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Thursday, January 25, 2024 | Events


Founded by filmmakers for filmmakers, FilmQuest Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary at the Velour Live Music Gallery in Downtown Provo, Utah, on October 26 through November 4, 2023, and continues to uphold its reputation as one of the best festivals in the U.S. Filmmakers from around the world submit their features, shorts, documentaries, student films, music videos, web series and screenplays for a chance to advance their careers and be awarded the highly coveted and prestigious FilmQuest Cthulhu Trophy, designed by artist Ryan Peterson.

FilmQuest Festival honors such genres as horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action, thriller, Western, kung fu and others. Juries composed of industry professionals, including directors, actors, producers, professors and writers, survey all submissions in over 45 individual categories. FilmQuest attendees experience screenings, panels, meet-and-greets with VIP guests, workshops, networking and exclusive events. (I’ve even heard a thing or two about their outrageous Halloween party and karaoke night!)

I was unable to attend the FilmQuest Festival in 2023 due to my scheduled commitments at Frightmare in the Falls, but I was elated to meet FilmQuest’s assistant director, Jonna Jackson, at an earlier event in Los Angeles. Not only did this encounter blossom into a new friendship she also introduced me to FilmQuest founder and director Jonathan Martin. Both Jonna and Jonathan have welcomed RUE MORGUE and me into their family, providing me with the wonderful opportunity to watch and review some of FilmQuest’s official selections.

He Never Left, directed by James Morris, who co-wrote it with Michael Ballif and Colin Cunningham, is not your typical slasher. He Never Left takes place during the Halloween season and follows Carly (Jessica Staples) and her escaped convict boyfriend, Gabriel (co-writer Colin Cunningham), in an intense struggle to evade law enforcement in a town that has a local legend about a masked serial killer named Pale Face. The murders that terrorized the town over 20 years before are still talked about, as the victims were never found – and neither was Pale Face. While Gabriel hides out in a hotel waiting for his contact to pick him up, he hears strange noises coming from the room next door. Restricted to the confines of his room for fear of being seen, he continues hiding, but his anxiety increases.

Run-of-the-mill slashers usually follow this formula: A legendary killer returns to wreak havoc on sluts and assholes. While He Never Left initially gives you this impression, it delivers much more. I found myself captivated by the character development and how the actors connected. I have to praise Charla Bocchicchios work in a great anti-heroine performance. I went into He Never Left expecting a slasher; Throughout, it seemed more like a thriller, and parts of the ending gave me Gacy vibes.

The Deep Dark is this decade’s gift to compensate for those fond memories inspired by the first time watching The Descent. Directed and written by Mathieu Turi, Set in 1956, The Deep Dark is a fantastic and genuinely scary French film about coal miners facing an ancient evil monster –1000 meters underground. As an avid creature feature buff, I loved this movie. Amir, played by Amir El Kacem, who won the fest’s award for best supporting actor, is one of the newest recruits taken to Devils Island Mine No. 5, with a group led by the strong-willed Roland (Samuel Le Bihan) to help professor Berthier, (Jean-Hughes Anglade) collect samples. Berthier is evasive about his work, but for a bonus of 400 Francs, the miners pay no mind. Once below, Berthier and the miners use explosives to open a passage that they then enter. The men separate into groups to follow two tunnels. Each stumble upon skeletons. Berthier finds a wall with markings much like ancient hieroglyphs and requests more excavation. Once through, they find even more skeletons, markings and a tomb. Soon after, a landslide traps them inside, and they’re trapped beneath the earth with an ancient, reawakened god that’s hungry for some souls. The creature design is evocative of Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński, and I admired the lore behind its origin. Blood is certainly shed in The Deep Dark. The film took home the award for best feature film.

Frogman, directed by Anthony Cousins who co-wrote it with John Karsko, was such a fun film! Picture The Blair Witch Project with a dash of Bigfoot, a sprinkle of the Loch Ness Monster and a pinch of the Abominable Snowman; That’s Frogman. A found footage film that begins with a family vacation in 1999, Frogman begins with a mom and dad arguing while young brother and sister Dallas and Lizzie film their trip. While parked, they glimpse a creature stirring in the woods. The footage, caught on camera by Dallas, becomes the legend of Frogman. Years later, the footage has been debated and mocked by most. So an adult Dallas (Nathan Tymoshuk) decides to return to his family vacation spot to seek the legendary creature he believes is real and catch it on camera again, proving its existence to all the naysayers. Dallas brings his former film college friends, Scotty (Benny Barrett) and Amy (Chelsey Grant), along for the journey. Dallas even uses the camera he caught Frogman on in 1999, providing a nostalgic feel to the movie.

