Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival Reviews: FERAL, FURIES, and IS THAT YOU?

The 23rd edition of South Korea’s Bucheon International Film Festival (BIFAN) took place from June 27–July 7, 2019, featuring a bevy of horror films from around the world. Joseph Perry and Chris Weatherspoon attended in person, and here we give our thoughts on three of the festival’s scare-fare entries.

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Joseph Perry: Mexican chiller Feral (2018) concerns troubled priest Juan Felipe (Hector Illanes), who left the church to live an isolated lifestyle in the mountains of Oaxaca, and, initially, the feral boy (Farid Escalante Correa) who he discovers in the woods near his home. Naming the boy Cristobal, Felipe takes the wild, animal-like child under his wing as both a son and a project, trying to teach him how to sit in a chair, walk, communicate verbally, and trust other humans. Writer/director Andres Kaiser tells the story with a superb found footage/cinema verite approach, eschewing the shaky, jerky camera movements that have given found footage horror films a less-than-stellar reputation in favor of static shots, documentary-style footage, and video diaries recorded on beta max tapes by Felipe.

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When two more feral children, found chained up in a cave, come to live with Felipe and Cristobal, the proceedings escalate, resulting in a horrific event that Kaiser reveals at the beginning of the film. The documentary sequences are so well directed and acted that it would be easy to mistake them for authentic, and the third act provides gripping scenes of suspense, tension, and sadness. Illanes is marvelous as the psychologically scarred Felipe, Correa does a terrific job as Cristobal, and the rest of the cast is fine, as well. Kaiser has crafted a film that feels wholly original, and that explores the conflicts that religion can cause both within an individual and within communities. It’s the type of film that leaves viewers thinking about it long after it finishes. I highly recommend it.

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Chris Weatherspoon: Australian horror Furies is the feature debut for writer/director Tony D’Aquino. Set in the Australian desert, this female-led, survival-horror-sci fi mashup features a cast of colorful killers and offers a twist on the final-girl formula. The film opens with cautious, epileptic-seizure prone Kayla (Arlie Dodds, Book Week) having an argument with lifelong best friend, and uber feminist Maddie (Ebony Vagulans). Their disagreement is less of a thought provoking discussion and more of a convenient way to quickly provide exposition and introduce viewers to Kayla’s character arc. Moments after the two part ways, Kayla is abducted and taken to a desolate desert locale where she soon discovers she isn’t alone. A grotesque, masked, axe-wielding monster has been assigned to murder her and it is stalking her every move through the cameras that have been implanted into her eyes. Additionally, there are six other women in the abandoned location, each with their own assigned masked, murderous stalker. When one of the girls meets an untimely, gory demise, Kayla soon discovers a connection between the victims and their hunters and decides to use this knowledge to fight back.  However, as the body count continues to rise, the girls begin to lose trust in each other, forcing Kayla to seek survival, and revenge, at all costs.

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Furies doesn’t reinvent the wheel for the human-for-sport survival horror genre, but the revealed connection between the “beauties” and the “beasts” presents the director with an opportunity to inject some interesting game theory into the plot. Fans of slasher films and gore will love the designs used for the masked creatures, which reference characters from many past horror classics. The story has its tense moments of suspense, and D’Aquino succeeds in creating likable victims that can garner empathy; however, with such a large cast, some of the characters feel either undeveloped or underused. As the central lead, Dodds is able to carry the film, convincingly portraying Kayla’s transformation from sensitive victim to tough, focused avenger. Clocking in at only 88 minutes, Furies feels like it ends with some story still left to tell. Hopefully D’Aquino will have a chance to share more of this world of beauties and beasts. 

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Joseph Perry: If you are looking for a horror film set in a bleak, hopeless world of brown, beige, and other muted colors, you need look no further than the Cuban outing Is That You? (2018). Lili (Gabriela Ramos) is a thirteen-year-old who seems to love her father Eduardo (Osvaldo Doimeadios), despite his cruelty toward her mother Alina (Lynn Cruz), whose feet are bound and who Eduardo forces to live in a pig shed.  Lili is so attached to her father that when she and her mother have a chance to escape, she spoils the attempt. After Eduardo suddenly goes missing, she comes into contact with a woman who claims she can help Lili bring her father back using black magic.

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This being a horror movie/psychological thriller, things don’t go according to plan, and a diabolical force asserts itself into the proceedings. Viewers are left to their own devices to fill in blanks as to why certain things might be happening in the film, which works well here and adds a further element of mystery. Director Rudy Riveron Sanchez has crafted a harrowing, suffocating work that puts viewers in the middle of a terrible situation without the benefit of back story, which heightens the unease of watching this difficult film. The performances by the small ensemble cast members are all solid, with Doimeadios as the sadistic, domineering patriarch and Ramos as the suspicious, misguided teenage daughter standing out.