Horror junkies, rejoice: One of the most anticipated festivals for genre fans in South Florida kicks off this Friday. Popcorn Frights, the weeklong film festival taking place at O Cinema Wynwood, packs 17 features and an abundance of short films into just one week like so many dismembered limbs into a chest freezer. Directors Igor Shteyrenberg and Marc Ferman promise "the craziest, freshest, most horrifying, twisted, and hilarious films from around the globe... a fearsome feast filled with zombies, vampires, slashers, cannibals, and all the sinister things that go bump in the night."
That's a lot of guts and ghouls — perhaps too much for even the heartiest horror fan to fit into one wicked week. Luckily, a few blood-drenched gems stand out from the rest, films that are unmissable for casual horror fans and slasher junkies alike.
Of the three films featured opening night, your best bet is The Blackcoat's Daughter, or the movie formerly known as February, starring Hollywood cool-girl royalty — Scream Queens and Scream 4 star Emma Roberts and Mad Men standout Kiernan Shipka. This atmospheric horror film has a deceptively simple plot: Two students get attacked by an evil invisible power at an all-girls school when they're stranded over winter break. But director-writer Oz Perkins and composer Elvis Perkins (the children of legendary Psycho star Anthony Perkins) are pretty much guaranteed to deliver something far more complex and interesting. The Blackcoat's Daughter premieres Friday at 9 p.m.
The next night, check out Under the Shadow, set in a haunted apartment in 1988 Tehran. This is a rare thing, a period horror film that doesn't feel the need to bash you over the head with nostalgia. Sure, Jane Fonda's workout tapes make an appearance, but this movie is more dedicated to exploring a woman's mental state in a society that represses her (a world where anxiety and fear thrive because of war) and just good old-fashioned haunting-style horror than to cheap giggles at how things used to be. Comparisons to Jennifer Kent's 2014 feature The Babadook make sense — both share unstoppable monster and psychological horror — but director Babak Anvari delivers a cool debut feature that's very different and well worth checking out. Under the Shadow premieres Saturday at 7 p.m.
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Some movies boast a lineup of actors that gets audiences excited before the first frame hits the screen. I Am Not a Serial Killer is one of those movies. Max Records of Where the Wild Things Are is the star of this film; he plays a sociopathic kid, raised by morticians, who ends up sleuthing around when a serial killer strikes his town. It's a curious role for the now-19-year-old Records, who's been offscreen for five years. It also helps that Christopher Lloyd (everyone's Back to the Future fave) is his costar. I Am Not a Serial Killer premieres Saturday at 9 p.m.
Saturday night boasts many of the festival's best screenings, and the third film of the night is undoubtedly the most intriguing. Antibirth, directed by Danny Perez (the guy who made the visually riveting Animal Collective movie Oddsac), has all the makings of an epic freak-out film. After all, it's a movie that includes a monster pregnancy, alien abductions, covert operatives, and a bunch of body horror and colorful goodness. It also stars indie badasses Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny. How could anyone say no to that? Antibirth premieres Saturday at 11 p.m.
Women who make horror movies are dishing out some of the best work in the genre, especially in recent years. Lucile Hadzihalilovic, who edited Gaspar Noé's I Stand Alone and co-wrote Enter the Void, is among those filmmakers. Her latest feature, Evolution, proves that. It's a hell of a slow burn, full of long, moody takes that drop the audience into an uncomfortable seaside world where only young boys and older women exist. But this is no boring ride — the body horror and fantastic nature of the story deliver all the payoff you need. Evolution premieres Sunday at 7 p.m.
Popcorn Frights Film Festival
Friday, August 12, through Thursday, August 18, at O Cinema Wynwood, 90 NW 29th St., Miami. General-admission tickets cost $12 per film; individual festival badges cost $120; a dual festival badge for two attendees costs $180. Call 305-571-9970 or visit popcornfrights.com.