New York City’s not exactly hurting for film festivals—but it’s freaking October, and that means you can’t see too many scary movies. Enter the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, which since its inaugural edition in 2016 has continually upped its game in bringing independent and foreign gems to the horror hounds of NYC. BHFF’s programming choices may skew off-the-beaten-path—as in previous years, programmers make it a practice to only screen New York premieres—but there’s not much else that “defines” a BHFF film. That’s a good thing—whether your tastes trend more toward the gore or the cerebral, there’s something at BHFF for you. The festival kicks off today and runs through October 24.
On the more gory side of things this year is Travis Stevens’ Girl on the Third Floor, starring Phil Brooks—better known as the wrestler C.M. punk—as Don, a former Chicago big-shot (of the not-entirely-legal variety) who moves out to the ‘burbs to restore an old house for him and his pregnant wife to move into. In the way of things, the new house is haunted—though by what, it’s not exactly clear until the mayhem revs up in the final act. A standard haunted house romp is elevated by some truly ick-inducing effects work, revealed as Don starts to knock holes in walls and find… viscera, blood, guts. The usual. Undoubtely the goopiest film in BHFF’s lineup, Girl on the Third Floor screens at Brooklyn’s recently restored Nitehawk Prospect Park on October 23rd, with Brooks in attendance.
There are also a handful of foreign offerings of note at BHFF, among them Sea Fever and Rock, Paper, Scissors. Set in Argentina, Macarena García Lenzi and Martín Blousson’s Rock, Paper, Scissors centers on that good ol’ horror standby—a fucked up family dynamic. Sister Magdalena (Agustin Cerviño) returns to her childhood home after the death of her father to help half-siblings María José (Valeria Giorcelli) and Jesús (Pablo Sigal) put the family affairs in order. An already emotionally fraught situation spirals further and further into darkness as Magdalena falls—or is pushed?—down the stairs, leaving her bedridden and at the mercy of her unstable, co-dependent siblings. Set in a single house with only three actors, Rock, Paper, Scissors is excellently claustrophobic and tense up until its final explosion of violence.
Sea Fever, on the other hand, is only loosely classified as a horror film at all; director Neasa Hardiman, a veteran of the TV world, prefers the label “eco-thriller.” (An interview with Hardiman is forthcoming.) In this Ireland-set film, a young scientist (Hermione Corfield) sets off with the crew of a fishing boat to log and examine their catch. That catch, unfortunately, consists of a heretofore unknown giant squid that proceeds to infect the crew. Hardiman, who also wrote Sea Fever’s script, makes the intelligent choice to avoid the ol’ “Here’s an evil, giant monsters—let’s kill it!” cliché that marks the majority of the creature feature genre. Sea Fever is more Jaws meets Annhialation, echoing Alex Garland’s 2018 sci-fi masterpiece in its view of the horrors of nature as… well… natural. The sea creature doesn’t want to be here either, y’all. It’s just doing what it does.
Brooklyn Horror shares a few films with this autumn’s Fantasia Film Festival, notably David Marmor’s 1BR, which should resonate with New Yorkers in its spine-chilling depiction of the horrors of apartment living (thankfully, New Yorkers usually only have to deal with exorbitantly high rents and the occasional infestation, not cults); Jordan Graham’s Sator, which deserves to be caught on the big screen for its evocative, chilling sound design; and Johannes Nyholm’s Koko-Di Koko-Da.
That last is a standout of the festival, providing folkloric horror with a modern twist and a beating heart at its center. Parents Elin (Ylva Gallon) and Tobias (Leif Edlund) lose their only child on the young girl’s eighth birthday; attempting to get some semblance of their old life back three years later, they go on a camping trip where they’re attacked by a trio of otherworldly figures straight out of a children’s toy. They die. They wake up. It happens again. And again. And again. It’s a lot less funny than Groundhog Day, but hey, that’s Norse horror for you. Elin and Tobias’ predicament is unexplained and hopeless, lending Koko-Di Koko-Da a haunting feel only broken as the couple begins to break through the haze of their grief.