Writer-director Roger Boyer’s Winnipeg woodland horror feature Dark Forest has been lurking in the shadows of the indie film circuit in Canada since 2015. He and his crew are understandably keen to get some wider exposure; it is available on a number of streaming platforms, including Amazon Prime. Is it worth a look?
The opening sequence fully establishes the tone, ideas, cultural awareness and aesthetic sensibility of the film. The introductory image is of a girl standing on the bank of a lake in a digitally enhanced blaze of autumn colour. The deliriously deep red of the leaves bleeds its reflection into the lake, allowing for the symbolic suggestion that this girl might be about to wade into depths of blood - a neat sense of nightmare foreshadowing in the midst of the natural idyll. This is autumn, after all, and the juxtaposition of youth and beauty with death and terror makes a powerful statement. The wash of colour could very well be the effect of ‘blowing up’ the film for big screen projection – it looks like cheap, amateur stock and indeed this blurriness is maintained throughout the film. It is clear from this first sequence, however, that Boyer is using this aesthetic limitation to his advantage. It soon becomes clear that these initial images are a dream sequence; the girl suddenly finds herself on a path, confronted by her own double.
Having been established in this way, the film’s constant blurriness gives the whole thing a dreamlike feel and this is surely what Boyer intends. Perhaps I am being kind but it certainly explains the uneven pace, the frequently jarring and awkward jumps from one scene to another…and the questionable sense of logic exhibited by the characters on a number of occasions. Am I just trying to make excuses for a young film maker who might simply not be in full command of his material? Bear with me; let’s venture further into this particular forest.
The plot appears to be very straightforward. A group of twentysomethings set out on a camping trip into the woods with the usual distractions (swimming, sex, drink, campfire tales) in mind. Emily, the girl from our opening sequence, has a violently possessive boyfriend, Peter, who is enraged by the prospect of her joining this group; after unsuccessfully trying to stop her he follows them and picks them off one by one in suitably savage ways.
So, essentially a slasher then…in a familiar setting and with familiar characters. And as you will know if you are keeping up with recent articles on this very site, there are plenty of calls for the endless recycling of the tired tropes of the slasher genre to be buried once and for all, especially when they appear to be rehashed by amateurs. But to dismiss this film with that argument would be to miss the point. There is something about it that commands our attention, something that effectively reminds us why it is that we keep coming back to the woods…
Let’s begin with the focus of Emily’s initial nightmare. The figure who confronts her and frightens her on that dream path is not her genuinely intimidating boyfriend but herself. What’s going on here? Is it that this is a girl who knows she cannot resist her own impulses, that she will continue to be led by her dark desire for her boyfriend even when she is fully aware of the danger of that desire? Her dream is arguably revealing to her what she does not have the clarity and maturity of mind to articulate fully in her waking, conscious life. And indeed as she takes her place on the camping trip she is surrounded by young people who do not have that sense of clarity, control and maturity – in other words people who are not yet fully ready to consider themselves adults. We see the clumsy ways in which they circle each other, fumbling towards a sense of intimacy and relying on drink and dumb jokes to keep up the momentum. The film’s random, stumbling awkwardness mirrors their characters and behaviour. It’s like a raw insight into a young adult’s mind, blurrily awash with hormones and woozily aware of the strange and potent mix of desire and fear at the centre of almost every thought. That’s all of us at a key time in our lives isn’t it? That is the version of us that the slasher film has arguably come to speak for. It is no accident that most slasher films feature late teenage and early adult heroes – the mix of carnal lusts and carnage is weighted with a symbolism we all understand. It is worth reflecting on why a woodland setting is so significant in these films; they take us to the forests of fairy tales, where children commonly encounter their darkest impulses and deepest fears. Boyer’s film, with its very knowing title, taps into all this very effectively by seeming to be every bit as clumsy and naïve as its characters - there is none of the wry, ironic detachment that we have come to expect from so much of this genre; there is instead a refreshing sense of honesty, a sweet reminder that this is very much a part of our cultural bloodstream.
And there are moments of definite skill and undeniable assurance in the use of iconic references. The electronic music score neatly echoes any number of 80s classics, from the savage sighs and weird whispers that we remember from the Friday the 13th movies at moments of high tension to more ambient and even emotional nods to the soundtracks of John Carpenter. And speaking of Carpenter, Boyer makes great use on a number of occasions of the killer shot in Halloween when Michael Myers gradually appears in the shadowed corner of the frame, unseen by the characters in the foreground. It is no mean feat here to give the very human character of Peter some of the menace of our favourite Boogeyman.
Indeed, Dennis Scullard’s Peter is a powerfully affecting, frightening, memorable character. Scullard is blessed with intense features, which he employs to full effect…but he doesn’t just go for full-on freak out. There is something desperate and almost sad about him. He is matched by Laurel McArthur’s Emily, who conveys a strong sense of conflicting impulses and emotions. In the closing, satisfyingly brutal and gruesome sequence, we see why Emily has cause to fear herself. McArthur delivers this final gut-punch both to the audience and to her own character very effectively – and the final focus on her haunted face is perhaps the film’s most assured, accomplished, self-aware and successful moment.
