Women kill it at Brooklyn Horror Film Festival 2017

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Oct 18, 2017

The second annual Brooklyn Horror Film Festival unspooled over four days, from October 12-15. There was somewhere in the ballpark of about 60 films presented, of which I saw six.

And so while I cannot give you a review of every single movie that was presented, there were some interesting elements that showed up repeatedly in most of the six films I did see. A lot of them were foreign, which is nice. One was American, and there's definitely something to be said about the tone of that one which does feel representative of our times.

But let's talk about the biggest element I noticed first.

 

THE EVOLVING PRESENCE OF WOMEN KILLERS IN HORROR

To an outside observer, horror movies probably seem like a lot of the same story over and over again: vulnerable woman goes to dangerous place, encounters killer, killer murders all vulnerable woman's friends, and vulnerable woman gets tough at the last moment and beats killer.

However, there are women killers in horror movies. Carrie. Pamela Voorhees. Angela Baker. The alien from Species. The alien from Under the Skin. The alien from... Aliens. Hey, the Queen counts.

In almost all of these cases there is a common denominator: you are led to feel a certain amount of sympathy for a woman who kills. She is usually tortured in some way. She is, despite being the perpetrator, still often the victim.

This has been a pretty regular trope since around 1980. So where do the movies from Brooklyn Horror Film Festival fit in?

 

STILL SYMPATHETIC

The first film at BHFF I saw was the US Premiere for the Mexican thriller, Veronica. Obviously, I don't want to give the whole plot away (and that will go for all the films I saw) but the starting place for this story is that there is a young woman who requires serious psychiatric care. She needs it because of something terrible that happened to her as a child that involves her mother.

Right there. Anything else I could tell you about the titular Veronica regarding what she does and does not do feels excusable. She's damaged. Even if she were to commit unspeakable acts, some part of you would feel bad for Veronica. That empathy is built into the very DNA of the story.

Likewise, the final film I saw, Clementina, is about a woman who has just miscarried at the hands of her abusive husband. I could tell you more about this Argentinian film, but do I really need to in order for you to think that, whatever might happen to a baby-murdering, abusive spouse, is probably deserved? For all you know, he goes unmaimed, but... if he was extremely maimed -- you would probably feel worse for the wife he beat than him, right?

So, yeah. One third of the films I saw prominently feature a woman who, if she were to inure or kill someone, you would still think of them as sympathetic and victimized.

 

STILL SYMPATHETIC?

In order to talk about The Forest of the Lost Souls, I have to spill some details. Obviously, you should see it anyway, despite these reveals. This film introduces us to a young woman, Carolina, who has no established trauma and who likes to chill in a forest where people commit suicide. Again, feel free to infer what you need to, but she isn't exactly innocent.

This is a story largely about people seeking death. So does that make Carolina sympathetic if she were to help them along in any way? You should see it and tell me what you think. I will say she is definitely not a victim.

And that's interesting. Women who are in no way victims in horror movies are very rare. Carolina is an interesting force of nature in The Forest of the Lost Souls, but she's not a victim of it. She's a part of it.

 

HORROR MOVIES GET GAY(ER)

A contributor from our very own SYFY WIRE, Kayleigh Donaldson, recently wrote about how women love horror. And that is very true. But you know who else loves horror?

The LGBTQIA community. But rarely do prestige horror films prominently feature gay, male protagonists. Gay actors are hired constantly. Women kissing? Sure. Horror movies love girl-on-girl. But male relationships in horror movies usually only exist in sub B-grade material and are often somewhat pornographic. That's fine, but it does leave a gap.

Enter the Icelandic feature, Rift, which is all about the nuanced relationship between Gunnar and his ex-boyfriend, Einar. It's also about isolation and the dangers of living in the middle of nowhere. Rift is a beautifully shot, dreamlike-yet-tense hour and forty five minutes.

And it's also gay. Like, actually gay and not just "David DeCouteau filming women bathing each other and it's hilarious because he clearly doesn't understand why anyone would be attracted to women" gay.

Unsurprisingly, this film was very popular at BHFF this year. The men who sat next to me specifically said they wanted to see Rift because they heard it was "the gay one." They loved it. So did the rest of the audience. And so did I.

So my hope (and belief) is that we'll see many more films like Rift in festivals to come.

 

ICELAND SURE DOES LOVE ISOLATION HORROR

Both Rift and the other Icelandic film I watched, I Remember You, played emptiness and loneliness heavily into their stories. I guess it's very lonely in Iceland? I don't have a HUGE take away, this is just a thing I noticed about the two, Icelandic movies I saw that was worth exactly one paragraph's worth of a mention.

 

AND THEN THERE'S AMERICA

Gun violence in the USA is at an all-time high. And, yes, whether you choose to believe it or not, we are also seeing a huge influx in natural disasters. Oh, and we also seem to all hate each other. Before you can throw Trump-brand tomatoes at me (Trumpmatoes?), it's important to keep in mind that it takes a lot more than one president to develop this kind of nation-wide divisiveness. In short: things are very, very stressful for the overwhelming majority of Americans.

There is no art form better to represent our slouch towards Bethlehem quite like horror, a genre designed to show the slipping of the proverbial mask.

Mayhem, directed by Wrong Turn 2's Joe Lynch and starring Walking Dead's own beloved son, Steven Yeun, is about a disease that turns people hypersexual and hyperviolent. It is set in the law office that was responsible for making it legal to kill while being infected with said disease. The virus gets unleashed in the building, the building goes into quarantine lockdown, and it all goes... exactly as you'd expect it would from there.

Mayhem is Die Hard meets The Purge. It's played mostly for yucks, but, yes, it also feels like a release for people who maybe sometimes feel like ragebooking won't get it done, emotionally, but also don't want to kill in the streets.

Mayhem feels like the missing puzzle piece to go along with the treatise on American racism that is Get Out and the nostalgia-fest that is IT. I expect Mayhem to be very successful with audiences, and I also expect we'll see a lot more like Mayhem from American filmmakers in the years to come.

And that's it, folks. That was my experience at Brooklyn Horror Film Festival 2017. If you were there -- what did you see? And what horror movies are you excited for as 2017 draws to a close?