PUFF 2018: The Third Day is the Charm

As is always the case with the Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival, Day 3 proved to be even better than the first two. Not only did I walk away with two new tank tops, including one for The Meg that says “Beach Please”, but I saw 4 features and 11 short films that I can’t wait to talk about here.

The day began with a screening of The God Inside My Ear, written and directed by Joe Badon and starring Linnea Gregg in a fantastic tour de force performance. Gregg was in attendance and provided some surprising details about the making of the film, such as it’s $8,000 budget and short shooting schedule (something like two weeks spread over a month). You will never believe that to be the case after seeing the film. It’s a dense movie with a lush palette and more on its mind than most features you’ll see in theaters this year, and yet it’s completely accessible and a blast to watch. In all ways, it completely outdoes its budgetary and time constraints, delivering a bizarre head trip of a movie that will make you laugh while scratching your head. What starts as a movie about the fallout of a breakup becomes an existential journey into one woman’s past traumas and how they influence her identity. Most impressive is the movie’s balance of tone, never treating the protagonist’s journey as anything to be looked down upon and yet finding the humor in every minute of it. This is in large part thanks to Gregg’s brave performance as Elizia, requiring her to “go big” in a variety of ways that would be ostentatious in any other film, but absolutely dazzle here as she commits fully to each and every aspect of Elizia’s strange struggle with self. I really can’t recommend this movie enough.

TGIME was paired with Jennifer Levonian’s short animated film Little Skeleton which I absolutely adored. It’s the true story of what happens when a family receives a Day Of The Dead figure in the mail, delivered in a miniature coffin, and the mouse that finds its way inside. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover if you can get your hands on this film, and I absolutely recommend you do. The animation alone is worth it, but the story is very charming and about the kind of coincidence that makes you believe there is some greater architecture to our lives.

The second feature of the day was Rock Steady Row, directed by Trevor Stevens, who I hope will get to make more features because I desperately want to see more movies like this. RSR is a highly stylized, high-concept, Man With No Name riff about a freshman at an apocalyptic university who gets his bike stolen as soon as he arrives and has to spend the rest of the movie going to war with the Fraternities that run a black market for bicycles on campus in order to get his back. What the movie lacks in structure (it seems like a movie that was mildly saved by its edit, but I don’t want to discredit it too much, as I still had a blast with it) it more than makes up for in style and excellent character work from a strong cast. What really sold me on this was that it reminded me of Battle Royale – not in form or story necessarily, but it takes a similar approach to its social commentary, which it isn’t heavy on but is certainly there and all the better for it. It’s a movie about the institutions that are failing young people, and turning a blind eye to both their immediate issues, like assault on campus, and their more abstract ones, like what the hell a degree will even do for them when buried under a mountain of debt. It depicts the college campus as an apocalyptic wasteland where students have to fend for themselves, and the only way to get ahead is to grease the wheels of the administration. I really enjoyed this movie and think fans of recent genre stuff like Turbo Kid should seek it out.

RSR paired very nicely with Dave Borges’s short film Frankenstein: Savior of the Zombie Apocalypse, which festival organizer Madeleine Koestner rightly described as a potential proof of concept for a feature. I’m not sure that’s what it’s intended to be, but I could easily see this working as a feature. It’s exactly what you think it is based on the title – during a zombie apocalypse, in which the dead are rising from the grave, a monster that has already risen from the grave and been given the gift of intelligence attempts to help other victims. It was a little unclear to me if the monster in this case was both Dr. Frankenstein and his monster mixed into one character, but either way it’s an interesting concept that could make for a bit of b-movie fun. The short itself is a perfect little package that has some great, memorable shots and certainly makes you want to see more.

The International Oddities Block of short films was next, and I’d like to touch on them each briefly, as these filmmakers deserve some ink here. Whimsy & Hester was one of the best shorts at the festival, directed by Jeffrey Garcia who, based on this short alone, I might describe as Wes Anderson on too much acid (and I imagine might be insulted by this comparison). It’s about conjoined twins that want to lose their virginity before prom night, and it’s both tasteless and totally endearing in ways I couldn’t imagine a movie really being. It’s very funny, very strange, and made me want to see everything this guy has ever made. Simple Simon, directed by Maninder Chana, was about a girl who starts bullying her imaginary friend to her parents great concern. It’s got a really effective balance of tone, and one shot in particular that was very impressive for such a simple short. Definitely Soy, directed by Ruben Zaccoroni, was certainly one of the stranger films of this block. It looked to be shot on film to me, but I’m not sure about that. It takes place in a Johnny Rockets diner and is about… an employee attempting to kill a strange man that’s lactose intolerant? This one didn’t work for me story wise, but I loved the look of it and would watch more from this director. Wild Bred, directed by Luis Bolland, is exactly my kind of strange – about a man who runs away from his domestic life and is taken in by a family that lives as the animals do. It’s very funny in it’s own, very specific way, is lead by outstanding performances, and has such a great punchline at the end. Those Who Can Die, directed by Charlotte Cayeux, is one of those movies that really leaves an impression even if I couldn’t exactly make heads or tails of the story. It’s told in vague strokes, and that works well enough given the visuals and setting. It’s much more a performance piece that is about reading the feelings on character’s faces than anything else. Egret & Joliah was directed by returning filmmaker Aaron Levine, whose short Beauty Aisle was one of my favorite movies at last year’s PUFF. This felt like a stage play turned film in the best way – it makes such great use of the medium for something that could just as easily work as a black box one-act, proving its worth as a movie. I continue to be really impressed by this director and hope he one day gets to make a feature. And to round out the block PUFF once again invited self-proclaimed trash filmmaker Logan Fry to the festival with his latest cinematic oddity, RO-BOOB: The Farting Robot Monster. At this year’s fest, Logan said he’s an aficionado of the “triple-B movie” – if I remember correctly he defined this as blood, boobs, and beasts. And that’s exactly what RO-BOOB is about. A robot-monster roaming the country side looking for the big breasted love of his life, and farting on all those that get in his way. It’s charming and strange in the ways only a Logan Fry movie could be.

