As a film lover, a screenwriter, and a new filmmaker, I actually don’t love the everyday theatre experience; blasphemy, I know! The festival theatre experience is something far different—something much more beautiful and filled with community than paying for overpriced snacks just to listen to someone’s dad talk through half of a film on a Friday night. Grind Mind’s FogFest, now in its sophomore year, proved to me that film festivals are most certainly my happy place as a cinephile, and I’d gladly go to one every single weekend rather than ever visit a Cineplex in the mall again.
Part of the comfortable, exciting vibe at FogFest comes from Grind Mind having a dedicated, loyal fanbase here in Newfoundland and Labrador who want to see them thrive; many attendees were happy to come out and support the lads. Much more than that, St. John’s, while being a place filled with culture, doesn’t always have something for everyone, and one of the things lacking here, except during Halloween season, is more community for horror lovers. FogFest, in its much bigger second iteration, has come along to give us horror hounds a new place to commune, to scream and laugh together, to share our love of all things gruesome and terrifying.
The following article touches on my favourite short and feature-length films screened during FogFest, as well as the killer drag performance from The Phlegm Fatales.
[Just for transparency purposes: I was on the Programming Jury for FogFest.]
In the Shadow of God
Directed & Written by Brian Sepanzyk
Brian Sepanzyk’s In the Shadow of God follows Rachel (Sara Canning) as she packs up her childhood home after her father Henry (Mark Kandborg) dies suddenly, when she starts to realise there’s something sinister behind his passing. One of the BEST slow burn shorts I’ve ever seen; hands down. It has a Ring-esque quality due to Rachel watching her father seem to go slowly mad on a VHS tape and later there’s an eerie corpse whose face is frozen in horrific fashion. Yet this film is all its own, spinning a chilling yarn in under 20 minutes that will remain burrowed beneath your skin far longer than that.
Directed & Written by Andrew David Osborne
Vicinal is one of my top three short films from FogFest because of how Andrew David Osborne wraps an unnerving and occasionally very funny little story into social issues connected with the rental economy. The story involves a young couple (Nathan Bigec & Katherine Ross) who’ve scored a sweet new apartment. One day, a package comes belonging to the previous tenant, an older man called Walter (Daniel Coo). Thom gets in contact with Walter, but when the old guy shows up it’s an awkward meeting. Walter asks to see what they’ve done with the place, so Thom reluctantly agrees. He even wants to see the creepy little crawlspace upstairs. Then things get much more strange.
A 20-minute short film can, now and then, feel far too long for the plot and story at hand; this is not the case with Osborne’s Vicinal whatsoever. Vicinal never feels too long, and Osborne uses every bit of the runtime to draw us into his delightfully terrifying tale.
The Druid’s Hand
Directed by Mitch Oliver
Screenplay by Oliver & Jesse Sawitsky
The Druid’s Hand is a short film that I wanted to love, but it wound up somewhat confusing, at least to me, by the end. It comes off as an intriguing tale of two men facing a reckoning because of their misogyny, focused on an older small town priest and his younger follower who’ve been killing witches. The visuals are incredible; the big scene in the church is a joy to watch, after a burned up witch chained in a burlap sack emerges to wreak havoc. The interesting potential themes connecting burning witches with misogyny are ripe early on with lines like “Man up and finish this” or “You‘re almost as dramatic as your mother” coming from the old priest. Unfortunately the end squanders those themes, at least to my eye. That doesn’t change the fact that The Druid’s Hand is a Gothic treat from the Canadian Prairies.
Directed, Produced, & Written by Mike Simms
Mike Simms delivered a darkly comic gem with Thumbs Up, the story of a local reporter who’s been covering a serial killer on the loose. One night, the reporter gets home to find his partner having a little get-together with old pals. He’s a bit high strung, yet he tries to relax and have a good time. But somehow, things go disastrously, even gruesomely, wrong.
I’m admittedly not a huge horror-comedy lover, however, Simms balances the hilarity and horror in such a way that the potential menacing horror hovering over the characters never quite disappears, despite all the comedy. A smart and creepy little film.
Directed & Written by Shan Leigh Pomeroy
I will tell everybody I know until I die about Shan Leigh Pomeroy’s Solstitium. Pomeroy is a multidisciplinary visual artist, obvious to anyone with eyes after seeing Solstitium. And how to describe the film? It’s more an ethereal ritual than a short film. Music and filmic collage collide to bring us into an otherworldly space connecting the universe with nature, all through the power of women and witchcraft. A visual masterpiece that’s both exhilarating and subtly eerie.
Directed & Written by Jennie Williams
Nalujuk Night by Jennie Williams is in the top five of my favourite shorts from FogFest, along with Solstitium and Vicinal from this block. It’s a striking, creepy documentary about the tradition of Nalujuk Night among the Inuit people of Nunatsiavut, on January 6th when spirits come from the ice and take a stroll through town, rewarding the good kids and chasing the bad ones.
