2020 was pretty much a lost year, so the announcement of a physical Brooklyn Horror Film Festival came as a welcome surprise. Since their second year, I’ve been attending the festival, and it has always delivered in extreme loves, hates, and general weirdness you just don’t get to see everywhere. 2021’s run proved to be a triumphant return.
For that return, the festival runners kept things in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area of Brooklyn rather than spread across the borough as they had in previous years. This proved to be helpful when navigating schedules and added to the experience. As they said in introductions, the geographical location where the festival began worked as a rebirth of sorts.
Thursday kicked off with Korean tacos and soju with Jen, my wife, and conspirator, at Dokebi before landing at Nitehawk for the opening night film Good Madam (Mlungu Wam). Jenna Cato Bass directs the film. The film explores post-Apartheid dynamics through a horror filter, much like the way Jordan Peel grabbed audiences since Get Out. Well-paced and exquisitely shot, it held our attention for the duration. Still, after a while, it was obvious that this film could only be fully understood by those who had lived under the criminal regime in South Africa, which meant a lot of the nuances went over our heads. On the one hand, you could say, “It’s nothing we haven’t already seen,” though, on the other, you could ponder the subtext that you knew went over your head. Maybe not the strongest of openers, but I gave it an 8 (BHFF has their rating system for attendees) and was excited to come back for more.
Friday began at Stuart Cinema, a relatively new microcinema in the Northwestern part of Greenpoint, after a Polish dinner at Karczma. This time it was short films in their Fear In Focus: Australian Shorts block. To be perfectly honest, this was the strongest and most consistent block of shorts we saw through the entire festival. From the opening creepiness of Carl Firth’s Sleep Talker to the rising crescendo of Michael Anthony Kratochvil’s Sweet Mary, Where Did You Go? (my personal favorite due to my Catholic upbringing) and the flat-out insanity of Jayden Rathsam Hua’s Sushi-Noh, which has to be seen to be believed, this was the short block of all short blocks. Seriously, every single one was a winner, and the festival runners were 100% correct to pinpoint Australia as tapping into the electricity of current horror.
What followed, however, will forever warp my mind. After Blue (Dirty Paradise), directed by Bertrand Mandico (The Wild Boys), blends Jean Rollin’s philosophy, Philippe Druillet’s psychedelic comic art, and 2000 AD’s penchant for storytelling in odd environments into what probably was my favorite of the festival. Flat out 10, and don’t ask me to tell you more because you wouldn’t understand it anyway. Just see it and tell me how crazy I am later.
Friday ended with a midnight screening of The Feast, directed by Lee Haven Jones. This UK oddity was filmed entirely in the Welsh language and served as a poignant metaphor for the “new royalty” encroaching on the old ways. Saying any more would give too much away, but hell, another 10 rating from me and a night well spent.
Saturday began with pizza at Emmy Squared and drinks at Full Circle Bar, including my misguided copious ingestion of a dairy-based beverage (this will be important later), before heading over to Williamsburg Cinemas for Netflix extravaganza Night Teeth. This Adam Randall-directed bit of sheer brilliance updates vampire lore by blending in the mafia. Presto chango: AMAZING FILM. No complaints, I was fully along for the ride, and you got a 10 from me, Randall.
The rest of the night didn’t go so well. First off, I had to sit through Gaspar Noé’s most recent edgelord boredom, Lux Aeterna. To be fair, the pseudo-doc opening was entertaining, where Charlotte Gainsbourg discussed working on shitty horror movies with Béatrice Dalle while hangers-on struggled to get her attention. Ultimately, though, it ends in typical Noé fashion: We get bludgeoned by strobing lights, nothing happens, and he inserts the names of true film geniuses in his credits for one big yawn. I said “NO” to Noé and gave him a 4. Go waste someone else’s time, you pretentious charlatan. Jen liked it, though.
It got even worse with Lucile Hadžihalilović’s Earwig. This one was toted as “something we’d never seen before” but ultimately delivered two hours of absolute torture with boring characters doing nothing in the dark. Seriously, that’s it. The payoff was lackluster at best and certainly not worth the tortuous 2 hours of boredom that preceded it. Remember that dairy drink I had earlier? My stomach was more interesting than this entire film. 1.
But hey, film festivals aren’t any fun if you love everything, so Jen and I showed up for two short blocks at Stuart Cinema on Sunday. Nightmare Fuel promised the scariest shorts the festival had to offer, but honestly, the Australians blew them out of the water. That said, AK Espada’s This Is Our Home, Samuel Evenson’s Ignore It, and Jorge Sistos Moreno’s La Oscuridad chilled the bones, not to mention the Dan Repp and Lindsay Young-directed Cutter, which brought cinematic style to Lucifer Valentine’s themes.
The Head Trip block followed, delivering the beautiful brilliance of Nico van den Brink’s The Departure and Varun Raman’s bizarre Monty Python-esque Man or Tree before delving into the ridiculous cult of Playing With Spiders and the mindblowing puppet-driven PSA of Mike Pinkney and Micheal Reich’s A Puff Before Dying. Seriously…that last one…wow…
All great festivals must come to an end, though, and in true BHFF fashion, they closed on a winner. Rob Jabbaz’s The Sadness tore the house down with its Taiwanese version of zombie/infection films. Think 28 Days Later with the frenetic pulse of Train to Busan, and you’re almost there. Honestly, this needs to be seen no matter what streaming service this ends up on. The night ended in an “unofficial” party and a fun drunken conversation with Kyle and Blaise from the TOPKVLT podcast.
And then it was over…and that sucked. Brooklyn Horror Film Festival is one of those things you want to go on forever. I know it can’t, but…damn…why isn’t Halloween twice a year? Special thanks to Justin, Joseph, Matt, Jackie, Jesse, and the entire crew, who kept it going through all the uncertainty, turmoil, and ambiguity. You indeed did a service to your community. Thank you. See you next year.