This weekend is all about horror as BeatsBoxingMayhem is covering the annual Atlanta Horror Film Festival. The event prides itself on showcasing the best in independent horror from around the country. Day one featured three blocks of 10-shorts under different themes (“Never Sleep Again,” “Kid Fears,” and “Hazardous Duties”) and two full-length features (The Glass Coffin, Replace).
Running a little over an hour, the shorts in this block ranged from two minutes to 25. Some directors tackled the sleep motif from a humorous angle (Kyle Dlay and Taylor Martin’s “Nightlight” had a young child befriending his under the bed monster with comic books) to unsettling demonic disturbances (Evan Cooper’s “The Armoire” had a creeping demon that resembled the first alien glimpse we see in Signs).
The biggest standouts were the longer features, which allowed for some character development and building dread: Ross Morin’s “A Peculiar Thud” and Andrea Niada’s “Home Education.” Morin’s piece told the story of a man awakened in the night by a thud downstairs. He finds an intruder at his door asking to innocently to come in. What would be creepy in the daytime is downright terrifying at 3am. Add to the fact that the protagonist’s safeguards (alarm system, locked doors, calling 911) failed to discourage the intruder (later a knife-wielding attacker), and the viewer is faced with a realistic nightmare.
“Home Education” is a UK feature that asks the question of what happens with the terror comes from your own family? A young girl is being home-schooled by her controlling and detached from reality mother. The father has died recently and is slowly rotting upstairs. The mother refuses to believe her husband is dead, framing it as a “test” they need to pass for him to “come back.” This toxic philosophy twists the girl in unimaginable ways.
There used to be a time in horror when kids were relatively safe from death. Sure, they might be terrorized, but rarely are they butchered. Not the case here. The monsters get their pound of flesh and then some. In “Father,” (Chris Keller) a promiscuous and neglectful mother has a one-night stand while a demon attacks her son. In “Goodnight Gracie” (Stellan Kendrick), a young girl who hopes her Bible and faith in Jesus will save her is rewarded with death from an ax-murderer.
An underlining theme is most of these shorts is the adults failing to protect the children. A more unsettling take in a few is the adults deliberately putting them in danger. Take “Agatha,” (Timothy Vandenberg) where a matriarch recruits orphans to feed her demonic daughter. You find out how horrific the practice is when you see a pile of shoes from the previous orphan victims.
The standout in this block for me was “When Demons Die” (Daniel Ruebesam), which tells the story of a child confined to his home due to the father being fearful of “fog demons.” We get a reminder of how much a child’s worldview is shaped by adults and the terror that can come from it.
This block had by far the most humorous films of the night. From Men in Black style exterminators (Aaron Grimes’ “Agent of the Month”) to a redneck who falls in love with a “hot zombie” (Drew Giles'”Redneck Zombie”), there was constant laughter from the audience.
The most experimental was “Myopia,” where creators Roger Okamoto and Alex Zhuravel tell the story of a guilt-ridden cop who returns to the crime scene where he was forced to take a life. The ghost aspect centers the horror theme, put the story was more a reflection on making peace with your past.
The two standouts here were “The Night Delivery” (Scott O’Hara) and “Avulsion” (Steven Boyle). “Night Delivery” finds three grocery store workers turned thieves who are stalked by a demonic creature on their last heist. Simply known as Akoman, the demon goes after those who sin. Faced with priceless diamonds in their midst, all three have to decide quickly if their lives are worth more than what they came for. This is one of the few films presented that had a built-in lore that could translate well over a full-length feature.
“Avulsion” showcases another demon, but one intent on providing a blue-collar service. How, you ask? She lets serial killers murder and dismember her corpse. Think of it as “death prostitution.” As she reattaches her limbs, she reminds us that this service satisfies those we would least expect (priests, coworkers, politicians etc.). A creative take that gives indirect commentary to the debate of legalizing societal “ills” like prostitution and narcotics.
Full reviews will be posted in a few days.
The Glass Coffin: The premise of this Spanish horror/thriller is a film star named Amanda becomes trapped in a luxury limousine by a maniac. We soon find out that said maniac is someone from her past bent on revenge. As the antagonist humiliates Amanda psychologically and physically, we start to wonder who exactly is the true villain. All this leads to a face to face showdown where only one can survive.
Although the dialogue gets a bit ponderous midway, I was fully invested in the final confrontation. Considering the film is essentially just two people, it’s an impressive feat. Track this one down if you can.
Replace: This was the last film of the night and I’m glad I stuck around for it. There is A LOT to unpack with this story. The power of memory, fear of aging, loving a destructive person and dealing with a debilitating illness are all concepts you can write a full review on with this film. We met the young and beautiful Kira who is afflicted with a disease that causes her skin to age rapidly. However, she finds out one way to stop this — stripping the flesh from live victims and adding it to her own.
As her horrifying deeds mount, you find yourself still sympathetic with Kira. Who hasn’t looked in the mirror before dismayed by the effects of aging, let alone someone in the prime of their life being robbed of it? Add on her next-door neighbor lover who has her own internal struggles and a shady medical facility, and you have a well-made, layered film with a gut-wrenching finale.
That’s it for day one. Check back daily for recaps on all four days. If you’re in town and want to attend, get all the details at http://www.atlantahorrorfilmfest.com/home-1.html.