This past weekend Soho Horror Film Festival’s Shockdown Saturdays presented the “Did a Bad Murder” theme featuring board game enthusiasts turned accidental murderers in Murder Bury Win and the cheeky suburban nightmare mockumentary Chestersberg. Both dark comedies were magnificently macabre—I think Soho Horror outdid themselves with the blood in Chestersberg alone—and fully entertaining which bled into (pun intended), from what I’ve heard, a very successful virtual ’80s Murder Mystery Party this week, providing immersive entertainment for their legion of followers and proving they are one of the most outside the box thinking festivals out there. And, as always, the bevy of shorts before the features were not to be missed.
The first short of the day was a sixty-second love letter to old-school game collecting. It’s quick, effective and you get to lovingly see some fun retro consoles and peripherals like the NES power pad, SNES superscope, and of course the NES zapper. As the gamer (Bill McGovern) excitedly inserts the disc Decapitato: Consequenze Mortali into his WiiU, a figure appears on the screen but he can’t seem to control the character. Could the game be busted, or is something more sinister happening? Sydney Clara Brafman’s short and sweet horror tale sets the tone for the gaming feature and excellently shows how to make a simple short and still get gasps from an audience.
The Final Girl Returns, the second short of the evening, took on a solemnly different tone as a driver (Dakota Payne) became tasked with reliving the horror of saving final girls from a vicious killer over and over again only to see those attempts thwarted by police doubting and downplaying the girls’ stories until the killer ultimately claims a final victim. Time after time, as if stuck in some demented video game, the cycle of violence continues to play out with the killer always getting the final girl. The only way to change the outcome is for the driver to help empower every victim until someone empowers him to face his own past. Alexandria Perez’s short is heavier than most, but it’s well shot, acted, and felt. Horror is a great medium for subtlety when used correctly, and Perez wields horror like a weapon. I’m looking forward to whatever this talented director has lined up down the road.
The first Shockdown Saturdays feature this week was the marvelous dark comedy Murder Bury Win. Since Horror Obsessive previously covered the film during the Another Hole in the Head festival this past year, it won’t be covered this week. Suffice it to say, I concur with many of my colleague’s thoughts on the film, finding Michael Lovan’s play for keeps board game film fantastically enthralling, especially after the characters figure out the game is rigged against them. Unlike that previous review, I enjoyed the ending a lot; it felt right, given that the only glue that held the group together was Chris (Mikelen Walker) and that the Murder Bury Win game they created was always about the opportunity.
The first short before Chestersberg this evening was yoga horror-comedy All Stretched Out. Alex (Matt Houlihan) is trying his best at yoga, but he’s not quite in league with the rest of his class. His yoga instructor Dan (Ashley Jarvis) encourages his students to find their inner chakra and ride their spiritual wave, but Alex feels the criticizing gaze of his classmates on his less than peak physical features. Self-conscious that he may be falling a bit behind, Alex attempts the next stretch with a lot of gusto and leaves it all out on the mat. No one in that studio will ever question Alex’s commitment to the class ever again in Alastair Train’s surprisingly side-splitting horror short. Houlihan and Jarvis’ facial expressions are captured wonderfully enough that I was surprised this snack-sized four-minute morsel even needed dialogue, but then I’d never have heard the laugh-out-loud yoga Instructor sayings.
Follow-up short Overkill was a satirical look at the tedious nature of ’80s slasher films placed in a millennial setting. Like the overly flirty party girl (Tristin Hagen) who’s moving between guys by citing tendencies of microaggression from her current beau. The jock (Bud Galloway) wearing the half-shirt whose character would likely be played by someone older than the rest of the group becomes offended by the ageist remarks of the other characters. And the creepy boyfriend (Mike Hall) who only thinks about sex, has the consent forms in his camping backpack, and would literally come back from the dead for it. Well, of course, they’re all being stalked by a killer (Will Coffin) and only the final girl (Amy Letcher) can stop him…until he comes back. The lunacy of repetition and excessive surpassing of every kill was quite the nod to the Friday the 13th and Halloween franchises. Overkill also reminded me of one of the segments from 2019’s Scare Package titled, “The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill.” I think Alex Montilla’s Overkill did it better, though the wood chipper in Scare Package was still a lot of fun.
