This year is shaping up to be a good one for horror, particularly on the festival circuit. Things kicked off nice and early at Sundance with the impressive quartet of Birth/Rebirth, Talk To Me, In My Mother’s Skin, and Infinity Pool. This month at TIFF, meanwhile, I watched another four movies that each add something interesting to the genre. What’s most impressive about these films is how, when combined, they really show off the breadth of what’s possible under the horror banner. You’ll wince and cover your eyes, but you’ll also laugh.
Sleep is the first feature from director Jason Yu, and it really taps into a common fear: namely, that something absolutely awful is going to happen when you’re sleepwalking. It follows a young couple — played by Jung Yu-mi (from Train to Busan) and Lee Sun-kyun (Parasite and the Apple TV Plus series Dr. Brain) — who live in a cozy apartment with their little Pomeranian and are preparing for the arrival of their first child.
But the husband has a sleep disorder that causes him to sleepwalk in the evenings, and it’s getting progressively worse. And when I say worse, I mean going from slightly disturbing — like scratching his face or eating raw meat from the fridge — to downright dangerous, possibly involving some kind of demonic possession. What makes Sleep work so well, though, is how it manages to balance its building sense of terror with a surprisingly playful sense of humor.
Unfortunately, Sleep doesn’t have a wider theatrical release date just yet, but given the early buzz, it probably won’t be too long now.
When Evil Lurks
Speaking of demonic possession, When Evil Lurks — from Argentinian writer and director Demián Rugna — is a gruesome look at what happens when a supernatural plague sweeps its way through a small farming community. It starts with one man, ravaged by the sickness, whose family has been keeping it a secret until a Cleaner can come help. Those afflicted with the plague, it turns out, have to be killed in a very specific way, or else things turn, well, even worse.
The story follows a pair of brothers (Ezequiel Rodríguez and Demián Salomón) as they first try to outrun the illness before ultimately trying to find a way to stop its rapid spread. When Evil Lurks gets a little convoluted, primarily when it comes to the lengthy list of rules required for dealing with afflicted souls, but it also offers up some powerfully nightmarish sequences. It starts out with a very uncomfortable attempt to transport a body — it’s a gooey scene, is all I’ll say — before getting into some brutal deaths. Definitely don’t watch this movie at 9AM like I did.
When Evil Lurks hits theaters on October 6th and will also be streaming on horror service Shudder on October 27th.
Hell of a Summer
It’s important to note that there is no shortage of horror spoofs, from Shaun of the Dead to The Final Girls. (Amazon’s upcoming Totally Killer also looks promising.) But what Hell of a Summer lacks in originality, it makes up for with moxie. It’s basically a comedic send-up of summer camp slashers like Friday the 13th but set in the present. That means a Ouija board that says “idk” and a leading man who, instead of being a typical jock, is prepping to major in gender studies.
One of the most interesting things the movie does is center the story on a complete loser: a camp counselor played by Fred Hechinger (no stranger to slasher movies, with a turn in Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy) who is too old to be there and who almost no one listens to. It creates a unique dynamic as he tries to take charge and play the hero. Hell of a Summer is a little uneven, but it has some fun jokes and clever kills and shows great promise for new directors Finn Wolfhard (of Stranger Things fame) and Billy Bryk.
Right now, Hell of a Summer doesn’t have a date set for a wider release.
What’s notable about Dream Scenario, from writer and director Kristoffer Borgli, is that for about half of the movie, it couldn’t really be described as horror at all. There’s certainly some existential dread to the story of a lowly professor (Nicolas Cage) who unwittingly finds himself as the star of people’s dreams. But much of that is played for laughs, with just an undercurrent of potential scares.
Eventually, though, the film makes a switch — I don’t want to spoil the fun, but you can get a slight sense of it in the trailer above — that definitely shifts Dream Scenario into horror territory. It’s still creepy in an existential way, but it also gets downright nightmarish at times — and yet still retains its comedic edge. It’s a tough balancing act that the movie pulls off very well.
Dream Scenario hits theaters on November 10th.