The fifth edition of Final Girls Berlin Film Festival takes place February 6–9, 2020 at City Kino Wedding, showcasing horror movies written, directed, and/or produced by women and nonbinary filmmakers. Festival codirector Eli Lewy calls this year’s festival edition the “most expansive and international yet, presenting a wide array of films by visionary filmmakers that represent the diversity and originality that can be found in the current horror landscape.” The exciting program features eight curated short blocks and nine feature films, a horror-inspired self-defense workshop, an exhibition, a festival party with multimedia drag performances, and specialist talks on horror martyrs, made-for-TV horror, “female monsters,” and “bad mothers” in Mexican horror cinema.
“Horror is a very elastic term,” said fellow co-director Sara Neidorf, “and we’re excited to discover films that make us question and expand our conceptions of what horror can be, both in ways that are distant from and uncannily near our own realities.”
Following are three features that I have seen and can highly recommend, and one popular, strongly regarded cult film. All film descriptions in this article are from Final Girls Berlin’s official press release, with comments in italics from yours truly.
THE FATHER’S SHADOW
Having lost her mother, a girl turns to a dubious form of magic to make her wishes come true. In the meantime, her depressed father fights to keep his job as things take a strange turn in this unique, spiritual drama with a touch of horror.
I caught The Father’s Shadow as part of last year’s Fantasia, where it won the fest’s Special Mention award and also its Best Actress award for the film’s preteen star Nina Medeiros. The movie combines EC Comics-style horror with social realism, and Medeiros turns in a truly engrossing performance.
(Dir. Gabriela Amaral Almeida, Brazil, 2018)
THE DEEPER YOU DIG
Fourteen-year-old Echo and her mother Ivy, a tarot card reader, live a quiet life in a rural area. When reclusive Kurt moves down the road to restore an abandoned farmhouse, an accident leads to Echo’s murder, and suddenly three lives collide in wicked ways. Kurt assumes he can hide his secret under the ground, but Echo burrows into his head until he can feel her in his bones. As she haunts his every move, trying to reach her mother from beyond,Ivy must dig deep to see the signs and prove that love won’t stay buried.
Another film I caught for Fantasia, this independent feature is a true family effort, with a husband-and-wife team writing and directing, and their daughter starring. The Deeper You Dig boasts powerful emotional drama revolving around grief, loss, and guilt. The supernatural angles are more mystical than violent, though the film’s climax doesn’t hold back in the ferocity department.
(Dirs. Toby Poster & John Adams, USA, 2019)
SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (+ I WAS A TEENAGE SERIAL KILLER)
Presented in collaboration with Matchbox Cinema (Glasgow, UK)
When Trish (Michele Michaels) decides to invite her high school basketball teammates over for a slumber party, she has no idea the night is going to end with an unexpected guest crashing the party: an escaped power drill-wielding killer. SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE was originally penned as a parody of the slasher genre. Rehashed by producers into a ‘serious’ slasher, the film retains its original intentions as a celebration and acknowledgment of the ridiculousness of the genre, offering up an inversion of the male gaze and lots of murders by power tools.
(Dir. Amy Holden Jones, Written by Rita Mae Brown, USA, 1982)
ROCK PAPER SCISSORS
The routine of eccentric, maladjusted siblings is disrupted when their half-sister arrives looking for her share of the inheritance, resulting in a series of sick games to see who is the rock, who is the paper, and who is the scissor.
I saw this disquieting and claustrophobic chiller as part of Fantastic Fest. It is a portrait of a very disturbing trio of siblings who play sadistic one-upsmanship games with each other. Rock Paper Scissors offers an uneasy, but worthwhile, viewing experience.
(Dir. Macarena García Lenzi & Martín Blousson, Argentina, 2019)
The festival’s five other features look highly promising, Grue Believers, and we can’t wait to get a peek at them.
Hunter (Haley Bennett) is a newly pregnant woman whose idyllic existence takes an alarming turn when she develops a compulsion to eat dangerous objects. As her husband (Austin Stowell) and his family tighten their control over her life, she is forced to confront the dark secret behind her uncontrollable obsession. From the producers of The Rider and The Tale, and executive producer Joe Wright (Darkest Hour), SWALLOW plays like a warped fairy tale, posing provocative questions about the expectations imposed on women, women’s control over their own bodies, and the psychologically damaging effects of patriarchal culture.
(Dir. Carlo Mirabel, Produced by Mollye Asher, Mynette Louie, Carole Baraton, Frederic Fiore, USA, 2019)
Three young women were sentenced to death in the infamous Manson murders case. Their sentences became life imprisonment when the death penalty was lifted in California. One young graduate student was sent in to teach them. Through her, we witness their transformation as they face the reality of their horrific crimes.
