2017 marks the inaugural year of the Overlook Film Festival, a horror film fest held at the iconic Timberline Lodge. The Timberline is assured a place in horror history as the exterior façade of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING, and now it’s home to four days of genre features, shorts, and a host of other activities to keep attendees busy. These include a special presentation by “immersive horror” specialists Blackout, a live performance of Glass Eye Pix’s TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE hosted by Larry Fessenden and Glenn McQuaid, a weekend-long immersive horror game that plays out over the course of the fest, panels on making horror films, and more. Daily Grindhouse’s Jason Coffman covers the features playing the fest.
LIKE ME (USA, dir. Robert Mockler)
Video artist Kiya (Addison Timlin) robs a convenience store and posts a video of it on YouTube, resulting in a huge uptick in her online profile. Among all the reaction videos and essays from supporters and detractors, one particularly vicious response comes from a young man called Burt (Ian Nelson). Burt’s words cut deep, and Kiya becomes determined to one-up the shock tactics with the unwilling assistance of motel manager Marshall (Larry Fessenden). Kiya and Marshall set off on a road trip with no clear purpose or destination as their relationship becomes increasingly complicated. LIKE ME is a bleak, hallucinogenic trip through a world of Lisa Frank day-glo colors and extremely murky moral territory. Its eye-searing color scheme and surreal production design provide top-notch visual stimulation, but the film never so much as hints at what Kiya’s motivations might be. By the time the credits roll, the audience knows roughly as much about her as they did in the opening frames of the film. LIKE ME looks fantastic and has moments of transcendent creepiness — and Fessenden, as always, gives a great performance — but ultimately feels hollow and confused. It’s still an exceptionally intriguing debut feature for writer/director Robert Mockler, though, and whatever he does next will certainly be worth keeping an eye on.
THE BAD BATCH (USA, dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)
Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is marked “Bad Batch” and banished to a vast desert wasteland established for undesirables in Texas by the U.S. government. With only a backpack and a gallon of water, she is quickly caught by cannibals called the Bridge People and loses her right arm and leg before managing to escape and find her way to the comparatively peaceful town of Comfort. Her anger at the Bridge People unexpected leads her to cross paths with Miami Man (Jason Momoa) when he leaves the Bridge village to find his missing daughter. THE BAD BATCH is writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up to her acclaimed debut feature A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, and while it’s obviously a very different beast it still feels like the work of the same imagination. Like her first film, this one follows a disparate set of characters inhabiting a vividly realized world whose paths cross in unexpected ways. Instead of building that world from silent films, horror, and spaghetti western influences, this time around it’s an amalgamation of 1980s post-apocalypse and desert films. It’s deliberately paced and quiet, punctuated with an evocative soundtrack that helps enforce the idea that this world exists outside of any specific time period. It’s as odd and confounding as it is beautifully shot and designed, and like Amirpour’s first film, it will probably only improve, given more time to reflect on and rewatch it.
M.F.A. (USA, dir. Natalia Leite)
Noelle (Francesca Eastwood) is a young artist at a prestigious university. One night while out at a party, she is raped by her classmate Luke (Peter Vack). Her best friend Skye (screenwriter Leah McKendrick) urges Noelle not to report the incident, but she does and finds everything Skye warned her about happening: the campus counselor downplays the incident and implies that it was Noelle’s fault. Noelle confronts Luke and accidentally kills him. When it looks like the police are writing off his death off as drug-related accident, Noelle starts to form a plan to punish other rapists on her campus. Her campaign of revenge has the unexpected side effect of inspiring her to do excellent new paintings, but will insistent police detective Kennedy (Clifton Collins, Jr.) stop her before her graduate exhibition? The rape-revenge subgenre is always controversial, but M.F.A. approaches it from a unique angle. Written and directed by women, this is a modern feminist take on the form defined by a compelling lead performance by Francesca Eastwood. This is some exceedingly bleak territory, but Eastwood and the rest of the cast navigate it deftly. Despite its occasionally overwhelming darkness, M.F.A. has moments of sly humor that help keep it from becoming completely oppressive. It’s sure to be divisive, but this is an intriguing take on difficult subject matter from a voice that needs to be heard.
KILLING GROUND (Australia, dir. Damien Power)
Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) are heading deep into the woods for a romantic weekend getaway, but when they arrive to set up camp they find someone else has already staked out part of the clearing they planned to use. They pitch their tent anyway, but as the day wears on there is no sign of their neighbors. A few days earlier, the owners of the tent arrived at the camp: Bored teenager Em (Tiamie Coupland) mopes around while her parents plan a hike with their toddler son Ollie. Meanwhile, locals German (Aaron Pedersen) and Chook (Aaron Glenane) discuss their own visit to the forest for a special hunting expedition. KILLING GROUND covers some well-worn territory, specifically recalling Greg McLean’s WOLF CREEK in its nasty approach to Australian “killers in the woods” tales. Its antagonists don’t quite have the ghoulishly cartoonish personality of that film’s Mick, instead aiming for a more fleshed-out relationship between the two of them more in line with Justin Kurzel’s SNOWTOWN. In other words, this is some extremely unpleasant survival horror, minus any sense of humor and with the addition of a toddler in constant danger along with the requisite cast of normal folks thrust into a horrific situation. There’s no denying that writer/director Damien Power wrings some queasy tension out of this situation, and in the end it does have something to say about how one’s actions can define them, but KILLING GROUND is just relentlessly mean-spirited and tough to watch.
THE DWARVES MUST BE CRAZY (Thailand, dir. Bin Bunluerit)
While out hunting for food, several members of a village of dwarves eat glowing green bugs. They taste great, but unfortunately they turn whoever eats them into ass-eating floating heads with dangling guts. A group of men from the village strike off to find a wise old hermit to ask for his help while everyone else hides out at a local monastery, but the shit-obsessed ghosts might not be the worst thing lurking out in the jungle. THE DWARVES MUST BE CRAZY is an aggressively zany horror comedy, with cartoon sound effects accompanying every gesture and facial expression. The slide whistle is employed more here than it has been in maybe all of world cinema in the last five years. It’s charming and fun for a while, but at 92 minutes it eventually becomes exhausting.
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Tags: Addison Timlin, Clifton Collins, Dwarves, Film Festivals, Francesca Eastwood, Glass Eye Pix, Glenn McQuaid, Horror, Jason Momoa, Jr., Larry Fessenden, Natalia Leite, Oregon, Overlook Hotel, Stanley Kubrick, Suki Waterhouse, Timberline Lodge