Screamfest, America’s largest and longest running horror film festival, runs from October 11-20 this year. Throughout the festival, Screamfest premieres and showcases new work from both American and international independent horror filmmakers. This year’s festival takes place at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
Check out our roundup and review of the films we saw during Screamfest below.
Synopsis: Afflicted with a mysterious disease after surviving an overdose, a woman returns to her childhood home to confront her personal demons but instead discovers a real one.
Cast & Crew: Writer/director Ben Steiner; stars Jemima Rooper, Kate Dickie, Sarah Paul
Review: Where do I begin? Matriarch begins incredibly strong and relatable – a woman trying to make her way in the world with serious mommy issues. However, the film never dives deep enough for me into the trauma between mother and daughter to make it believable. Then, it completely falls apart when trying to explain what’s going on in this weird fountain of youth town. 3/10
Where to watch: Matriarch begins streaming on Hulu on October 21.
The Loneliest Boy in the World
Synopsis: When the sheltered and unsocialized Oliver is tasked with making new friends after the sudden and devastating death of his mother, he decides that digging a few up (literally) might be his best bet.
Cast & Crew: Writer Piers Ashworth and director Martin Owen; stars Max Harwood, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Ashley Benson, Evan Ross
Review: The Loneliest Boy in the World has a fun visual style and charming leads in Harwood and Tiffin. But a mishmash of tones, the story’s lack of clarity, and the inscrutable motivations of the film’s “antagonists” keep this one from rising to its potential. 5/10 (Read our full review here.)
Where to watch: The Loneliest Boy in the World premieres in theaters October 14.
Synopsis: An aspiring actress responds to a mysterious classified ad and finds herself trapped in her new boss’s twisted revenge fantasy.
Cast & Crew: Writer Dani Barker and director Sylvia Caminer; stars Dani Barker, Luke Cook (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), Eliana Jones
Review: Follow Her is a fun, twisted, commentary horror film that follows old-school rules. I found the characters to be fun, the storyline to be interesting, and the twists and turns kept me on my toes. The film isn’t perfect and could use some help really nailing the ending, but overall it’s my 2nd favorite of the festival. 7/10
Where to watch: Currently making the Festival Circuit. Hopefully will be in theaters or VOD very soon.
Synopsis: Mattie and her friends go on a weekend trip to the woods to plan Mattie’s wedding, settled near the camp of Mr. Rogers, and with no phone signal, their trip starts to turn into a bad idea when they start dying and a secret is revealed
Cast & Crew: Writer Tom Kiesche and director Robyn August; stars M.C. Huff, Emily Hall, Jenna Z, Nicole Lovince, Tom Kiesche
Review: If you’re looking for a fun story, full of female friendship and tons of camp look no further than KillHer. While the story is predictable I didn’t find that to be a bad thing. I had a great time going along the journey and watching it play out. KillHer is pure fun. 7/10
Where to watch: Currently making the Festival Circuit. Hopefully will be in theaters or VOD very soon.
Synopsis: A group of superstar influencers is drawn to a reclusive billionaire’s mansion only to find themselves trapped in the lair of an evil vampire. The only way out is to be saved by a famous online gamer and an old-school vampire hunter.
Cast & Crew: Writer/director K. Asher Levin and co-writer Zack Imbrogno; stars Thomas Jane, Kara Hayward, Jack Donnelly, Abigail Breslin, Lydia Hearst, Malin Akerman
Review: Slayers wants to be Scott Pilgrim but vampires, with stylized, video game-type overlays. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. There are some fun action moments and a few laughs, but the overall story is overstuffed and the vampire lore is confusing. (I still don’t understand what was going on with the vaccine plot…) 6/10
Where to watch: Slayers premieres in theaters on October 21.
Synopsis: Set in a single location, an upper-class, married couple hire the daughter of their recently deceased housekeeper as their new helper, only for things to take a dark and macabre turn when she tries to destroy them from within.
