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Panic Fest ’23 Movie Review: World Premiere “BLACK MOLD” Will Grow On You

Monday, April 17, 2023 | Reviews


Starring Agnes Albright, Andrew Bailes, Jeremy Holm, Caito Aase
Written and Directed by John Pata
A Head Trauma Production

Downright Creepy’s Panic Fest 2023 kicked off this weekend at the historic Screenland Armour theater in Kansas City, Missouri, marking the festival’s tenth anniversary since its founding in 2013. Offering hybrid programming and a collection of live events, shorts, and feature films, Panic Fest will also be screening a number of world premieres over the next week and a half, including yesterday’s BLACK MOLD, the second feature-length directorial effort from John Pata (editor, The Stylist). 

A psychological horror film that swirls together real-life danger with fungus-induced hallucinations, BLACK MOLD is – at its heart – an examination of a traumatized woman’s most guarded childhood secrets. The film follows young adults Brooke (Albright, True Detective) and Tanner (Bailes), photographers on a mission to document decrepit, abandoned houses and buildings, as Brooke prepares to debut her work at a local gallery. After entering a massive structure with a questionable past, Brooke and Tanner encounter ‘The Man Upstairs,’ a paranoid homeless man who reminds Brooke of her father – whose death Brooke was blamed for as a young child. 

BLACK MOLD takes its title from the insidious fungus that infects the abandoned facility, the inhalation of which begins to affect our protagonists’ perception as they attempt to navigate the potential threats posed by ‘The Man Upstairs’ and by one another. BLACK MOLD is most successful in its technical accomplishments, as opposed to its thematic ones. Where the film excels in its direction, cinematography, and production design, BLACK MOLD reveals a few spots of rot in the conception of its central emotional premise. Both Brooke and Tanner’s characterization may strain a viewer’s sympathies, while ‘The Man Upstairs’ lacks the menace his name may lead one to expect. The relationship between Brooke and her late father is similarly nebulous, yet the scares offered up by the film’s final third are worthy of the first two acts’ slow burn. 

At its core, BLACK MOLD is a single-location, pressure cooker of a film. After subdued exposition delivers Brooke and Tanner to the unidentified building where they will meet their fate, an organic – or possibly supernatural – force begins to invade their senses and forces the pair to confront their deepest fears to violent ends. Despite its intriguing premise, however, BLACK MOLD demands its audience’s patience, up until the final fifteen minutes when the slow-growing tension finally comes to a head, with deadly consequences. Keep an eye out for BLACK MOLD on the festival circuit in the coming year, and stay tuned upcoming for wide-release information for the film.

BLACK MOLD had its World Premiere at Panic Fest 2023 on Saturday, April 15. 

Grace Detwiler
Grace Detwiler (@finalgirlgrace) is a freelance film journalist and law student. Her original work can be found on her blog, FinalGirlGrace, as well as in Rue Morgue's print and online publications.