The Overlook Film Festival 2022, Ranked & Reviewed

The sudden appearance of The Overlook Film Festival on the local scene in 2018 & 2019 was an unholy, unexpected blessing. There are only a few substantial film fests staged in New Orleans every year, so for an international festival with world premieres of Big Deal horror movies to land in our city was a major boon. It was almost too good to be true, so after a couple off years of COVID-related delays, I was worried The Overlook might not make it back to the city. But here we are again, praise the Dark Lord.

Two dozen features and just as many shorts screened at the festival over the course of a single weekend in early June. It was overwhelming. Self-described as “a summer camp for genre fans,” The Overlook was centrally located, corralling almost all of its screenings to the new Prytania Theatres location at Canal Place. It was wonderful to attend this unbelievably cool genre extravaganza again, especially after two years of seeing their incredibly sharp programming talents get absorbed by the online-only Nighstream festival.

Listed below are all nine features I caught at The Overlook Film Festival that weekend, ranked in the order that I most appreciated them, each with a blurb and a link to a corresponding review. For a more detailed recap of our festival experience beyond these reviews, check out the next Lagniappe episode of The Swampflix Podcast, where I will be discussing the fest in full with local critic Bill Arceneaux.

Mad God

Phil Tippett’s stop-motion passion project is both a for-its-own-sake immersion in scatological mayhem & an oddly touching reflection on the creative process, the indifference of time, and the cruelty of everything.  It’s meticulously designed to either delight or irritate, so count me among the awed freaks who never wanted the nightmare to end.

Flux Gourmet

David Cronenberg isn’t the only auteur fetishist who’s returned to his early works to construct a new fantasy world overrun by grotesque performance art.  This feels like Peter Strickland revising Berberian Sound Studio to bring it up to speed with the more free-flowing absurdism he’s achieved since.  The result is not quite as silly as In Fabric nor as sensual as The Duke of Burgundy, but it hits a nice sweet spot in-between.

Deadstream

A found footage horror comedy about an obnoxious social media influencer getting his cosmic comeuppance while livestreaming his overnight tour of a haunted house.  This was a constantly surprising delight, getting huge laughs out of supernaturally torturing a YouTuber smartass with a sub-Ryan Reynolds sense of humor.  It effectively does for Blair Witch what Host did for Unfriended, borrowing its basic outline to stage a chaotic assemblage of over-the-top, technically impressive horror gags.

Good Madam

I will be interested to compare this with Nanny once that makes its way to the general public, since both films revisit Ousmane Sembene’s Black Girl through a supernatural horror lens.  Considered on its own, this is perfectly chilling & sharply political, pushing past an easy metaphor about a house being haunted by apartheid to dig into some surprisingly complicated, heartbreaking familial drama.

Piggy

Not enough people have seen The Reflecting Skin for the comparison to mean anything, so let’s call this Welcome to the Dollhouse for the Instagram era.  A bullied outsider’s coming-of-age horror story accelerated by a cathartic, torturous team-up with the neighborhood serial killer.  It’s made entirely of pre-existing genre building blocks, but it still feels freshly upsetting & perversely fun in the moment.

Swallowed

Low-budget queer body horror about a drug deal gone horrifically wrong, featuring sharp supporting performances from Jena Malone & Mark Patton.  Has some great squirmy little practical gore gags that keep the tension high throughout, but I was most thrilled just to see a harrowing queer story that wasn’t about coming out or gaybashing.  Even more thrilled to see a movie where fisting (almost) saves the day.

Hypochondriac

Queer psych-horror about a potter who’s being hunted down by his childhood trauma, represented by a Halloween costume wolf (halfway between the Donnie Darko bunny & The Babadook, except the monster wolfs ass).  More charming than scary, but judging by the “Based on a real breakdown” title card it’s coming from such a personal place that it’s easy to root for.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon

What if Harmony Korine had to be less choosy with his projects and settled for making a straight-to-Shudder Gen-Z update of Carrie?  It’s certainly a step up from The Bad Batch, but I’m not convinced Ana Lily Amirpour has lived up to the potential of her debut yet.  Smart programming for the opening night of Overlook Film Fest either way, since it’s steeped in plenty of Nawlins Y’all flavor to acclimate the tourists.

