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Monday, April 29, 2024

‘Welcome Week: A College Horror Anthology’ Brings Violence, Humor and Heart to Salem Horror Fest [Review]

Two buddies, still clad in their graduation robes, take an evening stroll as they lament the passing of their high school days and celebrate the imminent arrival of their college experience. It is a bittersweet occasion. An era of their lives is over and a new dawn sparkles before them on the horizon, beckoning the boys forward toward any number of possible futures. The thought is as enticing as it is terrifying, landing squarely in the latter emotion’s camp with the arrival of a masked killer touting a sizable knife.

Welcome Week: A College Horror Anthology explores the trials and tribulations of the burgeoning freedom aging adolescents face as they leave behind the comforts, safeties, and simplicities of their childhood home for the unknown territory of a college education. Rather than present a series of disconnected and disjointed tales sharing a similar theme, Welcome Week smartly houses its short conceits within a grander narrative, allowing the film to feel more whole than the average independent horror anthology while still presenting its asides with unique stylistic aplomb.

The core story focuses on Josh (Logan Weisberg) and Andrew (Jack Mayer). Josh is focused on having the full college experience and anxious to find a romantic rendezvous after his high school girlfriend dumped him ahead of their stint at different universities. Andrew is uninterested in socialization, content to sit at his computer as he mutters perturbed responses to Josh’s desperate requests to venture out together. Still, Josh manages to convince Andrew to accompany him to a girl’s dorm and a frat party, setting a bloody adventure in motion that will change both of their lives – that is, if they survive to see the morning.

Logan Weisberg and Jack Mayer have an engaging chemistry, Weisberg’s Josh the hapless extrovert trying desperately to gain the popularity status he always dreamt of having in high school and Mayer’s Andrew the mysteriously militaristic survivalist that’s quick with a cold retort and slow to reveal his true emotions. Their dynamic allows for plot momentum to exist alongside small moments of levity, making room for funny conversations about how late the two will be staying out (“11 o’clock?!”) and Josh’s insistence that Andrew at least wear a flannel over his tactical riot vest.

As was briefly seen in the opening, a masked serial murderer is on the loose and hellbent on ravaging the student body. It falls to Josh and Andrew to track this killer down and, hopefully, save the unlucky teen currently in their grasp. Along the way, Andrew shares the untoward history of his immediate family, revealing that each of his siblings have died during their first week of college. His military bootcamp training and utter disinterest in leaving his dorm room all stem from a supposed curse that he may soon fall victim to.

Interspersed throughout Josh’s and Andrew’s exploits are the stories of Andrew’s brothers’ and sisters’ untimely demises. Ryan Ranc’s Blood Stream tells the story of the brother who sought internet fame only to find that notoriety can come at a devilish cost. Blake Douglas’ Sore Throat examines the perils of the Frat Flu, inundating the frame with bloody orifices and festering pustules as the threat of communicable disease bears down on one unlucky group of fresh friends. Leonidas Ibarra’s Fresher’s charts the risk of the unknown and the dangerous situations young women might find themselves in at university. Finally, Cory McCullough and Katie Jordan’s Falling Into Place faces the all too terrifying threat that lies inside one’s own head, the nagging, ever-present voice confirming your worst fears and guiding you down an otherwise unthinkable path.

Each segment is infused with copious amounts of blood and gore, driven by creative cinematography, atmospheric lighting, and imaginative practical effects that speak to influences spanning decades of genre storytelling. At the heart of it all is a striking giallo-style murder mystery that is as pulpy (both literally and figuratively) as the subgenre demands.

Written and directed by Ethan Gomez-Zahnley and Jack McDermott, the wrap-around story of Welcome Week lays the fun and innovative framework for what amounts to an incredibly engaging film. From Screenager Productions, the young team that created the similarly ambitious (and remarkably successful), micro-budget horror film Satan’s Servant (2021), Welcome Week exhibits a uniquely kinetic energy that speaks to the entire creative team’s love of horror movies and their collective ability to execute, innovate, and entertain on a level that foretells great things to come from everyone involved.

Who knows what the future might hold for two friends embracing as high school fades into the night. Maybe they’ll stay close. Maybe they’ll drift apart. Only one thing is for certain: everything is going to change.

Welcome Week: A College Horror Anthology mines the horrors both inherent and tangential to that early life shift and does so with equal parts violence, humor, and heart. And if that approach doesn’t summarize growing up, I’m not sure what does.

Welcome Week premiered at Salem Horror Fest 2024.

3.5 out of 5

The post ‘Welcome Week: A College Horror Anthology’ Brings Violence, Humor and Heart to Salem Horror Fest [Review] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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