Overlook 2024 Wrapup!

APRIL 4-7, 2024


Back in the day, I used to mix things up with what festival I went to in a given calendar year, but at this point I barely even consider the others, zeroing in only on the Overlook Fest in New Orleans. While I would love to go to Frightfest UK again, and... well, I would enjoy the company at Fantastic Fest since a number of friends go (I don't particularly want to support the company anymore seeing as how they laid my ass off at the very beginning of Covid, not even a "furlough"), I just have too much fun gallavanting around New Orleans for four days to really debate going somewhere else instead. Summertime fests are a possibility, but when my kid is in school, it's just too much of a hassle for my wife to do the parenting gig solo for the better part of a week just so I can watch some horror movies.

Some GOOD horror movies, I should say, and ones I might not get a chance to see in theaters with appreciative crowds again. I just looked at the films I enjoyed the most at last year's festival, and some still haven't even come out (Trim Season, which is finally hitting limited theaters and VOD in June) and the others, like Clock, were streaming movies. And Renfield, alas, never had any packed screenings if its depressing box office was any indication. Apart from the 2022 lineup, which I assume was very slim pickings on account of Covid, they've always delivered a solid mix of titles at the fest, and specifically horror (or close cousins like thriller or dark comedy), whereas FF dips its toes into pretty much everything.

And as I've done for the past couple years, I bought my own pass instead of trying to attend as press, so that I could just enjoy myself and not worry about filing reviews right away, or jotting down notes as I watched to make sure I was covering all my bases. But I figured it'd be nice to say a few things about what I saw, if for nothing else but to provide you folks with a few titles worth keeping an eye out for (and for me to quickly consult what I saw as time passes and I forget).


The official opening night movie was Cuckoo, starring Dan Stevens, but it was at a theater further uptown that required transportation and also a bit of optimism, as badgeholders aren’t always guaranteed to get into every screening if everyone has the same idea. At the main theater, there’s always another option, but at this single screen location a potentially pricy Uber drive away, you might end up seeing nothing. So I stuck around the main theater and checked out this dark comedy instead, and I’m glad I did so as I don’t know if I’ll get another opportunity to watch it with a big appreciative audience. It’s an absolute crowd pleaser in the same vein as Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, in which a couple (Nick Kroll and Andrew Rannells) who are about to adopt a baby take a last “just us” kind of vacation to Italy. Unfortunately, the language barrier (Kroll is trying to learn the language via Duolingo) and some other standard mishaps result in them in a location that SEEMS like your standard Texas Chain Saw Massacre type house, and they act accordingly.

The truth is, of course, that the people there mean no harm, but their inability to properly communicate results in much comic bloodshed. Honestly it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time; the chemistry between Kroll and Rannells is dynamite, and the smart script gets a lot of mileage from the idea that they think they’re being targeted for being gay when in reality the people they encounter are actually quite accepting of it (one Italian word sounds unfortunately close to a particular gay slur, which doesn’t help). And the gore gags are well done, so even though it’s not really a horror movie by any means, anyone who might have felt “duped” by seeing it at a genre festival should have been sated anyway. Keep an eye out for this gem.


This was produced by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (writer/director Michael Felker is their longtime editor) so it automatically got my attention. And the plot sounded intriguing; a brother and sister pair rob a bank and then hide out in an isolated farm that has a time traveling closet on its second floor, which will allow them to transport themselves to another period in time, hide for two weeks, and then return to their own time when the smoke has cleared (at no point does anyone explain how disappearing for two weeks after a robbery is the best way to escape attention, but I guess if time travel is real in this world then maybe applying real world logic isn’t a sound idea). Alas, when the two week period is up, they find themselves unable to return, and they are instructed by someone in the future (or past?) via tape recordings that someone is planning to disrupt the space time continuum and they need to wait there and kill them when they arrive.