If you would like to connect with Nigel you can find him on twitter as @ShockSonnets
Just about claws through.
It’s a missed opportunity at the very least when what was a reasonably successful web series has the opportunity to be a fun movie but falls just short of the mark because of a single oversight. The webisodes were probably fine as they were, with a hefty supply of well-known horror alumni taking part and a silly basic premise of a demonic cat that is jealous of any woman entering her owner’s life. Where it goes seriously wrong is in the entire editing process as it comes across that aside from a few minor tweaks this is just the webisodes poorly stitched together, which makes for a bit of a mess. Apart from the untidiness of presentation this is a good intentioned film and one which will certainly have horror fans of a certain age pointing at the screen and laughing in disbelief at the antics of the likes of Doug Jones, Lee Meriwether, Courtney Gains, Adrienne Barbeau and Michael Berryman among many other cult stars, scream queens and even a celebrated porn star. It’s an excellent cast of supporting actors, all of whom look as if they had a good time and certainly a better time than I had watching it.
Allegedly based on real life incidents, Nicholas Tana is ‘Nick’, the owner of a cat called ‘Angel’ who is anything but angelic as she really is a comic-book example of a bad kitty who kills her way through any potential love interests Nick may have, to the point where it’s decided that the cat requires an exorcism, the exorcists are Bill Oberst Jr and Doug Jones as ‘Father Blatty’ and ‘Father Damien’, see what they did there? Yep, that’s right, and if you thought that was fun there’s ‘Detective Pluto’ played by Michael Berryman and so many other chuckle-worthy names and pop-culture references that it’s hard to keep up. I can see how this worked as webisodes, as they would be isolated moments of WTF, but when clustered like this it just doesn’t work as well, which is not to say that it’s a dead loss, just that it’s a bit overpowering. Overall the film was ok, but with proper editing it could have been so much better.
Would I recommend it? Well… IF you’re into gore, sexual innuendo and nerdy ‘in-jokes’ this is going to be your sort of thing. There’s plenty to see, plenty to laugh at and it’s a generally fun ride so if you can forgive the choppy editing then have at it.
Hell’s Kitty is available now as DVD and VOD from their website and other places, oh, and the website has a drinking game if you’re that way inclined ;)
“The Shape of Water meets Get Out in the unique Sci-fi Horror Soft Matter,
Premiering on VOD 5/22 from Wild Eye Releasing.”
(That’s their blurb, definitely not mine.)
Whoever decided on the opening title credits for ‘Soft Matter’ needs taking out back and mercilessly beating with a very heavy blunt object until there’s nothing left of them but a sticky smear. My reason? Partly because the text flashes on and off screen, which is great if you want an epileptic fit or the headache to go along with the backing track, but also because it’s the most enjoyable part of the film.
The film itself is absolutely not to be taken seriously; with significant gloop in evidence from the beginning it bears the marks of trashiness very early on. It really doesn’t take long to wonder what the hell will come up next, sentient fish cultures grow into creatures, mutated muck monsters stroll casually around or boogie on down with their bad selves, and there is a ridiculous animated section about a graffiti artist and a tortoise… all in the first 20 minutes.
Maybe, just maybe, you are thinking that this sounds hilarious, and I believe that’s the intention here; however the problem with intentional comedy is that you really have to know what you are doing. This has every indication, to me at least, that the filmmakers are a strange bunch with some reasonably good ideas but nothing which really gels. It is seemingly an attempt at a Troma type film, but far less classy (Yeah, you read me right), not so well thought out and definitely not as well acted. The animation sequences are total bargain basement and do nothing at all for the overall story which is basic at best. I actually feel bad as I am struggling to find something good to say about the film, but ‘Soft Matter’ really is absolutely shit, which is probably why it is called ‘Soft Matter’. There are no breakout actors, no parts which even raised a smile, just what comes across as a worst-case scenario of amateur filmmaking which doesn’t even belong in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. I think it might get lucky and find a niche audience but I won’t be amongst that even though I usually watch a film more than once before commenting. I could say once was enough, but once was once too often.
One hour and twelve minutes of totally wasted time.
Noche Buena (Night Life)
Third place finalist: ‘Lestat Horror’.
Official selection: ‘15 second horror film challenge’.
What sort of horror film can you make in 15 seconds? The answer appears to be one with a lot of gore, no real story and pretty much no point in making it if you’re going to cut the end off to fit the 15-second allowance. Noche Buena plays as if someone removed the gory bits from a low-budget horror and randomly cobbled them together. If you feel inclined to spare 15 seconds to check it out be my guest, but I am left wondering who the judges are if stuff such as this gets awards.
This one is a little longer at three minutes and with something actually resembling a story. A junkie shoots up; he dies and is teased by laughing people with poorly applied face paints on. That’s all you get folks, just under three minutes of that. I understand the desire for Independent Filmmaking, and even applaud the general concept as well as many an achievement created on a shoestring budget, but the result here is something that really could have been so much better if more time had been spent on things such as writing a better plot and even watching a few makeup effects tutorials on YouTube. I think if Phobophobia productions want to make it bigger they really should concentrate on making things more effective visually rather than relying on maniacal laughs and screams.
