COVID-19 can’t keep South Korea’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN) — Asia’s largest genre film fest — down, as the fest has officially announced that it will take what it calls a hybrid approach for its 2020 edition, running July 9–16. The fest will screen 174 features and short films from 42 countries on cinema screens, and offer 69 of those movies on a Korean online platform.
According to the fest’s official website, “BIFAN 2020 would like to present the blueprint for future film festivals: a ‘hybrid’ film festival that keeps pace with the changing media environment, a festival that effectively combines offline and online events . . . Overseas directors who cannot travel to Korea will be meeting audiences by introducing their films and giving talks online.”
Among the 89 features on offer this year from BIFAN are heaps of intriguing horror films, as well as science fiction, action, dark comedy, and more. Here are six features that yours truly is itching to catch at the fest, with program notes from the official BIFAN site.
Paramedics Steve and Dennis encounter a series of strange dispatches that all involve “Synchronic,” a drug with lethal side effects. They reach a party with kids using it and discover Dennis’ daughter Brianna was there, and is now missing. Steve takes it upon himself to stop this drug pandemic and find out what happened to her, even if that involves a certain sacrifice.
Synchronic is a new, addictive, buddy sci-fi thriller from the duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, whose previous works Spring, The Endless, and Resolution have won global acclaim. This is their most mainstream film so far, using an ingenious, sometimes very surprising plot set around mystical New Orleans, with strong performances by the entire cast, led by Anthony Mackie (Falcon in the Marvel series) as Steve and Jamie Dornan (Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey) as Dennis, two friends trying to resolve a drug pandemic while struggling with their own obstacles. Synchronic is truly an engaging journey that brings a breath of freshness into the time-travel genre. (Jongsuk Thomas Nam)
Whispering Corridors 6: The Humming
In the latest in the Whispering Corridors franchise, which broke new ground in the world of Korean high school horror films, Eun-hee is hired as a vice principal at her old high school, where strange things take place in the closed down washroom. Students Ha-young and So-yeon, who used the washroom as their hideout, hear humming in the empty washroom, and believe that a ghost exists inside. Ha-young discovers a flowerpot on the stairs and suspects that Eun-hee is somehow linked to the mystery. Suffering from hallucination upon her inauguration, Eun-hee finds a ghastly figured girl in the washroom mirror and begins to believe that the girl was the one who brought her back to this school.
In 1983, the Soviet Union’s spacecraft Orbita-4 made an emergency landing for unknown reasons. Brain specialist Klinova heads to the All-Union Scientific Research Institute to analyze the symptoms of the surviving astronaut, Veshnyakov. As she examines Veshnyakov, who keeps getting worse and recovering again, she finds that an alien parasite had permeated his body and returned to earth in the emergency landing. Having identified the symbiotic relationship between Veshnyakov and the parasite, Klinova comes up with a plan to save him.
Sputnik, which translates as “partner,” symbolizes the former Soviet Union’s ambitious space program of the 20th century, suggested by the relationships between Klinova and Veshnyakov, and that of Veshnyakov and the parasite. This film masterfully integrates elements of SF horror redolent of Alien, including the female hero, extraterrestrials, and undersea claustrophobia, with touches of thriller and action genres, too. By using the motifs of body invasion and unbidden psychological collusion, a subtle criticism of the oppressing Soviet Union and the ultimate victory of humanism are heavily addressed. (Jin Park)
Kay (Emily Mortimer) is a busy working professional who is informed about her mom, Edna, being missing for some time. Kay, along with her daughter Sam, takes off to her rural hometown and discovers their decaying home being empty and uncared for. Edna returns a few days after, however, looking shaggy and without any memory of where she’s been. Realizing Edna is suffering from dementia, Kay and Sam decide to stay to care for her, when strange occurrences start taking place at their home and something sinister may be targeting the entire family.
Relic is a fantastic feature directorial debut by Australia’s Natalie Erica James, who effectively brings different aspects of horror outside of common elements as monsters, ghosts and killers. She introduces real concerns in our lives, such as aging, illness and loneliness all leading to dementia, which will personally affect people’s emotional states. Combining these with a frightening ambiance and ghastly shocks from a haunted house, as well as a truly moving emotional sequence in the end, Ms. James has created a one of a kind horror film connecting three generations of women and their fear of dementia and its effects. Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote are truly convincing as Kay and Sam, trying to take care of Edna, yet it is Robyn Nevin who steals the show as Edna with a tragic history that shapes who she is. (Jongsuk Thomas Nam)
Maud is a reclusive young nurse with an extreme Christian devotion after suffering from a mysterious trauma. She is assigned hospice care of Amanda, a retired dancer stricken with a severe form of cancer, and as Maud’s devout faith leads her to an obsession to save Amanda’s soul from everlasting damnation, she intends to do so at whatever the cost.
A triumphant feature debut by Rose Glass, Saint Maud is a psychological horror film that questions religious fanaticism and direct communication with God in quite disturbing, unpredictable, yet occasionally humorous ways. Maud (played brilliantly by Morfydd Clark) dedicates total care to Amanda (in an equally superb role by Jennifer Ehle) but loathes her free lifestyle involving occasional booze and drugs. As their relationship escalates with a touch of sexual jealousy, Maud’s tormented emotion leads to the tragic point of no return. This is truly an impressive and daring film. (Jongsuk Thomas Nam)
The Queen of Black Magic
Hanif takes his wife, Nadya, and their three children on a trip to a secluded destination. They travel to the nursery school where he grew up. They went to visit Banki, the sick manager of the nursery school. Hanif’s childhood friends Anton and Jefri along with his family also gathered. Due to the hospitality of the young couple guarding the nursery, they decide to stay the night. One by one the visitors are victimized by deadly black magic. The nursery school, once peaceful, becomes a space of bloody fear that they cannot escape. Hanif must face the dark secret of the nursery he had forgotten in order to save the children.
Kimo Stamboel of the Mo Brothers, who has worked extensively not only in Indonesia but also abroad, came to us with Joko Anwar’s screenplay. After showing the characters and planting some horror signs at the start of the story, the director pushes the vintage gore style horror without a hitch. A powerful fear pushes the theme of evil’s ordinary face and the return of repression and revenge to the end. (Ellen. Y. D. Kim)
For more information about Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, visit http://www.bifan.kr/eng/.