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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Buried Alive Film Festival 2016: Best of Feature Films

For the second year in a row, I was invited to cover Atlanta's Buried Alive Film Festival, one of the finest horror film fests in the country. This year the festival took place at the lovely 7 Stages and was host to over 75 short films and 9 feature films, a huge jump from last year. The festival was bigger and better than ever, and I highly recommend going next year if you're a horror fan! 

There were a lot of good feature films this year, and it was very difficult to pick the best and the runner up. Make sure to check out the other films further down the list–they're all worth a watch! Also, see my picks for the best short films of the festival here.


Another Evil
Dir. Carson D. Mell – USA – 90 min

Another Evil is ostensibly a ghost hunting comedy, at least at first glance. Abstract painter Dan (Steve Zissis) discovers that his mountain getaway home is haunted, but an initial investigation reveals that the ghosts are not evil and that he shouldn't get rid of them. Unsatisfied, Dan calls in Os (Mark Proksch), a self-proclaimed ghost assassin, to get rid of the paranormal entities. Over time, the laid back Dan and quirky Os become friends, but Os's tactics and insistence that there are still ghosts in the house soon get on Dan's nerves, climaxing in a disagreement that turns frightening in the third act as Dan's family arrives at the house.

On the surface, the film is a pretty good and fairly unique comedy. It will undoubtedly draw comparison to last year's Creep, which used the found footage model to do the awkward friendship turned scary thing very well. There are two things which really set this apart, however: a surprisingly subtle story building in the background, and the incredibly funny Mark Proksch. For those who aren't familiar with Proksch from his minor character on The Office, check out his K-Strass character who pranked dozens of morning shows by pretending to be a yo-yo master. It's that level of deadpan improv, the seriousness in which he relates his absurd backstory in this film that makes this both extremely funny and also kind of upsetting.

But more on that background story: Another Evil does a fantastic job of building up both its main characters with multiple fake backstories that they tell each other, none completely true or completely false it seems. These stories serve two higher purposes, the first being that they subtly lead to Os's unsettling revelation about the true source of Dan's haunting (which, given the paranormal things that have been happening, could potentially be true in the world of the film). The other purpose, however, is in building on the thematic idea that one of the scariest things to most people is sharing who they really are, the things they've done in the past. Overlaying this sort of embarrassing fear with the surprisingly congruous one of paranormal activity is kind of brilliant, and it works very well here.

Despite this being visually one of the less interesting films of the fest (it all takes place inside a house, with two guys mostly just hanging out), it ended up being the one that intrigued me and engaged me the most. Well worth a viewing!


Nova Seed
Dir. Nick DiLiberto – Japan/Canada – 64 min
Official Site

Nova Seed took me totally by surprise. This very short feature directed by video game animator Nick DiLiberto clocks in at only 64 minutes, but packs a walloping punch and was probably the most visually (and aurally) beautiful film of the festival.

Nova Seed is a animated feature that takes place in a strange future world that lies somewhere between Adventure Time and Heavy Metal. The world is falling apart, and the militaristic humans blame the evil Doctor Mindskull, who claims he is remaking the world in his own image. There is a race of animals that are given sentience and near-superpowers by having magic crystals implanted in their bodies, and the army wishes to use them to gain access to Mindskull's fortress. One of these animals, a lion, discovers that the source of Mindskull's power is a young girl, and he escapes the army to rescue her and take on Mindskull himself.

First to note is the absolutely gorgeous animation of the film, which is colorful, smooth, and psychedelic. This is the kind of animated film I've been waiting for years to see, the kind we used to see all the time prior to computer animated films. Reading about it later, I discovered that Nova Seed was animated entirely by hand, which no doubt is the reason it looks so unique (and also why it's so short!). The thumping techno music by Stephen Verrall also plays a big role, adding a hypnotic layer to the action.

The film is totally beautiful, and is able to create a richer and more full realized world than any of the live action films at the fest, and manages to do it in just barely over an hour. While this may seem too short, know that there is not a single dull moment in the film as it races seamlessly from one action-packed sequence to another. This is one I'm very excited to revisit over and over, and probably the film I'll be watching the closest as I anxiously await where it goes next!

