Let me take you back to September 15, 2019. It was the closing night of the 13th annual Sydney Underground Film Festival. A packed house sat together at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville to watch Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s atmospheric horror film, The Lodge. It was a chilling end to another successful festival, but it wasn’t anywhere near as chilling as what the next two years had instore – a global pandemic. A global pandemic that kept the Underground Film Festival out of cinemas, starving us loyal fans of our annual dose of watching twisted, absurd, mind-bending, but above all, fantastic films together. Luckily, this story has a happy ending, unlike a lot of films we see at the festival. For the first time in 1,092 days, the Sydney Underground Film Festival returned to cinemas this year on September 8 at its temporary new home at Event Cinemas, George Street and it did not disappoint.
For those of you that don’t know, the Sydney Underground Film Festival is a truly unique experience that showcases obscure, thought-provoking cinema or as I like to say, films you wouldn’t take home to meet your parents. It’s a one-of-a-kind festival that features eclectic storytelling from across the globe as well as our own backyard. It’s an important event that celebrates creativity of all kinds and it’s something I encourage all lovers of film to attend and support.
I don’t know if it was the excitement of being back in cinemas, but this year was spectacular and quite possibly one of the best programs to date. I managed to get to 10 screenings over the festival’s four days. Here are some words on my phavourites.
I LOVE MY DAD
Director | James Morosini
Country | USA
All I’ll say regarding the plot for this one is that it’s about a hopelessly estranged father trying to reconnect with his son. The less you know, the better, trust me. It’s such a riot of a film with an incredibly clever script. The way text conversations are brought to life is brilliant (you’ll know what I mean) and the performances are outstandingly genuine. It’s super cringe, incredibly messed up, down-right hilarious, and weirdly kind of sweet. A defanged affair that is hard to watch at times, but even harder to look away.
ON THE COUNT OF THREE
Director | Jerrod Carmichael
Country | USA
Val has reached a place where he feels the only way out is to end things. But he considers himself a bit of a failure – his effectiveness lacking – so he figures he could use some help. As luck would have it, Val’s best friend, Kevin, is recovering from a failed suicide attempt, so he seems like the perfect partner for executing this double suicide plan. But before they go, they have some unfinished business to attend to. Bit of a trigger warning with this one, but damn is it a blast. The chemistry between Jarrod Carmichael and Christopher Abbott is spot on and what makes the film so authentic and enjoyable. It’s funny, emotional, and thrilling. Each scene is highly entertaining as they take you along on this wild journey until its hard-hitting ending that will leave you speechless.
MONA LISA AND THE BLOOD MOON
Director | Ana Lily Amirpour
Country | USA
A young woman with psychokinetic powers breaks out of a Louisiana asylum and makes her way to New Orleans, where she falls into the city’s netherworld of misfits and miscreants. This absolutely rips. It’s impossible not to get swept up in the kaleidoscopic vibe it creates with its neon-induced visuals and hyper-electro soundtrack, I found myself bobbing along to the beat in several scenes. It’s a wildly entertaining affair with great humour and a touch of emotion that hits the sweet spot. A crazy ride that you wish could go on forever. Great to see Kate Hudson back on the big screen too.
SOMETHING IN THE DIRT
Director | Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson
Country | USA
When neighbours John and Levi witness supernatural events in their LA apartment building, they realise documenting the paranormal could inject some fame and fortune into their wasted lives. If you’re familiar with Moorhead and Benson, then you’ll know what you’re walking into here. It’s another mind-melting journey from these two that perfectly creates a mysterious and foreboding tone. It keeps you on edge the whole way through as you try to figure out what the hell is going on, I still don’t think I’ve figured it out. It’s low-fi cinema done right with grounded performances, an intense score, and cool low-budget effects which all make for an entertaining watch.
THE CIVIL DEAD
Director | Clay Tatum
A misanthropic, struggling photographer just wants to watch TV and eat candy while his wife is out of town, but when a desperate old pal resurfaces, his plans are thwarted with spooky consequences. This was a whole lot of fun with an ingenious script that is brought to life in a low-key, yet brilliant way. The humour lands exceptionally well, while the grounded approach gives it an immense amount of charm. It was a pure delight to watch this one unfold. Such a unique and fresh take on an exhausted genre.
I also want to give a shout-out to Come with Me which was part of the Homebaked: Aussie Shorts program. Directed by Trevor Clarence, this little gem was sensationally brilliant. Such a neat idea that delivers a scenario that I’m sure we have all thought about at one stage or another and features one of the funniest payoffs that had the entire cinema in stitches. Great stuff.
There are a few narrative features, docos, and shorts available to watch on the Underground Film Festival website for the next week or so, including the short that I mentioned above. If you’re looking for something to watch that’s a little outside the box or lightyears outside the box, then this is where you’re going to find it. So go check some stuff out and support independent cinema.