2017 marks the second go around for the Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival and after the smashing success of 2016's programming, the masterminds behind our city's finest underground cinema showcase have seen fit to make #PUFF2 bigger and better. The new venue, The Proscenium Theater at The Drake, houses a larger screen and stadium seating granting legitimacy to PUFF while still holding fast to the gritty DIY charm that defines this burgeoning brand.
Opening night brought together nerds, artists, filmmakers, and beer once again in a celebration of unseen and underseen cuts from cinema's tattooed underbelly. The lobby was lined with vendors pushing all types of swag from hand-painted artwork to t-shirts to beer cozies
After checking out the vendors and lining my pockets with PBR, I ventured inside for the night's programming...
Imitation Girl - dir. Natasha Kermani
The dream-like quality of Imitation Girl is derived as much from its minimalist visual style as from its performers, who all work to elevate this microbudget sci-fi flick into something satisfying beyond its apparent means.
Lauren Ashley Carter plays the dual roles of both Julianna, the porn star with a heart of gold, and her slime-based imitator from another world which has taken her form from a discarded copy of an adult magazine (I believe BRASS was the hilarious title). We follow both iterations of Julianna as they live parallel lives of differing quality. For Julianna it's a daily struggle to find meaning in a thankless existence in which opportunity seems to have passed her by. For The Imitation, an initial gesture of kindness from a stranger (a scene-stealing Neimah Djourabchi) cultivates a world in which she can thrive.
The meditative nature of the film is occasionally hampered by an overuse of long static shots which could benefit from a bit of shaving here and there, but the synesthetic intentions are sound, and Kermani establishes herself as a talent to watch as both writer and director.
A mid-film highlight comes in the form of a touching monologue about a young boy going to the market to obtain bread for his family. This moment is stellar on Kermani's page and Djouabchi brings it to life in a way that is as heartbreaking as it is enlightening. As a carb fiend, it also served to make me very hungry. For me, this moment illuminated the high-level that Kermani and her team are working on as storytellers, and it brings me excitement to see what they put together next.
Paired with: Rain - dir. Martin Gerigk
An experimental study of all the sensory wonders brought on by rainfall. The kind of short film which could've lasted for hours before I noticed any time had passed at all.
Terrifier - dir. Damien Leone
The world of horror has tried and tried for years to come up a slasher villain to join the ranks of Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers, and while a handful have taken hold (Jigsaw being the closest thing to a successful addition to the canon), none, for my money, have tapped into the mania required by the genre to truly cement themselves amongst the greats. None, of course, until Art the clown, whose title is only known to us because he wrote it in shit on a bathroom wall.
Terrifier is wantonly low-budget, leaning into its grimy visuals to claim any limitations as a style all their own, and it works wonders -- due in part to the truly, well, terrifying performance from our leading clown (David Howard Thornton), and to the complete reliance on practical gore effects. One of the things that usually pisses me off about low-budget horror is the reliance on mid-quality digital effects to create setpieces devoid of tangibility. Terrifier has NONE of that. Any money left over from paying for karo syrup was surely spent on mops and buckets.
The ultimate strength of Terrifier lies in its ability to tap into the "let's see how much I can take" brand of horror made famous by the Saw franchise without being just an empty button pusher. The film's modus operandi is to entertain first, and it's mirrored in the, um, playfulness of Art. When he's dispatching the cleverly (and organically) stacked parade of bodies, he's clearly having a good time ... and so are we. Gorehounds and slasher fans will love Terrifier, and its clever subversion of slasher rules (you'll see what I mean) gives it immediate rewatch value as well as the potential for broad appeal.
Paired with Death Metal - dir. Chris McInroy
If you're going to play Satan's guitar, you'd better follow the rules! This batshit short film is undoubtedly cinema's greatest achievement. Even seeing short clips of it in the festival trailer which precedes every exhibition elicits hearty laughs from all who were present to witness its glory. Death Metal, I love you.
Stay tuned for DAY TWO!