The Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) is a behemoth, and one of the oldest film festivals in the United States, currently celebrating its 57th year. This 2021 festival, which runs from October 13th-24th, features screenings in theaters, at a drive-in, as well as streams virtually online, showcasing over 80 films and more than 60 shorts films from around the world. While the New York Film Festival (NYFF) is two years its senior, CIFF is North America’s oldest “competitive” film festival, as NYFF posits itself as non-competitive festival dedicated to cinephiles.
But most don’t know that CIFF has a robust genre offering embedded in their programming called AFTER DARK that has been expanding steadily over the years. This year that section is about to get a major push into our consciousness, and nightmares, thanks in large measure to the series’ new programmer, to Raúl Benitez , who is proactively pushing for more visibility and who has hustled to attract more high-caliber mainstream productions and unique eerie indie gems. Look for our interview with Raúl coming later this week as LATIN HORROR kicks off a new segment called ‘MEET THE PROGRAMMER,’ that will showcase the unsung ghouls and ghouleh (or is it ghoulex these days?) who bring the frights at genre-centered film festivals.
Director: Scott Cooper
Country: United States / Run Time: 90 Mins
From the visionary world of acclaimed director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Hostiles) and horror maestro Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) comes Antlers. In an isolated, economically depressed Oregon town, a middle-school teacher (Keri Russell) and her sheriff brother (Jesse Plemons) become embroiled with her enigmatic student (Jeremy T. Thomas) whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with a legendary ancestral creature who came before them. Based on the short story The Quiet Boy by Nick Antosca, Antlers draws from the Wendigo myths found in Native American folklore.
As If I Never Existed (Evde Yok) [short film]
Director: Murat Emir Eren
Country: Turkey / Run Time: 14 Minutes
A woman tries to flee from a sentient home that isn’t keen to let her get away.
Genre: Horror / Language: Turkish with subtitles subtitled / Trailer NA
The Beta Test
Director: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
Country: United States / Run Time: 91 Minutes
When hot-shot Hollywood talent agent Jordan Hines receives a mysterious purple envelope containing an invitation for an anonymous sexual encounter, the offer proves too tempting to resist. But the liaison has surprising ramifications. Jordan becomes ensnared in a web of conspiracy, paranoia, and guilt that threatens to upend both his career and his personal life. Writer-director Cummings (Thunder Road, The Wolf of Snow Hollow) delivers a hilariously manic performance as Jordan who embarks on a mission to determine the origins of the envelope. The Beta Test is a wickedly funny, blood-stained satire of the blind arrogance and toxic masculinity that runs rampant in the movie business.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion
Director: Jacob Gentry
Country: United States / Run Time: 104 Minutes
On November 22, 1987, a masked figure interrupted broadcasts on two Chicago TV stations in a mysterious hack that was never solved. In 1999, while archiving videotapes in the basement of one of the stations, AV tech whiz James (Crazy Rich Asians’s Harry Shum Jr.) stumbles across grainy footage of a cryptic figure in the middle of an old news program. The discovery sends James on a search for answers, and he soon uncovers unexpected connections to the inexplicable disappearance of his wife years earlier. Channeling Antonioni’s classic Blow-Up and ’70s paranoid cinema, this throwback thriller cleverly taps into the uncanny allure of analog technology as it charts the perils of personal obsession.
Genre: Horror Mystery Thriller / Language: English / Trailer NA
Director: David Gordon Green
Country: United States / Run Time: 105 Minutes
The Strode women join a group of other survivors of Michael’s first rampage who decide to take matters into their own hands, forming a vigilante mob that sets out to hunt Michael down, once and for all.
Minutes after Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) left masked monster Michael Myers caged and burning in Laurie’s basement, Laurie is rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, believing she finally killed her lifelong tormentor.
But when Michael manages to free himself from Laurie’s trap, his ritual bloodbath resumes. As Laurie fights her pain and prepares to defend herself against him, she inspires all of Haddonfield to rise up against their unstoppable monster. Evil dies tonight.