Not only is it refreshing to see more about an Indigenous culture like that of the Inuit people on film, it’s exciting, particularly as a queer white man, to see more about how the ideas of horror and the supernatural are intertwined in the lives of people from other cultures. Williams’s Nalujuk Night captures a sense of horror and also one of joy in the way the people in Nain accept the spirits, though not everyone escapes the punishment of the Nalujuk so easily, either.
Directed by Eric Elliott
Screenplay by Elliott, Michael Innamorato, & Andrew Pike
Eric Elliot made Flicker with a group of friends for the Nickel 48 Hour Horror Film Challenge this year, not even a month ago, but I’d be surprised if anybody knew it (without the Nickel challenge’s logo appearing at the start of the film). It’s a 5-minute creepfest about a young couple at home one night when a storm knocks out the power in their neighbourhood. Soon, the couple realise they aren’t alone, and a terrifying figure is lurking in the dark.
Elliott delivers a fun and scary little film that feels influenced by contemporary horror films such as Lights Out and The Babadook. The use of light—which Elliott talked about briefly during a Q&A on Saturday—makes the film what it is, and it shows Elliott has a good grasp on atmosphere, one of the most important aspects of horror. Hopefully Elliott will keep making more horror films because if he (and his crew) were able to pull Flicker off in 48 hours, he’s certainly proved himself a capable director.
The Haunted Swordsman
Directed by Kevin McTurk
Screenplay by Tab Murphy
It’s not every day you get to see Bunraku (puppetry) in a horror-fantasy film about a ronin seeking vengeance against a supernatural entity, yet Kevin McTurk brings us exactly that in The Haunted Swordsman. On top of that, the cast includes Jason Scott Lee, Franka Potente, and two legends in their own right, James Hong and Christopher Lloyd. This is one of those films that also feels like its budget was much higher than it was, which is never a bad thing, particularly when we’re talking about short films. See this whenever/wherever possible because it’s a magical piece of cinema.
Means to an End
Directed & Written by Tanya M. Wheeler
I don’t want to say too much about Tanya M. Wheeler’s Means to an End, only because it has a great, shocking, and gross reveal in the end, so it’s simply better to go in knowing nothing. Wheeler’s short is a smart and searing horror about one woman’s search for fertile men that never goes how you expect it to, and it’s something I’d actually love to see turned into a feature length film because it has potential to be absolutely disgusting and filled with social commentary.
Directed & Written by Sergiy Pudich
The Peeper is so upsettingly creepy, in the best way, and director-writer Sergiy Pudich uses every last second of the short’s 12 minutes to keep us feeling uncomfortable. FogFest has featured some wonderful films with very feminist horror themes, and The Peeper is one of them. Pudich’s short sees strippers battling patriarchal, misogynistic attitudes, even from their own colleagues, while some creep keeps watching them. A slick 12 minutes and, again, super unsettling work that’s very relevant to everyday society.
Directed by Annabelle Augustine
Screenplay by Augustine & Ethan Messecar
Annabelle Augustine’s L’oeuf is one of the most effective feminist-themed horror shorts at FogFest, telling the story of a housewife (Alex Cave) who starts to crack psychologically after the breakfast she’s making for her husband starts to talk to her. The breakfast mocks the housewife asking “Who even are you?” before replying quickly: “Oh, that‘s right! You‘re his wife. Now back to work.” What follows is macabre and thoroughly enjoyable. Augustine expertly eviscerates the patriarchal notion of housewives as servants to their husbands in such short time, and with vivid horror visuals.
Now, dig in! Mmm.
Directed & Written by Tito Fernandes
Incubus is another of my top five shorts from FogFest. Tito Fernandes’s short is about a woman (Malou Coindreau) on a houseboat being haunted by the memories of terrible trauma. This is another one that shouldn’t be spoiled, at all. All I really want ot say is that Fernandes captures the Gothic qualities of trauma as a form of haunting.
Though Incubus is not a graphic film, it may be a difficult watch for some. At the same time, I do believe that those of us who’ve experienced traumatic moments in our lives can find a form of comfort when a horror story is able to figuratively capture at least some of how we feel, which is exactly what I thought about Incubus; an utterly brilliant short film.
La Nueva (English title: The Newcomer)
Directed by Ivan Villamel
Screenplay by Villamel & Raúl Cerezo
Demonic possession in horror has gotten stale, though a short like Ivan Villamel’s La Nueva used demonic possession in a way that was fun and felt reminiscent of something more like Evil Dead than any horror involving demons and the Catholic Church. The story centres on a substitute teacher in a Catholic school, who’s first harassed by the students, and then ends up cutting herself on an old ornamental piece that transforms her into something demonic. The film feels influenced by Raimi, but not in a way that it copies anything. The film’s just FUN and NASTY! And that’s all it needed to be to thrill me.
A Walk in the Park
Directed & Written by Padraig Reynolds
A Walk in the Park from Padraig Reynolds is a deceptively simple 1980s throwback slasher featuring a woman walking alone at night being watched by a creepy masked man with a blade. Another fun one. Gives you the feel of watching something you would’ve grabbed on VHS at the rental store back when I was a kid. More than that, Reynolds delivers a pretty good twist near the end that sort of bridges the short’s throwback feel with the updated gender dynamics of more contemporary horror films.