Watcher

A little too lacking in scene-to-scene tension & overall novelty for the fourth Rear Window riff of the past year (bested by Kimi & The Voyeurs in those rankings, surpassing only The Woman in the Window).  Still, I appreciate the icy mood it echoes from post-Hitchcock Euro horrors of the 1970s, and the ending is almost enough of a shock to make up for the dead air. 

-Brandon Ledet

Deadstream (2022)

Because I’m such a glutton for screenlife horror films, my expectations when approaching each new entry in the genre are pitifully low.  For every genius laptop-POV thriller out there like Unfriended, Host, and Spree, there’s ten times as many dull, uninventive imitators like Searching, Safer at Home, and Untitled Horror Movie.  Screenlife filmmaking is such an easily affordable, attention-grabbing gimmick that the genre has become overcrowded to the point where it’s no more of a novelty than carbon, oxygen, or tap water.  I’m still always thirsty for more found footage chillers about cursed internet broadcasts, though, so I couldn’t resist the unassuming haunted house horror comedy Deadstream when I saw it on the program for this year’s Overlook Film Fest.  I went into the movie expecting more post-Unfriended mediocrity, which is likely why I found it such a constantly surprising delight.  It got huge laughs in a way that transported me back to Overlook’s joyous screenings of One Cut of the Dead the last time the festival was staged in-person in 2019.  It’s easy to roll your eyes at the simplicity & tardiness of its premise in a market overcrowded with so much screenlife #content, but Deadstream is a verified crowdpleaser.

Deadstream essentially does for Blair Witch what Host did for Unfriended: borrowing its basic outline to stage a chaotic assemblage of over-the-top, technically impressive scare gags.  A found-footage horror comedy about an obnoxious social media influencer getting his cosmic comeuppance while livestreaming his overnight tour of a haunted house, it also functions as a kind of internet-era tech update for the vintage media nostalgia of the WNUF Halloween Special.  The influencer in question is a smartass YouTuber with a popular channel named Wrath of Shawn and a sub-Ryan Reynolds sense of humor.  He’s occasionally funny but relentlessly grating, not to mention casually sexist, racist, and classist.  Hot off six months of “cancellation” for an “insensitive” YouTube stunt he’s reluctant to sincerely discuss, he attempts to earn back his audience & sponsors with a night spent in the aforementioned haunted house.  There, he runs afoul the ghost of “Odd Duck Mildred”, a Mormon-raised poet and victim of suicide who violently hijacks his livestream to promote her own poetry.  Even while being supernaturally tortured for his sins against humanity & good taste, Shawn remains brand-conscious in his self-referential catchphrases and shameless audience engagement tactics – a true heel to the end. 

The shitheel YouTuber’s way of delivering frat boy one-liners in a Steve from Blue’s Clues voice is dead-on in its parody of social media celebrity.  He’s so heavily weighed down by his camera equipment & brand-awareness duty to his sponsors that it’s impossible to get him to interact with the world outside his tablet screen with any semblance of sincerity. Thankfully, Mildred is there to slap him around as an undead audience surrogate, throwing exponentially absurd, gross-out scares in his path until the entire house is crawling with spooks & ghouls who’ve joined her cause.  The movie itself never feels like a mess, though, despite its potential to devolve into the found-footage equivalent of Spookies.  It’s very careful to explain the camera angles, editing tech, and audience input that makes its live-feed broadcast plausible, down to Shawn visibly pressing play on his Walkman’s pre-loaded “Shawn Carpenter” soundtrack to build tension.  There’s an ambition in thoroughness & scale here that represents the very best of what the screenlife format can do for filmmakers with little funds but plenty imagination.  Deadstream is an excellent argument that the genre is still thriving even as it’s become more pedestrian.  More importantly, it’s a very funny, effectively scary horror comedy where the worst things happen to the worst kind of person.

-Brandon Ledet