There’s nothing quite like the film festival experience. From the buzz of seeing upcoming releases before the rest of the world, to the social aspect of hanging out and trading theories with fellow cinephiles, film festivals are the lifeblood of indie filmmaking. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly had a major impact on a lot of festivals, not only in terms of preventing audiences from the social experience that comes from moviegoing, but also inhibiting filmmakers and artists from having the chance to talk about their projects and generate the kind of buzz not often offered to films outside of major studios.
Despite these setbacks, the organizers of several American genre festivals, Boston Underground Film Festival, Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, North Bend Film Festival, The Overlook Film Festival and Popcorn Frights Film Festival have banded together for the Nightstream Film Festival, a virtual event that tries to replicate the viewing and social experience of festival attendance.
Running Oct. 8 through 11, Nightstream Film Festival is open to anyone through the purchase of one of several badge options with proceeds going to attending filmmakers and artists, as well as charitable causes and local business in each of the organizers’ home cities. Boasting a wide selection of international horror, shorts, science fiction, fantasy, underground, and genre-defying oddities, panels featuring talents like Nia DaCosta (Candyman), Mary Harron (American Psycho), Scott Beck & Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place), Rusty Cundieff (Tales From the Hood), Paul Tremblay (A Head Full of Ghosts), Brea Grant (After Midnight) and David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight), and a virtual bar and horror trivia event, Nightstream Festival is just the thing to get you through a Halloween season at home.
I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at some of the films headed to the festival this week, and added plenty more to my watchlist for the weekend. There’s an abundance of great stuff headed to festival-goers’ way this weekend, but here’s a handful of what’s got me most excited.
Bleed With Me
What’s it about?: A troubled young woman is invited by a co-worker to join her and her boyfriend on their weekend getaway to a rural cabin. Tensions run high when the woman becomes convinced her new friend is stealing her blood. Directed by Amelia Moses, the film stars Lee Marshall, Lauren Beatty and Aris Tyros.
What’s unique about it?: Bleed With Me is a chilly chamber piece with tension akin to Sophia Takal’s Always Shine (2016) and shades of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In her debut feature, Moses becomes a horror filmmaker to keep a close eye on.
What’s it about?: A young couple stranded in the rural countryside are taken in by a strange woman and her even stranger son, who want nothing but to satiate the cravings of their new guests. Directed by Devereux Milburn, the film stars Sawyer Spielberg (son of Steven Spielberg!), Malin Barr and Barbara Kingsley.
What’s unique about it?: Don’t be fooled by a familiar set-up. Honeydew goes to some incredibly strange places with a unique vision that makes it feel like a thematic companion to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). And it just so happens to feature a WTF celebrity cameo that works best going in blind.
What’s it about?: A self-help book author finds herself stalked daily by a masked man. And no matter how many times she kills him, he keeps coming back, throwing off the seeming balance of her marriage and career. Directed by Natasha Kermani, the film stars indie horror mainstay, Brea Grant.
What’s unique about it?: Tonally surprising and emotionally poignant, Lucky is an semi-satirical take on the concept of final girls and masked men that looks at #MeToo as more than a moment but a way of life.
What’s it about?: In a lost police training video from 1988 a rookie police officer gets in way over his head when he tries to take the law into his own hands. Directed by Quinn Armstrong, the film stars Vayu O’Donnell, Spencer Garrett and Stacy Keach.
What’s unique about it?: October may not seem like the place to taut a so-called comedy, but there’s a Too Many Cooks-esque darkness to Survival Skills that sees the romanticized police culture of the ’80s torn down to reveal the failures of the system that we’re still witnessing today.
What’s it about?: A teenage girl plagued by horrible nightmares takes part in a secretive sleep study that exposes the frightening reality behind dreams shared with her fellow patients. Directed by Anthony Scott Burns, the film stars Julia Sarah Stone, Landon Liboiron, Carlee Ryski and Tedra Rogers.
