Fashion, Freud, and Fear: The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival Makes Its Return
Every detail from the fright fest.
Every detail from the fright fest.
Text: Joshua Lyon
Fashion and horror have always overlapped—they’re both art expressions interested in making an extreme impression through minimal or maximum visual impact, and they often take cues from each other to get there. Just look at last year’s polarizing Neon Demon, a bloody, high gloss view of the industry, or Raf Simons’s Spring 2018 collection for CALVIN KLEIN 205W39NYC, which featured multiple nods to classic movies like Friday the 13th and Carrie. But while it’s relatively easy to choose what fashions specifically work for you, finding good scary movies requires time and a filter. Thankfully, the curators at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival have fast established themselves as both a sieve and a nurturing home for international indies in the genre. This year’s four-day lineup delivered screen villains that ran the gamut from a slick predator who’s obsessed with Alexander McQueen designs to a demonic electronic device with an addictive, Atari-esque soundtrack. Take note of these standouts for future sleepless nights.
In Simon Rumley’s Fashionista, April (Amanda Fuller) is a young woman who’s totally addicted to clothes. There’s no shortage of her drug of choice because she works in a mega thrift shop owned by her husband, but after the marriage crumbles she hooks up with a mystery man who prefers she wear Versace, not vintage. She graduates to the shopping big leagues after he plies her with money, but in the process he folds her into a truly horrifying psychosexual situation. The film won Best Editing for good reason—the masterful unspooling of events deeply invests you in April’s life, to the point where an abrupt third act reveal almost feels like a disservice to the actress who plays her, but everything leading up to the moment is almost uncomfortably relatable.
The unreliable narrator trope is used much more effectively in the black-and-white Mexican slow burner Veronica, about a troubled young woman seeking therapy from a retired psychiatrist who lives alone in a giant house in the woods. With references to Freud’s death drive theory and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, it’s a smart meditation on trauma-based disassociation that earns its multiple surprise twists. An excellent plot pivot can also be found in Portugal’s The Forest of Lost Souls, in which a man wanders into a fictional version of Japan’s very real Suicide Forest to end his life, and encounters a young woman who has ditched her friends at a music festival for the same reason. José Pedro Lopez rightly won Best Director for his beautifully shot story.
Rift is another stunningly filmed entry—the gay-themed Icelandic thriller, about a man visiting an ex who has decamped to his parents’ isolated cottage in the wake of their break-up, is an eerie meditation on love, loneliness, desire, and abuse. Director Erlingur Thoroddsen doles out the terror slowly and sparingly, but when it comes, it lands hard.
At the opposite end of the speed spectrum are a couple of films that unabashedly pitch themselves to younger audiences unwilling to wait long for the first jump scare. You’ll likely be hearing a lot about Tragedy Girls, a movie that very much wants to be Heathers meets Scream. It cleaned up the BHFF awards with wins for Best Picture, Actresses, and Screenplay, but missed the mark for me after abandoning its opening premise: two murder-obsessed girls kidnap a serial killer to learn the tricks of the trade. Instead of building on that idea, the plot devolves into a clumsy message about how relationships and addiction to social media can ruin a friendship, mixed with a lot of wink-wink-aren’t-these-girls-crazy jokes that aren’t sharp enough to carve it into the black comedy it wants to be. At least Alexandra Shipp is a blast to watch as the slightly more insane half of the titular duo.
GAME OF DEATH
Much more fun is Best Effects-winner Game of Death. Clocking in at just over an hour, it’s a quick and dirty little gore fest. A group of hard partying teens find an old-school electronic board game that supernaturally ensnares them in a kill-or-be-killed massacre. While most horror movies today have thankfully done away with the misogynist idea that a final girl has to be virginal, this film (spoiler alert) takes things a step further with an early-on scene that unapologetically celebrates female sexuality. Because of it, I found myself immediately rooting for Ashley (Emelia Hellman), who is indeed the last woman standing, and also delivers a fairly convincing closing speech on how to handle existential dread.
Stay tuned for coverage of the upcoming FEARnyc, but after Brooklyn’s killer film lineup, Manhattan should consider the gauntlet thrown.