dead in his bed, and there's an invisible monster prowling that she can only escape by hiding. We know that the world is in chaos, but don't know what's happened. Stephanie has survived on her own by eating various preserves her parents have jarred, and it's here that the film is its strongest. Young Shree Crooks is a terrific young actor and nearly carries the film by herself, but placing the burden of a story on a child's shoulders is generally a bad idea.

Then, her parents return. In this world thrown into chaos, they try to take care of her by making her smoothies, pancakes, and bubble baths. They pick oranges from their convenient and massive backyard orchard, stressing about the clearly horrible state of the world. As they try and figure out how to stop the monster, the dad starts building a fence around the house and the mom talks to Stephanie to figure out how she survived on her own.

It's bookended by an absolutely bizarre and totally pointless story set in the near future, in which two scientists look back at what Stephanie was up to by watching the movie we end up watching, which makes less sense the more you think about it.

There's almost too many dumb moments in this film to note. The parents get their news from a TV channel called "UR NEWS" that spells out exactly what is happening. In one scene, in one cut, people prep to perform impromptu brain surgery. If the sound in the screening hadn't been turned up so loud that the numerous jump scares landed regardless of effect, it wouldn't move you at all. This is a very weird, disjoined effort.

/Film Rating: 3 out of 10

The Bad Batch

The Bad Batch

Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour

It's the future. Possibly.

People are being sent to live in the desert once they're no longer considered civilized enough to live in society, and various post-apocalyptic tribes have formed. Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) learns this the hard way as she crosses over onto the sands, only to be immediately picked up by a marauding pack of cannibals.

Soon, she has been freed of both an arm and a leg, both of which were undoubtedly made into delicious meals, but she doesn't take it sitting down. She manages to escape and make her way to a community called Comfort, which is the opposite of the hellish landscape the cannibals inhabit and becomes her home. But the need for revenge is strong, and Arlen soon opts to get back at those who wronged her, ending up with a kid in the process.

After they are separated, she seeks to track her daughter down, getting the help of a wasteland hobo played by Jim Carey, a cannibal played by Aquaman himself Jason Momoa, and Keanu Reeves, as the leader of a harem. After Amirpour's fantastic debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, I don't think anyone expected her to get this much star power in her film, nor to do such strange things with them, but here we are.

The Bad Batch feels like a dream, a series of hazy events that make no sense and don't fully gel, pausing occasionally to show off a music video. It brought to mind Southland Tales and it will probably generate a similar response – take of that what you will. It's also the only film I know of that features an Ace of Base song on the soundtrack followed immediately by Die Antwoord.

/Film Rating: 4.5 out of 10

MFA

M.F.A.

Directed by Natalia Leite

M.F.A. reminded me a lot of Ms. 45, which isn't really a fair comparison. Ms. 45 is a straight-up exploitation movie, but one with a surprisingly feminist beat. It concerns a mute New Yorker who is raped twice in one day and loses her mind, grabbing a gun off the last attacker and making him pay. She then takes her vengeance out on every sleazy man in the city, and being that is New York City we're talking about (in the '70s, no less), she has plenty of targets.

M.F.A. has a similar premise on its sleeve, but it's really concerned with the current rape culture that's consumed our society. It actively deals with how women are often ignored or slandered for coming forward with accusations, and how college athletes seem to get away with their crimes, their actions shrugged off with comments like "boys will be boys."

The film stars Francesca Eastwood as Noelle, an artist going for her MFA who is raped by a fellow student when she attends his party. Her best friend cautions Noelle that no one will believe her and sure enough, when Noelle brings it up with the school, she is immediately questioned: how much did she have to drink, did she explicitly say no, etc. After getting a text from the rapist, who seems to think nothing happened (even though it's tearing her life apart), she heads over to his apartment to confront him. One thing leads to another and she pushes him off a railing to his death.

Now that Noelle has had a taste of revenge, her art improves, as she starts pouring more of herself into it. She also starts looking online for other cases like hers, and things start to get a bit more extreme. It all leads up to an incredibly satisfying finale. This is a smart, confident thriller.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

The Bar

The Bar

Directed by Álex de la Iglesia

Iglesia does madcap comedy better than few others. All of his recent films start off with fairly "normal" plots – a bank robbery gone wrong, life in the circus, or in this case, a shooting in the street – before they go completely off the rails bonkers and introduce monsters or witches or some other insane element.

The Bar is no exception. It's an ensemble film that kicks off when a group of people in a bar are interrupted after a customer gets shot in the head while leaving. They all naturally freak out and take cover, but they soon realize that things are even weirder. The streets are deserted and their cell phones have no signal. Another patron tries to make a break for it and BAM, he's down with a headshot too. Now the accusations begin. Perhaps the bearded guy is a terrorist? Why does one of them have a gun? What's this impossibly buff homeless dude doing here?

