• Maxwell J.

2022 Chattanooga Film Festival Review

The Chattanooga Film Festival is always a great time and 2022 is no different. Their commitment to virtual festival programming and obtaining the weird and obscure is unparalleled for the value of its cost. This year it was easier than ever to check out as many features and shorts as you wanted. I had the pleasure of seeing a few of the films offered this year at earlier festivals, so I will not be reviewing the following: Bitch Ass, The Outwaters, Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes, and The Creeping.


Very similarly to how I will do reviews for a full year, I’d like to break down my thoughts on each of the releases. I have ordered them based on my perception of quality, but obviously everyone has different tastes so please take this with a grain of salt. Without further ado, here are the 15 films I watched at this year’s Chattanooga Film Festival.



15. Honeycomb (Director: Avalon Fast; Canada)

One summer, a group of teenage girls Willow (Sophie Bawks-Smith), Jules (Jilian Frank), Vicky (Mari Geraghty), June (Jaris Wales), and Millie (Rowan Wales) follow Leader (Destini Stewart) into an abandoned cabin in the woods. They decide to make the rustic digs their home and decide to sit down and dictate their conditions of living together. Among these rules they establish are to never reveal the secret location to anyone, to never keep secrets, and to distribute only appropriate revenge for any misdeeds done against them. Inadvertently, they start a cult. A labor of love, it is hard to rag on an indie film that is trying to make it work, especially one with such a young team. Honeycomb is bristling with great ideas, and it is beyond clear that there is talent amongst the young filmmakers. Unfortunately, the end product is neither engaging nor satisfying. Its short run time and wayward writing makes it difficult to stick with the young girls spitting in the face of society, no matter how cool it would be to follow.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


14. Wulver’s Stane (Director: Joseph Cornelison; United States)

Clare (Adrian Collins) lives in the city and has to make ends meet by doing various seedy acts in an effort to survive. Part of this involves selling a hypnotic elixir to clientele across the city. She hopes to repress the feelings and memories of her tortured past that threatens to erupt from her at any moment. These two odds clash with each other and end in a swirl of violence in the end. Wulver’s Stane is arthouse horror that transcends description. It is also meant for very niche audiences. The direction is assured even if the vision isn’t accessible for most audience members. Unless you are excited for something more sensory oriented than narrative driven, Wulver’s Stane is likely not one you need to prioritize.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


13. Mystery Spot (Director: Mel House; United States)

Rachel (Lisa Wilcox) finds herself in the middle of nowhere attracted to the hotels surrounding the Mystery Spot, a burnt down tourist attraction. There she meets the chipper Max (Lyle Kanouse) the owner of the motel who is grieving the loss of his husband, whom other characters believe may or may not have died under malicious circumstances. She also meets Nathan (Graham Skipper), a man who runs auditions for a production company out of his motel room for roles and movies he does not know. Also, there is Leon (Bobby Simpson II), a police officer investigating a string of mysterious disappearances that all lead back to the locale. Soon these characters and more will learn about the strange, confusing, and deadly properties of the Mystery Spot. Going into Mystery Spot, I was rooting for it. By the time it gets twenty minutes in, it was evident that this film is going for a slow burn mystery that just doesn’t work for its scope. Aside from its two leads, the performances drag the film down to considerably sillier depths. There are a few interesting opines on life and death, but the occasional diamond line of dialogue cannot compete against the meandering script. This Mystery Spot is not recommended for travelers seeking affecting horror and suspense.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


12. The Unsettling (Director: Harry Owens; United States)

Abena and Kwame move into their short-term rental in Los Angeles fully expecting to enjoy their vacation. Abena can’t shake the feeling that something is off about the home but pushes her doubts aside for Kwame’s sake. It’s evident the couple are at odds with each other as Kwame shoots down and subverts Abena’s ideas for spending time together, particularly when Kwame secretly invites their long-term friends Vivian and Anthony over for dinner. The quiet terror of the house looms, waiting to take advantage of all the fractured relationships under its roof. The Unsettling is easily the most infuriating films I have watched this year. What starts as an eerie premise with promising characters sags into an unrecognizable finale that feels both unearned and hollow. Most of the scares conjured up in the first 75 minutes are evoked from confusing dream sequences that pair Abena’s trauma with imagery of the rental. It’s frustrating because the film has decent production values behind it. Unfocused writing emphasizes the least interesting aspects of these unfortunate soul’s reckoning with the supernatural while providing more questions than answers by the end. And, even then, the questions posed are not interesting enough to give thought to even thirty minutes after finishing. The ill-defined antagonist, limp interpersonal drama, and underselling performances make The Unsettling a decidedly below average haunter.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


