[Editor’s Note: Garrett’s PUFF Day 4 and Best of the Fest posts (today and tomorrow) are also running as part of out 31 Days of Halloween, because there is sufficient Halloweenyness in PUFF to genuinely make it appropriate. Thanks to the folks from PUFF for letting us participate in said Halloweenyness for a second straight year… you guys are wonderful!]
When the credit for HARDCORE ELECTRONIC MUSIC BY came up in the opening credits, I knew this was going to be amazing.
Day 4 of Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival has come and gone, and it did not disappoint. We were treated to three more features and got to meet a ton of local filmmakers at the Local Shorts block, which I have to say were a huge improvement over last year and really got me excited about what’s happening in the Philly film community right now.
The day started with an Icelandic feature called Rift, directed by Erlingur Óttar Thoroddsen, which is a chilly, contemplative thriller about a gay couple trying to reconnect and hash out their relationship gone awry in a remote cabin. They are pursued by an unknown presence that forces them to retrace their footsteps through their individual and shared pasts which leads to sometimes moving, sometimes joyous, and sometimes heartbreaking moments of discovery for both men. This cinematography is absolutely stunning, thanks in no small part to the gorgeous scenery that Iceland provides. But there’s a measured pace to this and the way shots are constructed that really works here and drew me into the drama that was unfolding. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really make heads or tails of what the plot was in any literal sense, and if there’s a metaphor to be drawn from this, it certainly went over my head on first viewing. It’s certainly an affecting movie, but I’m not sure if it’s an effective one, at least for me. There’s a great sense of setting and character here, but without a further viewing it’s hard for me to crack this one open and thus be effusive about it.
The following screening began with the local short You’re It, directed by Brandon Tanczak, about a man that brings home one of those wind-up-cymbal-monkey toys only to discover it’s haunted by the ghost of the child that once owned it. It’s a very minimal short, but it makes pretty good use of an unbroken take for much of its runtime, and I just love getting to see the local stuff that Philly produces so it was a fun one for me. After the short we to see the world premiere of 100 Acres of Hell, directed by Jay Lee and starring former WWE star Gene Snitsky, as well as Kevin Smith alum Ernest O’Donnell, and The Exorcist’s Eileen Dietz (also featured in Assholes). Snitsky was on hand with most of the cast and crew to premiere the movie, which he dedicated to his late brother in an emotional speech that ended with him punting a baby made of balloons, per his famous WWE incident. It was a heartfelt yet raucous beginning to a rock n’ roll screening of his movie (which he spent 7 years making and is clearly inspired by the loss of his brother) which he and his cohorts cheered throughout. It was a really fun screening to be a part of, even if the movie loses itself in the second half. I was really into this 80s throwback to backwoods serial killer movies for the initial forty minutes or so. The leads are all pretty great in this and have real chemistry that pops off the screen. Once the shit starts to hit the fan though, the edit gets pretty confusing, with shots so dimly lit it’s difficult to make sense of what you’re watching, and some scenes that nonsensically seem to take place both during the day and the dead of night. I think the cut we saw was still a work in progress, and there’s a lot of promise here for a very cool movie, especially once it gets to the finale and Gene throws down with the big bad. He choreographed a pretty wild fight scene to end the movie with, and I think with some editing they could get this up on its feet and turn it into something awesome.
Next up was the Local Shorts block which kicked off with director Matt Spade‘s The Basement, a creepy film about a creepy filmmaker that is casting young women for what they think is a horror film but is really just an elaborate ruse to feed a monster in his studio’s basement. I wasn’t crazy about this one but it features a couple good performances that I appreciated, especially from the lead women. Following that was Sketched, directed by Aiden Carter Guynez, about a man who is literally torn between his artistic endeavors and the more practical side of getting by in life. I really liked this short, both for its style and its central performance. After that was Beta Persei, directed by Katherine Clark, which was an absolutely stunning short that made great use of a really interesting and unique setting. It’s about a troubled young man that hires a prostitute to spend time with him in the planetarium his mother used to own. If you feel like you know where that premise is going, you do. But I promise you won’t be disappointed because this is gorgeous and has a really exceptional lead performance. This was one of the day’s highlights for me. Next we had another Brandon Tanczak film, Good Night, which was another minimal horror concept about a girl that has trouble sleeping due to nightmarish visions of creepy clowns and their creepy balloons. This one was a bit more effective than You’re It, if for no other reason than some cool make-up effects.