In sequences similar to The Blair Witch Project, Dallas, Scotty and Amy interview the locals about the Frogman legend and lurk in the woods at night, searching for the creature. However, Frogman’s ending is far superior to that of The Blair Witch Project. I really enjoyed Frogman and cheered at the conclusion, which was gross, evil, funny, and creepy. For me, Frogman is all those Unsolved Mysteries urban legend episodes come to life through a ‘90s lens. It took home the award for best-found footage feature.

Kill Your Lover is a psychological body horror hailing from the U.K., written and directed by Alix Austin and Keir Stewart, founders of the production company Switchblade Cinema. Kill Your Lover follows the story of the deteriorating relationship of couple Dakota (Paige Gilmour) and Axel (Shane Quigley-Murphy) and a vicious infection that poisons not only their bodies but also exacerbates Axel’s hostility. A trigger warning may be recommended for survivors of toxic relationships, as Kill Your Lover addresses themes of manipulation, gaslighting, control tactics, emotional abuse and violence.

Dakota, an ex-punk singer, is dating Axel, and they live together. But things aren’t going well, and she wants to break it off. Kill Your Lover goes back and forth between the beginnings of Dakota and Axel’s relationship, depicting loving passion with warm amber glows and the present, reflected in cold, harsh greys, in which Dakota’s appearance and behavior are changed to accommodate Axel. Axel is very ill and seems infected with a parasite that grows across his skin like black veins – and his touch burns like a chemical. With each possible escape, Dakota’s guilt causes her to help Axel. However, it doesn’t go well for her, and the situation escalates, leaving them to hash out their relationship once and for all while the disease works its way through. A toxic relationship paralleled with an infectious disease is a great idea, as the real dangers of all forms of abuse are like a disease that spreads until it consumes its victim’s health. A final remark on something I agree with mentioned in Kill Your Lover: Do not tell a woman to smile or wear a dress.


D I G, a short film by the Boxleitner Brothers Lee and Sam, is about a virtual reality game called The Serpent Knight. If you die in the game, you die in real life. Caleb (Sam Boxleitner) is a social media personality who decides to play the game and livestream it. In reality, Caleb faces scrutiny from his followers for an assumed hostile act towards a woman named Melody (Kimberly Jo Howard). This drama begins to bleed into the game, haunting Caleb in his home. D I G is an innovative and frightening approach to enforced accountability.

13 Steps, written and directed by David Lawrence, begins with Erin (Sara Fletcher) playing with an Ouija board alone. Attempting to contact spirits, she hears screams and scratching in her walls and believes there’s a presence in her home – a demon. When her priest doesn’t believe her, she’s unsatisfied, Erin goes to an occult shop to learn more about demonology.

The mystic at the shop, played by Suzanne Voss, warns Erin about the name spelled out by the Ouija board – Zozo. She provides Erin with a ritual containing thirteen tasks, as she must climb a step each hour to rid her home of the malevolent presence. With each step comes a depraved and sometimes-grueling chore she must complete, or else Zozo’s powerful evil will claim her. 13 Steps is a fresh concept for a ghost story, focusing on occultism, demons, spirituality and the vulnerabilities of facing death. 13 Steps won the Best of Fest Award at the Sacramento Horror Film Festival. 

Honk, written and directed by Charles de Lauzirika, is intriguing. Bill (Zach Galligan) sits awake in bed, reading through his divorce papers and listening to a voicemail on his phone. Once asleep, he is awakened by a car horn at 5 a.m. As he gets out of bed, he hears the honking again and is determined to find the car that’s making so much noise. He walks outside towards the horn blasting in his quiet neighborhood and finds a parked car with a mysterious driver (Tyler Mane) behind the wheel. There is no dialogue in this short, and I was captivated the entire time. As someone with misophonia, I applaud Bill’s eager approach to get to the source of the incessant car horn. It’s a no-brainer that Honk took home the award for best sound in a short.

Finally, if you have anxiety or fear about anything related to your eyes, you may force yourself to look away during Eyestring. Directed by Javier Devitt and co-written and starring Alena Chinault, Eyestring follows Veronica, a woman battling a mental health crisis and something else – a string growing out of her eye. Veronica pulls and cuts the string with scissors, but it keeps growing. Remember the segment “Hair” in Body Bags? Picture that but with a single long hair sprouting out of your eye socket. I don’t fear things touching my eyes, but I winced a couple of times watching Eyestring.

Yasmina Ketita
Columnist and host of The Rewind Zone. My love for horror and VHS was established while growing up in the '80s, my favourite decade, because it spawned a new generation of incredible practical effects, amazing VHS cover art and most importantly, provides nostalgia. Watching '80s horror movies comforts me in a sentimental way as if being back in those movie rental days.