Another week, another horror film festival in the books. It’s barely been 14 days since my Fantasia Film Festival recap highlighted the scariest and most splendid programming notes of Montreal’s three-week-long shindig, but that didn’t stop New York City’s Scary Movies XI from happening. Each August, the Film Society of Lincoln Center spooks Manhattan with a week-long curation of Halloween season holdovers as a gift to genre fans. It’s not as flashy or up-all-night as such all-encompassing events like Fantastic Fest, but it provides noteworthy screenings in an accessible after-work style for even a Brooklynite like myself. When has more horror content ever been a bad thing?

As we do here at /Film, I’ve come up with various superlatives that hit upon trends and highs from Scary Movies XI. “Best Actor,” “Worst (Best) Breakup,” a “THANK ODEN THIS GOT DISTRIBUTION” award, etc. And there were no shortage of nominees, either. With titles like Anna and the Apocalypse, Lords of Chaos, The Witch in the Window and more, Scary Movies XI exhibits the wide interpretations of horror that creators envision and act on. Luckily for you, most films already have release dates scheduled for 2018, so let’s find out what you’ve got to look forward to.

anna and the apocalypse review

Greatest Christmas Horror Feature – Anna and the Apocalypse

Scary Movies XI programmed not one, but two different Christmas horror titles this year. The UK’s quarantine thriller Await Further Instructions and Scotland’s zombie musical Anna and the Apocalypse. Guess which one I liked “more” (all relative)? Oh, right. It’s listed above. Footloose meets High School Musical meets Shaun Of The Dead – ingredients within your new favorite holiday genre obsession.

Director John McPhail orchestrates a marvelously balanced, dangerously addictive undead comedy that sing-songs without losing its horror bite. Not every kill is an all-timer – how about that snowman mascot decapitation, though? – yet it doesn’t matter. Musical accompaniment douses holiday cheer in doomsday revelations, timing walker carnage to finger-snappin’ choreography. Very Edgar Wright in terms of editing whips, action pacing and the blackest, deadliest “Adult Disney” done right humor. In any case, it’s X-mas horror the whole family can enjoy – infectiously joyful jingle bell rockin’ as the undead munch high schoolers and chaos reigns on high.

Best Glimpse Into Civilization’s Impending Demise – Await Further Instructions

Screens. In life, we worship the warming glow of our devices like religious deities. We’re beyond addiction – we’ve entered the realm of dependence. Director Johnny Kevorkian recognizes this, and if Await Further Instructions is any indication, he’s not particularly comfortable with civilization’s eyes-glued, time-wasted, blind-faith belief in tiny glowing screens.

Here’s his attempt at a wakeup call.

As the Milgram family congregates for Christmas festivities, they’re walled inside mum and dad’s by some black, ribbed barrier over doors, windows, you name it. The television flickers a message, then instructions for survival. Without question, multiple characters obey whatever scrolls across the radiating monitor. Humans abandon instinct and trust only an anonymous feed when faced with utter unpredictability. All without ever knowing the screen’s basic intent, or who’s in control…

Most Lost-In-His-Role Actor – Rory Culkin (Lords of Chaos)

Cut-and-dry category, anything but conventional portrayal. Rory Culkin’s take on Mayhem guitarist “Euronymous” – factual details be damned – is the actor’s most fully-realized, transformative, and accomplished role yet. A musician credited with creating the subgenre of “Norwegian Black Metal” who preaches corpse-paint-and-hatred authenticity; a marketing genius who thinks he can abandon his chaotic world at any moment. Lords of Chaos is many demagogic, damn-the-masses things, but director Jonas Åkerlund’s crowning achievement is staging a malicious character study with true crime impact.

An impossible feat without Culkin’s prince of darkness.

As Euronymous grows from basement rehearser to stage-show grinder to record shop and label owner, his catacomb throne is challenged. Emory Cohen’s loner Varg waltzes in with more talent and fewer smarts, threatening all Euronymous has built. This leads to a very contemplative, push-to-shove performance where Culkin’s eyes shine hesitation that his actions must convince otherwise. Brutality, bloodshed, fear, fame, booze, girls – Culkin masters this chameleon effect that’s paid off tremendously in due time, always dangling the idea that Euronymous is either Norway’s greatest fraud or most savage Black Metaler. Culkin’s talent always the primary catalyst of what cometh.

Best Lost-In-Her-Role Actress – Hannah Emily Anderson (What Keeps You Alive)

In What Keeps You Alive – now available in theaters/on VOD through IFC Midnight – Hannah Emily Anderson is straight on-screen fire as “Jackie.” At first, she’s the adoring, fluttery-eyed wife of Jules (Brittany Allen) – for, like, the blink of an eye. Then the long-distance gazing fits, unearthed secrets, and general something-isn’t-right-ness hits. Filmmaker Colin Minihan wastes zero time launching his thriller’s chase aspect, and before you know it, Jackie has pushed Jules off a jagged cliffside – which is only the beginning.

While Allen’s character is left to survive, Anderson’s lifelong woodland hunter wants nothing more than to notch another kill. Foreshadowing is subtle like a branch to the face – Jackie playing a folksy guitar song about “demons” escaping or blasting targets with precision rifle aim – but Anderson sells impending doom ceremoniously well. That musical croon…yeah, I’d be her helpless victim in a heartbeat. Then when Minihan’s cat-and-mouse game ensues, we get full-blown serial killer Jackie who flips emotions on-and-off like a renegade automaton. Rowing after Jules across silent lake waters, each stroke more precise and Olympic-formed. All the charisma of an America’s Most Wanted poster child, tenfold the determination and nerveless completionism. One of 2018’s true villains, a testament to boastful psychotics in an unassuming form.

Best Actor Who Isn’t Rory Culkin – Jack Kilmer (Lords of Chaos)

Jack Kilmer’s role in Lords Of Chaos may only be in support, but nearly steals Jonas Åkerlund’s entire thrash-and-headbang show. As Rory Culkin’s Euronymous jabbers about what it means to be “Black Metal,” Kilmer’s Swedish lead singer “Dead” is Black Metal. A tragic soul, scarred by self-inflicted cuts and dedicated to the darkest shadows. A tortured artist, a forgotten wanderer. Kilmer’s asked to swim deeper and deeper into a terrorizing mental state that swallows his character whole, but what’s delivered on-screen is rock God commentary.

Dead’s introduction is that of a blonde-haired growler with an affinity for roadkill. He pushes Euronymous towards the maniac energy Mayhem demands. On stage, Dead slices open both his forearms and sprays blood all over a cheering crowd who are entertained by the spectacle – but he’s left pale-faced and trembling over gyros after the show. “You okay?” asks Euronymous. Dead can’t even muster an answer, and his misery in the name of art doesn’t stop there. Dead’s arc is haunted by themes of death itself, that Euronymous may or may not exploit for Mayhem’s benefit past boundaries meant for Dead’s own wellbeing. Kilmer wringing every last drop of alcohol and sorrow from his lunatic frontman until a choice presents itself.

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