It’s at this point that things start to go awry, as the vague time travel mechanics, plus the overseeing time travel… police? I guess? (Very TVA from Loki, which Benson and Moorhead steered through its 2nd season) start to ask more of the audience than the film is seemingly willing to offer in return, resulting in a frustrating back half. And it doesn’t help that the film’s closing sequence presents an idea that is fascinating and perhaps should have been a midway or even end of act 2 twist, so that the rest of the movie could have had fun exploring it a little. Instead we just get endless scenes of the brother and sister staring out at the surrounding area of their farm waiting for their unidentified attacker to finally show (their identity, when finally revealed, shouldn’t surprise anyone, though there’s next to no explanation of how they got involved in all of this). There are some fun moments with time travel logic, like when the sister (Riley Dandy) opens a cupboard to find it empty, slams it shut in frustration, and then opens it again to find it fully stocked (thanks to someone in the future sending it back into the past), but for every cute moment like that there are a handful of plot points that are woefully underdeveloped.


As always, I opted out of whatever movies were showing at the time to go offsite somewhere and participate in the annual horror trivia game that the fest (and Daily Dead) put together. Unlike our own horror trivia game here in LA, this one is always at a bar, so it’s nice to get progressively more and more tipsy as I search my brain for otherwise useless facts in order to win a Blu-ray. Sadly, while we did win a round (actually two, but to give everyone a chance to win stuff, you can only take prizes once), my hard-won copy of Smile (on 4K UHD no less) was later left behind in the theater. Oh well. I was really only playing for the glory of being, perhaps, part of the only team in the venue who knew the name of the actress who played Sr Margaret in Silent Night Deadly Night.


Finally, a legit horror movie! And a really good one! (Indeed, as I was writing, word just came in that it won the festival's audience award.) The story concerns a woman who is murdered at an isolated house that she’s in the process of restoring, seemingly by a former patient of her psychiatrist husband. A year later, her twin sister (who is blind and also a psychic) starts to wonder if the man being blamed is truly the murderer, and… well, that’s when things get into spoiler territory, so I’ll hush up.

I CAN say that the movie (which occasionally employs the use of non-chronological storytelling to let us know things when we need to know them) offers some terrific scares and suspense, including a jump scare that actually made ME utter a little frightened sound, which hasn’t happened in ages (usually at best I just jump a little). Those who enjoyed Talk To Me will be right at home here, as it has the same kind of tense moments and reliance on a strange haunted artifact, in this case a wooden mannequin that may be able to come to life. Also, without spoiling particulars, if you enjoy seeing terrible men get their just deserts, you’ll walk out fully satisfied. This was my favorite movie of the fest, and can’t wait for it to hit Shudder so more people can enjoy.


I’m always up for a deconstruction of my beloved slasher movies, but unfortunately In A Violent Nature’s “promising on paper” pitch - a Jason movie where you’re with Jason the entire time – doesn’t translate into a fully satisfying film. After being revived from the events of some previous adventure, we do indeed stick with the hulking Johnny (who also has mother issues and prowls the woods; unlike Leslie Vernon’s amalgamation of several slashers, Johnny is clearly just Jason) for the majority of the film’s runtime. But here's the thing: said runtime is 96 minutes, which is more than most actual Jason movies. And that’d be fine if there was more going on here, but I’d estimate a full 75% of the movie is just Johnny walking through the woods, with the camera pointed at his back. There are a handful of victims of course, and the edit gives us just enough to detect their basic archetypes and even a little bit of their customary drama (one guy is being a jerk to his girlfriend, another still pines for his ex who is now with another guy, etc), but let’s put it this way: if filmed traditionally this would be among the least interesting slasher movies we’ve seen in ages.

Personally, I think it'd be funnier/more interesting if the victim group was absolutely fascinating, and the movie denied us resolutions or context for their ongoing issues because Johnny himself wasn’t interested and opted to just wander away to find easier prey. That said the trailer is hardly misleading, as it (like the film) is mostly just shots of Johnny’s back, so it's not like they're hiding what the overall experience is like. And it does contain a nice surprise for Friday the 13th hardcore fans (a certain victim of yesteryear pops up as a Good Samaritan), so that was appreciated. I think it will go over well with the people who love the Terrifier movies, as those too are endlessly dull for a while before offering a ridiculous and well-executed kill scene (the yoga one here is an all timer, for sure). But if you. like me, aren’t just showing up to these things to see the kills, I don’t know how much entertainment value it’ll ultimately provide.


