Due to time constraints, there were a few films I didn’t have the opportunity to talk about from this year’s run of Popcorn Frights. This is another successful year for the festival and makes me anticipate whatever they have up their bloody sleeve for next year. The final three films I deemed necessary to talk about were all incredibly special in their own way. One film is an original retelling of one of America’s most notorious serial killers. Another film is utterly indescribable and insane. And the final film absolutely broke my brain into pieces.
The Black Mass
Written by Eric Pereira and Brandon Slagle, Story By Devanny Pinn, Directed by Devanny Pinn
Devanny Pinn brings a whirlwind of force with her feature film debut. The Black Mass is an edge-of-your-seat new look at a story true crime fans have long been familiar with. There are many reasons The Black Mass works. First is really the most important: the voice of director Devanny Pinn. The overwhelming majority of these true crime stories, you know, the ones where women are always the target, are more often than not men. (Author’s note: After writing that line I found a list of every movie regarding this extremely high-profile killer, which I will not spoil, and picked 10 films at random…each one was directed by a man.) Now if you’re smarter than me, which isn’t really a stretch, then you’ll probably put together who the killer is supposed to be, but for this killer particularly, seeing the story play out from a woman’s point of view really elevates it. We’ve seen this story done time and time again, each time slightly more “raw” and “real” than the last. But how Pinn spins this tale takes us from the typical true crime story to an examination of the mind behind the killer. Gone is the exploitation of these victims we’ve become accustomed to in these stories.
Another aspect of The Black Mass that really works is how we spend the film in the mind of the killer. We see what makes them tick. If created by a different creative team telling the story this way could seem like we’re supposed to “feel bad for the monster” but between the story, script, and directing the POV we are trapped in feels claustrophobic and personal. Pinn places you in the shoes of a killer, whether you accept it or not doesn’t matter. One of the most impressive scenes is when the killer watches someone getting ready to take a shower. The scene is expertly handled and teases the idea of T&A, but never steps over the line of overtly sexualizing this future victim. A lesser filmmaker would have given us this scene from the front, where Pinn sticks to the corners and shadows. With all of that said, that doesn’t mean The Black Mass plays it safe. There are some truly horrifying scenes of body horror and violent attacks, and they are handled masterfully.
Devanny Pinn is going to be a force to be reckoned with. If this feature debut is just a hint as to what Pinn can give genre fans in the future, then I think we’re in good hands. The Black Mass is an original, frantic, absurdist look at one of America’s biggest true crime stories. Why true crime? Why now? Because The Black Mass.
Hundreds of Beavers
Written by Mike Cheslik and Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Directed by Mike Cheslik
Some films can be boiled down to one sentence, some films take a few more, while Hundreds of Beavers is simply indescribable. Sure you can say the film is about a drunk applejack salesman turned fur trader. But that does not come anywhere close to describing how truly unique and special this film is. Simply calling this film a comedy would be a complete understatement; it would be disparaging to all of the thought, foresight, and straight-up creativity involved in planning madness of this caliber. This film is Loony Toons by way of liminal horror.
There are a lot of hysterical repetitious bits that never fall flat, each joke lands with the force of a Brock Lesnar gut punch. It’s Aunty Donna’s Skinamarink. Obviously, this film isn’t horror in the sense of horror, but in between catching my breath and holding my sides, I started to find the true horror in this story. Imagine being stuck in this Lycnhian liminal hell Jean Kayak (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews) finds himself stuck in. With Portal-like holes popping up seemingly willy-nilly, to human-sized beavers, the world of Hundreds of Beavers is an obscure hellscape that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It is the ultimate midnight movie. Hundreds of Beavers is a special treat for those who are willing to take the journey.
Written and Directed by Pirie Martin
A criminal fixer, Cliff Van Aarle (Derryn Amoroso), finds himself taking his most dangerous job yet when two drug dealers request his help taking down a drug kingpin after a theft gone wrong. When it turns out Van Aarle may be connected more closely than he would like to the kingpin, things get tense very quickly. Can Cliff finish one last job and finally be able to take care of his comatose sister? Or will Cliff end up being a hollow man?
Psychosis was on the list of top five films I desperately wanted to see for Popcorn Frights, and boy am I glad I did. Part neo-noir thriller, part mild-altering madness, all one hell of a ride, Psychosis broke me. Talk about working within your budget. While I don’t know what Pirie Martin’s budget was for this film, I don’t think it really mattered. The 4:3 aspect ratio and beautifully lit black-and-white images help create a claustrophobic and ultimately intense visual image. Add on top of that the truly mind-shattering visuals, and you have one incredibly unique film. It feels like David Lynch’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
There are a few choreographed fight sequences that feel a little bit too rehearsed, in a stageplay sense. But Martin only incorporates a few of them to help raise the film’s stakes, so it’s not really overbearing. I try not to call films perfect, but sometimes the shoe fits. Setting aside a few fight sequences, Psychosis is damn near a perfect film. It knows what it wants to be, but more importantly, it’s clear Pirie Martin had a vision and that he fought tooth and nail to get that vision on screen. Now will this film work for all audiences? Definitely not. But the audience this film was made for will fall head over heels for it. The visual effects are used minimally in a way to enhance the story, not take over with flashy visuals.
The true shining star of this film is Derryn Amoroso’s performance. His unassuming look is a complete dichotomy from the absolute badass he is and when he turns that part of his character on it makes you a little scared. Amoroso truly loses himself in this role, taking the performance to depths that most actors would be too scared to delve into. With a performance like this, I was expecting maybe 15 to 20 credits on IMDb, and was stunned to see this is only his fifth role! That needs to change. I really hope he gets the recognition that he deserves.
Do yourself a favor and go see Psychosis. As someone who struggles with sensory overload, I was a bit worried I was peaking a bit too high after this film. That’s when I realized I hadn’t experienced any sensory overload, I was just completely caught off-guard by how incredible the film was. It made my body buzz. This is one of those films where watching it alone in a dark room will give you just as great of an experience as seeing it in a theater full of filmgoers.