These innovative and genre-bending horror films left the most lasting impression at this year’s SXSW Film Festival.
The Alchemist Cookbook
Directed by: Joel Potrykus
Written by: Joel Potrykus
While living in a secluded cabin in the woods, Sean (Ty Hickson) tries to use his knowledge of science and magic to make himself rich by mastering the titular art of alchemy. But messing with demonic forces, however lucrative the results might be, is never worth the risk. The Alchemist Cookbook is bound to be divisive, a credit to writer-director Joel Potrykus's insistence on a deliberately slow pace and his focus on the mundane aspects of Sean's life over the supernatural ones. At times, the film can feel like an endurance test — if you can't stand the sounds of chewing and swallowing, beware — but it's one that pays off with a darkly funny and deeply frightening final act. Hickson delivers a compelling and unsettling performance (matched by his cat sidekick Kaspar), which stands out as a strong antidote to the underrepresentation of complex characters of color in horror.
Distribution: The Alchemist Cookbook will be released by Oscilloscope Laboratories later this year.
Directed by: Mickey Keating
Written by: Mickey Keating
In 1978, bank robber Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hébert) takes Vivian (Ashley Bell) hostage, but that's just the start of her ordeal. Soon, she finds herself at the mercy of the maniacal Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), and Carnage Park transitions from a modern Western to a brutal survivalist thriller. Not that it can't be both: As No Country for Old Men and, more recently, Bone Tomahawk have shown, the line between Western and horror is thinner than one might imagine. (Also at SXSW this year: Ti West's In a Valley of Violence, which straddles the same divide.) Carnage Park is the most evolved and stylish work yet from Mickey Keating, one of horror's most prolific young filmmakers. Bell, who dazzled horror audiences in The Last Exorcism, is an exceptional Final Girl, and Healy once again proves, as he did in Cheap Thrills, that he's adept at finding the balance between deranged and hilarious.
Distribution: IFC Midnight picked up Carnage Park at SXSW and will release the film later this year.
Directed by: Carson D. Mell
Written by: Carson D. Mell
Dan (Steve Zissis) is desperate to rid his vacation home of ghosts, so he reaches out to eccentric exorcist Os (Mark Proksch), only to discover that the cure is worse than the disease. Another Evil is a horror comedy that sometimes feels like neither. Its plot twists and tonal shifts make it seem like three distinctive movies, some more successful than others. And while it's far from an unmitigated success, Another Evil is undoubtably ambitious. The turn it takes toward the end — without giving too much away because this is a film that largely hinges on pulling the rug out from under its audience — is a genuinely daring storytelling choice that, at the very least, underlines writer-director Carson D. Mell's impressive ingenuity and courage to take risks. Another Evil may not be the best reflection of his talents, but it bodes well for whatever he does next.
Distribution: Another Evil is seeking distribution.
Directed by: Carles Torrens
Written by: Jeremy Slater
Like Another Evil, Pet's twist dramatically changes its effect. That's why the less said about the plot the better. Troubled loner Seth (Dominic Monaghan) becomes fixated on the beautiful Holly (Ksenia Solo), and though seemingly harmless at first, his obsession with Holly grows stronger until he's keeping her captive in a cage at the animal shelter where he works. If this sounds like a psychological thriller you've seen before, try to keep an open mind, because as Pet goes on, it subverts its familiar tropes. The ever-shifting power dynamic between Seth and Holly, strikingly embodied by Monaghan and Solo, is itself worth the price of admission. But Pet is most successful for the genuine surprises in Jeremy Slater's clever script, which upends expectations from beginning to end.
Distribution: Pet is seeking distribution.
Revolver Picture Company