The block really started to pick up at this point, with Put a Pin in It, a really funny comedy short about girls that use too many bobby pins and how that effects their boyfriends, but all framed as a nature documentary. Directed by Jes Vasquez, this really worked with the audience and ended up winning best short for the local block. Up next was Not Yet, directed by Chad Hamilton, which is a really beautiful drama about a young man trying to cheer up his dying wife in a park. The film is somewhat experimental in its lack of dialogue, using clever camera tricks and over-the-top sound effects to tell its story. I thought this was really well made and very effective, I was really moved by it by the end. This was followed by the longest short in the block, director Frank Juchniewicz‘s An Ambitious Man which has a pretty wild story and truly excellent make-up work throughout. To describe this one would be to spoil a series of twists and turns, so I’ll just say I thought this was pretty impressive and ends with a truly awesome make-up effect that’s worth seeing. But for my money, the short of the day was the final short in the block, Derek Frey‘s Kill the Engine, which basically asks the question “What if the Three Stooges tried to kill themselves via exhaust inhalation?” This was absolutely hilarious, featured a great cast, and in just 10 minutes developed some really great characters. I had a ball with this one, and want to point out that this is from the same filmmaker as God Came ‘Round, which I distinctly did not like, and just goes to show that you should never write an artist off, even if you don’t connect with all their work. Man was this movie funny, I absolutely loved it. All in all, the Local Shorts were of much higher quality than last year, both in technique and storytelling, and it really made me appreciate the local film community. This is easily one of my favorite aspects of PUFF – that amongst all the bigger films, they want to make sure their festival still caters to local filmmakers and gives them an audience for their work.
And now we arrive at the final films of the night, and I promise you really, really are going to want to see the feature I’m about to talk about. But first, the final short of the fest, Voices, directed by Tony Robinson, about a woman who seems to have telepathy of some kind and attempts to use it to save the life of someone in the motel complex she’s staying in. But of course, telepathy leads to her discovering a deeper, darker conspiracy that may get her into more trouble than she can handle. I like the premise of this one quite a bit, even if it didn’t quite stick the landing for me. Shoutout to the sound design in this one for making the premise clear without having to explicate it in any way. But now we come to the film you should really be here to read about, director Greg Travis‘s lost film, Night Creep. This is a shot on video movie that was completed 15 years ago but was never screened for an audience, not even for its cast and crew, until this screening at PUFF. I am now among a small group of people that has ever seen this film, and I am hoping writing about it will change that. This movie is absolutely bonkers. It’s about a stripper that, after taking a new psychotropic drug, starts having bizarre nightmares about her landlord assaulting her in her sleep. As her sense of reality unravels, she becomes convinced that these nightmares are real, rather than a manifestation of the drug she’s taken, and we the audience are left to put the pieces together and decide for ourselves what is really transpiring. If you can imagine such a thing, this feels a bit like Tommy Wiseau tried to make a David Lynch movie. Or perhaps, David Lynch tried to make a Tommy Wiseau movie? I say it that way because there is real technique on display here. Despite being shot on video, this is really well made and put together, lending an artistry to a rather crass, reductive story about the fragility of the female psyche. But if you’ll indulge me, here’s how I’d like to sell this movie to you – the opening credits are in the same font as the credits from Blair Witch 2 and feature the previously referenced “Hardcore Electronic Music By” credit, which is the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever seen in any credits sequence. And if I haven’t given a clear indication of the tone of this movie, let me spoil one scene for you. After we are witness to an abortion that, while not the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen, is certainly more graphic than you’d like it to be, the film immediately smash cuts to a private detective gunning down a man armed with an uzi in a public park, a scene that feels like it’s from a Point Break knock-off. This movie is INSANE and an absolute joy to watch in a theater packed with weirdos that have an appreciation for this sort of trash cinema. I highly recommend seeking this out and giving it a watch with some friends.
With that, we put another PUFF in the books and spend the next 12 months tweeting at each other about how excited we are for PUFF 3! I can’t thank the people at PUFF enough for having me and for putting on such a spectacular festival this year. It was bigger, it was better, but it was still charmingly DIY, just like the movies they tend to feature. They’re doing an awesome thing by providing a platform for these filmmakers, local and otherwise, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year. I’ll still have a Best of the Fest article coming out in the coming days if you’d like to read more about some of these films.
Until next year – stay weird, motherfuckers!