They all start to fight each other, and soon learn that things are even worse than they thought.

The Bar's features Iglesias' typically weird sexual stereotypes, but the breakneck pace and the ridiculous combination of horror, action, and comedy makes for a very fun and surprisingly lighthearted time at movies, especially when you consider the subject matter.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10

Still Born

Still/Born

Directed by Brandon Christensen

This won the jury award for most frightening film and it was easily the most deserving. There is a scare here that elicited a genuine shriek from an audience member, a terrified, genuine cry of terror, the like of which I've never heard before during a screening. It was warranted.

Still/Born starts as a mother is giving birth to twins, but only one of them survives. The young mother Mary (an astonishing performance by Christie Burke) takes her child home with her husband and they try to settle into their new life. Mary faces both the normal issues any new mother faces – the post-partum depression, having to hook yourself up to a breast pump every few hours, the sleepless nights. All of this while she also has to look at the empty crib sitting across from the one occupied by her child. She doesn't want her husband to take it down.

And then she starts seeing things on the baby monitor. Mary becomes convinced that a demon is trying to steal her baby, all to the increasing horror of her neighbors and loved ones.

Still/Born joins other great horror movies about pregnancy, like Prevenge, L'Interior, and Grace, films that perfectly play upon the fears and sheer madness one feels while having your first kid. It's ultimately light and you'll see a lot of the beats coming, but it's the kind of film that's perfect for movie theaters. Sometimes, all you need is an entire crowd jumping at the one perfect scare.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Mayhem

Mayhem

Directed by Joe Lynch

The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun stars as an office drone who's worked his way up the ranks at his evil corporate law office, only to be unceremoniously fired after he's framed for someone else's mistake.

As luck would have it, he's not allowed out of the building as he's being escorted down, because the whole building has been infected by a so-called Red Eye virus that makes people act out their basest instincts. The virus was recently famous for allowing a man to get away with murder, scot-free, because he wasn't responsible for his actions. Now Yeun is infected, stuck in the building with his former employers for eight more hours until the quarantine clears, and has judicial precedent to get away with murder.

You can see where this heads next. Yeun fights his way back up the corporate ladder, murdering his way back up to the big boss with the help of numerous weapons and a woman named Melanie (a hilarious and bad-ass Samara Weaving.)

You know how sometimes a movie feels like it was made for you? Joe Lynch's Mayhem is exactly that. I can see the problems with it – the nonstop violence can get boring after a while, and it's basically a videogame plot that sees our heroes looking for literal keycards to get to the next floor – but I don't care. It's got chunky violence and the most metal character in years in Melanie (in one scene she bellows Soulfly lyrics while readying a nail gun) and it's pulsing and violent and fun. It's The Raid 2 by way of Office Space with a dash of Troma. It is glorious.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Meatball Machine Kodoku

Meatball Machine Kodoku 

Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura

Meatball Machine Kodoko is like Under the Dome, if the dome chopped off more penises when it came down.

By this point, you hopefully know what you're getting from a Nishimura film. The creator of Tokyo Gore Police and Mutant Girls Squad has created a weird, splattery niche, and he isn't budging. You don't go into one of his films expecting a coherent plot, developed characters, or anything resembling a family-friendly experience. You go there for extreme gore, nudity, and things that combine the two.

Nishimura is an effects artist first and foremost. That's all he cares about, and that's all he delivers. He did the effects to the 2005 original, but is now in the director's seat for this fairly standalone sequel, which is just as disgusting and ridiculous as most any film you're likely to see.

It centers around a debt collector who sucks at his job...until his stomach troubles reveal that he has terminal cancer, and then he starts to care again. He starts roaming around collecting all the money owed to him with impunity, kicking down doors and grabbing cash, not taking any more excuses.

But then a giant glass jar flies down from space and it lands on top of the city. Those people unlucky enough to be straddling the line end up chopped in half, or worse. One couple copulating on the line's lower halves continue to do so for a few seconds afterward. It's that kind of movie.

Now the really bad stuff happens, as metal creatures start clamping down on people's heads, turning them into Necro-borgs – half man, half machine creatures. Our hero's cancer-ridden body fights back, though, and he gains control again. This starts an absurd, gore-ridden battle for supremacy inside the dome. Trying to explain any more of the plot would be futile, as it doesn't really have any more. Just know that none of it makes any sense, except as a conduit for absurd and bloody GWAR-ish superhero battles in which each monster wields a weapon that meant something to them in life.

