Horror movies of the year have taken over SXSW, from ‘X’ to ‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’ and more
Over the past week, Austin has been soaked in blood, guts and gore, at least figuratively. SXSW has long been a favorite among studios for horror premieres; past debuts have included A quiet place, us, the cabin in the woods, the invitation, and Drag me to hell. This year’s film crop was no exception.
Ti West’s X and Halina Reijn Body Body Body (starring Pete Davidson, a convincing jerk) ranked among the most anticipated releases. Either way, the end results live up to the hype – and better yet, there’s plenty more where they came from. Feast your eyes (if you dare!) on all of SXSW’s best horror offerings.
Let’s start with the most obvious. The Devil’s House director Ti West’s slasher borrows heavily from movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and psychology, not to mention the movie about M. Night Shyamalan’s bizarre grandparents Visit. But at no time does it seem derivative. Stellar performances from star Mia Goth (seen here playing dual roles), Brittany Snow, Jenna Ortega and Kid Cudi base this chilling tale on a group of young, beautiful people who show up at an isolated farmhouse to film a porno. When their elderly hosts find out what they are up to, the bloodbath begins. Set in 1979, the film is a deliciously bloody throwback and an absolute must-see, even if its thematic work is sometimes more effective than its killer sequences.
X now playing in theaters.
BODY BODY BODY
Speaking of great castings, have you seen the incredible assortment of performers Reijn has assembled for the hurricane killer party at the center of horror-comedy Body Body Body? (Or, as my brain insists on calling it thanks to Megan Thee Stallion, Body-ody-odies?)
Start with Pete Davidson, at his peak here as a heinous tool, then add Lee Pace at his comedic (and, let’s be honest, physical) peak, Amandla Stenberg, Borat Next Movie escape Maria Bakalova, and Baby Shiva star Rachel Sennott, who got away with the whole movie.
Here, a group of rich and obnoxious twenty-somethings (and, in Lee Pace’s case, one of their far-too-old boyfriends) come together to weather a dangerous storm. But things get a little too intense when they decide to play a board game that exposes all the emotional rifts underlying their seemingly sunny friendships. Raucously funny and unpredictable until the end (at least in terms of How? ‘Or’ What all bodies eventually hit the ground), this one is definitely better when watched in a crowd.
A24 has yet to announce a release date for Body Body Body.
By far the most Alfred Hitchcockian of this year’s debut, Observer marks a first for its director, Chloe Okuno. But his advance, It follows and The guest Star Maika Monroe is right at home in this latest thriller, which finds her playing a New Yorker named Julia who moves abroad to Bucharest after her husband’s promotion.
Voyeurism, paranoia, and a sense of being out of one’s element underpin this tense character study, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year; Julia, who does not speak Romanian, feels isolated and relies on her husband to translate for her. It’s an unnerving position, especially when a man starts staring at her constantly from a window across the street. Is he really stalking her, or is she just imagining things like all the men around her seem to believe?
“Is he really stalking her, or is she just imagining things like all the men around her seem to believe? ”
Monroe plays Julia with just the right mix of nervous emotion and self-doubt; her character’s certainty of her situation waxes and wanes as she confronts various people who refuse to believe her. Okuno imbues every shot with dread, and the film’s washed-out color palette provides a perfect canvas for the film’s saturated and gruesomely gory finale. Horror fans who haven’t heard Okuno’s name yet will surely soon; this one is a must-watch, and she already has a Netflix thriller starring Anna Kendrick on the way.
Observer is slated for a theatrical release on June 3.
Among this year’s most visually creative SXSW horror picks, Hypochondriac examines the ways in which untreated childhood trauma can come back to haunt us – through the story of a potter who begins to hallucinate a person in a wolf costume.
Writer and director Addison Heimann revisits real personal trauma in this story, which follows a man named Will (Zach Villa) as he tries to navigate an increasingly serious relationship. Her partner, Luke (Devon Graye), is as kind and supportive as they come. But Will struggles to trust him and open up thanks, in large part, to his traumatic experiences with his mother, who tried to kill him during his teenage years. This becomes a big deal when Will starts hallucinating and suspects he might have more in common with his mother than he realizes.
