The 22nd Boston Underground Film Festival: Day Three and Four Features

Nitram, Hypochondriac, Watcher, and Two From Gaspar Noé

Images Courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival.

Continuing coverage from The 22nd Boston Underground Film Festival, we have a handful of films with varying takes within the genre. Justin Kurzel’s tense drama Nitram and Hypochondriac were a great pairing of relevant mental health films. And Chloe Okuno’s Watcher tied into the second of a Gaspar Noé double feature with actor Karl Glusman having a side role in Lvx Æterna.


Justin Kurzel’s Nitram is the Australian answer to We Need to Talk About Kevin that considers the nature versus nurture aspects of a young man prone to violence. You know where this one is going from the get-go, but the performances throughout are the draw. The film follows a fireworks-obsessed outsider named Nitram (Get Out’s Caleb Landry Jones) who harbors darkness inside of him. His parents’ (Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia) constant care and medication keep him as focused as possible. When he meets an eccentric shut-in (The Babadook’s Essie Davis), the two form a friendship that untethers him, allowing him to be the free-spirited purveyor of chaos his parents have inhibited. Dramatic events, a hard-hearted mother, a limited grasp of social cues, and mental limitations lead to a nightmare for the people of Port Arthur, Tasmania, in this story based on true events.  

Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Essie Davis, and Anthony LaPaglia are an award-worthy ensemble, and Justin Kurzel’s direction is unmatched. Set design toward the end of the film combined with a flawless screenplay by Shaun Grant tie together visual contrasts to character dialogues, and it hits like a gut punch. The movie reminded me a lot of miniseries Southcliffe, though Nitram uses a lighter touch in dealing with true-to-life violence. People will likely argue about the film’s sympathy for a monster, they always do, but Kurzel never pushes Nitram into being likable. Grant’s script considers the possibilities that easy access to weaponry is partially to blame and insists Tasmania may one day be headed for tragedy again if things don’t change.  

Nitram will be available on VOD on March 30. 

Nitram stands facing a car on fire in NITRAM playing the 22nd Boston Underground film festival
Nitram | Image Courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival


Fresh from SXSW, Addison Heimann’s feature debut is fantastically realized as what some ahead of the feature were calling “the gay Donnie Darko.” While I ardently hated Donnie Darko (I have my reasons), I loved Hypochondriac and, though it’s very early in 2022, think this will be a film that ends up in contention for a spot on many horror top ten lists at the end of the year. The film is dark, funny, and disquieting.  

The film concerns Will (American Horror Story’s Zach Villa), an emotionally walled-off young man whose life is upended when his bipolar mother, who tried to kill him as a child, tries to re-enter his life. Subduing his past by running away from it, Will begins experiencing increasingly distressing mental episodes that force him to confront the traumatic demons of his past, literally turning them into a man in a wolf costume with a very similar look to Frank from Donnie Darko. Will’s relationship with his boyfriend Luke (I Blame Society’s Devon Graye) also suffers as Will’s deteriorating mental state pressures Will’s commitment to intimacy. 

There’s a moment in Hypochondriac when Will is googling his symptoms in the doctor’s office, a relatable situation for anyone, really becomes the essence of the film’s message. Surrounded by cookie-cutter posters of winking dogs and doctors only interested in his physical well-being, a disconnect between the body and the mind through the dismissal of symptoms felt incredibly evocative of Todd Haynes’ Safe. Both films insist there may be more than meets the eye when it comes to physical well-being, imbued in Hypochondriac’s repeated refrain of how the mind is capable of affecting the body. Stressed out and untrusting, there are indications and fears of what Will doesn’t want to find, but there’s also a spotlight placed on modern medicinal practices dismissing the concerns of their patients. I love when horror films incorporate social messages and Hypochondriac delivered by highlighting mental health care as a crucial part of general care that needs acceptance over stigmatization.  

Will rests his head on the head of a bearskin rug in Hypochondriac playing the 22nd Boston Underground film festival
Hypochondriac | Image Courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival


Another film from Sundance, director Chloe Okuno’s (V/H/S’ 94) feature-length debut is an occasionally unnerving tale of a woman (Maika Monroe) and her fiancé (Karl Glusman) moving into a new apartment building only to feel their sense of privacy invaded by the eyes of a man (Burn Gorman) living in the adjacent building. There’s a lot of embedded fear to the story with a Summer of Sam sense of paranoia permeating from the news of a potential serial killer lurking in the area, as well as clear inspiration from Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy (Repulsion, The Tenant, and Rosemary’s Baby).  

