Welcome to Part 2 of our coverage of the Nightmares Film Festival.
Nightmares Film Festival is a destination horror and genre fest conveniently held in the heart of the Midwest: easily reached, easily navigated and inclusive Columbus, Ohio.
NFF sets itself apart from other genre fests by its deep year-round connection to the horror filmmaking community, which gives it the first line on the rarest, scariest, most daring and most unsettling films being created around the country. Festival screenings are held at the world-renowned Gateway Film Center, named one of the 20 best art houses on the continent by Sundance. The film centre’s dedicated team of expert projectionists – maybe the last such team in the country – oversees all presentations, to ensure every film looks and sounds its very best. World-class screening facilities. Top-notch films. Filmmakers and fans were shocked and celebrated together. Nightmare Film Festival is a prestige festival and part of advancing horror filmmaking around the world.
Cryptids takes place in a radio station during a show called The Truth Serum, hosted by Major Harlan Dean. On tonight’s episode, Harlan decides to tackle the topic of cryptozoology, but as the phone lines light up and the calls come in, each caller’s story becomes increasingly bizarre, and Harlan starts to question if real dangers are lurking outside the station.”
In the anthology horror film Cryptids, horror veteran Joe Bob Briggs plays radio show host Major Harlan Dean. Dean hosts the call-in show, The Truth Serum. With that kind of name, you might suspect a show dedicated to all manner of conspiracy-style neuroticism. However, in the episode we’re privy to, Dean’s focus is cryptozoology – he wants callers to recount their encounters with cryptid creatures.
By setting up the framing story this way, each call into the radio show becomes its own entry. As with any anthology horror, some of the shorts are better than others. In this case, all deal with creepy creatures – some familiar beasties, like chupacabras, and others that are unique to this movie.
The first segment is a bit of a stretch for its inclusion in a film about cryptids since the creatures in question are technically human. However, they’re creepy and unnerving enough that you probably won’t mind their presence. The first short is also a nice warm up for what’s to come. It’s not the best of the bunch, but it’s fun and just a little creepy.
Since each mini movie has only so much time to work with, every short opens with a call into Dean’s show before jumping right to the heart of the matter – the monsters.
The movie’s best aspect is the creature effects. Each creature has its own unnerving features, and each is unique, though some resemble monsters you may have seen before. Little creatures that hatch from a giant egg were my personal favorite beasties as they were both creepy and adorable (something only a mother could love?).
There is always a certain amount of enjoyment that comes with anthology horror since you’re not always sure what will come next. While in this case, it’s clear to be some kind of creature, what they are and what they do is where the fun comes in. Some of the creature antics are gruesome, leaving no shortage of gore and carnage in many of the segments. While the writing can sometimes leave a little to be desired, the film’s overall effect is entertaining. If you like creature features, each of Cryptids little creature slices is enjoyably nasty.
After being bullied, witty high school senior Javier develops psychic abilities, which he must use to stop a mysterious serial killer targeting his classmates.
Director: Clare Cooney
With her feature debut, director Clare Cooney skates some familiar ice but tweaks the high school slasher enough to produce a charming, compelling and strangely fresh slasher with Departing Seniors.
Jose Nateras’s script centers on Javier (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio), a high school senior who loves his best friend Bianca (Ireon Roach) and his gig on the high school paper, and maybe new guy William (Ryan Foreman). Otherwise, high school blows, but it’s almost over and then – even if Ginny (Maisie Merlock) steals his slot as valedictorian – he and Bianca will be out of this Podunk town and on to better things.
Graduation can’t come soon enough, though, because Ginny and her letter-jacket buddies have amped up the bullying. Things are so bad Javier barely even notices when the first of the popular jock dumbasses dies in the pool of apparent suicide.
At its best, Departing Seniors breathes life into the tropes of coming-of-age horror films. Cooney has gathered a truly talented and memorable group of young actors to elevate a clever if somewhat predictable take on the high school slasher. This cast, top to bottom, impresses and Nateras writes characters that they can sink their teeth into.
Diaz-Silverio reimagines the bullied teen with tenderness, resilience and humor. An exceptional, empathetic central figure, it is impossible not to root for Javier.
Roach continues her streak (after Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin and Perpetrator as well as Nia DaCosta’s Candyman) of carving memorable characters regardless of screen time. She brings a relatable, cynical humor that also emphasizes Javier’s kindness.
The traditional plotting eventually limits the film’s creative success and the speechifying undoes a lot of the nuanced storytelling that preceded it, but you never stop caring about the characters. Departing Seniors subverts every one-dimensional high school slasher cliché to deliver a startlingly empathetic and effecting thriller.
A prolonged economic crisis has undermined the last remaining foundations of the world order. In this chaos, a night bank clerk is taken hostage, and the hostage-taker’s demand is to withdraw money from a client’s account. Trying to prevent this, the clerk realizes that his family is in grave danger
Directed by Igor Fyodorov
Writer/director Igor Federov crafts a terrific debut with The Choice, a tense, taut and well-executed mystery thriller.
Taking inspiration from both the societal impact and creative restrictions of the pandemic, Federov is able to mine impressive payoffs from an almost one-man show in a nearly one-room setting.
The one man is Matvey (Elijah Khodyrev), and the room is where he is set up as a nighttime call center operator for Russia’s Frount Bank. It is the near future, when massive unemployment and numerous bank failures have spawned a new government via coup, but little relief for the struggling.
Matvey is accustomed to angry and irate callers, but the calmly menacing Daniel (Vladislav Demchenko) is a different animal. Daniel is watching Matvey at work, he’s watching Matvey’s family at home, and he has a laser target pointed squarely at Matvey’s head.
The demand? Right old wrongs by transferring money from the account of a V.I.P client.
The setup doesn’t exactly blaze new trails, but the ways Federov consistently rises to its inherent challenges make the film an engaging and satisfying ride. The action here is all tech and talk, but through creative shot selection, crisp editing and precise sound design, Federov builds palpable tension around headsets, computer screens, digital switchboards, and voices on the line.
And, as Matvey tries to buy time and seek help, Federov’s script reveals secrets that slyly shift the balance of power while deepening our investment in predator as well as prey.
At just 77 minutes, The Choice might seem a bit brisk, but the story never feels slight. Federov resists the urge for padding he doesn’t need, cementing a debut feature that reaps plenty of benefits from the instincts of a smart new talent.