What’s unique about it?: Set to an incredible score by Pilotpreist and Electric Youth (Drive), Come True is Dreamscape (1984) meets Bad Dreams (1988) through the lens of indie filmmaking. Eerily surreal and beautifully shot, Come True is definitely a film that will a spark conversations.
LOOKING FORWARD TO
What’s it about?: A homeschooled teenage girl suspects her mother is hiding a terrible secret from her. Directed by Aneesh Chaganty, the film stars Sarah Paulson, Kiera Allen and Pat Healy.
What’s unique about it?: Run is set to open the Nightstream Festival as its most mainstream release. Chaganty impressed with his taut and tense directorial debut Searching (2018) and expectations for his sophomore film are high.
Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist
What’s it about?: Documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe presents an in-depth cinematic essay on The Exorcist (1973), framed around a six-day interview with director William Friedkin.
What’s unique about it?: It’s William Friedkin giving his own insight into the making of The Exorcist! If that’s not enough of a selling point, Philippe has made quite a name for himself when it comes to insightful horror documentaries with Doc of the Dead (2014), 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene (2017) and Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019).
What’s it about?: Set during Taiwan’s white terror era in 1962, two students find themselves trapped in a school in which most of their fellow students and teachers have disappeared, and dark spirits roam the halls. Directed by John Hsu, the film stars Gingle Wang, Jing-Hua Tseng and Fu Meng Bo.
What’s unique about it?: This film from Taiwan is based on the popular 2017 video game of the same name, and comes ahead of a television adaptation set for Netflix later this year. Blending horror and strong political and cultural elements, Detention sounds like an international feature not to miss.
My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To
What’s it about?: Two siblings care for their sickly younger brother who needs to feed on blood to survive. Directed by Jonathan Cuartas, the film stars Patrick Fugit, Ingrid Sophie Schram and Owen Campbell.
What’s unique about it?: Cuartas’ film looks to take a restrained and realistic approach with vampire mythos anchored by great performances as lifeblood is pumped back into one of horror’s oldest concepts.
May the Devil Take You Too
What’s it about?: In this sequel to May the Devil Take You (2018), Alfie finds herself still haunted by the hellish curse her father unleashed after two years. Directed by Timo Tjahjanto, the film stars Chelsea Islan.
What’s unique about it?: This Indonesian sequel promises to up the Evil Dead vibes of the first film (currently available on Netflix). Tjahjanto’s propulsive filmmaking energy, and stylish horror sequences is perfect for those looking for blast of gore this weekend.
What’s it about?: A filmmaker seeks to reconnect with herself and find inspiration at a secluded retreat. But the woods surrounding the location and the behavior of her two hosts unlock something transformative inside of her. Directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, the film stars Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon.
What’s unique about it?: As if that cast wasn’t enticing enough, Black Bear re-teams Levine with Always Shine (2016) collaborator Sophia Takal, which means we’re in for a sharp examination of relationships that will both rattle and be hard to forget.
Climate of the Hunter
What’s it about?: Two competitive sisters seek the attention of a man who might be a vampire. Directed by Mickey Reece, the film stars Ginger Gilmartin, Mary Buss and Ben Hall.
What’s unique about it?: While it may be the third vampire-centric film on this list, its inclusion is a testament to the versatility of the concept, and its potential to become frightening again within the hands of low-budget, indie filmmakers. And underground filmmaker Reece is certainly low-budget but Climate of the Hunter could put a big spotlight on his skills.
What’s it about?: A combat veteran is forced to defend a family in NYC after a gang of thieves attempt to rob them. Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, the film stars Ruby Rose, Rupert Evans and Jean Reno.
What’s unique about it?: Kitamura has already made a major name for himself in genre filmmaking with Versus (2000), Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) and The Midnight Meat Train (2008). The Doorman looks like a blood-soaked, action-packed ride that further cements Rose as an action star.
Tickets for all of the aforementioned films are available to reserve with purchase of a badge, which are on sale now. Individual tickets go on sale Wednesday for films that do not sell out in pre-selection