Hellbender [drive in screening]
Director: Toby Poser, Zelda Adams, and John Adams
Country: United States / Run Time: 82 Minutes
A spooky forest, a monstrous witch going up in flames, a mother-and-teen music duo cranking out a ferocious rock song—that’s just the beginning of this freaky coming-of-age occult horror film. Conceived, directed, and acted by the Adams family (The Deeper You Dig), Hellbender follows lonely adolescent Izzy who lives with her loving, if overbearing, mom in a secluded woodland home. Although the two share a largely harmonious bond, tensions begin to rise after Izzy encounters some kids her age in a nearby house, setting in motion a series of revelations about her personal health and her ancient mystical ancestry. With echoes of The Wicker Man, Raw, and Midsommar, Hellbender is a wholly unique, deeply unsettling watch that explores the frightening complexities of mother-daughter relationships.
Genre: Horror Language: English / Trailer NA
The House of Snails (La Casa de Caracol)
Director: Macarena Astorga
Country: Spain, Peru, Mexico / Run Time: 104 Minutes
In this wholly original take on the werewolf tale, novelist Antonio Prieto (Javier Rey) arrives at a remote mountain town in Southern Spain hoping to find peace and quiet to work on his next novel. Once there, he meets and falls for the alluring Berta (Paz Vega) and encounters an array of other eccentric citizens who find their way into his manuscript. But local color soon turns menacing when Antonio realizes the town is harboring a dark and terrifying secret, forcing him to question where reality ends and fiction begins.
Inheritance [short film]
Director: Annalise Lockhart
Country: United States / Run Time: 14 Minutes
A Black family whose land is overwhelmed with ghosts from the past must confront the apparitions.
Genre: Horror Language: English / Trailer NA
The Last Marriage [short film]
Director: Annalise Lockhart
Country: Sweden / Run Time: 16 Minutes
A couple must navigate serious relationship issues as a zombie apocalypse rages outside.
The Last Supper [short film]
Director: Mitzi Sair Martinex
Country: Mexico / Run Time: 12 Minutes
A supernatural entity shadows a thief named Manuel in Mexico City.
Genre: Horror Language: Spanish with subtitles / Trailer NA
Director: Phil Tippett
Country: United States / Run Time: 84 Minutes
Set in a hallucinogenic hellscape populated by mad scientists, defecating monsters, crushed humanoids, and voracious pig-beasts, this wildly imaginative stop-motion animated adventure follows a lone intrepid soldier on a mission through the nightmarish morass. From the warped mind of master creature-maker and special effects guru Phil Tippett, famous for everything from The Empire Strikes Back’s AT-AT walkers to Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs, Mad God is a visually inventive, hand-crafted cinematic creation—decades in the making—like Dante’s Inferno by way of Hieronymus Bosch and Clash of the Titans on acid, and yet a strikingly original dark fantasy all its own.
Marked [short film]
Director: Matthew Avery Berg
Country: United States / Run Time: 12 Minutes
A tattoo artist is confronted by a client who knows the meaning of his body art.
The Sadness (2018) 哭悲
Director: Rob Jabbaz
Country: Taiwan / Run Time: 90 Minutes
After a mysterious virus begins to spread throughout Taipei, violent packs of infected citizens— driven to kill, rape, torture, and mutilate—begin to hunt unsuspecting citizens. Before long, destruction consumes the city, leaving young couple Kat (Regina) and Jim (Berant Zhu) to brave unimaginable chaos as they journey through the carnage in an attempt to reunite with one another and escape the deadly hordes. Both a delightfully cringe-inducing gorefest and timely social critique, The Sadness conjures unforgettable visions of a catastrophic pandemic as it careens toward a very, very bloody conclusion.
Thumb [short film]
Director: Alexandra Pechman
Country: United States / Run Time: 10 Minutes
A woman sorting out her artist mother’s estate encounters an unexpected visitor who has shown up to claim an especially notorious piece.