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

Good Madam (2022)

Waiting in the lobby for a sparsely attended but vocally appreciative screening of Good Madam at this year’s Overlook Film Fest, I was confronted with a phenomenon that consistently baffles me at festivals: Why do huge crowds always line up for local premieres of big-budget movies that will play in multiplexes nation-wide in a week or two when there’s so much smaller, weirder stuff with no distribution playing on other nearby screens?  The crowds swarming to get a slightly early look at the Scott Derrickson chiller The Black Phone was absurdly disproportionate to my Good Madam crowd, despite the likelihood of the latter film screening at even indie venues like Zeitgeist or The Broad in the next few months being relatively thin.  Is it really all that important to see a new, robustly budgeted movie “first”, before it leaks out to the unwashed masses?

By the end of Good Madam, my bafflement at that impulse did soften a bit.  I can at least relate to the urge to see a new movie with fresh eyes, unclouded by the oncoming storm clouds of Opinions on the Internet.  Specifically, I wish I could have seen Good Madam when it first premiered at TIFF in 2021.  The film is just as emotionally potent & politically relevant nine months later, but since that premiere it’s been met with a spiritual competitor in the 2022 Sundance selection (and Grand Jury Prize winner) Nanny.  Both Good Madam & Nanny happen to revisit Ousmane Sembène’s arthouse classic Black Girl through a supernatural horror lens, so it’s now impossible to consider Good Madam in isolation while that unexpected sister film breathes down its neck.  I’m curious to compare Good Madam to Nanny once they both make their way into the general public, but I also would have loved to experience Good Madam undistracted from the comparison. I would have loved to catch it early at TIFF.

Considered on its own, Good Madam is perfectly chilling & sharply political, pushing past an easy metaphor about a South African home being haunted by apartheid to dig into some surprisingly complex, heartbreaking familial drama.  Our heroine in distress is a single mother mourning the recent loss of the grandmother who raised her and the subsequent loss of her grandmother’s home.  Desperate, she moves in with her birth mother, a lifelong domestic worker who occupies small, undecorated rooms in an extravagant, empty house owned by her white employer.  The creeping dread that torments them in that home is expressed in both physical & metaphorical terms: ghosts of workers & pets who died on-site decades ago; the visual absence of the white, bedridden employer; ominous shots of the woods behind the home; etc.  It all swirls into one heartbreaking tale of how lifelong domestic service work can steal Black laborers away from their real families, a curse that’s often passed down from generation to generation with little hope to break the cycle.

Of course, even as a pair of recent parallel thinkers, Good Madam & Nanny do not exist in a vacuum.  There are plenty recent, vibrant supernatural horror films that take satirical aim at the lingering curse of colonialism & the African diaspora.  Good Madam recalls titles like His House, I Am Not a Witch, and Zombi Child just as much as it resembles Black Girl.  It even has aesthetic ties to the modern American classic Get Out, especially in the way the white employer’s clanging service bell recalls the chilling teacup scrapes of Catherine Keener’s hypnotism technique. The existence of Nanny does not detract from Good Madam’s eerie dark magic in any way. Part of the fun & tradition of genre films is seeing how different titles communicate with & mutate off each other.  I just wish I could have seen the former film without knowing the latter exists, which I suppose isn’t all that different from Ethan Hawke superfans wanting to see The Black Phone before it sparks a proper Discourse.

-Brandon Ledet