The second annual What The Fest!? is closing out its second year, and for genre film lovers such as myself, there’s a lot on offer here, from supernatural thrillers, to comedies, to even docs and newly restored classics. I had the opportunity to check out a handful of the films screening this year and thought I’d take some time to highlight each one, considering I foresee this becoming NYC’s premiere genre festival.
Packing in a few more titles than last year’s inaugural edition, What The Fest!? ran from March 20 – 24 at the IFC Center and featured one world premiere alongside a slew of festival favorites from across the globe, showcasing a great set of unique and talented voices in the horror world.
The opening night film was the premiere of New York legend Larry Fessenden‘s latest directorial effort, Depraved, a modern Brooklyn-set retelling of Frankenstein. This was one of the highlights of the festival and Fessenden’s best work yet, putting a fresh new spin on a classic tale. You can read our full review of this title here.
One of the great things about this festival, similar to Austin’s Fantastic Fest, is that prior to each screening there’s a special even coordinated to the film, ranging from speakers to stand-up comedians and in the case of Billy Senese‘s The Dead Center, a forensic pathologic spoke about the fascinating world of forensic pathology. In the film, Shane Carruth stars as a psychiatrist attempting to get through to his newest patient- a man who claims to have risen from the dead on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, a forensic pathologist is on the hunt for the same man, whose body went missing from the morgue. If you’ve seen Senese’s previous film, Closer to God, you’ll know he likes to inject hard sci-fi into his horror stories, and that’s very much the case here as well.
Eight years after the release of Lucky McKee‘s The Woman, star Pollyanna McIntosh has returned to helm the sequel, Darlin’, which picks up the story of the Jack Ketchum-created character years after the events of the original. Less a horror film and more a dark character study, the film follows Darlin’, the feral sister of McIntosh’s feral woman, as she learns to become closer to civilized in a Catholic girls reformatory. As you might expect, things go horribly awry.
Emma Tammi’s The Wind, which was picked up by IFC, is a subdued psychological horror film taking place in the Western frontier during the 1800s in which a woman becomes convinced there is a malevolent force roaming the plains at night, scouring for its next hapless victim. Caitlin Gerard stars as Lizzy in this slow-burn thriller in which we’re never sure if there’s truly evil descending upon her and those around her, or if the long, lonely winters in the middle of nowhere are causing Lizzy to become delusional.
One of the two docs screening at What The Fest!? this year is Penny Lane‘s Hail Satan? which delivers a humorous and eye-opening look at the Satanic Temple and their socially conscious efforts to thwart the dissolution of the separation of church and state. Through a cast of colorful and endearing characters it adeptly sheds the misconceptions about Satanists and ends up causing most viewers to come to the realization that they, in fact, may be Satanists themselves. I’ve loved everything Lane has released and this is no exception.
Perhaps one of the most overtly blood-soaked titles in this year’s lineup is the Russian film Why Don’t You Just Die!, a nasty little one location action-comedy in which a young man goes to his girlfriend’s father’s house to kill him only to find himself in way over his head very quickly. Excellent camerawork and fight choreography compliments this nearly non-stop carnage that features gallons of spurting non-CG blood. It’s funny, absolutely brutal, and definitely one of the best titles at the festival.
Finally, another bloody affair, this time from Japan, is Shinichiro Ueda‘s One Cut of The Dead, a film that was something of a darling on the festival circuit late last year. Don’t let the zombie theme fool you, this low-budget meta zombie flick is smart, stylish, and relentlessly funny from start to finish. It would be absolutely criminal if this doesn’t get a proper release in the U.S. as it’s an incredible piece of filmmaking that is rivaled only by Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland in terms of zombie comedies. Chris reviewed this for us at last year’s New York Asian Film Festival, you can read the full review here.
Overall I would say the second season of What The Fest!? brought with it a solid number of noteworthy titles, and while I wasn’t as floored with as many as last year, I confess I wasn’t able to squeeze in as many as I would have wanted either. New York needs its own version of Fantastic Fest, and while I don’t think anything can quite capture the soul of that festival (nor would I want anyone to try), I would love to see What The Fest!? come back next year with even more titles and a longer schedule. To lern more, head over to the official site at whatthefestnyc.com.