~ Other great films (in no particular order) ~

The Night Watchmen
Dir. Mitchell Altieri – USA – 80 min
Official Site

This film takes the mold of the ill-equipped heroes fighting off a zombie horde à la Shaun of the Dead and places it on an office building with some goofy security guards. The main characters (played by Ken Arnold and Kevin Jiggetts) are funny and have great chemistry; you can tell that the whole cast has worked together before. Kara Luiz is also a highlight as the woman from the office who refuses to play the damsel in distress. The Night Watchmen looks great, has fun music, and is a good start for a talented team!

The Master Cleanse
Dir. Bobby Miller – USA – 81 min

This was a real contender for the top two spots–this odd film follows a lonely man (Johnny Galecki) as he goes on a mysterious toxin-cleansing retreat only to find that something much stranger (and grosser) is being cleansed out of their bodies. The script is funny, and the cast (which includes Anjelica Huston!) is pretty great. There's some very interesting and relevant stuff going on thematically with the way we deal with the unwanted parts of ourselves, but the real star here is the excellent visual effects and puppet work on the creatures that bring physical form to those unwanted parts.

Here Alone
Dir. Rod Blackhurst – USA – 89min
Official Site

Here's something unexpected: a patient post-apocalyptic drama from one of the directors of this year's Amanda Knox documentary. Here Alone tells two stories simultaneously: one of Ann (Lucy Walters) fleeing into the forest to live with her husband and baby as a viral outbreak takes hold of the world, the other of Ann much later living alone and encountering a man and his daughter (Adam David Thompson and Gina Piersanti) in the wilderness. It is a slow, methodical film, but never feels dull as it explores the life of Ann and the ways she has discovered how to survive. This all makes the sparse action sequences when the characters have to make food runs amid the violent infected all the more intense, and the careful character work in both the script and the talented cast make you care quite a bit about their safety. One of the standouts in the flooded sub-genre.

Sympathy for the Devil: The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgement
Dir. Neil Edwards – USA / UK / Canada – 101 min
Official Site

This was a fascinating documentary about The Process Church, an English group (cult?) that travelled the world and spread the gospel of opposites, worshipping both Satan and Christ equally. The mysterious group got a lot of attention back in the 60's and 70's, and some notoriety when the group was (perhaps wrongly) connected with the Manson murders and the Satanic Panic phenomenon. The story is pretty enthralling, and the documentary is exceptionally well made, full of animated photos, footage, and entertaining graphics to tell the strange tale. The film is maybe a bit overlong–at a certain point it feels like the same photos are being used over and over again–but aside from that this is one of the best documentaries I've seen all year.

Found Footage 3D
Dir. Stephen DeGennaro – USA – 96 min
Official Site

We've seen lots of found footage horror films, and we've seen lots of meta-horror films at this point, so what makes this one different? It's 3D! That's essentially the premise for this faux behind the scenes film of a 3D found footage film about a spectre that haunts a couple trying to make things work in a haunted cabin. While this could have just been a clever mixture of worn out tropes, it ends up being much more than the sum of its parts. It works great as a loving homage to the best (and worst) of found footage films, making fun of the difficulty in awkwardly explaining why the characters would still be filming, but simultaneously creates one of the best of the genre, with its final act being both ingenious and pretty frightening. Found Footage 3D does for found footage films what Scream did for the slasher, and fans of the sub-genre (or filmmaking in general) will enjoy this smart addition to the small subset of good found footage films.

Bad Blood: The Movie
Dir. Tim Reis – USA (Local) – 80 min
Official Site

Paraphrasing the director, Bad Blood: The Movie could've either been a decent werewolf film or the best werefrog film, which allowed them to work in a "smaller pond" (pun intended). The result is a really fun horror film in the vein of Stuart Gordon, a science-based monster transformation movie with a lot to love. It's quite well done, and I especially enjoyed the female lead (Mary Malloy) as a victim who in reality is much more. The film is packed with fun characters and ideas, and although they maybe could've done a little more thematically with the idea of amphibious transformation, it's a damn entertaining movie!
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