Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Panic Fest 2023 Capsule Reviews: From Hallucinogenic ‘Black Mold’ to A24’s ‘Medusa Deluxe’

Another Panic Fest winds down, bringing a hybrid model that offered in-person screenings and virtual premieres including early screenings of Evil Dead Rise and Sisu.

The fest offered a slew of premieres, including nihilistic horrors like Beaten to Death and introspective docs like King on Screen.

While the packed schedule ensured we couldn’t catch it all, here’s a round-up of some of Panic Fest’s feature offerings this year.

Black Mold

Black Mold

Credit: The Line Film Company

In his feature debut, writer/director John Pata introduces the pitfalls of urban exploration with hallucinogenic psychological horror. Brooke (Agnes Albright) and her pal Tanner (Andrew Bailes) sneak into abandoned, off-limits buildings for art and an adrenaline rush. The pair break into their holy grail: Franklin Hill, a large facility with a history. There, Brooke and Tanner encounter a volatile threat that holds them captive. The longer their attacker keeps them there, the more it becomes clear there’s something else profoundly wrong with the place.

Pata uses psychological horror to exploit the protagonists’ worst fears. For Tanner, that leads to inspired jump-scare moments. For Brooke, it amounts to a slow-burn excavation of deep-seated childhood trauma. Black Mold struggles to tie up its loose threads in a cohesive way, but Albright’s engaging performance retains rooting interest even when her arc can feel stretched thin. While its resolution may not wholly satisfy, the strong direction and execution ensure Black Mold provides compelling visual interest in this single-location thriller.



Credit: Big Glass Pictures / Monolith Entertainment

Writer/Director Kyle Butenhoff’s feature debut also sees him starring as Charlie, the abusive husband of beleaguered wife Molly (Dana Mackin). Charlie settles in to watch the football game while Molly walks on eggshells around him, serving him dinner and beer. It’s a typical night for the pair, save for the raging snowstorm outside—and Molly’s decision to finally end her toxic marriage with murder. A simple mariticide plot becomes anything but, starting with Charlie’s refusal to die quickly and culminating with the arrival of unexpected guests.

The single-location potboiler spins out of Molly’s control and Butenhoff’s by extension. The dialogue-heavy feature opts to tell, not show, which bogs down the second act’s pacing. Contrived interruptions grow increasingly implausible, stretching patience and character credibility, though the initial setup presents solid potential.

Medusa Deluxe

Medusa Deluxe

Credit: A24

It’s not the strange world of competitive hairdressing competitions that is the hook in writer/director Thomas Hardiman’s feature debut, but its murder mystery that plays out in real time. Played out over extended tracking Steadicam shots meant to evoke a single-take thriller over one night of competitive hair hell and murder, Medusa Deluxe gives a unique spin on the whodunnit. The novel concept and an eclectic roster of suspects keep the mystery chugging along to a certain extent, but the longer it wears on, the clearer it becomes that there’s not much depth to wring out of this murder mystery. It’s a vibrant, atypical, and often entertaining twist to the whodunnit with kinetic camera work that masks the surface-level explorations of an underseen subculture.

The Once and Future Smash and End Zone 2

End Zone 2

Credit: EuroContinental / Launch Over

Much like the nostalgia experiment of The Third Saturday in October double feature, The Once and Future Smash and End Zone 2 coexist as complementary halves. They’re meant to be seen together for full effect. Directors Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein frame their fictional story as a documentary about a lost slasher sequel, End Zone 2, following the two actors who played the football player slasher villain, Smash-Mouth. The mockumentary playfully parodies the horror doc with an assembly of notable horror stalwarts, including Victor Miller and Mark Patton, to discuss the long-forgotten sequel and its impact. From there, it introduces the two actors behind the movie villain: Mike Smash (The Greasy Strangler’s Michael St. Michaels) and William Mouth (Bill Weeden).

Smash. Mouth.

The rivalry behind the two actors that make up Smash-Mouth plays out over the horror convention space, changing the lives of all involved, including managers and business people hoping to profit from the franchise’s future. The experimental doc is at its strongest when poking fun at the format. The cast and assembled talking heads are in on the joke, and it’s infectious, though the fictional storyline eventually takes over and wears thin.

The doc’s footage gets intercut with footage from End Zone 2, an hour-long feature touting to be the restored footage. Well, all except the permanently lost final act. The commitment to creating two-thirds of a long-lost slasher is commendable, especially considering it’s all in the name of a bit. End Zone 2 is integral to The Once and Future Smash, but seeing it separately without context will only confuse.

The filmmakers break the illusion now and then to ensure the audience is aware of the kayfabe, which adds to the humor. While the entirety of this package depends on whether the audience connects with its zany and occasionally peculiar sense of humor, the quick efficiency and commitment to the concept make for a welcome exercise in horror.

The post Panic Fest 2023 Capsule Reviews: From Hallucinogenic ‘Black Mold’ to A24’s ‘Medusa Deluxe’ appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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