The next feature was what will surely be my best of the fest, barring any surprises, Andy Mitton’s solo directorial debut, The Witch in the Window. I had very high expectations for this movie (which one should never have as it’s unfair to any movie) and this exceeded every single one of them. Mitton was co-director on a film at the first PUFF called We Go On which I was a huge fan of, and I’ve been dying to see more from that team ever since. When I saw he was releasing his own movie this year, I literally started begging Madeleine to try and book it for the festival. Not only did it not disappoint and deliver on all of the marks of quality that We Go On had me hoping it would, it was easily one of the best theatrical experiences I’ve had with a movie this year. The audience was buzzing from start to finish – laughing at every joke, gasping at every moment of tension, and quite literally jumping out of their seats in unison at one of the most effective scares I’ve seen in a movie since The Descent. This movie brings the goods. It’s gorgeously shot, features excellent lead performances that invest you in the movie from the moment it starts, and genuinely crawls under your skin as it expertly builds a sense of dread over its runtime. Mitton’s movies work because the character drama and the horror are integral to each other. They’re interwoven in such a way that by the end you feel like you could’ve just watched a drama about a father and son rehabbing an old house as they rehab their relationship, or that you could’ve just watched a haunted house movie about a local legend that lures people into her web, but you’d be mistaken either way. Neither would be as complete, as fully effective, without the other. That’s a remarkable achievement, and one that you can enjoy as well as this is coming to Shudder shortly. Though, if at all possible, I recommend you find a screening somewhere, because seeing this with an audience was truly something special.

TWITW was excellently paired with Save, a short film directed by Iván Sáinz-Pardo about a man who is too busy to care for his crying baby, which upsets his wife and leads to dire consequences. This is gonna sound like a cop-out, but I think I would write a dissertation on this movie so I’ll instead keep this short and simple. There’s 100 ways you could interpret the events, and they all are worth unpacking. To me, it resonated as a movie about how men perceive their partners when their partners are upset with them, and the grave mistakes they make in doing so. It’s a surprising, and very effective movie that is absolutely chilling, I really loved it.

The final movie of the day was the Filipino actioner BuyBust, directed by Erik Matti. It’s about a drug bust in a Manila slum gone wrong that leads to two straight hours of non-stop violence between anti-narcotics officers and a drug cartel. It certainly calls to mind The Raid, though with its own neon flavor and attention to politics. The first hour was a little shaky for me, literally, as the action was all depicted in the modern, frenetic style that I’m not really a fan of. It was very hard to follow the action for a large chunk of this movie. But once it gets into the back half, it starts to take its time a little more, eventually featuring a bravura single take that was really stunning on the big screen, and digs into the actual politics of what’s happening, specifically to the citizens of the slum in which the drug raid is taking place. Once the movie starts introducing the citizens that are caught in the crossfire of cops and drug dealers, and eventually makes a huge statement about both parties being bad for their well being, I was way more on board with this movie. It didn’t knock my socks off like I was hoping it might, but it certainly left an impression and was a great end to the best day of the fest so far.

BB was paired with Intermission, directed by Jerome Leclere, about a man who picks up a public phone that eventually leads him into some sort of otherworldly hell. It’s a pretty great premise in the age of smartphones, that our old technology could somehow be haunted or used in nefarious ways. I would expect to see more movies like this in the coming years, as we get fascinated with horror movies about our current technology, it’s only a matter of time before we see a deluge of them about haunted, old technology. It’s impressive in its own right that someone jumped on that idea before it hit the zeitgeist in a big way, though this movie didn’t quite capture me like it could have with that premise.

Day 3 at PUFF 3 was an utter joy – I got to know some of the filmmakers a little bit and made some new friends, finally met some writers I’ve known via twitter for a while, and just had a blast with a rock-a-block of weird movies that I only ever get to see this one weekend of the year. I love it so much, and I’m so sad it’s already about to come to an end tomorrow. But we’ll celebrate the fest a little more then!

Garrett Smith
Resident Funny Man / Film Geek
Garrett Smith is a Philadelphia based comedian and podcaster surviving on frozen pizza and macaroni and cheese. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd to see if he ever develops lactose intolerance, and check out his milky smooth voice on his podcast, I Like To Movie Movie.
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