2015’s Stanley Film Fest closed its doors on Sunday after screening 27 features in total – 20 were new films, of which I’ve seen 15 – and while the last day only saw one premiere (the Vietnamese chiller Hollow, my review is below) there were plenty of things happening to send attendees out on a bloody high.
The day began with a horror-themed brunch featuring options named after genre classics – think Candyman Waffle and Children of the Corn Breakfast Burrito – and the presentations of the weekend’s awards. (The timing was unfortunate for Hollow, one of the fest’s better films, but what can you do.) Re-Animator and From Beyond director Stuart Gordon received the Master of Horror award, a big, beautiful axe, recognizing his genre contributions over the years. Tom Quinn, co-president of RADiUS, was given the Vision Award recognizing his forward-thinking work on acquisitions and roll-outs – most notably with the recent success of It Follows.
On the film front Ryan Spindell’s “The Babysitter Murders” picked up both the Audience and Jury Awards for Best Short Film, and the highly entertaining The Final Girls took home the Audience Award for Best Feature.
My own top five ranking (and reviews) of the Best of the Stanley Film Fest 2015 – with the caveat that I haven’t seen Goodnight Mommy, The Nightmare, Scherzo Diabolico, Stung and When Animals Dream – is as follows:
- The Invitation (my review)
- The Treatment (my review)
- We Are Still Here (my review)
- Body (my review)
- Hollow (my review below)
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Chi (Nguyen Hong An) is already struggling to get along with her mom (Nguyen Ng?c Hiep) and new step-dad (Tran Bao Son), but the discovery that she’s pregnant leaves her feeling even more alone. The presence of her younger sister Ai (Thanh My) is one of the few bright spots in her life, but tragedy strikes and Chi finds herself in a fight for far more than that very life. Ai disappears into a fast-moving river while under Chi’s supervision only to be found washed up on the shore a week later, but when Chi’s uncle (Jayvee Mai) arrives at the hospital for the body he’s shocked to find the little girl is actually alive.
He returns Ai to her understandably relieved family, but it soon becomes clear to Chi that all is not right with her little sister. She’s behaving oddly, a strange mark appears on her neck and a local shaman believes that the child has fallen under some manner of possession – not by a dead person or a demon, but by a living soul.
Hollow sets up its tale within a seemingly generic framework that can’t help but feel familiar to anyone who’s seen horror films – particularly Asian horror films. Possession and ghostly acts of revenge are staples of the genre, but writer/director Tran Ham is just setting the stage for a far more affecting and engaging story than we’re expecting. Chi sets out to discover the truth behind Ai’s return, and her investigation brings her into dark places where even the undead fear to tread.
Tran pairs his supernatural horrors with ones from the real world, and the result is a film with emotional weight and a strong focus on female characters. Chi’s journey sees her cross lines of class and morality to discover the earthbound terrors of the past that led to the otherworldly horror they’re facing now, and both sides of that coin work to create an unnerving and frightening atmosphere. There are a few jump scare moments, but most of the horror here is of the creeping dread variety.
There’s a risk in having two of your lead characters be a child and a teenage girl, but both young actresses deliver emotionally convincing performances. The rest of the cast is equally up to the task, but Nguyen Hong An and Thanh My carry much of the film’s heart.
The film is slick and attractively shot, but its biggest weakness is one particular CG effect that gets re-used more than a few times in the second half. Other effects work beautifully to create horrific, nightmarish imagery and events, but the troublesome bits – you’ll know them when you see them – stand out as weakly crafted and cartoon-like. It’s not nearly enough to sink the film or distract heavily, but it’s a clear departure from the quality on display elsewhere.
Hollow is an emotionally affecting and heartfelt horror film with strong performances and visuals, and while its story fits comfortably in the supernatural revenge genre its effect is far more surprising.
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The dates for 2016’s Stanley Film Fest haven’t been announced yet, but I can’t recommend it enough for fans of genre films. The film selections, as with all festivals, are something of a mixed bag, but the experience is unbeatable due to its extremely cool and unique locale. The Stanley Hotel is very much a part of the fest, a character in the weekend’s narrative, and horror lovers should make a point of checking it out before it grows too big. This year’s attendance shows that’s a real possibility, so start making plans for 2016 now!
Related Topics: Horror