Latin American films stand out at Lincoln Center and IFC Midnight's Scary Movies XI

ScreenerBlog

New  Yorkers wanting to close out their summer with a little bit of indie horror can get their fix from Lincoln Center’s Scary Movies XI, sponsored by IFC Midnight. Running August 17-23, the series boasts new films from a handful of countries in addition to a four-film Tainted Waters retrospective sidebar.

The series kicks off Friday with Scottish Christmas zombie musical Anna and the Apocalypse, directed by John McPhail, on-hand for a post-screening Q&A along with co-star Christopher Leveaux. Sadly, that film was not screening in NYC in advance of its NYC premiere, but it has garnered positive festival reviews since its bow at Fantastic Fest last year. The closing-night slot belongs to the New York premiere of Lords of Chaos, Jonas Åkerlund’s dark comedy/drama chronicling the tragic fate of Norwegian death metal band Mayhem.

In between those two films, Scary Movies XI offers: Ghosts. Demons. Nazi zombies. And Billy Zane.

A pair of Scary Movies offerings—Brad Michel Elmore’s Boogeymam Pop (August 19) and Sonny Mallhi’s Hurt (August 18)—are affiliated with horror powerhouse Blumhouse Productions, which has achieved great success with their “produce a whole bunch of movies—some of them are going to be good!” model. That’s not a knock on Blumhouse; their “more is more” model has shaken out some genuinely good movies, among them Get Out, Whiplash, Unfriended and The Visit. Unfortuantely, neither of Blumhouse’s Scary Movies offerings belong in that August company. Boogeymam Pop, a triptych of demons and drugs set in small-town America, at least provides an interesting atmosphere. The less said about Hurt, the better. It’s a quasi-deconstruction of horror tropes—specifically, the way true stories (or “true stories”) of murder and terror are reshaped for the purpose of entertainment—that seems to actively hate the horror genre.

But don’t let my starting with the negative throw you off—there are worthwhile offerings at Scary Movies XI. You just have to look outside our borders to find them. Specifically, the series provides New York horror hounds the opportunity to see a trio of high-quality Latin American horror films. The first of those, screening Monday, August 20, is Mexico/Chile co-production The Inhabitant, a home-invasion thriller with a supernatural twist. Writer/director Guillermo Amoedo’s script, about a trio of sisters who break into the house of a high-ranking government official and his wife, is a bit slow going at first, but know that a very welcome twist into WTF territory does occur.

The following day, August 21, sees the one-two punch of Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid (Mexico) and J.C. Feyer’s The Trace We Leave Behind (Brazil). If you have only one night to give to Scary Movies, make it this one, as both films are series standouts. Both films use social issues—a drug crisis for Tigers, a healthcare crisis for Trace—as a backdrop for supernatural shenanigans. Of the two, The Trace We Leave Behind—in which a doctor (Rafael Cardoso) coordinating the transfer of patients out of a decrepit Rio de Janeiro hospital investigates the case of a missing girl—is the more straightforward horror thriller. Which is absolutely fine, since thanks to some spine-tingling sound design and director Feyer’s expert grasp of tone, it’s by far Scary Movies XI’s scariest film.

Tigers Are Not Afraid, on the other hand, has a more dark-fantasy-magical-realism bent and is no less effective for it. Paolo Lara stars as Estrella, a 10-year-old girl tossed in with a gang of orphaned young boys after the disappearance of her mother. Granted three wishes—Real or not? Who knows?—Estrella attempts to protect her newfound family from the gang violence that slowly closes their stranglehold on them. Affecting and empowering, Tigers Are Not Afraid should be sought out by those who enjoy Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

Scary Movies XI gems from elsewhere in the world are Johnny Kevorkian’s Await Further Instructions, hailing from the UK and screening on August 20; Canadian director Colin Minihan’s What Keeps You Alive, screening August 18; and the States’ own The Witch in the Window, directed by Andy Mitton. In Await Further Instructions, Nick (Sam Gittins) and his girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) visit Nick’s family over Christmas vacation, only to be confronted by some immediate problems. Dad (Grant Masters) is a blowhard with overblown ideas of his own authority. Everybody’s racist, especially Granddad (David Bradley). Oh, and on Christmas morning some weird metallic substance envelops the house, preventing anyone from leaving. Their only clues as to their predicament come from messages piped to the house’s TV screen from a mysterious source. Calling to mind a feature-length “Black Mirror” episode, Await Further Instructions offers commentary on the insidious ability of technology (Hi, Facebook!) to corrupt people’s minds and cause them to turn against each other.

In What Keeps You Alive, married couple Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen) celebrate their one-year anniversary in a remote cabin out in the woods. Nothing bad ever happens in a remote cabin in the woods! Minihan’s script overstays its welcome—the premise, once laid out before the viewer, gets hammered in again and again and again at the expense of nuance. But superb performances from Anderson and Allen elevate the somewhat thin material.

August 18 and 19 play host to a retrospective sidebar titled “Tainted Waters.” The subject, broad as it is, means that the programmers were able to sneak a wide variety of horror shenanigans into this modest, four-film slate. Stuart Gordon’s Dagon (2001), never theatrically released in the United States, is based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft. Though rough around the edges at times, it displays an impressive command of the chilling, disquieting, Eldritch-horrors-lurking-in-the-water elements of Lovecraft’s oeuvre. 

Peter Cushing puts in an appearance in Ken Wiederhorn’s Shock Waves (1977), screening on August 18. It’s the least interesting of the four Tainted Waters films, but it does have Nazi zombies, so there’s that. Later that day sees a screening of Lewis Teague’s Alligator (1981), a bit of low-budget schlock insanity in which a giant alligator tears up a wedding party. Nice! The best film in the Tainted Waters sidebar is also its most-known: Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm (1989), starring Sam Neill and a young Nicole Kidman as a couple who make the ill-advised choice of inviting a mysterious stranger (Billy Zane), set adrift on the Pacific after an accident on his schooner, onto their boat.

Other films screening during Scary Movies’ week-long run are Patrick von Barkenberg’s Blood Paradise and Justin Decloux’s Impossible Horror, plus an August 22 performance of a pair of audio dramas. Check out more information on the official website.