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

Hypochondriac (2022)

Hypochondriac is a slow-building psychological horror in which a clay potter is haunted by the physical manifestation of his childhood trauma.  Whatever expectations you may have about its tone or intent based off that description and the nonstop flood of self-serious Trauma Horror that’s followed in the years since Hereditary is likely off-base.  To start, the metaphorical Trauma Monster is represented onscreen by a low-rent Halloween-costume wolf, falling somewhere halfway between the Donnie Darko bunny & The Babadook.  Furthermore, the monster wolfs ass.  Hypochondriac is an irreverent, queer, oddly erotic approach to mental breakdown psych-horror.  It never fully tips into horror comedy territory, but it constantly prods the audience to laugh for much-needed tension relief.  More atmospheric horror films about Trauma & Grief would do well learning from its levity.

We meet the adult version of our potter-in-crisis dancing to Jessie J while working a shift at the LA hipster pottery boutique that pays his bills.  He appears relatively happy & well-adjusted considering the violent childhood clashes with his schizophrenic mother that creep up in sporadic flashback.  He’s employed, romantically paired, stable.  That is, until a single phone call from his estranged mother’s cell sends him spiraling – losing his mind, the function of his hands, and every relationship he’s built as an independent adult in his freaked-out moments of dissociation.  The Donnie Darko-inspired Trauma Wolf who appears during these episodes doesn’t physically attack him, exactly, but it scares him enough that he hurts himself.  His unresolved, unsafe relationship with his mentally ill mother (and his own loosening grip on reality) is the real villain of the story, and the wolf mostly show up as its mascot.  When they touch, it’s more often to make out than it is to tear each other apart.

Hypochondriac is more charming than it is thrilling or scary, but it does have plenty of charm.  From its flashes of heartfelt romantic tenderness to its ZAZ-level parody of the pottery wheel scene from Ghost, the movie is a constant surprise in a way that few Trauma Metaphor horror films have been in recent years.  It has its own unique visual language in a way you wouldn’t expect from such a low-budget effort, framing most of its action through the fish-eye lenses and high-angle pans of security cameras but breaking off into kaleidoscopic mirrors in the most intense moments of dissociation.  Director Addison Heimann is brimming with D.I.Y. ambition here, and judging by the “Based on a real breakdown” title card that kicks this off, it’s all coming from such a personal place that it’s easy to root for him.  I can’t say his debut feature is a knockout, but he has my full heart and attention.

-Brandon Ledet