No, I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore. Wedlocked has a bad storyline, even worse acting, and a feeble attempt at a ‘gross-out’. Everything wrong about amateur filmmaking is right here on display. We were sent a bundle of three short films and a Web series link, the reviews for Wedlock and the series are not happening, not here and now, not from me. If they send us more, I for one will not be reviewing them as my time is too precious to waste it on stuff like this. Maybe someone else on the team might like a crack at it, but as I am the ‘degenerate in residence’ for the Ginger Nuts of Horror, all I can say is that if I don’t like it there’s not much hope of the others taking a butcher’s.
As far as amateur filmmaking goes I’m all in favour of it, but it appears these days as if anyone with access to a camera believes they can be the next Ted Raimi. I’ve seen countless short films of varying quality, but rarely as bad as these ones. I would highly recommend that anyone wishing to submit short films, webisodes et cetera to the Gingernuts of Horror should watch episodes of ‘The Witching Season’ or ‘Hillbilly Horror Show’ as doing that will give them some kind of insight as to how to do the job properly. Oh, and in case you’re thinking ‘We just don’t have the budget to turn out quality stuff’, take a leaf out of Dan Rickard’s book, he made a full-length zombie feature film called Darkest Day with some of the best special effects I’ve seen in an Indie movie. His budget was less than $1,000, but he spent years of weekends working on it and honing his skills. THAT dedication and patience pays off, especially as I’m still telling people about it three years after reviewing it.
Anyway, if you want to watch any Phobophobia productions you’ll find them on YouTube, fill your boots, who knows, you might enjoy them.
by joe x young
Fantastically Fresh Found Footage Film
In the hit-and-miss world of the ‘found footage film’ there are very few ‘hits’ I would deem noteworthy, this in spite of the success they may have had, such as the ‘Blair Witch Project’ which I would give Kudos to the marketing department for but zero praise for the actual film. #Screamers is another thing entirely.
Right from the start this is ‘found footage’ done right. If you have found some footage it won’t begin with intro titles or any fancy editing, and #Screamers doesn’t, it just jumps straight in with a very routine record of the goings on with an ‘Internet Startup’ company in documentary style as they chat with the founders of ‘Gigaler.com’ (Which is an actual website they created for the film).
The basics of Gigaler is that it uses a proprietary algorithm to target your online habits and target you with exactly the sort of things you would really like to see, unlike the annoying random suggestions we get from the likes of facebook. “The More You Know Gigaler, The More Gigaler Knows You.” Okay, so nothing really that new in terms of concept, the tech has been around for over a decade, but Gigaler’s algorithm is somewhat ‘next gen’ and far more intuitive, however, it’s not the main focus of #Screamers as part of what Gigaler is about is sharing user-generated video content, obviously looking for those magical instances of footage which has the possibility of going viral.
Whilst filming the ‘documentary footage’ they receive a submission of a ‘screamer’, one of those old school obnoxious clips which starts off innocuous before a ‘Jump Scare’ knocks you off your seat. Tom, the CEO, loves it and thinks it has great potential to generate traffic so they give it pride of place on the home page. It’s a runaway success, soon gathering 27 million views. After a brief discussion it’s decided that they need exclusivity on the clip and so track down the person who created it. This is when things go way beyond expectation as we leave the Silicon-Valleyesque scenario and head off into horror-film territory. As usual I won’t give spoilers as it’s suffice to say that the plot, surrounding a woman who featured in the clip, but who resembles a known ‘missing person’ is precision crafted and delivers the goods in a believably sustainable fashion.
The entire filming process looks to have been incredibly well planned as everything looks super-real, there’s no glossiness, nothing that looks like a studio setup. The lighting and sound et cetera is what I would expect from non-specialist equipment, except toward the end when unfortunately a soundtrack is used, probably to highlight tension, which is actually something this movie didn’t need as it has tension in the bag throughout most of the latter half of the film. The whole production looks effortless, which takes a lot of doing.
Another thing which looks effortless is the acting, as everything seems just like normal people doing what are initially normal things in a normal way. One very normal aspect, and an altogether clever idea, is that the majority of the talent in the film use their real first names, so it’s yet again giving a very natural feel to things. Tom Malloy plays Tom the dynamic CEO, Chris Bannow is Chris the much quieter co-founder and ‘product developer’, Griffin Matthews plays Griffin the cinematographer making the documentary, Abbi Snee plays Abbi the introverted software guru. There are some minor deviations in that Abbi’s friend Emma is played by Emanuela Galliussi and the woman in the screamer clip Tara Rogers is played by Theodora Miranne. All of whom give stellar performances.
For me #Screamers is an absolute diamond, it’s pretty-much flawless and I can’t recommend it enough, not only to fans of found footage flicks but to horror fans in general. It’s the best film I’ve seen so far this year and I can only hope that the makers turn out more films of this quality in the future.
It had a limited theatre release and is available right now as VOD through Dread Central Presents, the genre label from Epic Pictures.
Go get it.