The Chattanooga Film Festival is one of the best festivals in the United States for new genre films and retro screenings of classic exploitation and genre fare. In its sixth year, the festival is being held April 11-14, 2019.
Day two! Let’s just jump right into it.
FREAKS feels like two movies fused together uncomfortably in the middle. The first half is a claustrophobic, disorienting horror flick about Henry (Emile Hirsch) and his seven-year-old daughter Chloe (Lexy Kolker) as they hide in a dilapidated house from “bad people.” Henry has Chloe memorize fake facts about a life they don’t lead, has stacks of cash and several guns in a safe, and stays up for days on end. Clearly, there is something off about the situation in which they live even before factoring in the odd visual look of the world outside the home visible through tears in the curtains covering the windows and the ice cream truck that loiters outside, beckoning Chloe to leave the house.
The second half is unfortunately an attempt to answer every single question set up in the first half that leads the film down a fairly routine sci-fi/comic book alley about mutants living among us. There is nothing especially wrong with this half of the film, but it does feel like a story that has been played out many times in the last fifteen years and takes far too much mystery out of the superior first forty-five minutes. Still, it ends up being a better X-MEN movie than about half of the actual X-MEN movies that have been made and sports a hell of a performance from Kolker in a difficult role. Well Go USA is releasing this one, so there’s a good chance of it getting at least a brief theatrical release. It’s worth catching if it plays near you or when it hits VOD.
After checking out an entertaining, informative talk and Q&A session with Mallory O’Meara about her book The Lady From the Black Lagoon (if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend checking it out), it was on to the next film of the day…
There is a twist midway through the middle of SADISTIC INTENTIONS that I should have seen coming. It makes narrative sense and writer/director Eric Pennycoff deserves credit that he does not employ any cheats to hide it in an effort to make it land. Once that twist is employed, it frames everything that came before it in a subversive light as a takedown of one of the more annoyingly twee indie subgenres–a turn that puts the film firmly on my good side.
I am purposely talking around any plot specifics because just describing the set up could be considered a spoiler. Instead, I will compliment cinematographer Malcolm A. Purnell for delivering a great looking movie that is not normally seen at this small of an indie level and give credit to the trio of leads—especially Jeremy Gardner and Taylor Zaudtke—for their constantly escalating performances that seem to feed each other’s mania. Keep an eye out for this one.
The night closed out with the WTF Short Films block. As the name of the block implies, there were several moments where the shorts crossed the line from surrealism into outright lunacy, but like any short films block, the collection was a real mixed bag.
My favorites of the block were CHICHI, an animated tale of the strangest alien invasion imaginable (it gets bonus points for the image of a possessed dog washing dishes); CHOWBOYS: AN AMERICAN FOLKTALE, a warped and funny fusion of the Donner party incident with a Santa Claus origin story from the reliably twisted folks at Astron-6; WHO YOU ARE THE COMMERCIAL, a clever mocking of early computer technicians who invent a smartass computer that can read souls and finds everyone wanting; THE OBLITERATION OF THE CHICKENS, a funny and creepy way of looking at the fact that the universe doesn’t give a damn if anyone lives or dies; and THE ONLY THING I LOVE MORE THAN YOU IS RANCH DRESSING, a very short (approximately one minute) film that plays like a quick, very funny joke with the title serving as a killer punchline.
With that, day two concludes and a very packed day three is promised…
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)