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The Stanley Film Festival Brings the Horror


My father is a horror film fanatic. Which is to say, I grew up running away from the living room as if chased by a swarm of bees to avoid Tales from the Crypt, reruns of Chucky and Freddy Cruger. To further my point: my father actually went to the theater to watch Saw (so he’s probably on a government list somewhere). Horror isn’t my forte. I avoid it like a plague. I watch it through my fingers, like how I view my credit card bills.

So when my coworker asked me to go to the Stanley Hotel for a horror film festival, I had a flashback to watching The Shining in the same living room I raced through as a child. I remembered turning it off midway in order to run to my room, pull the blanket up to my nose and scan from corner to corner.

But seeing as The Shining was written at the Stanley Hotel, I said yes.

My associate editor and I arrived on a Friday evening in time for the whiskey tasting and to take a tour of the building. We rubbed elbows with a Jack Nicholson impersonator and scheduled a karaoke session with his fiancee, Dolly Parton, whom he met at an impersonator’s convention. Then the next day, through one bloodshot eye, it was time to face my horror fear.

Between the food and beer tastings, movie showings were scheduled at different rooms in the hotel with an after-viewing Q&A session with the directors. I chose as my first movie Big Bad Wolves, an Israeli film with a genre blend of horror, comedy and crime thriller detailing the capture and torture of a man suspected of abducting and killing little girls.

Throughout the movie, the audience was given no evidence as to whether the suspect actually committed the crimes. And as the ex-cop father of the missing girl tortured the suspect in the same way he was suspected of torturing his victims– by pulling off their fingernails one-by-one–I felt like a juror, guessing at my verdict, hoping to God I would know the answer by the end of the film. Making me more uneasy were the characters who demonstrated a strange sense of detachment, making jokes throughout. A lone Palestinian on horseback punctuated the film to share a cigarette, to loan a much-needed cell phone, to make me wonder what he was doing there.

I would have been very disappointed had I not achieved resolve by the end of the film. But after speaking with Director Aahron Keshales, the movie became more than a horror film. It became a political commentary. Not knowing whether the suspect was guilty or not made me examine my raw feelings on torture. The Palestinian who shared a cigarette was likened to an American Indian, sharing a peace pipe with a cowboy. It’s a rare image of Palestinians in Israel, and one that wouldn’t be achieved had it not been a small detail, smothered in the juxtaposition of comedy and torture.

Overall Big Bad Wolves was beautifully shot, and I came out exhausted from the careful manipulation that had been applied to my emotions.

Then the next day I saw Aftershock. Director Eli Roth (known better as the Bear Jew in Inglorious Bastards) must have known the audience would hate it, because he prefaced the movie with: “And if you hate it, f*** you.” But it was the premier movie, and the first time I’ve ever been part of an audience where people actually came to cheer on a film instead of sit back, relax and experience it objectively. Which is to say: loathe it.

The movie starts with a party montage through Chile. An earthquake hits and things fall apart, picking one after another of the characters off as inmates, loosened by a collapsed prison wall, seek out young women to pillage.

I don’t know what was more horrifying–when Eli Roth’s character, a father doomed to die under another fallen object, gives up the women he’s protecting to eager prison inmates, or the fact that after the movie, Roth cleared his throat and changed his tone to reflect how the movie was “based on a real earthquake.”

The guy next to me raised his hand and asked Roth how he was supposed to feel about the speaking-of-disaster movie. Roth answered. “I can’t tell you how to feel. Feel what you want.”

To which I felt disdain.

Perhaps Roth was absent on the day they taught that a director’s job is to make you feel a certain way. Alas, I am not a director. But curiously, I still know that.

Overall, I felt good about the festival, and it will be better next year–where I’ll be with my father. I’m old enough now to watch the horror films the whole way through and young enough to stay awake during Aftershock.

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