For 2021, Popcorn Frights is going solo, like “the final girl” in a slasher film, with a hybrid offering of virtual screenings and in-person events at Silverspot Cinema Coconut Creek. Out on its own, the festival has the opportunity to reassert itself as what MovieMaker calls one of "the world’s 50 best genre festivals."
The 2021 edition launches with a highly anticipated Florida premiere of The Night House, a supernatural thriller from director David Bruckner starring Rebecca Hall. Bruckner scared audiences with his last film, The Ritual, exploring male-bonding rituals and returns to screens with a female-focused film featuring Hall, who is best known to audiences from blockbuster fare like Godzilla vs. Kong and arthouse efforts like Christine.
The Night House is high-concept horror film that takes the classic trope of the double to the extreme. Exploring the uncanny and rooted in trauma and loss, the film is both a ghost story and a haunted house film. Hall’s nuanced performance propels the film, bringing authenticity and emotional realism that echos epic horror performances like Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist, Toni Collette in Hereditary, and Lupita Nyong’o in Us. Full of collective jumps, scares, and screams, it’s the perfect film to kickstart Popcorn Frights' return to in-person screenings.
Not to worry — the festival keeps the momentum going with a series of world premieres throughout the weekend. Pretty Boy is a new slasher film, recalling the premise of Wait Until Dark with Audrey Hepburn, as a cleaver-wielding masked killer stalks a blind woman in the Hollywood Hills on Valentine’s Day. Then there's Ditched, which gives a twist on survival cinema when a young Inuit paramedic finds herself stranded in a dark forest after an accident surrounded by a pack of convicted murderers. And attuned to the cultural zeitgeist and horrors of vacations gone wrong, Superhost follows a pair of travel vloggers who encounter a host looking for more than a five-star rating.
After last year's more national focus, Popcorn Frights has shrewdly put a spotlight on local films this time around. The first offering is Offseason, set in a desolate Florida island town that gives a Floridan twist on American Gothic. Featuring terrific performances from Joceline Donahue (The House of the Devil) and Joe Swanberg (You’re Next), the atmospheric film captures the Sunshine State's strangeness, and director Mikey Keating will be present at the screening for a discussion.
In addition to feature films, the festival has a collection of short films called "Homegrown: 100% Pure Fresh Squeezed Florida Horror," designed to showcase the work of local filmmakers and provide them a platform to share their work with a larger audience. Horror hits close to home again in The Welder, which was shot in the Everglades. The film follows a young couple seeking reconnection in a pastoral paradise only to find a hellscape when they are terrorized by a maniac conducting demented experiments.
Taking advantage that this year’s festival falls on Friday the 13th, Popcorn Frights screens Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives to celebrate the film’s 35th anniversary. It’s a curious entry in the franchise that manages to merge the spirit of gothic horror with the aesthetics of 1980s action cinema. In a wonderful juxtaposition, Part VI finds inspiration from 1930s Universal monster movies and anticipates the meta-humor of the Scream series and other contemporary horror-comedy hybrids.
The horror genre is a visceral and experiential form of cinema that benefits from a theatrical and communal experience. There is something electrifying and special about sitting in the dark with friends and strangers, sharing the thrills, chills, and terrors. That said, if you’re concerned about in-person enjoyment, Popcorn Frights is offering plenty of virtually accessible gore.
Popcorn Frights Film Festival. Thursday, August 12, through Thursday, August 19; popcornfrights.com. Tickets cost $13 for in-person events and $10 for virtual screenings.