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CFF 2021: 5 Must-See Horror Movies From This Year’s Festival

Michelle Swope has 5 must-see horror movies from this year's Chattanooga Film Festival!

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The 2021 Chattanooga Film Festival just wrapped up and it was a blast! Due to the pandemic, Chattanooga Film Festival successfully organized one of the first-ever virtual film festivals in 2020 and proved that if a small, indie festival can go virtual, then larger fests should be able to do so as well. CFF has announced that they are already planning a hybrid festival in 2022, so that people who might not be able to attend in person due to disability, finances, or other reasons, can also have access to the festival. The sense of community created through CFF’s virtual festivals has been awe-inspiring and as a disabled writer, I am extremely grateful to everyone at CFF for another amazing virtual festival experience that was accessible to people like me.

This year’s Chattanooga Film Festival included access to over 90 films on demand, both features and short films, as well as live events, secret screenings, and filmmaker Q&A’s. Also included was access to the official CFF Discord channel where filmmakers and film fans hung out and watched movies together and discussed their favorites from the festival.

Now that the festival has ended, I wanted to highlight some of the movies I thought were the most memorable from the fest. There were so many fantastic genre and genre adjacent films to choose from at this year’s Chattanooga Film Festival. In no particular order, here are five of my favorite movies from CFF 2021 and release information where available.

Scenes From an Empty Church

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There have been so many films made in the past year that were inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic that they have almost created a new subgenre. With that being said, there hasn’t been a film that so uniquely and perfectly captured the way so many of us have felt while experiencing the pandemic like Scenes From an Empty Church. Directed by Onur Tukel (Catfight), the story centers around two priests, Father Andrew, played by Kevin Corrigan (Ray Donovan, Lost Girls), and Father James, played by Thomas Jay Ryan (Equals, Fay Grim), who open the doors of their church to various people seeking salvation during the pandemic. The priests are still trying to figure out how to cope with lockdown in New York City, but that doesn’t prevent them from trying to help others who may be feeling especially lost at this time. As the story unfolds the priests engage in intimate, honest conversations with parishioners and others about things like love, life, and what happens when we die. You don’t have to be a religious person to appreciate this film; Scenes From an Empty Church explores things we’ve all thought about while adjusting to life during a pandemic. Not only does this movie feature some truly outstanding, personal performances, you’ll be thinking about it for a long time afterward. MPI Media Group is releasing Scenes From an Empty Church in theaters and on VOD on July 2nd.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

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Director Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair follows a lonely teenager named Casey, played by Anna Cobb, whose only social interactions are on the internet. While watching videos, Casey stumbles on something called the World’s Fair Challenge, an online role-playing horror game which she becomes completely immersed in. After taking the challenge by performing a ritual, Casey begins documenting herself on video. Anna Cobb is absolutely mesmerizing, and slightly terrifying, as the innocent, isolated, and obviously unhappy Casey. A man who calls himself JLB (Michael J. Rogers) reaches out to Casey online and tells her he’s seen her World’s Fair Challenge videos and wants to befriend her. As she spirals into an emotionally dark place, Casey is unsure of the stranger’s intentions, but she is convinced she is undergoing physical and mental changes because she took the challenge. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is relatable no matter your age; we’ve all felt alone at some point. This film is intriguing for its novel exploration of themes like mental health, loneliness, and the inward search for identity we all experience at some time in our lives. I was excited to have the opportunity to talk with writer/director Jane Schoenbrun about We’re All Going to the World’s Fair when Chattanooga Film Festival asked me to moderate a Q&A for the film. You can watch the Q&A here. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair will be available on HBO Max early next year.

The Old Ways

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Written by Marcos Gabriel (Memorial Day) and directed by Christopher Alender (Memorial Day), The Old Ways is a fresh take on the possession subgenre. Using exquisite cinematography, this film tells the story of Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales), a burned-out journalist who travels to her ancestral home in Veracruz, Mexico to investigate a story and is kidnapped by locals who think she has a demon inside her. Sal Lopez (Into the Dark: Culture Shock) stars as Javi, the man who kidnapped Cristina and is working with a Bruja by performing various, sometimes painful rituals in an effort to expel the demon they believe is inside her. Andrea Cortés plays Cristina’s cousin Miranda, who wants to help her, but also wants to know why Cristina has not had much contact with her family. The Old Ways features wicked practical effects and uses body horror as a way to represent Cristina’s inner demons and her refusal to deal with them. Brigitte Kali Canales gives a phenomenal performance as the tortured Cristina. Seek this one out when it becomes available.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

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Written and directed by Jonathan Cuartas in his directorial debut, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a heartbreaking story of one family’s attempt to cope with chronic illness. Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous, Wristcutters: A Love Story) plays Dwight, who lives with his sister Jessie, played by Ingrid Sophie Schram (Phantom Thread), and their sickly, younger brother Thomas, played by Owen Campbell (Super Dark Times). Thomas suffers from a painful, unknown illness and only finds relief when he drinks human blood. Thomas’ sickness requires Dwight to go out at night and find people who won’t be missed and kill them for their blood. Dwight realizes he can no longer live with this horrible arrangement, and he desperately wants to find a way out. Jessie has a closer relationship with Thomas and acts in a maternal role in the family, and this only drives Dwight farther away emotionally. Powerful performances from the entire cast and the captivating use of vampirism as a metaphor for chronic illness and the toll it takes on families make this a must-see horror movie. I had the pleasure of talking with director Jonathan Cuartas and star Owen Campbell about the film and you can read our interview here. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is in theaters and on VOD now.

Blood Conscious

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Unfortunately, mass shootings have become far too common in America. Writer/director Timothy Covell’s debut feature film, Blood Conscious, combines the horror of a mass shooting with demonic possession for a compelling film that is driven by social commentary. A Black family that includes Kevin (Oghenero Gbaje), his older sister Brittney (DeShawn White), and her fiancé, Tony (Lenny Thomas) go to their parents’ cabin by the lake for vacation but are met by a gruesome scene. Their parents and their neighbors have been massacred by a white shooter known only as the stranger (Nick Damici), who claims that they were really demons. The stranger thinks Kevin and his sister and her fiancé are demons as well, and when he tries to shoot them, they manage to overpower him and tie him up and lock him in the basement. When a woman named Margie (Lori Hammel) shows up claiming to have been hiding from the shooter in the woods for hours, her story doesn’t quite add up and after Kevin asks her what she’s hiding, she makes several racist comments. At this point, Kevin tries to convince Brittney and Tony that maybe they should consider talking to the stranger to try and figure out what’s really going on. Blood Conscious features an excellent cast and keeps you guessing while on the edge of your seat. Blood Conscious will be released by Dark Sky Films in theaters and on VOD this summer.

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Did you attend the virtual Chattanooga Film Festival and have a favorite movie or is there a movie release this summer you’re excited about? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! I’m always down to talk film festivals and movies on Twitter and you can find me @RedheadfromMars. Dread Central is now on Google News!