Directed by Chris Turner
Screenplay by Turner & Mark Prime
More smart, feminist-themed horror comes to FogFest with Chris Turner’s short film Leopard Heels. It’s a sly, dark satire of capitalist, patriarchal hell in the workplace. We get lots of great images and symbols, such as the company’s name (&son), a reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (a text very much about patriarchal attitudes, misogyny, etc, before its time), and the PARASITE acronym on the boss’s door.
Leopard Heels is smart and even queasy at times; A+ satire.
Directed & Written by Berkley Brady
1 hr 25 mins
I previously saw Berkley Brady’s excellent Dark Nature during its festival run this summer, so if you’re interested in an essay on the film, go here. But beware of spoilers! Dark Nature is creepy and it’s also filled with interesting themes concerning trauma, plus the film carries with it a strong sense of Indigeneity stemming from Brady’s Métis heritage.
The Phlegm Fatales
An At Home Grocery Delivery
This delightful set at LSPU Hall awaited the audience, as a packed house began filing into the theatre, awaiting the arrival of a popular troupe of local drag performers, The Phlegm Fatales (Irma Gerd \garbagefile, Madame Daddy, Eda Kumquat, and Liezel Hues). By the end of the performance—or, rather, massacre—there were bodies, meat, noodles, bondage ropes, clouds of parmesan cheese, and a couple fake testicles strewn across the stage. The Phlegms laid amongst their utter madness while everybody filed back out of the theatre before the final block of films at FogFest was set to begin; a well-deserved rest.
The show started off with a hilarious Liezel Hues video making fun of the typical housewife in commercials, then transitioned into more of a theatrical performance as the remaining Phlegms began to take the stage. Immediately the thing the audience got from the performance was a great use of mixed media, which continued throughout the show, no stranger to drag performers in general but especially the talented Phlegms.
The whole performance was outstanding, though there were standout moments: “Plop the beef thusly!” as Irma ‘poured’ a pack of ground beef into a blender, which may or may not have been pure ad lib; Irma later had her hand cut off and left the stage briefly wailing: “I use that one for wanking;” Madame Daddy gave us a sexy and foolish lip sync while cooking up a meal, then later thrilled everybody as they hung from what I’d like to call a bondage hammock, covered in food; Eda Kumquat nailed a fantastic lip sync of “Biscuit” that was so goddamn funny in the context of the play/her character; finally it was Ron’s bloody meatballs that offered the biggest pop for the audience and \garbagefile sold every last ounce of it.
The Phlegms, for me, are what drag is all about: fucking with gender and satirising (hetero) society. Hello Flesh is but one example, because The Phlegms have been doing weird, wonderful things for a while now. It’s just that this performance in particular was a perfect distillation of everything I personally love about drag.
While there were plenty of great films to see on the final day of the festival, it’s very obvious that The Phlegm Fatales were the biggest draw with only a couple dozen (if that) seats empty once the performance started. Obviously Irma Gerd is a big name across the island (and rightfully so, honey!), not to mention Irma’s time on Season 3 of Canada’s Drag Race doesn’t hurt when it comes to publicity, however, The Phlegm Fatales are such a well-rounded group with each performer bringing something uniquely important to the troupe; something they showed off well in Hello Flesh, as each Phlegm—even Liezel, who was not physically in attendance—got their time to shine.
Anybody who missed this performance should kick themselves in the ass. You can thank the terrifying Nutritional Pyramid God that The Phlegm Fatales aren’t a one-off thing and they’re always doing SOMETHING, individually or separately, you ought to be watching.
The true beauty of FogFest is that it’s bringing genre film lovers in Newfoundland and Labrador together. I had a great time seeing the Grind Mind guys and talking to a number of different people in/outside the film industry here in the province who have a strong love of horror. There’s clear potential for FogFest to become bigger each year, judging by the strong reactions to the festival by various people attending, as well as the number of people who showed up, even on Saturday as it pissed rain day/night.
Not only that, FogFest has opened up a pretty inclusive space as a festival, encouraging people of all cultures and identities to not just come out to enjoy the festival but to actually be a part of it and have their work shown, from short films and feature films to the art of drag.
FogFest especially gives local genre filmmakers a boost, or even those who want to try their hand at directing a movie and haven’t taken the plunge yet. Grind Mind themselves have been a force of positive influence in this sense since they started, just out of their sheer determination to consistently make short horror films. With FogFest, Grind Mind are now giving others a big platform to show off their films to the world.
I grew up wanting to become part of the film industry but barely even knew we had our own film corporation in Newfoundland, or that there was anything independent film-related happening regularly around the island; it’s now in my mid-to-late-30s that I’m finally getting involved the way I’d always hoped. It’s only over the past decade or so that the Newfoundland and Labrador film/television industry has become more visible abroad and, more importantly, to the people living here. Grind Mind has played a significant role in bringing awareness to the rich film culture that exists here, especially when it comes to horror movies. Now FogFest will give more hope—as well as ACCESS—to young horror/genre filmmakers who want to reach out and touch the film industry right here at home on our small-but-vibrant island.