Over the years, Larry Fessenden has become one of the most reliable genre filmmakers, taking familiar tropes and monsters and putting his own “somber” (his word) spin on them. Here it’s the familiar werewolf tale; our hero Charley (Alex Hurt) has been cursed with lycanthropy and, sure enough, a new full moon is approaching. And when a friend of his is accused of a recent murder that he knows he committed while under its spell, he decides that he needs to put his affairs in order and capture his confession and subsequent transformation on camera, to clear his friend’s name and explain to his former girlfriend why he suddenly broke up with her. Honestly I may have liked the movie even more if it had a 25th Hour style setup and took place all in one day; a slow burn leading to his only transformation, or at least showing the other times as flashbacks. But I’m sure the distributor is happy to have something a little more commercially minded, and Fessenden’s couple decades of experience have allowed him to rope in a bunch of familiar faces for bit parts: Kevin Corrigan, Barbara Crampton, and Joe Swanberg all pop up for a scene or two.

But the real appeal is Alex Hurt, who was the son of the late William Hurt (who, via photographs, plays his father here) and is just as compelling to watch. There are only a few scenes in the movie he’s not in, and his performance allows the movie to pass the crucial test for a werewolf movie: you feel bad for him even though he’s technically a murderer. It’s honestly one of the best werewolf movies I’ve seen in ages, and the final scene suggests we haven’t seen the last of him just yet. Count me in.


I took another break from moviegoing to attend a taping of the Scream Dreams podcast, hosted by Catherine Corcoran, James Janisse, and Barbara Crampton (her again!). Janisse wasn’t there due to a convention appearance elsewhere, but that was OK as it allowed Crampton to take a bigger role than she usually does on the show, where she only pops in during its final 15 minutes. The guest was David Dastmalchian, who is always interesting to listen to, and we all got a tote bag for attending. In a city that charges for plastic bags at the grocery store, a new tote is always a plus. The episode should be available soon for their subscribers, keep an ear out!


Nic Cage fighting monsters is an easy sell for me, but this "A Quiet Place meets Darkness Falls" exercise doesn’t utilize his talents, making me wish they hired someone a bit cheaper and maybe put more money into another action scene or fleshing out the ones they had. Cage gets top billing but I can’t imagine anyone will be surprised when he is seriously injured at the halfway mark and barely appears after that – it’s just how it goes with these things nowadays. Instead we spend more time with his twin sons (not identical), who he has been caring for as a single dad since the monsters arrived 15ish years prior. And that’s fine, but… it’s just not particularly interesting or novel to see them go through the motions. It’s also too vague; it’s obvious that the monsters do not like the light and only freely roam at night, but it’s not like they melt or anything like vampires do in the sunlight, so they’re just… what? Wusses? It’s clear someone said “What if Quiet Place but light instead of sound?” and never really developed it further than that.

At least the monsters are cool. Like all modern movie monsters they move too fast/blurrily to really get a good look at them, but they DO offer – a few times! – shots of their mouth/teeth, which basically operate like out of control staplers? It sounds goofy but it’s actually quite effective in practice, and the sequence where they finally cut loose (against some out of nowhere evil humans, as if someone rushed on set at the 11th hour and reminded the rest of the crew that any movie like this that doesn’t have a “but man is the REAL monster” moment will be susceptible to fines) is pretty great. It’s fine, just not befitting Cage’s talents, especially at a time when he’s talking about retiring after a few more movies.