(Dir. Mary Harron, USA, 2019)
When Clara discovers her deceased mother’s revered Book of Dark Whispers, she can’t stop reading the strange stories within its mystical pages. Each weird tale reveals a new facet of the twisted human psyche . . . or, in this case, the not-so-human. From the horror of grief to roommate living disasters, from existential dread to right-swiping vampires, there’s something for all tastes. The horror anthology is brought to you by 11 female directors from across Australia.
(Various directors, Australia, 2019)
Tito is trapped. With lank black hair, curlicue sideburns, and an emergency whistle dangling from his neck, he is so stricken with fear that he’s developed a hunch in his back. Any attempt to venture into the outside world is met with the threat of elusive predators who hunt him relentlessly. Starved for food and security, Tito’s terrorized existence threatens to overwhelm him — until the sudden arrival of a cheerful intruder, offering breakfast and protection. TITO is a story about predation, friendship, and fear told through a wildly expressive new lens.
(Dir. Grace Glowicki, Canada, 2019)
When media-savvy members of the Satanic Temple organize a series of public actions designed to advocate for religious freedom and challenge corrupt authority, they prove that with little more than a clever idea, a mischievous sense of humor, and a few rebellious friends, you can speak truth to power in some truly profound ways. As charming and funny as it is thought-provoking, HAIL SATAN? offers a timely look at a group of often misunderstood outsiders whose unwavering commitment to social and political justice has empowered thousands of people around the world.
(Dir. Penny Lane, USA, 2019)
Along with the features are dozens of intriguing short films. Shorts that have been reviewed for Gruesome Magazine have a link next to them.
SOMETIMES, I THINK ABOUT DYING (Dir. Stephanie Abel Horowitz, USA, 2019)
ATTACHMENT (Dir. Katarzyna Babicz, Poland, 2019)
CRUST (Dir. Isabella Avery, UK, 2019)
SPORTS DAY (Dir. Lin Tu, China, 2019)
IT’S EASIER TO RAISE CATTLE (Dir. Amanda Nell Eu, Malaysia, 2017)
FOYER (Dir. Sophie B. Jacques, Canada, 2019)
DEEP TISSUE (Dir. Meredith Alloway, USA, 2019)
RE-HOME (Dir. Izzy Lee, USA, 2019) (reviewed for Gruesome Magazine here)
WHITE GIRL (Dir. Nadia Latif, UK, 2019)
EXAM (Dir. Sonia K. Hadad, Iran, 2019)
SNOWFLAKES (Dir. Faye Jackson, UK, 2019)
TORCHING THE DUSTIES (Dir. Marlene Goldman, Canada, 2019)
REFORMED (Dir. Samantha Timms, Australia, 2019)
TINGLE MONSTERS (Dir. Alexandra Serio, USA, 2019)
NEUROTICA EPISODE 1: EUREKA! (Dir. Laura Moss, USA, 2019)
PLAYTIME’S OVER (Dir. Tony Reames, Written by Haley Reams, USA, 2019)
THE VAMPIRE OF SOHO (Dir. Andy Edwards, Produced by Patricia Rybarczyk & Tansi Inayat, UK, 2019)
ALTITUDE (Dir. Nicole Scherer, Austria, 2019)
PEPPER (Dir. Kate Felix, Canada, 2019)
ZOMBIOSIS (Dir. Cris Gambín, Spain, 2018)
SEVEN LEVELS DEEP (Dir. Pina Brutal, Germany, 2019)
INFERNAL REQUIEM (Dir. Barbara Como, Italy, 2019)
GIRL IN THE SHED (Dir. Sophie Ansell, UK, 2019)
REVENGE ANGELS (Dir. Maren Moreno, USA, 2019)
MOTHER’S GUT (Dir. Matty Mancey, UK, 2019)
WOMAN IN STALL (Dir. Madeleine Sims-Fewer & Dusty Mancinell, Canada/UK, 2018)
LILI (Dir. Yfke van Berckelaer, The Netherlands, 2019)
THE RAT (Dir. Carlen May-Mann, USA, 2019)
SAFE SPACE (Dir. Annabelle Attanasio, USA, 2019)
THE FOLLOWER (Dir. Stepahnie Szerlip, USA, 2019)
GASLIGHT (Dir. Louisa Weichmann, Australia, 2019)
RAPE CARD (Dir. Madeleine Sims-Fewer & Nathan Hughes-Berry, USA, 2017)
SKIN (Dir. Audrey Rosenberg, USA, 2019)
TEA PARTIES FOR BABIES (Dir. Teja LoBreglio, USA, 2019)
LABRYS (Dir. BJ Colangelo, USA, 2019)
BLOOD ORANGE (Dir. Aliya Haq, USA, 2018)
LOVE LETTER (Dir. Zeddy Chevron, Canada, 2019)
DESTRUCTION MAKES THE WORLD BURN BRIGHTER (Dir. Kalen Artinian, Produced by Claire Allore, Brendon Whelton & Alexandria Benoit, Canada, 2019)
LONE WOLF (Dir. January Jones, Australia, 2019)
LAST SEEN (Dir. Drew Van Steenburgen, Written by Annie Powers & Drew Van Steenburgen, USA, 2019)
SOUTH SHORE (Dir. Xavier Hamel, Produced by Nellie Carrier, Audrey D. Laroche & Xavier Hamel, Canada, 2018)
PHOTOTAXIS (Dir. Melissa Ferrari, USA, 2017)