Everyone stumbled out of this screening at 2:00 in the morning, confused by what they had seen. That's probably the point of the whole thing

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10

Capture

Capture

Directed by Georgia Lee

It's a bit unfair to review Capture based on it debut at Overlook – it was the first test screening. While it's ostensibly a found footage film, the whole reason for its existence is that it's supposed to work in conjunction with a mobile phone app.

Yes, you were supposed to take your phone out during a movie (sacrilege!), and it would react to various things happening on screen and supposedly scare you. It's like a 21st century William Castle film. The only problem is that they didn't take into consideration how loud the projectors would be at the Overlook Film Fest. Since the tech used is similar to apps like Shazam, it needs to be able to hear the film and react to what's going on, and it simply wasn't able to. Only a portion of the phones in the crowd seemed to work, and big moments, such as one where every phone in the audience was supposed to ring at once, failed to land.

You'll notice I haven't spoken about the film itself and that's because there isn't much to it. Like the worst 3D films, seeing it without the gimmick made it fairly pointless. Capture tells the story of a lady who moves back home to Hong Kong to take care of her sickly grandmother and the whole film is from the POV of her fancy new phone, which she uses to send vlogs to her boyfriend back in the States. There's something else at play, and soon her camera starts having weird glitches, turning on and recording her at night.

Done well, this is a creepy enough premise, but the scare scenes are amateurish and it's not frightening in the slightest. I'm sure that if I had a working app that kept making my phone glitch out and show spooky clips, it would have at least been entertaining. However, without a good movie backing it up, it can't be anything more than a curiosity. If they can get the tech to work better with a decent film, it will be interesting to see what they can do with it. Until then, power off.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10

Boys in the Trees

Boys in the Trees

Directed by Nicholas Verso

Nostalgia is often dangerous for film fans. It's what makes returning to our childhood favorites so dangerous. Many times, you either find out that you had terrible taste as a kid, or choose to keep loving it despite its many, many faults. It's why The Goonies is still so beloved.

Boys in the Trees is the kind of look back that you want, though. Set in Australia in the 1990s and full of songs I never expected to hear again in a film (Rammstein's Engel? Dinosaur Jr.'s Feel the Pain? Live's Lightning Crashes? Are you kidding me?), it concerns a group of skater kids at a major turning point in their lives: that last year of high school. Corey (Toby Wallace) seems to have more going on for him than the rest of the dummies he hangs out with, but still feels guilty about leaving behind his friends, as he wants to move to NYC to be a photographer. He just takes pictures of his buddies skateboarding and bullying a local kid, Jonah (Gulliver McGrath), a weak little kid they torment for acting like a "f**."

The majority of the film takes place over one Halloween night, where Corey and Jonah meet up and hang out, and here the magical realism starts to set in. The two were friends when they were little but Corey started hanging out with a tougher group of cool kids, while Jonah never wanted to give up on his imagination, on dreaming big and living a life full of wonder.

Jonah leads Corey on a trip through his childhood, one where you're never sure just what's real. It makes for a delightful movie that's absolutely soaked through with nostalgia. Sometimes, it doesn't hurt to live in the past, just for a little bit.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Blood-Drive

Blood Drive

Created by James Roland

SyFy showed up on the last day of the fest to screen the first two episodes of Blood Drive, a strange mashup of Death Race 2000, Blood Car, and Danger 5. And when I say mashup, I mean ripoff.

Blood Car is the most obvious influence, of course, as the 2007 cult classic has the same basic plot. It's the future and gas prices have become obscene. But rather than find some other mode of transportation, people have figured a new source of fuel: blood. The engines are glorified grinders and the only way to keep them going is to lubricate them with that red stuff.

We follow a cop who is thrust into a Death Race-style race across the country against his will, and he has to team up with someone immersed in the crazy world of these racers. All the while, his partner is exploring a corporation that's in charge of this whole thing and contending with dozens of drive-crazy killers.

It's not a terrible plot and the budget is big enough to make for impressive production values. It's also cool how the show goes for a different exploitation flick feel each episode (the second is a cannibal horror movie). That all sounds like a recipe for success and it certainly has its moments, but it's trying way too hard. The wooden, corny dialogue and one-note characters (with names like Rib Bone and Clown Dick) are all groan-worthy, and any bit of fun that can be wringed out of it is often thrown away with some new stupid moment.

It's a shame, because SyFy has been on a roll with their original shows once again (The Expanse, The Magicians) and could have certainly used a cheesy and ridiculously blood-soaked homage to exploitation films. This just ain't it.

/Film Rating: 3.5 out of 10