Sitting in the heart of Cambridge’s Harvard Square, the Brattle Theatre is the kind of theater that no longer exists. A one-of-a-kind art house venue built in 1871, The Brattle offers an atmosphere of intimacy with only two hundred and thirty-five seats and a historic elegance that resonates off the walls and décor. And it’s genuinely one of my favorite places to be in the early spring to see the mind-altering films that make up The Boston Underground Film Festival.
The Boston Underground Film Festival, or BUFF, returns in less than two weeks to celebrate its 23rd year with a robust lineup of highly anticipated independent films set to rattle the mind, shake the soul, and excite the cinephile. The lineup includes a few titles Horror Obsessive has been buzzing about, like the opening night World Premiere of Shudder’s Massachusetts-based thriller, The Unheard, from Beach House director Jefferey A. Brown on the 22nd. New Englanders also get the chance to dive into a film JP Nunez has had his eyes on since the trailer dropped in December, Mark Jenkin’s mind-bending Enys Men.
I’m most excited to check out Bomani J Story’s Frankenstein inspired The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, which makes its premiere this weekend at SXSW. This Modern Prometheus adaptation stars The Equalizer’s (2021) Laya DeLeon Hayes and The Walking Dead’s Chad L. Coleman. It suggests a shift in morality storytelling and monster interpretation through a uniquely Black perspective.
I’m also looking forward to Quentin Dupieux’s latest release, Smoking Causes Coughing, as the Rubber director continues his journey into absurdist filmmaking after last year’s genre-warping Incredible but True. Smoking Causes Coughing looks like a gory and bonkers Power Rangers inspired film, with the trailer promoting grizzly, viscera-dripping monster kills and a sex scene between a woman and a large rodent with green ooze dripping from its mouth. I’m always amazed how the chaotic energy that Dupieux’s films radiate always ties into a more grounded theme, making me super excited to see this wild-looking piece of cinema.
Rounding out my top three, How to Blow Up a Pipeline looks like a taut, white knuckler with a hip and dynamic young cast that includes Sasha Lane (Hellboy 2019), Ariela Barer (Marvel’s Runaways), Forrest Goodluck (The Revenant), Kristine Frøseth (American Horror Stories), and Lukas Gage (Euphoria). The film is about a group of people fighting the injustices of eminent domain pipeline building by creating explosives to act as their voices when they’re silenced by the expropriation and fear the environmental impact and consequences it will have on the land.
Check out the entire lineup below:
THE UNHEARD – World Premiere / Opening Night Film
Jeffrey A. Brown | USA | 2023
In this haunting Massachusetts-set thriller, 20-year-old Chloe Grayden (Lachlan Watson – Chucky, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) begins to suffer from auditory hallucinations following an experimental procedure to restore her damaged hearing. Seemingly related to the mysterious disappearance of her mother, Chloe’s grasp on reality will rely on discerning between signal and noise. Director Jeffrey A. Brown and writers Shawn and Michael Rassmussen will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A!
NIGHTSIREN – East Coast Premiere
Tereza Nvotová | Slovakia, Czech Republic | 2022
A young woman returns to her native mountain village searching for answers about her troubled childhood, but as she tries to uncover the truth, ancient superstitions lead the villagers to accuse her of witchcraft and murder.
SPAGHETTI JUNCTION – East Coast Premiere
Kirby McClure | USA | 2022
August, a recently disabled Southern teen, sees a flash in the sky and begins having strange dreams that beckon her to a cave in the woods. There she encounters a mysterious injured young man called “The Traveler” who needs her help.
ENYS MEN – New England Premiere
Mark Jenkin | UK | 2022
Set in 1973 on an uninhabited island off the Cornish coast, a wildlife volunteer’s daily observations of a rare flower turn into a metaphysical journey that forces her as well as the viewer to question what is real and what is nightmare.
DIVINITY – East Coast Premiere
Eddie Alcazar | USA | 2023
In another time, in another place, scientist Sterling Pierce (Scott Bakula) dedicated his career to searching for the answer to eternal life, over time creating a substance known as “Divinity.” Now Jaxxon Pierce (Stephen Dorff) controls and manufactures his father’s once-benevolent serum… Society on this barren planet has been entirely perverted by the supremacy of the drug, whose true origins are shrouded in mystery. When two mysterious brothers arrive with a plan to abduct the mogul, and with the help of a seductress named Nikita, they will be set on a path hurtling toward true immortality. Featuring Bella Thorne and executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, Divinity defies description and demands your attention.
HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE – New England Premiere
Daniel Goldhaber | USA | 2022
A crew of environmental activists plot a daring plan to disrupt an oil pipeline.
MISTER ORGAN – New England Premiere
David Farrier | New Zealand | 2022
Journalist David Farrier is drawn into a game of cat and mouse with a mysterious individual. Delving deeper, he unearths a trail of court cases, royal bloodlines, and ruined lives in this true story of psychological warfare.
MOON GARDEN – Massachusetts Premiere
Ryan Stevens Harris | USA | 2022
A comatose five-year-old girl journeys through an industrial wonderland to find her way back to consciousness.
PIAFFE – New England Premiere
Ann Oren | Germany | 2022
When her sibling Zara suffers a nervous breakdown, introverted Eva is forced to take on Zara’s job as a foley artist. Suddenly, a horsetail starts growing out of her body.
SICK OF MYSELF – New England Premiere
Kristoffer Borgli | Norway, Sweden | 2022
Increasingly overshadowed by her boyfriend’s recent rise to fame as a contemporary artist creating sculptures from stolen furniture, Signe hatches a vicious plan to reclaim her rightfully deserved attention within the milieu of Oslo’s cultural elite.
SMOKING CAUSES COUGHING – Massachusetts Premiere
Quentin Dupieux | France | 2022
A group of vigilantes called the “tobacco-forces” is falling apart. To rebuild team spirit, their leader suggests that they meet for a week-long retreat, before returning to save the world.
THE ANGRY BLACK GIRL AND HER MONSTER – East Coast Premiere
Bomani J. Story | USA | 2023
Brilliant teen scientist Vicaria (The Equalizer’s Laya DeLeon Hayes) theorizes that death is a curable disease and embarks on a dangerous journey to bring back her recently murdered brother.
STAND BY FOR FAILURE: A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT NEGATIVLAND – New England Premiere
Ryan Worsley | USA | 2022
Documentarian RyanWorsley explores cut-and-paste sonic social critics / sound collagists / pranksters Negativland, who have held a mirror up to media and culture and defied copyright laws from the fringes for the last 40+ years.
REBEL – New England Premiere / Closing Night Film
Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah | Belgium, Luxembourg, France | 2022
When Kamal resolves to change his life for the better, he leaves Belgium to help war victims in Syria. But, having arrived, he is forced to join a militia and is left stranded in Raqqa. Back home, his younger brother Nassim quickly becomes easy prey for radical recruiters, who promise to reunite him with Kamal. Their mother, Leila, fights to protect the only thing she has left: her youngest son. Filmmakers Adil & Bilall (Bad Boys For Life, and the recent, infamously shelved Batgirl) deliver an immensely powerful and nuanced portrayal of a family torn apart over a little Muslim boy’s future that epitomizes a transformative cinematic experience.
Festival Badges for The 23rd Boston Underground Film Festival are on sale now in strictly limited quantities. A badge grants access to all the BUFF 2023 festival screenings for the five-day event and costs $150. Individual screening tickets begin March 13, cost $15 per person per screening, and can be purchased through the Brattle’s box office or Boston Underground Film Fest.
The Boston Underground Film Festival runs from March 22 to March 26.