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

Swallowed (2022)

One of my all-time favorite festival experiences was watching the body-horror romance Are We Not Cats? on the Audubon Aquarium IMAX screen during the 2016 NOFF.  Generally, Overlook Film Fest offers way more gruesome, upsetting gore imagery to New Orleans audiences than NOFF does, but there was something about seeing that particular film’s D.I.Y. surgery gore on a 50-foot screen that really made me squirm.  I was thinking a lot about that absurdly ginormous, hideous spectacle while watching the queer body horror Swallowed at this year’s Overlook.  Swallowed‘s tender, grotesque gore may have been scaled down to the more reasonably sized screens of Pyrtania at Canal Place, but its Cronenbergian discomforts recalled that exact Are We Not Cats? IMAX screening in a way that made me outright nostalgic.  It was especially nice to squirm in unison with a freaked-out, in-person crowd, which is exactly what Overlook offers New Orleans horror nerds every summer it returns here – even if they don’t have access to the pomp & scale of an IMAX venue.

Considering how few people showed up to that one-of-a-kind screening of Are We Not Cats?, Swallowed‘s appeal for most gore-hungry audiences is obviously going to have nothing to do with my niche film-fest nostalgia.  Instead, Swallowed stands out as a rare queer horror story that has doesn’t rely on coming-out anxiety or small-town gaybashing for its sources of terror.  It’s even rarer as a movie where fisting (almost) saves the day.  Swallowed is a small-scale story of a drug deal gone horrifically wrong.  Two friends looking for easy money (on the eve of one moving to L.A. to pursue a porn career) take an ill-advised job smuggling narcotics across the Canadian border for cruel, armed strangers.  As the title suggests, they’re forced to ingest the smuggled goods instead of hiding them in their truck, learning far too late that the package in question is no ordinary street drug.  By the time they they’re informed they’ve swallowed Cronenbergian drug-bugs on the verge of “hatching” inside their crisply-abbed gym bodies, the movie makes an abrupt stop.  The back half is less focused on thrilling plot twists than it is on prolonged surgical & scatological bug extraction.  There are some gnarly practical gore gags that keep the tension high throughout, and the always-welcome Jena Malone & Mark Patton put in sharp supporting performances as the no-nonsense dealers who desperately want their bugs back.  It’s all super fucked up & super gay, which is always a winning combo.

Have enough people seen Are We Not Cats? to meaningfully recommend Swallowed as its queer sister film?  Unlikely.  It’s the connection that’s most meaningful to me, though, as this is the exact kind of niche, low-budget genre film I can only watch alone on streaming unless festivals like Overlook bring it to the city.  Its vision of authentic, lived-in gay culture is not exactly inviting to outsiders.  It’s speaking directly to that demographic, zeroing in on gay-specific fears of truck stop cruising gone haywire, overdosing on off-brand boner pills and, most horrific of all, communal tubs of Vaseline.  As grimy as that public-bathroom-hookup corner of gay culture can feel, there’s a real tenderness & camaraderie shared between its two central players (Cooper Koch as the soon-to-be porn star & Jose Colon as his life-long, lovelorn BFF).  The only reason it doesn’t fully tip into the body horror romance territory of Are We Not Cats? is that our heroes in distress are afraid of souring their friendship.  It would be outright sweet if it weren’t for all the psychedelic bug drugs eating them alive from the inside.  I’d recommend anyone whose ears perk up at the phrase “queer body horror” to check Swallowed out as soon as it’s accessible.  In the meantime, please pour one out for the city’s only legitimate IMAX theater, formerly located at the Aquarium.  It’s been decommissioned & dismantled, never to screen 50-foot gore gags again.

-Brandon Ledet