Villa, previously seen in Destructive and American Horror Story: 1984, radiates terror in this role. Cinematographer Dustin Supencheck’s camera movement is disorienting, and at Will’s worst moments, we see everything in a dizzying whirlwind of kaleidoscopic doubles. One of the main fears of survivors of parental violence may be the possibility that one day they will become like their abuser – a concern Hypochondriac explores both sensitively and in depth. Thankfully, however, the film offers some hope before all is said and done.
Hypochondriac is scheduled for April 8.
By far the rarest of SXSW’s horror offerings, jethica is an idiosyncratic and surprisingly funny little gem. Pete Ohs directs Callie Hernandez (Blair Witch) as Elena, a mysterious young woman who reunites with an old friend from high school named Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson). Turns out Jessica has a stalker who has been following her across state lines. This is no ordinary creep either; it will take more than a restraining order or jail time to get rid of him.
Hernandez and Robinson make a wonderful pair, with a chemistry that feels effortless and familiar from the start. Both also vibrate well with Ohs’ minimalist style, which relies heavily on dry humor and dispenses with any form of sentimentality, at least until the end of the film, which, on balance, turns out surprisingly soft.
A release date for jethica has not yet been announced.
Original Candyman Tony Todd is always a welcome presence on our screens. Here, the actor plays the narrator of a macabre tale in which a simple robbery becomes bloody, squid game– like a massacre.
“One by one they try to beat him and one by one they fall. Whether anyone can actually outsmart him is what we have yet to find out.”
Actor and writer Bill Posley makes his directorial debut with this film. “Bitch Ass” is the name given to our main character and antagonist, played by Tunde Laleye, by his high school bullies. (His real name is Cecil.) A tribute to noir horror movies like Tales from the Hood and people under the stairs, female dog ass finds Cecil setting up a series of Seen-like traps, all based on his favorite childhood games, as the robbers he knows come to loot his grandmother’s house. One by one they try to beat him and one by one they fall. Whether anyone can actually outsmart him is what we have yet to find out.
Plagued by clever editing and acted with both terrifying conviction and dark humor until the end, female dog ass is both rhythmic and devilish. Its plot never drags, and not a single sequence lingers after its welcome. If anything, I just wish they found a way to keep Tony Todd on my screen a little longer.
A release date for female dog ass has not yet been announced.
Aisha Dee is far from The fat guy in this lavishly styled Australian horror-comedy from directors Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes.
There’s a nasty candy-colored sequence in this film, which sees Dee playing Cecilia, a mega-popular mental health influencer and one half of a duo of best friends who came to an abrupt and mysterious end. Reunited 12 years after the fact with her former best friend, Emma, Cecilia – who no longer goes by her childhood nickname, Sissy – agrees to come and spend her bachelor weekend in an isolated cabin in the mountains. Little does she realize, however, that she will soon be reunited with another classmate from once, one who is far less excited to see her.
In the same way Hypochondriac and female dog ass, sissy is among the most visually memorable releases of this year. It’s meticulously and humorously stylized to unfold like the cinematic version of an Instagram glitter filter, a deliberate contrast to the sometimes queasy gore of the proceedings themselves. Dee is a terrifying revelation as Cecilia, a character whose true nature (like everyone else in the film) eludes us until the very end.
Shudder acquired sissy but has yet to announce a streaming release date.
Never has the “like and subscribe” culture been so scary. The horror-comedy from husband and wife writer-director duo Joseph and Vanessa Winter finds Joseph playing a disgraced stunt streamer who decides the best way to win back his followers (and hopefully more sponsors) is to spend the night in a haunted house. It’s going as well as one would expect.
Shawn has built his career on “facing his fears” online, but this stunt takes things to a new level. He may have come prepared with garlic, holy water, and other demon-fighting gear, but Winter’s boisterous persona has no idea what he’s up against. Winters plays her character with just the right mix of heartfelt fear and high-pitched theatrical screams; At first, it’s hard to tell just how performative the character’s anxiety is – a mainstay of most paranormal shows. In the end, however, there is no doubting the real fear.
Staged as a found footage film, Deadstream turns into evil Dead territory in its stunning final act – a wonderfully macabre display of practical creature effects that are sure to warm the heart of any Sam Raimi fan. Beyond that all I can say is best to go totally cold.
Shudder acquired Deadstream but has yet to announce a streaming release date.