overlook film festival day one

The steaming, humid streets of New Orleans are once again packed with horror fans as The Overlook Film Festival returns to the Big Easy. Graphic tees, enamel pins, and sweaty foreheads are the fashion statements of the fest, as folks from far and wide line-up to catch a glimpse of several under-the-radar (and not so under-the-radar) fright flicks.

the dead don't die clip

Adam Driver Single-Handedly Saves Jim Jarmusch’s Lazy Zom-Com

Day 1 – or perhaps night 1 is more accurate – kicked-off with the U.S. premiere of Jim Jarmusch‘s star-studded zombie comedy The Dead Don’t Die. Jarmusch’s latest already debuted at Cannes, where it was met with mixed reactions. So mixed, in fact, that I considered skipping it entirely at the Overlook. But after consuming a fair amount of adult beverages, I felt good enough to mosey on over to the Le Petit Theatre to see what all the hubbub was about.

The selling point for Jarmusch’s film is, without question, the cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Selena Gomez, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Austin Butler, RZA, Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez and Carol Kane. How can you beat a line-up like that? Well, you can provide a rather lackluster story, for one.

Jarmusch is viewing the zombie film through the lens of the Trump Administration era. Our daily lives already feel like a horror movie to begin with, so this idea certainly has legs. Unfortunately, the filmmaker seems content to just introduce a few lazy elements here and there (Steve Buscemi’s character wears a bright red ball cap with “Make America White Again” stenciled across the front), and then give up. What Jarmusch really wants to do is let his talented cast have fun, and hope we have fun with them. We do…mostly. A lot of the jokes fall flat, but several performers rise to the challenge to breathe some life into this shambling corpse.

Adam Driver is the MVP, who is consistently laugh-out-loud hilarious as a droll cop who is the first to realize he and his fellow officers, played by Bill Murray and Chloë Sevigny, are in a zombie movie. And I’m not talking metaphorically here, either. The film goes super-meta, with Driver’s character frequently commenting on the fact that everyone is in a movie. When the film’s theme song plays over a radio, Murray’s character asks, “Why does that sound so familiar?” “It’s the theme song,” Driver replies. Later, when several characters are facing impending doom, Driver reveals that he knows for a fact things are going to end poorly because he “read the script.” The idea itself doesn’t really make sense, or work, with the set-up Jarmusch is going for here. But Driver’s monotone delivery sells it, garnering huge laughs in the process.

Tilda Swinton also makes an impression as a sword-wielding mortician. And Tom Waits is fun, as always, as a hermit who watches all the zombie mayhem from the sidelines. It’s hard to not like a movie with all of these elements, and indeed, I mostly enjoyed watching The Dead Don’t Die. I just wish it had something more to offer.

Good Christian Kids Face Off Against an Evil Succubus

In the tradition of Lamberto Bava’s DemonsPorno finds several characters trapped in a movie theater from hell. I’m a sucker for this kind of set-up, and I wanted to come away loving Keola Racela‘s new film. I’m pleased to say I enjoyed what I got…for about the first hour. After that, however, Porno gets real old real quick. Perhaps sensing this, the filmmaker attempts to shock the audience back awake with a sudden onset of gore (get ready for lots of close-ups of mutilated testicles).

Set in the 1990s, Porno follows a group of ultra-Christian teens working at a movie theater. There’s Chastity (Jillian Mueller), the new assistant manager; Heavy Metal Jeff (Robbie Tann), the projectionist who actually likes hard-core music, despite his nickname; best buds Abe (Evan Daves) and Todd (Larry Saperstein); and the good looking Ricky (Glenn Stott). After the theater closes for the night, this group gets to watch any movie they want. And wouldn’t you know it, they end up finding a mysterious film canister in the spooky basement.

The canister contains what at first looks like an art-house porn film, which is understandably shocking to these God-fearing kids. But they haven’t seen nothing yet. Soon, the film has unleashed a murderous Succubus, and the kids have to find a way to defeat her before it’s too late. There was room here to craft a gory, funny, Amblin-style horror film, but Porno can never settle on what it wants to be. It plays the kid’s Christianity for laughs at times, while at other times taking it quite seriously. And the sudden onset of gore comes way too late in the movie to have much of an impact. In the midst of it all, we get plenty of cliches – please, for the love of god, can we put a moratorium on possessed people suddenly using a rush of vulgarities? It’s not shocking or interesting anymore.

Easy-going horror fans might find something to love about Porno, but anyone hoping for something fresh, or something that makes a better use of such a promising premise, need look elsewhere.

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