Popcorn Frights 2023: Don’t Look Away, The Banality, Founders Day

Image courtesy of Popcorn Frights

The following three films have one thing in common, can you guess what that is? A murderous mannequin silently stalks a friend group, picking them off one by one. The death of a feral boy ignites consequences of epic proportions. A Scream clone that brings a new weapon type to the playing field. Did you guess what they have in common? Well, they are all playing at Popcorn Frights of course! I know, that was tenuous at best, but I just couldn’t think of one single thing these films share in common for an interesting opener. Anyways, let’s take a look at these three films!

Don’t Look Away

Written by Micheal Bafaro and Michael Mitton, Directed by Micheal Bafaro

A mannequin is backlit in a blue light, with an evil grin on its face
Image courtesy of Popcorn Frights

One fateful night, a group of bandits Fast and Furious their way into a truck, hoping to reap the rewards of its bounties. When they find out their bounties are just a bounty, and they won’t be the ones doing the reaping, all hell breaks loose. Soon a group of friends find themselves stalked by a singular mannequin and it won’t stop until there’s no one left to remember its face. Can this friend group make it through the night?

In what can best be described as an overly polished creepypasta, Don’t Look Away takes a whack at creating a newer bloodier version of the Weeping Angels. My initial thought when learning about this film was that it might be a copout using a mannequin as the main antagonist because come on, I would wager to say the majority of people are frightened by mannequins. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised with how they handled the mannequin and its unique powers.

My main criticism of Don’t Look Away is how it has an overly smooth Auto Motion Plus look to it. It’s a bit overlit and crispy. While the contents of the film make up for it, it really took me a bit to get past that. I’m unsure what the budget for the film is, so maybe this was an overcorrection to make up for budgetary issues. Bafaro’s direction does make up for some of the visual issues I have with it. There’s a specific scene in a park with Jonah (Michael Mitton) that might be one of my favorite storyboarded scenes in a film so far this year. It’s eerie and tense, while still keeping itself contained and tight. Also, the “all work and no play” reference with Steve’s (Colm Hill) Ph.D. paper was a nice injection of psychological horror.

The creature design is unassuming in the best way possible. It’s more defined than your typical blank-faced mannequin the genre has been accustomed to, and it’s a great way for them to make a mannequin horror film stand out from the rest. The kills work really well and the third-act addition of a specific character really elevates the horror and brings life back into the film when it starts to drag a little. Overall, Don’t Look Away is a fun take on a familiar antagonist and would definitely be a fun film to watch with a group of friends on a rainy fall night.

The Banality

Written and Directed by Michael Stevantoni and Strack Azar

Two people stand before a car, the sky is a bloody and hazy orange
Image courtesy of Popcorn Frights

A feral boy (Layton Miller) is found dead after going to a party with some friends. Committed to finding the perpetrators, Father Moss (Sherman Augustus) unknowingly changes the course of the world. The Banality is part small-town drama, part religious horror, and it’s absolutely amazing. Based on a short of the same name, The Banality wears its wicked heart on its sleeve for god and the world to see.

The Banality is one of the most visually stunning independent films I’ve ever seen. Thomas Taugher’s cinematography completely brings this film to a whole new level; transcending through the screen Taugher relaxes your eyes with brilliant imagery while Stevantoni and Azar break your heart with a nihilistic tragedy. The dichotomy between the on-screen images and the story works to create a truly engaging and reflective piece of art. What really acts as the glue binding this film together is the haunting score. Each composition perfectly accompanies the respective scene. On top of being a great film score, this score would make an excellent vinyl to put on on a rainy contemplative night. From the opening song “Roscoe,” written and performed by Ramsay Midwood, to the enthusiastically somber credit song “Father Along,” written and performed by Leroy Van Dyke, there is not a single moment of misplaced music.

Sherman Augustus completely embeds himself in the role of Father Moss. How Augustus channels anger, lust, sadness, and kindness seamlessly through each scene is a masterclass in acting. He completely devoted himself to this role, and it shows. I’m not religious, but if Father Moss was at a church in my area, I think I would be converted! That’s all I want to say about The Banality, as I think you need to enter this film as blindly as possible. My eyes were glued to the screen for every single second of the runtime, I actually had to put eyedrops in after it because my eyes felt insanely dry from not blinking. This is a truly special film, and it deserves to grace theatrical screens worldwide.

Founder’s Day

Written by Carson and Erik Bloomquist, Directed by Erik Bloomquist

The Founder looks over their shoulder, with their gavel in hand
Image courtesy of Popcorn Frights

A sleeping town in New England finds itself dead center in a heated mayoral race. But this all too real scenario slowly dissolves as something even worse rears its ugly head in town: a serial killer. Can this town put aside its squabbles to bring these mysterious deaths to an end? Or will they all end up…hanging Chads? (Wow, what a terribly irrelevant joke to make, right?)

Founder’s Day is a Scream clone, but not a ripoff. It backs away from being a parody of slasher films and gets just meta enough to add extra intrigue. When I say it’s a Scream clone, I do not mean that as a detractor. It takes the fresh revitalized blood of a film like Scream and tries injecting that into this new story. Also, who doesn’t love a seasonal genre film? Even if that holiday is something you’ve never heard of before.

A slasher film is only as good as its killer(s) reveal, so where does The Founder land? First, we need to look at The Founder, their existence in the world of the film, and most importantly their weapon. The Founder lurks around the shadows clutching a gavel, which I don’t think has been done before. You wouldn’t typically associate a gavel with a slasher film, but I think it brings a level of viciousness to the character. Granted, there is a hidden blade in the gavel, which is pretty gnarly. In concept alone using a gavel as a weapon is kind of badass. The people The Founder goes after are in some way associated with the political turmoil in town, which is an incredibly original way to have a killer targeting a group of people. Visually The Founder isn’t really intimidating and that’s okay because their kills speak for themselves. That being said I really do love the mask and overall design of the killer.

What the Bloomquist’s do with this story is pretty interesting. It’s no shock to anyone who lives in America how absolutely bonkers our politics have been over the past roughly 10 years, even when it comes to small-town races like this. I am genuinely impressed with the Bloomquist’s comment on the cold civil war that is happening in America while having it set on such a minute political scale. Nothing in Founder’s Day is preachy or heavy-handed and that’s what is most important. At its heart, this film feels like a protest film. An outside force barges into this small town and it strikes fear in the citizens all while the politicians in town would rather focus on their image and the mayoral campaign. It’s sad how much of this we see daily. Instead of focusing on bringing us together as a country so that everyone has the same chance to succeed, we’d rather focus on our own parties and refuse to have meaningful conversations.

Anyways. Founder’s Day is a bloody and delightful surprise. It camouflages itself as a slasher film in a way that the “why does horror have to be political” crowd can watch it for face value, while everyone else can walk away with the film’s message. As a slasher, it’s inventive and different enough to stand out from the crowd. I have no doubt Founder’s Day will resonate with audiences, and it’s a future nostalgia film in the making.

One Comment

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  1. Really enjoyed the movie itself, having been to Frightfest it was a great time with the crowd. Just curious, has the credits song been released? I loved that song in combination with the animated ending credits.

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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