Monroe and Gorman’s performances in Watcher are perhaps the best part of the film, though Monroe’s character, Julia, is sometimes contradictory. She exudes badassery, except when it comes to the threatening feeling of someone watching just over her shoulder. That sense of unease is palpably present in the film’s atmosphere, and it’s enough to make anyone go, “screw it, I need to feel safe.” Still, Julia stays in her house alone, bogged down in a relationship she knows is going south. The climactic sequence is fantastic, but it comes after we’ve watched our heroine get gaslit and meander on principles for a bit too long.

Watcher will be available on VOD on June 3.  

Julia stares through an iron gate in Watcher
Watcher | Image Courtesy of The Sundance Institute

Vortex & Lvx Æterna 

Gaspar Noé is known for his very divisive films, and on Saturday night, the 22nd Boston Underground Film Festival served up a double helping of the provocateur’s work. The first, Vortex, was unlike anything that may have been expected by the director that brought us Enter the Void and Climax. In Fact, Vortex may be his most accessible film to date. The second, Lvx Æterna, heavily leaned in the other direction.  

Vortex is a harsh look at the horrors of growing old, seen through the eyes of elderly couple Lui and Elle and their son Stéphane (Alex Lutz). Dario Argento and Françoise Lebrun deliver intense dramatic performances, embodying the dementia-stricken couple whose independent way of life becomes threatened. Their son has his own troubles, locked in a custody battle to see his son and struggling to make money through both legit and illegitimate means, and faced with the further stress of watching his parents’ health deteriorate.  

Thematically speaking, there’s a lot of brilliance in Vortex. Dependency, the fear of dying alone, and the comparison of chemical healing through both prescription and non-prescribed means are heavily tackled. Noé’s use of dual cameras is, at times, a lot to navigate. Though, sometimes, it pays off in a big way by offering comparison shots with beautiful sophistication and an occasional visually satisfying interlocking camera technique that intertwines the cameras.

Walking out of the film, I knew Vortex would stick with me, as most Noé films do, though perhaps, not in the same context. As I get older and see my parents do the same, I have a feeling the emotional weight of the film is something I’m going to feel again in due time. Lvx Æterna provided a similar sentiment, but as previously mentioned, in a completely different way.  

Elle stands in front of Lui holding flowers in Vortex playing the 22nd Boston Underground film festival
Vortex | Image courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival

Coming from the two-and-a-half-hour Vortex into the 51-minute Lvx Æterna was a weird shift. The film also features the same side-by-side camerawork that Vortex did, but it isn’t nearly as heavy. Lvx Æterna parodies Noé’s work at times. Initially, Noé was tasked to film a fifteen-minute commercial for Yves Saint Laurent and instead turned it into a subversive look at chaotic film productions and how women are unfairly treated and tormented on film sets, comparing the history of witches being burned at the stake to on-set abuse.  

When the 22nd Boston Underground Film Festival staff introduced the film, the audience was told that we would be strongly divided on the film after it finished, and also that if anyone was photosensitive to literally run from the theater. When the film premiered at Cannes, the festival had EMTs standing by in case the film’s lengthy strobing sequence caused a reaction. Even I’ll admit it’s a lot. I’m not photosensitive at all, or at least not to my knowledge, but leaving the theater, I downed a bottle of water and fought the retinal retention of Charlotte Gainsbourg tied to a stake, imposed on my vision with every blink.  

I love Gainsbourg, and she’s notably great as always, but Béatrice Dalle (Trouble Every Day, Night on Earth) is truly sensational. My biggest issue with the film is that when it’s really all chaos and after it’s ramped up, it’s just over. I think I just wanted more, which isn’t that shocking given the runtime, but one thing is definitely certain, Lvx Æterna is a true cinematic experience. A roller-coaster ride of anxiety and flashing lights. 

Vortex will get a limited theater release on April 29.  

Lvx Æterna should be available later in the year.  

A split screen shows a woman in a green hue covering her eyes on the left and a woman in red hues on the right wrapping her arms around a stake in Lux Æterna
Lvx Æterna | Image courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival

One more day of features remains at The 22nd Boston Underground Film Festival, including Anita Rocha da Silveira’s oppressive religious dystopia in Medusa, Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams’ Afrofuturism film Neptune Frost, and Hanna Bergholm’s creature feature Hatching.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

Boston Underground Film Festival collage with scenes from The Innocents (top left), Honeycomb (top right), You Won't Be Alone (bottom right), and Freakscene: The Story of Dinosaur Jr (bottom left).

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