Roger Ebert Home

The Overlook Film Festival 2024 Highlights, Part 1: Fasterpiece Theater, Exhuma, All You Need is Death, Me

The Overlook Film Festival is thankfully not a market festival. Only one of this year’s screenings was a world premiere: “Abigail,” which played on the closing night of the four-day festival, and will soon be released globally by Universal Pictures. A few of the other movies playing at the New Orleans-based festival have either already played at other genre-focused film festivals, like Fantasia and Fantastic Fest, or more general-audience-focused market festivals, like Sundance, SXSW, and Toronto. Other programming decisions seem to have been influenced by genre-savvy patrons, like the diligent streaming service Mubi, who sponsored all of the Overlook’s “international” titles.

Mubi’s presence stood out, partly because of how many worthwhile non-American productions played at this year’s festival, but also because of how effective Mubi’s publicity has been in the last year or so. Didn’t I just see NYC subway ads and full-page New York Review of Books notices for Mubi-released arthouse dramas like “How to Have Sex” and “Passages”? And is the Overlook Film Festival playing squarely to my tastes or am I self-conscious because I was already eager to catch up with so many of the festival’s picks?

For a while, my main criteria for a great film festival or series has been: Can you see why the programmers do what they do? Are their tastes both expansive and accessible, despite all the various commercial and artistic decisions that had to be made before you sat down to watch a movie? Does this festival make you excited to things that you weren’t already pre-sold? And if some movies aren’t necessarily for you—or even if they flat-out stink—can you tell that creative decisions choices were made by trustworthy people and not creative committees?

Special events and sidebar screenings are a good place to start looking for where a festival’s heart lies. The Overlook features a number of interactive events, including live podcast recordings, dinner theater-type “immersive performances” (minus the dinner), themed parties and meet-ups, and one-time only screenings. I focused on the movies, starting with “Fasterpiece Theater,” a feature-length sizzle reel of highlights from various genre movies, edited and presented by Museum of Home Video creator Bret Berg. You might recognize some of the movies that were stitched together in Berg’s surreal, stoner-friendly compilation, but even jaded horror fans will come away with a couple of new titles for their overflowing watchlists, like the no-budget Mark Hamill/alien dog buddy thriller “Watchers 4: Reborn” or the full-frontal-replete himbo slasher “Dead Boyz Don’t Scream.”

Berg’s skills, both as an editor and a programmer, were also underscored during a post-screening Q&A. Hearing him talk about the rhythmic, “symphonic” qualities of his editing was especially helpful when considering scenes taken from horror oddities like “Amityville 4: Evil Escapes” or “Exorcist II: The Heretic.” Some re-edited sequences in “Fasterpiece Theater” are  gut-bustingly funny because of Berg’s merciless comic timing and knack for low-brow humor, like when he tallied all the variations of the word “ass” that were used in “The Jerky Boys: The Movie” or all the different characters’ names in “Poltergeist III.” Other times, “Fasterpiece Theater” gave viewers a guided tour of movies that they either already knew or maybe hadn’t heard of at all. I had recently revisited some of the included movies, like “Dreamcatcher” and “Blood Beat,” both of which played theatrically in Brooklyn last year. “Fasterpiece Theater” still made me lean in my seat to focus on the many weird and amazing details that make those movies so entertaining and strange.

“Fasterpiece Theater” may not have been the first movie I saw at the Overlook Film Festival, but it still helped me to appreciate the fine balance that the festival programmers struck when they assembled this year’s slate. For example, two of my favorite movies at the festival could be very generally described as “folk horror,” though neither is as conventional or formulaic as that broad umbrella term might suggest. In “Exhuma,” an engrossing Korean thriller about a cursed burial plot, a make-shift team of supernatural experts tries to exorcise the “vile” energy oozing out of a rich family’s grave. And in the eerie Irish mood piece “All You Need is Death,” a curse befalls a young couple and their mysterious business rival after they all go searching for a rare and previously unrecorded ballad-style song.

“Exhuma” already played in some theaters here in America and “All You Need is Death” is now on VOD. It was still refreshing to see both movies at the Overlook Film Festival since neither will necessarily be a sure-fire hit with audiences. Then again, “Exhuma” has an inviting, novelistic plot and is full of satisfying twists and performances; and “All You Need is Death” also features some genuinely discomfiting body horror practical effects and new music by Ian Lynch, lead singer of the Irish doom folk group Lankum. It’s also thrilling to see that both movies are specific enough to their respective cultural traditions that neither one feels like other recent movies, despite some familiar elements here and there. You don’t have to stretch yourselves too far to enjoy either movie, especially not at a festival where several screenings were followed by entertaining and often illuminating post-screening Q&As with featured filmmakers.

You can tell that the Overlook’s organizer have already cultivated a receptive audience for their programming given how engaged and focused theatergoers’ questions were after each screening. People were really excited to find out more about whatever they just saw, including a special screening of “Me,” Don Hertzfeldt’s trippy, unsettling 23-minute long musical. Most people in the audience were already familiar with Hertzfeldt and his idiosyncratic style: before the movie played, festival programmer Landon Zakheim joked that the four people who were unfamiliar with Hertzfeldt’s work were in for a real treat.

“Me” still feels very much like its own thing, despite some similarities to Herzfeldt’s earlier work. It’s a mostly dialogue-free science-fiction saga about technology, family, and self-absorption, and it follows cranky-looking potato-shaped stick figure people who spend way too much time killing each other and/or staring at techno-mediated images of themselves. “Me” is strange and enchanting, the perfect choice for a one-afternoon-only festival screening.

After the screening, Hertzfeldt entertained questions from eager fans. He joked that we were the fourth audience to see his new short, which isn’t quite #1 or even #2, but still has some kind of appeal. Hertzfeldt also provided some welcome insights about the making of “Me” which thankfully never explained away its unique mix of nightmarish imagery and silver-lined optimism. It was thrilling to listen to Hertzfeldt talk about subtle musical influences, like Klaus Nomi and the “JFK” soundtrack. He also spoke with guarded excitement about his next project, an Ari-Aster-produced animated horror movie (Hertzfeldt’s feature debut). That screening of “Me” felt like an event, not because we only thought we knew what to expect, but because that movie and the Overlook in general were clearly designed with the curious in mind, and not just pre-initiated cultists.

Coming up: “Dead Mail,” “Infested,” and other Overlook Film Festival highlights.

Simon Abrams

Simon Abrams is a native New Yorker and freelance film critic whose work has been featured in The New York TimesVanity FairThe Village Voice, and elsewhere.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

STAX: Soulsville, USA
Back to Black
The Strangers: Chapter 1


comments powered by Disqus