Blood Work: Recapping the Overlook Film Festival


The Overlook Film Festival returned to New Orleans for its eighth installment, bringing with it a selection of cult classics and fresh releases that defied expectations and embraced the strange and uncanny. This year’s lineup took a jab at the corporate world, challenged my perceptions of what horror can be, and scared the living hell out of me.


CUCKOO

When presenting Cuckoo on opening night, the host said, “Some movies you see and at the end, you’re like, what the fuck did I just watch? This is that movie.” They weren’t wrong. Set in the German Alps, the plot follows teenager Gretchen (Hunter Schafer) as she begrudgingly settles into her new life, living and working at an eerie resort with her family. Immediately, she feels something is off, and the longer she stays, the weirder things get. The Neon feature directed by German filmmaker Tilman Singer premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, then at South by Southwest, making the appearance at Overlook its third. Singer’s first feature film and film school thesis project, Luz, was a sort of homage to 1980s European horror films; Cuckoo echoes this vision. Shot on 35mm and composed of a moody color palette, its earthy hues bring a sort of muted elegance to an otherwise gritty, unsettling narrative. There’s something evocative about Singer’s choice to have such a disturbing turn of events take place in this picturesque backdrop. It’s a complete juxtaposition, starkly contrasting the idyllic vision of what could have been with the morbid reality unfolding. Dan Stevens and Jessica Henwick, alongside Schafer, are born for horror. While Schafer’s capabilities have been apparent to me since her role in Euphoria, seeing her debut in the horror space makes it undeniable that this is where she thrives. Her emotional range is wide and memorable, as we see her go through the motions and escape death again and again. Fear and grief are written all over her face, and her physicality takes it to another level. One thing is certain: Directors love putting Schafer on a bike with headphones. In this tale, she isn’t escaping high school and societal norms, rather, a shadowy figure and a nauseating shrill. All the while, Schafer and Stevens’ characters remain steadfastly hilarious amidst the grittiest moments of this narrative. Gretchen’s genuine wit is funny in an effortless, unintentional way that attests to how well the character was written. Stevens takes on the role of unsettling, random, and outright weird, which makes for a comical dynamic. Overall, the nightmarish fever dream of a film ventures into the realm of being so bonkers that it borders on hard to follow. Nonetheless, it’s a truly fun, entertaining watch.


ABIGAIL

At the Prytania Theatre Uptown location, closing night wrapped up with the world premiere of Abigail (pictured above), with filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett in attendance. Being a Ready or Not lover myself, this was a must-see for me. How can you resist a ballerina vampire? The task of the kidnappers leading the narrative (Melissa Barrera, Dan Stevens, Kathryn Newton, and the late Angus Cloud) seems simple: take Abigail (Alisha Weir) and keep her in an abandoned mansion for 24 hours. Criminal babysitting, essentially. They quickly realize that she isn’t the one who is locked in for the night, though. At only 14 years old, Weir’s back-and-forth transformation from young girl to undead bloodsucker is impressive and horrifying. With distinct sets of teeth made for each mouth, Abigail births a new kind of vampire that stands out from your regular old Nosferatu. This refreshing take on the creature was intentional, as Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin remarked in the Q&A following the screening, saying they made up their own rules for how they wanted their vampires to look. It’s true that there’s no vampire handbook. The duo known as Radio Silence stayed true to their brand, as bloody, spontaneous combustion is a regular occurrence that left me wondering how they continuously pull off the move. It turns out that they use what they call blood cannons to produce the level of blood needed for Abigail, and this is their bloodiest production yet. Amongst the guts and gore, the film’s whimsical nature and hysterical script make for a pretty exciting watch. Babysitting is certainly not in my future.

 


SHORTS: RISE AND GRIND

With over 20 shorts for viewing, the fest grouped films with similar themes into categories or programs. As a fellow creative often caught in the ebb and flow of working ho-hum, unfulfilling jobs to make ends meet, I decided to check out Rise and Grind. Its description reads, “Because truly, what’s more horrifying than another day spent in the meat grinder of late capitalism?” The selection highlighted the sheer horrors of the common workplace in gruesome, deviant, and comedic ways. A few in particular stuck out to me.

NAP

Four individuals are locked in a room with only each other and a set of beds. After signing up for an experiment a while back, they’ve finally been called in to participate. The rules? If you want to live, you have to sleep. NAP, by the Spanish director Javier Chavanel, gives the phrase “sleep is for the weak” a whole new meaning. How can you relax enough to sleep when your life depends on it? This group of strangers has to not only account for themselves but also entrust their survival to one another, putting their lives in each other’s hands. It’s a sleepover from hell. Taking place almost entirely in a single room, the narrative spreads its own paranoia to the audience all within 14 minutes.


ZIT

In ZIT, protagonist Gertrude (Hannah Alline) works through an insurmountable obstacle many 9-to-5ers understand—asking for a promotion. The American short by Amber Neukum presented as more than a horror movie centered around a pimple, but rather a chilling allegory for the everyday horrors of anxiety and self-doubt. Her internal struggle mirrors the external manifestation of her obsession—the growing mass on her forehead that is literally excreting onto everything. Alline authentically plays this role, nailing both the relatable and absurd elements of her character in a setting that feels all too familiar. As nonsensical as the story seems, it’s as if we’re simply following her around on a particularly weird day-in-the-life because her performance feels that natural.


MLM

In a time when marketing tactics can too often feel like a borderline pyramid scheme, it’s fitting that one of the program’s shorts told the story of a woman trapped in a multi-level marketing network. Sarah (Jessika Van), who gets roped into La La Leggings through a friend, soon realizes the grave mistake she made after falling victim to the MLM’s nonsensical punishments. As they get more and more far-fetched, she finds herself increasingly fixated on making sales. MLM felt reminiscent of my mom’s friend trying to sell her makeup in the early 2000s—with an eerie influencer twist. After the screening, Director Brea Grant chatted about the surplus amount of patterned leggings needed for the production. She and her team got them for $3 a piece off of someone who was getting out of an MLM. How fitting.


 

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