Cast & Crew: Writer/director Brad Katzen; stars Thuli Thabethe, Tumisho Masha, Amanda Du-Pont
Review: The Domestic starts slow, but builds to an impressively creepy, ominous, and even twisty back half that easily grips the audience. It’s a film deeply dedicated to exploring its South African roots, but the characters’ struggles with class, identity, and spiritualism resonate universally. You’ll be on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next. 8.5/10
Where to watch: The Domestic will have a limited theatrical release on October 21.
Y Todos Arderán (Everyone Will Burn)
Synopsis: In a small village in Leon, Spain, María José (Macarena Gomez) prepares to end her life after failing to get over the suicide of her bullied son years before. Everything changes when she receives a visit from Lucía, a strange little girl who could be connected to a local legend about stopping an impending apocalypse. With the enigmatic girl by her side, María José faces the corrupt community, overloaded with sadistic secrets and immoral lies.
Cast & Crew: Writer/director David Hebrero and co-writer Javier Kiran; stars Macarena Gómez, Sofía García, Rodolfo Sancho, Saturnino García
Review: Unlike so many other horror movies about creepy kids, Y Todos Arderán does not make you wait for the big, dramatic scares. The film kicks off with a couple of brutal deaths and continues to sprinkle these throughout its runtime; though, at over 2 hours, the story could have been tighter. The interpersonal drama between the townsfolk comes across as a bit soap opera-y at times, but largely in a way that’s fun and compelling to watch, even if it doesn’t add to the horror aspect of the film. It’s also fun to see the “small-town hysteria” trope turned on its head (since the town really has correctly identified the people about to usher in the Apocalypse). 7.5/10
Synopsis: When a research scientist makes national news proving she can track people into the afterlife, Rose sees a way out and Teddy sees his chance to finally make it. These two strangers, both harboring dark secrets, race to join the doctor’s contentious study and leave this life behind. While Rose is haunted by a ghostly presence that she can’t outrun, Teddy is forced to confront his past. As these two misfits humorously quarrel their way across the country, they meet people along the way who force them to reckon with what is really driving them.
Cast & Crew: Writer/director Mali Elfman; stars Katie Parker, Rahul Kohli, Karen Gillan
Review: First things first: this isn’t a horror movie. It’s a drama with an underlying sci-fi/supernatural element. That said, it’s a pretty good one. Katie Parker and Rahul Kohli have great chemistry together and really know how to make you feel their every emotion. With such intense subject matter, the film ran the risk of becoming too melodramatic or saccharine, but Next Exit manages to toe the line well. And who doesn’t love a road trip story where people find themselves along the journey? 8/10
Where to watch: Next Exit releases in theaters and on demand on November 4.
Run Sweetheart Run
Synopsis: After what begins as dinner with a client, a single mom (Ella Balinska) finds herself hunted by a monstrous and seemingly unstoppable assailant (Pilou Asbæk) in this terrifying dark thriller.
Cast & Crew: Writers Keith Josef Adkins and Kellee Terrell and writer/director Shana Feste; stars Ella Balinska, Pilou Asbæk, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Clark Gregg
Review: An unflinching – and unfortunately relatable – look at the everyday horrors of existing as a woman. It’s an anxiety-inducing run with some surprising twists and turns and a truly evil villain at the center. However, the social commentary gets too heavy handed at times to be enjoyable. 7.5/10
Where to watch: Run Sweetheart Run premieres on Prime Video October 28.
In addition to feature premieres, Screamfest also debuts a ton of horror shorts throughout the festival. Some were paired with features, while others screened as part of dedicated shorts blocks. Here are some that we got to check out:
Code One Eighty Seven
Synopsis: Two detectives begin a routine investigation of what appears to be a homicide but there are no visible signs of death, the apartment is spotless, and there is a strange portrait of a little girl with bloody words written on it. It doesn’t take them long to realize that something else is at the crime scene, lurking in the shadows. Directed by Buz Wallick.
