A Night of Horror International Film Festival: Evil Eye, Rotten Flowers, Logger, and Zebra Girl
Late October saw the 14th Edition of A Night of Horror International Film Festival take place in Sydney, Australia. From its beginning, the Festival has been dedicated to independent genre films and filmmakers, showcasing the latest and greatest genre films from Australia and around the world.
While we wait for next year’s Festival in October 2023, here are Fear Forever’s highlights of ANOH 2022. Four films from four countries, including Festival award winners Evil Eye (Best International Feature) and Rotten Flowers (Independent Spirit Award).
We will be starting with my favourite film of the festival- Isaac Ezban’s EVIL EYE (MAL DE OJO), at its Australian premiere. It is an entertaining and non- eurocentric folk horror, inspired by Mexican fables while also being a Brothers Grimm style warning to those kids who step out of line.
Emotionally neglected teen Nala (Paola Miguel) has a little sister whose deadly illness starts progressing too quickly. While her parents desperately travel to seek alternative treatments, the sisters must stay with a haughty grandmother they have just met. After the housekeeper tells the girls a supernatural folk tale, Nala becomes not only convinced that witches are real but that her grandmother (Ofelia Medina) is the worst of them all.
Ezban refreshingly ditches the current popularity of witches being young women corrupted by the devil in favour of the classic, crone-like ones of old fairy tales. Ones that prey on children and have their own brand of black magic. The stuff of childhood nightmares- fitting as Evil Eye often revolves around those of Nala.
Evil Eye begins reeling us in by bonding us with sick little sister Luna and Nala’s protectiveness of her. Then we ask ourselves- are we broody, distrustful teenagers as well? Or are the girls in great danger? This question hooks us in, and there is enough meat on that hook to keep us deciphering paranoia from skinless bloodsucking creatures up until the end!
ROTTEN FLOWERS (UKRUDT) is a Danish shocker from director Kasper Juhl, co-written with Mie Gren. The film is a brutal look at human cruelty and the toxic nature of vengeance. It has the potential to be the High Tension of the 2020s.
When Nora (Mie Gren) sends her sensitive sister a video claiming to be suicidal, Rose (Josefine Lindegaard) rushes to take her on a retreat to feel the healing power of nature. Nora, however, has a far more disturbing trip in store for them.
Rotten Flowers is a tough film to watch, mostly centred around humanity’s most evil compulsions, a throwback to the hyper-violent films of the 2000s. Those looking to face the destruction of decency will find it here in broad daylight (quite literally). But violence for violence’s sake is an old hat that Rotten Flowers refuses to wear. Instead, we get a powerful and nuanced exploration of the saying, “hurt people, hurt people.”
The only downside is that because the film uses a flashback format, there is little you don’t see coming. The film’s ability to surprise the viewer lacked punch. However, sometimes mounting dread can be just as effective a tool in a horror movie. If you can stomach Rotten Flowers, you’ll be rewarded with raw performances, especially from Mei Gren, and a challenging and thought-provoking commentary on morality, trauma, revenge and culpability.
LOGGER, a Belgian film by director Steffen Geypens, was an excellent find by A Night of Horror International Film Festival. The film is an utterly mesmerising mystery to solve and, at the same time, an open ended foray into a fantasy realm of life and death. With Logger, it feels like time goes forward, backward and both ways simultaneously. It is a film to experience rather than just watch.
A man (Pieter Piron) out for timber in the woods comes across the savagely mutilated corpse of a jogger. The shock completely paralyses him until he is found by a forester (Jugen Delnaet) and a doctor (Maya Sannen). From then on, the film is a journey into the surreal, where even Death herself pays a visit.
If this plot sounds bare-boned, it is because the less said, the better. Logger works best if you embrace its unreliable characters and the non-linear headspin it gives you.
The film has very little dialogue and a small amount of direct exposition, so it largely relies on its actors’ non-verbal performances. Which are all fantastic. Maya Sannen’s dedication and range shine as much as they terrify. As I watched, I felt like a quarter of the shots I saw were autumnal leaves- and I loved every second of those leaves! Greypens’ experimental filmmaking pays off as Logger remained completely entrancing as it ran its -short by today’s standards- 62 min runtime.
The film draws heavily on its roots in Jean de La Fontaine’s French poem ‘Death and the Woodcutter’, for it feels like watching one long and haunting piece of poetry. Logger has elsewhere been undersold as too ‘arthouse’ for general moviegoers. However, don’t underestimate the power of its ability to draw you in and keep you as stunned as the Logger himself.
A Night of Horror International Film Festival closed with Stephanie Zari‘s ZEBRA GIRL. It’s a black comedy (with an emphasis on black) with enough individuality to become an indie darling the more people see it.
Oops! Catherine (Sarah Roy) has killed her husband with a bubblegum-pink knife. She’s in a jam and calls on a childhood friend, Anita (Jade Anouka), to come and help dispose of the body. What follows is a darkly comic mess of pink bow saws, pink bathroom towels and not-so-pink dismembered limbs. Behind these acts is the nightmare of a tragic past. The film grows darker as it begins to catch up with Catherine.
Zebra Girl is based on Derek Ahonen‘s stage play and written for the screen by Sarah Roy and Stephanie Zari. Despite its immaculate cinematography, at times, the film still feels as if we are watching live theatre. Hearing dialogue that still sounded written for the stage was a bit jarring. A smoother conversion to film would have also helped handle more delicately the theme of severe mental illness that was used as a source of horror.
Our lead, Sarah Roy, also follows the film from the stage. And despite said clunky dialogue, her performance perfectly portrays Catherine as both an awkwardly funny but deeply traumatised woman. She has good comedic timing and a sophisticated emotional range. It shows she knows the part well when she moves us to feel sympathy for her character.
Zebra Girl has won awards at other festivals, and it deserves them. It mostly lands its comedy, although combined with its sombre subject matter, the film leaves you floating somewhere between conflicted and satisfied.