At this time I was very determined to be watching Azrael, a film I did the opening AND closing titles for (usually I only handle the latter) and was thus excited to see them on the big screen. But alas (for me, not the filmmakers) they had to turn folks away because it was such a hot ticket, and I was one of the ones who didn’t get in. If I hadn’t stopped for a coffee…

But luckily, the collection of shorts I saw instead was pretty great! These things can be hit or miss, as I’m sure everyone who has ever attended a “short block” can attest, but even the weakest one (out of eight) was still pretty good. I particularly enjoyed “Zit” from Amber Neukum, in which an office manager hoping to get a promotion is dismayed to discover a pimple on her forehead that proceeds to grow and bleed profusely as the day continues. However none of her coworkers can see it, so the comedic thrust is seeing her increasingly frazzled state as she tries to keep it together and not blow her promotion. Hannah Alline is absolutely perfect in the lead role, and kudos to her for pulling the whole thing off with that disgusting makeup effect on her at all times. I also enjoyed "MLM" from Brea Grant, which took the ongoing cult-like pyramid scheme nature of these things and took it to its extreme while also taking shots at online influencers (the full subject of another short titled, yes, "The Influencer" - also quite good!). And it had Barbara Crampton as the president of the company they work for! She was everywhere!


I was totally with this movie until its final ten minutes, at which point it… I actually don’t even know how to describe it, beyond noting it involves a time jump for the main character. But until then, it’s a lovely and haunting look at how our childhood nostalgia can inform much (too much, if I’m interpreting things correctly) of how we try to navigate young/regular adulthood. The two leads’ shared love of a TV show that seems to be equal parts Buffy and Twin Peaks is something anyone can probably connect to, and how such shared adolescent things can be a tether to that person as we grow up and apart, for better or worse.

Most people absolutely loved it; I would probably be in their company if it didn’t spend the last chunk of its runtime making me wonder if I had accidentally blacked out for a half hour and missed something. Not really horror per se, but the lead villain of the TV show is a damned freaky sight to behold. Great soundtrack too. I absolutely plan to watch it again, as maybe it will unlock some answers (often the case with something told out of order, and more so when you're watching on very little sleep), so I'll revise at the time. Either way it got me more interested in checking out We're All Going to the World's Fair, the previous film from writer/director Jane Schoenbrun.


My last film of the fest was also my only foreign language one (not counting one of the shorts and a few scattered lines of Italian in I Don’t Understand You). And if you’re arachnophobic, you’ll also probably consider it to be the scariest movie they showed there. Basically a spider-fied version of Attack the Block, our hero Kaleb sells stolen sneakers and is also a budding zoologist who collects reptiles and insects, so naturally he eagerly buys a spider off a dealer who warns him that it might be dangerous and brings it to his apartment home. Surprising no one, the spider gets loose and starts to breed, and at some point we learn that this particular type of spider can grow in size as a defense mechanism. And then those bigger spiders start laying eggs, and… well, you get the idea. Before long the building is… what’s the word, oh yeah, infested! by all sizes of spiders: tiny ones that can sneak through your vents and under doors, and bigger ones that you can’t just swat away. The police quarantine the building, but our heroes are determined to get out… not everyone makes it.

Again, if you harbor a deep fear for the creepy crawlies, this might be unbearable to watch, as they think of pretty much every single way a spider can ick you out and add in the (less likely) idea that it can also kill you. But it started to wear a bit thin for me after a while; the film runs 105 minutes and I really started to feel it after a certain point, particularly when the cops turn aggro out of nowhere. The final scene, which finally explains Kaleb’s movie-long opposition to making promises, brings things back and even got me a little touched, but I think if they found a way to speed things up in the front and stay a little more focused in the third act that this could be an all timer monster movie (like Attack the Block). But hey, pretty good and worth watching isn’t too shabby, either.

Overall it was a solid fest; as with last year I didn’t dislike anything I saw, and I saw a good mix of selections that were on my radar already (Infested, Arcadian) and films I knew absolutely nothing about (Oddity, I Don’t Understand You). I sadly didn’t get to do any of the immersive stuff this time around (they now require separate paid tickets for such things, and as I like to just follow my bliss and keep options open, I didn’t want to lock myself into anything), but trivia and the podcast taping kept the “more than just movies” vibe alive for me. Plus, let’s face it: the city is half the fun anyway. If they relocated the festival to, I dunno, Cleveland or Des Moines, I’m not sure I’d make it a point to go every year. But as long as they’re in a city that I can walk around with my beer and listen to buskers perform Dark Side of the Moon on a trumpet outside of a fresh beignet joint (and they keep it to spring, before the humidity there hits its awful stride), I’ll be there.

What say you?


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