Review: A simple but effective one-room, one-shot story with a little humor, a little mystery, and plenty to creep you out. 8.5/10
Synopsis: Cold, alone and time is running out…A young woman wakes to find herself waist deep in ice and cuffed in place. She doesn’t know how she got there, but she knows she needs to get out. Fast. Struggling to break free, it becomes clear that the situation she’s in is more complicated than first appears, but escape might be just within reach… Directed by Stuart Edgeworth.
Review: A dark and gritty take on the organ-stealing urban legend with a shocking end. 6.5/10
Synopsis: Joy and Harry are trying to have a baby. One night, Joy swallows a spider in her sleep. When Joy subsequently develops an insatiable appetite for flies, it dawns on her that there may be more than one way of becoming a mother. Directed by Celine Cotran.
Review: Deeply weird but undeniably compelling. You’ll never think about accidentally swallowing a spider the same way again. 7/10
Synopsis: A weary mother-to-be attends an all-inclusive glamping retreat in the mountains, only to have her greatest fears about motherhood realized. Directed by Eileen Álvarez.
Review: White women running wellness cults really are evil. 7/10
Naked Zombie Girl Is Back
Synopsis: Barbara is naked. Armed with only a chainsaw, she must survive the zombie apocalypse. Directed by Rickey Bird.
Review: Very ’70s/’80s horror vibes. What can I say? It’s exactly as advertised, and frankly, I’m just not the audience for this one. 5/10
Old Time Radio
Synopsis: Intended as the introduction to a horror anthology. Riktus Grim, decaying away in a wretched squalor, awaits his only solace: a new tale from his Old Time Radio (voiced by Paul Giamatti). What wretchedly delightful tale will his host present to him this evening? As Riktus’s lobotomized servant, Vincent, bumbles in… the Host speaks! It’s time to prepare for a new terror! Directed by Joel Harlow.
Review: Not much story (it does make the most sense as an introduction to something else), but a really impressive showcase for makeup and set design. 7.5/10
Song For the Pale
Synopsis: Hannah runs a popular podcast titled “Attached”. She collects haunted items from her listeners to then do extensive research and create episodes explaining its origins and backstory. Until one day, Hannah receives an unmarked item from a listener, that ends up leaving her speechless. Directed by Ryan Valdez.
Review: One of the simplest but most effective shorts (the speed at which my laugh turned into a gasp!). 8/10
Synopsis: Two years after a woman experiences sudden hearing loss, strange things begin to happen. Directed by Jason-Christopher Mayer.
Review: Big X-Files vibes. Strong use of soundscaping to build tension and create an ominous atmosphere, with a memorable ending. 8/10
Synopsis: In the frozen expanse of the South, a weary scavenger discovers someone in need of aid. Directed by Carl Shanahan.
Review: Is the twist what you expect? Yes. But it’s still fun to watch it play out. 7/10
Under The Ice
Synopsis: After losing his father in an accident, Edur wakes up in the middle of a nightmare. A presence will haunt him with his worst memories. Directed by Alvaro Rodriguez Areny.
Review: Very atmospheric – visually, this already looks like a feature film. The water imagery ties everything together and adds to the scare factor. 7.5/10
Synopsis: During a rainy night, a girl wakes up after a nightmare. She will discover that things are not as normal as the house has become a surreal maze, with a sinister creature waiting in the shadows. Directed by Fabio Colonna.
Review: Dreamlike and compelling, a cross between old-school black-and-white monster flicks and Guillermo del Toro’s best work. 10/10
Synopsis: A broken-hearted teenager learns an important lesson about fidelity and family from an immersive Halloween experience that may or may not be organized by an actual witch. Directed by Liz Manashil.
Review: Straddles an odd line where the plot and execution has all the hallmarks of a fun tween Halloween story, but there’s a few more mature elements throwing things off. 6/10