Now as for our second feature: there’s nothing scarier than the mundane. The lack of variety in the humdrum activities of minivan-driving soccer moms, weekly book clubs, or attending never-ending weekends of toddler birthday parties can make the most stable person want to kill someone. Welcome to the town of Chestersberg, a little slice of heaven carved out from the edge of a Yorkshire cul-de-sac in the early ’90s. Founder Chester Mapleforth (Andy Love) after striking it rich inventing underwater post-it notes (the kind of charming irrelevance you can find throughout the film), found a way to exploit some legal loopholes, secede from the United Kingdom, and create a village reminiscent of Hot Fuzz’s Sanford where The Purge has become a daily occurrence.
Since the village’s establishment, it has remained a bit of a mystery to outsiders, many not knowing that the place is overrun with serial killers or that it’s a well-kept, dirty secret that it’s actually not a part of the country. The movie centers around a film crew doing a documentary in the style of What We Do in the Shadows, only this time the monsters are the residents of Chestersberg. The humor is just as sardonic and dry as the clearly inspirational Taika Waititi film, exploring the disguise of our seemingly normal neighbors who may be anything but.
Things are on a bit of a shakeup in the village of Chestersberg as Mapleforth looks to expand the borders and begin welcoming in new members, an issue prominent community members Rupert and Claudia Thompson (Joe Osbourne and Clancy McMullan) take serious issue with. The Thompson’s fear if the town becomes too well-known, they may stop attracting people in the service industry from coming to the area and ruin their ever-growing body count. This would be alright with neighbor Thomas Fulford (Matt Pattison), the town’s body disposal expert, who doesn’t take part in the killings but gets rid of the corpses to protect the town and his disinterested, blood-thirsty wife (Natalie-Clare Brimicombe) from the watchful eye of the surrounding town’s police D.I. Matthews (Alexander King), who is just waiting for his opportunity to catch any Chestersbergian in unlawful activity over the border.
The characters of Chestersberg frame up brilliantly with the film’s almost anthology-like style that focuses on little neighborly, suburban problems with a central plot transpiring from them. On occasion, the film teeters on zany sitcom plots, like The Thompsons attempting to hide their murderous lifestyle from their daughter until she comes home from college, the neighborly crush Mrs. Fulford attempts to pursue with Mapleforth, or the wildly likable Martin Clapham (Paul Coulter)—think if Parks and Recreation‘s Andy (Chris Pratt) were mixed with Dwight (Rainn Wilson) from The Office—who keeps applying to join the neighborhood, living on the outskirts of town in the meantime. The film keeps building on these stories until they reach pivotal chaos at a Murderfest convention and within a Chestersberg expansion corn maze that I did not stop grinning or laughing throughout.
Chestersberg is a light, boisterous, and enjoyable horror comedy that is ridiculously gory and downright delightful. The characters are vividly portrayed and well-acted, the body parts and viscera effects are effectively nauseating at times, and the stories that make up this mockumentary are utterly unhinged in the best possible ways. Writer/director Jamie McKeller creates a unique brand of silliness filling town hall meetings and housing applications with over-the-top deaths and barrels of blood. Above all of that Chestersberg is highly quotable and possesses all the markers of becoming a cult favorite.
Shockdown Saturdays are continuing throughout March with this weekend’s Secret Film paired with Red Screening and fun events like Strong Language Violent Scenes Live Podcast in their final weekend. If you’d like to be a part of the festival, all you have to do is become a member of the festival’s Facebook page and click the links in the announcements section when the films become available on Saturday. All showings are based on local time in Soho, England—check with their website and Facebook page for times (often they leave the links open until Sunday at midnight). The festival is free, but Soho Horror Film Festival is operating solely on viewer support donations and entirely without sponsors. So, if you like what you see, I’d strongly encourage you to support them so we can all indulge in future events.