NBFF's Horror 2015 Showcase Gives Love to Indie Films

It has been years since audiences have been given a horror movie that wasn't a carbon copy of another film—big-budget film producers aren't exactly flowing with ideas. Thankfully, the Horror Showcase at the Newport Beach Film Festival, running April 23-30, aims to counter that fatigue with a new crop of filmmakers outside of the Hollywood milieu, presenting seven short films and one feature film that not only break the mold of clichés, but also eat their brains . . . or something.

Because if there's one thing we can be mindful of, it's that some of the best, most memorable horror films of all time were indie films. George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Wes Craven's Last House On the Left, Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity—scant finances don't necessarily dictate a film's aesthetic success or influence. But the first Paranormal Activity was still pretty long ago, so where does horror go from there?

You can take a glimpse into the genre's future through the Horror Showcase series “A Nightmare On Short Street,” which includes the dark comedy Invaders. Financed partially through an Indiegogo campaign, the short features two hapless home intruders plotting their next big job, although they're stuck in the car in a hilarious back-and-forth, too wrapped up in deciding their character roles to commit their crime.

Sequence, which I also consider sci-fi, offers a Twilight Zone-esque tale about an ordinary guy who wakes up to find that everyone in the world has had a gruesome, diabolical dream about him the night before, and now he must fend off the subsequent hatred and violence against him.

The Bridge Partner is more psychological horror, a difficult feat to pull off in only 13 minutes. Character actress Beth Grant, whom you've probably seen in almost every prime-time television show or contemporary film, plays a meek woman disturbed by her new bridge partner (Sharon Lawrence), who seeks to bring her bodily harm after they lose. Some people just don't take defeat too kindly, eh?

By far, the standout of this series is the feature film Hangman, which is screened separately from the shorts. Directed by Adam Mason, the flick follows in the vein of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity in that it's told entirely via a character's handheld-video-camera footage. Without giving too much away, the movie follows an obsessive, unstable man who breaks into the home of a friendly, loving family on vacation to secretly install video cameras in every room to record their everyday lives. Little by little, he (and, by default, we) learns of each family member's innermost secrets and begins to pit family members against one another when he exposes them. And—oh, yeah—this madman, known here as the Hangman, is hiding in their attic, wearing a mask and black clothing at all times to hide any discernible features when he's in full view. That's already creepy.

While the thought of another horror film using the found-footage gimmick might have you reaching for a chainsaw, Hangman's mise en scène trumps any clichés. The camera angles mimic the point of view of security cameras, so all the character action seems natural, emanating anxiety in moments of quiet: the Hangman hiding behind a door or a jump cut to the Hangman standing above the daughter's bed, watching her while she sleeps. In an age in which the NSA is spying on our daily activities, this seems terrifying (and I haven't even explained how the film gets its title—no spoilers!).

Gems such as these don't come around often, and fans who crave quality horror should trek to this one-night event. Because there's still hope for this genre to invent, reinvent and subvert, and it's non-commercial horror films such as these that have kept the genre alive for decades. But beware—these films don't mess around, so when you're sitting in the theater, feeling your heart race, remind yourself of that age-old adage: “It's only a movie. . . . It's only a movie. . . .”

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