For nine years running now, the Telluride Horror Show lures horror lovers to the thin mountain air and gorgeous scenery of Telluride, Colorado for three days of horror movies, filmmaker Q&A sessions, and social activities. This was my second year attending the festival, but it has already been established as one of my favorite annual trips. This year, I managed to cram 11 screenings into the weekend adventure. Here are my thoughts on the poignant slow burn The Dark, the Argentinian haunting Terrified, and New Zealand comedy Mega Time Squad.
The Dark: At a slow and haunting pace, The Dark unfolds the story of two damaged and disfigured children when their lives unexpectedly intersect. Mina (Nadia Alexander) has been hiding in a portion of the woods declared haunted since tragedy befell her. She survives by trapping then attacking anyone unfortunate enough to venture into Devil’s Den. That changes when a mysterious man pulls up to her house. After Mina murders him, she discovers a blinded child, Alex (Toby Nichols), in his trunk.
The Dark walks the audience slowly and gently through the story. The plot and its explanations are rationed through the scenes, which kept me engaged through the gradual pace. Slow burn horror movies always have to maintain a delicate balance to avoid burning too slow. The Dark creates suspense in the quiet moments, filling the space between dialogue with all the things the characters do not say. These aspects make the entire movie interesting, rather than just the gore and violence.
All of the elements in The Dark are very reminiscent of Let the Right One In (and the remake Let Me In), only with “zombies” instead of vampires. Let the Right One In is one of my favorite horror movies, one I can always watch and slip into the tone of that world (I enjoy the remake as well), so I appreciated all the ways The Dark echoed those films and also the ways it deviated in its own ways. It managed to be inspired by the other films without duplicating them.
The success of The Dark, for me, lies entirely in the characters. The story is strong, but the story is compelling because of the two main characters. Mina and Alex are both endearing and fascinating as they flounder through their pain to each other. Not to mention how well they are portrayed; both the actors do a fantastic job creating these damaged children. While Mina’s past is revealed through sporadic flashbacks, Alex’s is constructed through inference, which ultimately is all the more unnerving. My heart broke for both of them—a hallmark of quality character development.
The Dark is visually beautiful to watch. The tone and pace manage to walk the audience slowly through the story without losing them, like Mina guiding blind Alex through the forest. The gore and violence are visceral and are applied in the flow as perfect punctuation points to the quiet. Yet, amidst all those successful elements, The Dark is about the two characters at its heart, Mina and Alex beautifully broken together.
Movie Score: 4.5/5
Terrified (Aterrados): There have been some demonic possession and haunting movies that have worked on me, including The Exorcist and The Conjuring, to name a couple. However, in general, they fail to properly crawl under my skin. Trust me, it’s usually not them; it’s me. Terrified managed to succeed with me where many other horror movies have failed, climbing and contorting its way (not unlike the demons in its scenes) into frightening, evil manifestation horror.
Alarming and unsettling activity starts in a neighborhood in Buenos Aires. When the incidents escalate and spread to multiple residences, the police officer investigating reaches out to a paranormal research doctor to help him uncover what evil is at play.
The film assaults the audience early, opening with a demonic attack on a couple in the afflicted neighborhood. This incident kills the wife and lands the husband in prison for her murder. At this point, the story timeline fractures, and the movie moves through flashbacks and overlapped scenes of three houses in the neighborhood. They weave in and out of each other. Each household experiences the demons, and their collective fragments assemble non-chronologically into the entire terrifying picture. Somehow, the flashing pieces create a more disturbing amalgamation than if they were portrayed linearly.
Generally, demonic possession horror movies have a very clearly defined roadmap that walks through the three stages of demonic possession: infestation, oppression, and possession. These stages are so consistently documented in film that it makes the subgenre woefully predictable. You know that the demons will be subtle at first before all hell breaks loose on the poor characters. In Terrified, jumping around the timeline prevents the story from getting trapped in the exhausted escalating demonic possession trope. The manifestations begin huge and dramatic, then are explained by the earlier, more tame instances. It is a different approach that prevented me from dozing in my seat. The film also includes less conventional elements, like semi-reanimated child corpses.
The demons are creepy as hell with grotesque, elongated, folding bodies and glowing eyes. Their appearances are extremely creepy, placing them right under the characters, tucked so close in the shadows. They remain entirely inhuman and do not communicate at all with the characters, which, like a good serial killer, is far scarier than a detailed explanation. The manifestations range from ominous lurking to slamming violence, and the play on the spectrum allows the audience to be surprised, especially applied through the shuffled timeline.
The movie manages to achieve the perfect balance between heavy suspense and demonic reveal. There are long scenes that left me nibbling my nails to see when something would move or jump scare me, but there are also explosive scenes that startled me. I saw the demons enough to be frightened, but not too much to become acclimated to them. To me, the tone, theme, and pervasively unnerving events in Terrified have a very Exorcist feel. It all creeped me out in the best way.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
Mega Time Squad: When we attended the Stanley Film Festival, my husband fell in love with Deathgasm. Once he heard mention of Deathgasm in the blurb for Mega Time Squad, we were in line outside the theater. Instead of heavy metal and endless penis references, Mega Time Squad follows a wannabe gangster who entangles himself with a cursed bracelet that creates time traveling replicas of the wearer. As he creates more and more versions of himself to escape the consequences of his poor criminal decisions, the Johns amass into a Mega Time Squad struggling to stay alive, get the money, and get the girl.
Mega Time Squad has the similar New Zealand tone that reminded me of Deathgasm and What We Do in the Shadows. Jonny Brugh from What We Do in the Shadows even appears as Shelton, the local crime boss. The characters are unapologetically feeble-minded, and the jokes are shamelessly dorky. The humor hinges largely on awkward timing—it is completely effective because the movie is very funny. We laughed the hardest when the characters were at their most awkward.
The characters are also very genuine. Each character is relatively simple (both in dynamic and mental capacity), yet they seem so natural and realistic. The characters’ ineptitude at life and egregious decision-making do not come across as caricatures. Instead, they come across as dumb, dorky, real people. Like the movie itself, the characters, particularly John (Anton Tennet) and Kelly (Hetty Gaskell-Hahn), become softly endearing. Even though Jonny does everything wrong, I still found myself rooting for him, or at least for one version of him to win.
Yet, I was sitting at a horror film festival. Despite the bracelet’s promise to unleash a ravenous demon, even considering a few murders, Mega Time Squad is not a horror movie—at all. I would classify it more as a science fiction comedy for its time traveling element. The movie is great, thoroughly fun and enjoyable; it just might have been misplaced at the Telluride Horror Show.
Movie Score: 3/5