WATCHING KARLA HOMOLKA (Dir. Jordan Steinhauer, Canada, 2019)
KAYA (Dir. Catherine Fordham, USA, 2019)
CHILDREN OF SATAN (Dir. Thea Hvistendahl, Sweden, 2019)
NOT A BABY (Dir. Shannon Hanmer, Canada, 2019)
FIRE GIRLS (Dir. Chell Stephen, USA, 2019)
MAKR (Dir. Hana Kazim, UAE, 2019)
WATER HORSE (Dir. Sarah Wisner & Sean Temple, USA, 2019) (reviewed for Gruesome Magazine here)
ELIXIR (Dir. Virginia Powers Hendry, USA, 2018)
MAGGIE MAY (Dir. Mia’Kate Russell, Australia, 2018) (reviewed for Gruesome Magazine here)
CHANGELING (Dir. Faye Jackson, UK, 2019)
DRUM WAVE (Dir. Natalie Erika James, Australia, 2018)
BOOGEYWOMAN (Dir. Erica Scoggins, USA, 2019)
THE DOULA (Dir. Sarah Elliot, USA, 2019)
ALWAYS GOING NEVER GONE (Wanda Nolan, Canada, 2019)
HUNTING SEASON (Dir. Shannon Kohli, USA, 2019)
XIOMARA (Dir. Loelle Monsanto, Suriname, 2019)
VINEGAR BATHS (Dir. Amanda Nell Eu, Malaysia, 2018)
Final Girls Berlin also has outstanding talks scheduled.
HORROR COMES HOME: WOMEN AND THE MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIE, 1964-1999
The birth of the made-for-television movie just happened to coincide with the second-wave feminist movement that was erupting in the streets of the United States. Television, which has always been interested in the female demographic, represented this movement in different ways, and the telefilm became a prime space for addressing issues that were important to women. The genre telefilms of the 1970s and well beyond also challenged common stereotypes that have afflicted female characters for years. However, the action didn’t always happen on screen. Several women worked behind the scenes and had their hand in the production of some of the most memorable television genre films. Horror Comes Home: Women and the Made-for-Television Movie is a retrospective on the oft-maligned made-for-TV genre movie, exploring how these films spoke to its female audience in a way no other medium has.
VALERIA VILLEGAS LINDVALL:
THE BAD MOTHER IN MEXICAN HORROR
Portrayed as a mere residue of superstition, La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) made a big screen comeback in 2019 with Michael Chaves’ THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA — another addition to THE CONJURING franchise. But she has been roaming on-screen since the 1930s: her cry encapsulates the legacy of colonialism and oppression in the Americas. Valeria Villegas Lindvall from the University of Gothenburg will explore the rich legacy of Mexican cinema guided by her presence, from the first horror film produced in the country–Ramón Peón’s LA LLORONA (1933)–to current manifestations of the genre, such as Issa López’s TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (2018) and Emilio Portes’ BELZEBUTH (2018).
AS GOD IS MY WITNESS: MARTYRDOM IN MODERN-DAY HORROR
The concept of martyrdom is widely used but rarely fully understood–a fact due, in some part, to its changing relevance across changing times. From Joan of Arc to Socrates to the contemporary incidents of terrorism and suicide bombings, martyrdom has come to mean a great many things. MARTYRS and THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE don’t have much in common in the cinematic sense, but both films tackle the subject of modern-day martyrdom in diverse and theologically nuanced ways. Based on a chapter from the forthcoming Scared Sacred: Idolatry, Religion, and Worship in the Horror Film (2020), this presentation will seek to unpack the convoluted term by drawing from its etymological origins and culminating in a discussion of how the term relates to modern horror.
OUTER THREATS AND INNER DEMONS: THE CHANGING FACE OF THE ‘FEMALE MONSTER’
From Julia Ducournau’s RAW to Joachim Trier’s THELMA, some of modern horror’s greatest monsters aren’t physically tangible — they’re internal demons. These ‘female monsters’ face no antagonist but themselves and their lack of agency over their own minds. It marks a shift in interest from horror movies interested in the external threats women face, to horror focusing on women’s inner demons. Smith draws from the ideas explored in Seventh Row’s book, Beyond Empowertainment: Feminist Horror and the Struggle for Female Agency.
For more information about Final Girls Berlin, visit the following links: