Lake takes in a trio of Horror features from the SXSW Festival
written and directed by Mickey Keating
starring Jocelin Donahue, Melora Walters, Richard Brake, Joe Swanberg.
With its Dagon-esque premise the new feature from Keating (Carnage Park, Darling) offers some moments of creeping unease hidden in the mist of small town dread. Called back to the island where her film star mother’s grave has been desecrated, Marie Aldrich (Jocelin Donahue) uncovers something strange in the townsfolk and soon finds that it’s impossible to leave. A low budget chiller that sometimes relies too heavily on atmosphere in lieu of anything resembling narrative propulsion Offseason frustrates more often than it scares. Donahue is excellent as the wide-eyed innocent though Melora Walters, in flashback, as her tormented mother steals the show. The use of inter-titles suggests a grander film than is playing out on the screen and the original soundtrack is sometimes overbearing which is a shame as a music cue using the song “Turn Around, Look At Me” is particularly deft. One scene wherein Marie returns to a diner with its inhabitants seemingly frozen in motion is an uncanny thrill and hints at what the film might have been if Keating had fully embraced the strange.
Witch Hunt (
written and directed by Elle Callahan
starring Gideon Adlon, Abigail Cowen, Elizabeth Mitchell, Christian Camargo
Contemporary America, witchcraft is real and witches are persecuted. An underground railroad is in operation smuggling the red-headed witches over the wall to safety in Mexico. Claire (Adlon) is a high-school misfit whose mother secretly shelters witches but Claire (unsurprisingly) is not quite what she seems. Though it plays like a feature length pilot for a teen-witch TV series, Witch Hunt offers some effective moments of suburban-gothic. Camargo is particularly good as the hard-boiled witch-hunter. There is a tendency to buy cheap jump-scares with orchestral stabs which undercut what is actually more successful as angsty teenage melodrama than horror. And though the witchcraft on show seems a little underpowered the characters are well drawn enough to suggest a life beyond the frozen final frame.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion (
directed by Jacob Gentry
starring Chris Sullivan, Harry Shum Jr, Justin Welborn
)A “broadcast signal intrusion” is when an unauthorised user hijacks a media platform and sends out their own unfiltered messages to the world. There have been numerous occurrences for political or religious reasons or just plain tomfoolery. This period conspiracy thriller finds an archivist uncovering strange bursts of video hidden on the tapes he is digitising, images which obsess him and send him down a rabbit hole pursued by hooded figures, strung out weirdos and hardboiled cops. It’s part Videodrome part Blow Out and there is much to admire in what director Gentry has created on a tight budget. The filmed “broadcast signal intrusions” themselves are particularly well done, suitably odd and disturbing and made with nothing much more than a grainy filter, a latex mask and sound design. The film itself is a pitch perfect re-enactment of its late 1990s setting and resembles a movie that could actually have been released in that period right down to its very 90s sounding sax heavy soundtrack. It’s not hard to imagine the box art for Broadcast Signal Intrusion on VHS rental racks. And if this was a film from 1999 it would probably, for all its flaws, have gained a reputation by now as a cult lost film. There’s enough going on to be able to forgive its slow pace, it could have easily worn twenty minutes cut out of it, and the fact that the archetypal supporting characters more often than not talk in the cliches you’ve come to expect. The lead performance by Shum is competent though never especially charismatic and the supporting cast provide adequate back up. The feature is a full length version of a British short film of the same name written and directed by this film’s writers Tim Woodall and Phil Drinkwater in 2016 and it remains faithful to the premise and plot of the short right down to the disappointingly prosaic denouement. Overall it’s a solid genre movie with just enough quirks to make it stand out and is worth tracking down.
SXSW Festival website
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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