Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Preview: "Daggers: The Short Festival of Short Horror Films"

The third edition of “Daggers: The Short Festival of Short Horror,” a two-hour program of short horror films from around the world, returns to the Museum of Arts and Design in New York on October 20 at 7pm and October 22 at 3pm.  “Daggers,” curated by noted film critic Peter Gutierrez, puts a premium on displaying the eclectic nature of the horror film genre, and the diverse directorial talents working in this mode of expression, which is often unrecognized by the general public, who are used to the horror film being reduced to a very narrow set of stereotypical stylistics, mostly of the slasher film variety.  “Daggers” admirably works as a corrective to this notion, and finds its chosen directors employing a broad range of stylistic expression, encompassing comedy, gore, surrealism, psychological horror, the musical, animation, and many other artistic modes.

One interesting aspect of this year’s edition is that it affords us the opportunity to see earlier works by film directors who have garnered considerable attention on the film festival circuit.  The three films I chose to preview are very intriguing examples.  “New Born” is an Israeli film by Navot Papsushado, the co-director (with Aharon Keshales) of Rabies, which is billed as Israel’s first slasher horror film.  “New Born” is a much subtler work than that subsequent feature, a moody psychological film about a couple who may or may not have a baby who may or may not be alive or even exist.  Two viewings of this film were not quite sufficient for me to completely discern what exactly was going on, but Papsushado does a very good job suggesting just enough allusive, sinister behavior to keep us interested. 

“Next Floor,” the clear winner of the three films I previewed, is a sly, sardonic, and satirical French-Canadian film by Denis Villeneuve, who subsequently made two acclaimed features: Polytechnique (2007) and the Oscar-nominated Incendies (2009).  The intense drama of those two films are a sharp contrast to “Next Floor,” which features a group of pampered rich partaking of an impossibly opulent meal, with stomach-turning close-ups of knives cutting into animal flesh and seafood, presided over by a maitre d’ who, with the use of a uniquely constructed mansion, turns this feast into an elaborate, sadistic, ritualized sort of carnage.  The roles of master and servant are completely flipped around, and while the servants cater to their clients’ culinary desires, they very much have the upper hand and completely control the fates of the diners.  “Next Floor,” in conception, editing, and effects, is often breathtaking in its audacity and invention, and is a major highlight of this year’s festival.

“Treevenge” is by Jason Eisener, who went on to make Hobo with a Shotgun, a modern day homage to exploitation movies, and this earlier short is as blunt and unsubtle as that feature.  The premise is hilariously brutal and simple: Christmas trees, portrayed in the film as fully sentient creatures, stage a bloody revolt on their sadistic human masters, who cut them down, burn them, and humiliate them with tinsel and lights.  It’s the gore-horror version of The Secret Life of Plants.  The cheap gore effects and the broad playing by its cast add to this film’s goofy charm.

For more information on these and other films in the program, and to purchase tickets, visit the Museum of Arts and Design's website.