Tragedy Girls - dir. Tyler MacIntyre
On the heels of other meta-horror satires like The Final Girls, Behind the Mask, and even Scream, Tragedy Girls brings fresh blood and non-stop laughs to the sub-genre. What begins deceptively looking like a surface-level parody soon begins to cut deep, and it is due to the one-two punch combo of energetic direction and strong character work, especially from our two leading ladies.
Sadie Cunningham and McKayla Hopper (Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp, respectively) are the best of friends (see: #BFFS4LYFE). Any why wouldn't they be? Both are obsessed with serial killers, and both have absolutely no qualms getting their hands bloody in an effort to boost awareness of their growing social media empire. Like, literally bloody.
They've dubbed themselves the Tragedy Girls and made it their duty to cover a series of local slayings, channeling both Making a Murderer and TMZ in the process. In an effort to take it to the next level they begin racking up a body count of their own.
The joke-a-minute script mines humor from your typical high school comedy tropes, but never in a way which feels tropey, and once again I credit the actors. Hildebrand and Shipp put in a grand comic performance both as a duo and as individual players. Their friendship crackles in the way real friendships do, which is important in a movie where our protagonists are inarguably terrible people.
Add Josh Hutcherson to the list of "hunk celebrities who don't look like they wouldn't 'get it' but who totally 'get it.'
Paired with God Came 'Round - dir. Derek Frey
More a strange music video than a full film, this goofy little delight tells the heartbreaking tale of an odd little man trying to find love ... if only he could clear the multitude of supernatural hurdles in his way.
Assholes - dir. Peter Vack
This movie 100% delivers on the promise of its title, and it's been a while since I've feared/respected something as much as this. The plot is simple: two recently sober individuals make the decision to go on a poppers bender and live a life of pure assholery. They run around New York City doing anything they please while huffing their brains into oblivion. As this year's 'gross out' selection, Assholes is decidedly less goopy than I'd expected, but it ended up earning its grossness through sheer commitment to the bit.
It also helps/hurts/confuses/delights once you know that most of the core cast is actually related.
Buzz surrounding Assholes has been unanimous in the notion that boundaries are pushed in big ways, and it appears individual mileage may vary regarding how reprehensible one finds it. I found myself in the "loved it" camp, mostly because the main performances use the seemingly exhausted mumblecore framework to a truly absurd, aggressively non-PC end. At multiple points it appears that a skewering of the many perspectives surrounding addiction and recovery is about to occur, but it leaves all the unpacking to the viewer ... while jamming a middle finger right in their faces.
Between the films, PUFF exhibited The Bizarre Shorts Block, which featured a handful of short films which could each be described as, well, bizarre.
188548 - dir. Sam LeGassick
Sludge Eater - dir. Michael Bartolomeo
Alchemy - dir. Brandon Polanco
Gimmie Head: The Tale of the Cuyahoga Valley Bigfoot - dir. Logan Fry
Beauty Aisle - dir. Aaron Levine
Glory - dir. Mike Frazier
Season Greeting from Terriorate - dir. Gonzalo Nosal
Every film in this block is worth noting, but the highlight for me was Beauty Aisle, which uncomfortably exhibits footage of a man being de-haired using the same methods classically employed by women. The extremely hairy man at the center of it was revealed in the post screening Q&A to be the director himself. When asked why he would make such a jarring and odd film, he answered "because I had to."
Spookers - dir. Florian Habicht
PUFF's first documentary! Spookers goes behind the scenes of a mom and pop shop scare attraction held year-round at an abandoned New Zealand mental institution. Think Terror Behind the Walls only much, much bigger, and if the film is to be believed, much, much scarier. Hell, the venue sells "I Pissed My Pants at Spookers" t-shirts to commemorate and make light of a relatively common occurrence within their walls.
Habicht's film follows the family behind the venture as well as a handful of their players as they delve into what it takes to make a job out of scaring people, and even how creating Spookers is its own form of therapy. This is juxtaposed against a question of propriety: Does using an abandoned mental health facility to stage tastelessly stereotypical frights err on the side of insensitivity? It's up to the viewer to decide, as Spookers smartly avoids editorialization.
The momentum of the film stumbles toward the end, as some of the side-stories begin to pile up and rob the film of focus, but the cold-hearted editor in me would be troubled to figure out what to cut.
Paired with Death's No Fun - dir. Susan Chasen
Lightly animated pencil drawings depict the tale of a girl who gets more than she bargained for in accepting a friend's challenge to enter a haunted house. I was very struck with the visuals of this short which perfectly match the tone of this family-friendly but very spooky film.
Charismata - dir. Andy Collier, Toor Mian
Charismata is a tough movie to describe since its many secrets are better left untold. But I will try.
Rebecca (Sarah Beck Mather) is a detective on the trail of what she believes to be a serial killer. Unfortunately for her, she's the only female detective in the boys club, and misogyny runs free amidst her workplace. As she and her team get closer to their suspect, Rebecca's grip on reality begins to blur. That's really all I can say plot-wise, but I assure you that this is worth seeking out.
The fast-talking script uses humor to bring life and energy to an otherwise slow-burn thriller, giving Charismata its own unique style to set it apart from the bulk police procedurals. The film looks incredible, even with that BBC soap-operatic sheen on it, bouncing from the gritty street-level cop lens to the abstraction of a break in reality in a moment's notice.
Paired with Signal to Noise - dir. Jarret Blinkhorn
A rogue radio signal triggers troubling behavior in all who hear it, and if ever a short film could be adapted into a full length concept, this is it!
Ruin Me - dir. Preston DeFrancis
This is the first film of the fest that didn't quite do it for me, but nonetheless there is a lot to love.
Slasher Sleepout is a high-end haunted attraction which aims to create an experience above all others of its ilk. Guests must rid themselves of all personal possessions and sign a waiver granting the hosts permission to do pretty much anything they want in the name of causing fear.
The central performance from Marcienne Dwyer acts as a strong audience surrogate through which to view the Slasher Sleepout's many machinations. And when the frights grow more violent and personal, it's her eyes through which the viewer must question the veracity of any scary occurrences. Kudos to the writers (Trysta A. Bissett and Preston De Francis) for cultivating a slick mystery where reality and artifice are interchangeable up until the very end. Double kudos for telling it through a female lens -- which is integral to the film's thematic concerns.
Just what would it take to truly scare a person who has signed up for it wantonly? Ruin Me has an answer for you.
Paired with Void Chair - dir. Xavier Miralles
A HAUNTED CHAIR!!! Gaaaaah! Deeply unsettling stuff...
Once again, PUFF exhibited another shorts block. This time is was the International Oddities...
Get Yourself Together Mikey - dir. Danna Frank, Israel
The Call Girls - dir. Justin Staley, USA
Undress Me - dir. Amelia Moses, Canada
Beacon - dir. Travis Tillman, USA
Heir - dir. Richard Powell, Canada
What the Cat Dragged In - dir. Isaac Ruth, USA
Times of Zoe - dir. Tim Carlier, AU
I've Got My Mind's Eye on You - Samuel Valenti, USA
My favorite of the bunch is What the Cat Dragged In. Anyone who has ever lived with a cat has experienced this story to some degree ... but only to a degree.
One day left! Come back tomorrow for closing night!