11. The Ones You Didn’t Burn (Director: Alice Finerty; United States)

Following the death of their father, estranged siblings Mirra and Nathan make the trek to their old family farmhouse to process and sort through his affairs. Once there, the duo falls into old habits, clashing to the point where they spend time with the others roaming around town. The farmhands particularly seem to latch onto the siblings, but Nathan cannot shake the feeling that something is off about Alice. He is convinced that she has something to do with his father’s death. Eventually, he will learn that some secrets are never forgotten, no matter how hard one tries to bury the past. Bristling with potential, this sizzling slow-burn supernatural horror never rises beyond a whisper. Its competent cast and assured direction cannot bring the weak story to life. Tangled in a mess of tired themes and familiar story beats, the narrative gets lost while trying to update a tale of feminist revenge. While it isn’t as engaging as this reviewer hoped, it is filled with beautiful cinematography and sinister imagery that helps bring some atmosphere to the film. Horror drama for niche tastes, The Ones You Didn’t Burn is middling revenge horror that can be missed or not depending on your interests.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


10. Gateway (Director: Niall Owens; United States)

Small town gang leader Mike is in a bind. He owes a large sum of money to Cyril who is strongarming him into ramping up his cannabis sales. Mike is still reeling from the death of his sister Hannah but decides that it is necessary to keep himself and his fellow gang members alive. They decide to set up shop in an abandoned house that some of the younger members know is vacant due to their late-night smoke sessions. Once inside, they find themselves in a curious dilemma after one of their members dies by suicide all the while more puzzling happenings begin to haunt the crew. Betrayed mostly by the confines of its budget, Gateway is a simple film that never quite capitalizes on its creepy premise. There is much to be said about the choice to film most of the scary stuff during the day, and there are a few startling sequences to boast. The problem lies with its languid approach to horror, it never picks up the pace necessary to reel in viewers to care about what or why this is happening. Many will enjoy this Gateway into sleepy, quaint horror but if you are looking for something truly unsettling, it might be best to search elsewhere.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here


9. The Leech (Director: Eric Pennycoff; United States)

Leading a waning congregation, Father David is met with a peculiar test of faith when he spots Terry sleeping in the pews of his church after mass. Grating as he is, Terry’s down-on-his-luck story ingratiates Father David enough to open his own home to him after an unsuccessful car ride to his girlfriend Lexi’s place leaves him without a place to sleep. Eventually, Lexi also finds her way to Father David’s home once she faces eviction, but not after she supposedly goes to confession, spilling the secret of an unplanned pregnancy. Things bubble over as the group tries to coexist together. Is this some kind of off brand cabin fever or is something more supernatural afoot? By far the most difficult film for this reviewer to watch, The Leech is an incredible well-made film, one that just hits every single personal red flag in a horror film. It relies on situational and cringe humor and revels in the misery of its three main characters, particularly their antagonistic actions towards one another. That being said, the performances are great, the direction is inspired, and the general themes of hypocrisy and accountability are intricately woven into the script. The Leech is a great film, just not one that I will ever revisit or enjoy.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


8. Cryo (Director: Barrett Burgin; United States)

Five people awaken from their cryogenic induced slumber in a bunker without any memory on why they are there. Quickly they deduce that they are members of a research team performing an experiment on cryogenic sleeping. They cannot remember their names but they do recall their roles on the team: a Doctor, an Engineer, a Biochemist, a Soldier, and a Psychologist. Unfortunately, their prospects look grim. They do not know how long they have been down there, which means their supplies are scarce, the air outside may be toxic, and there is a nonzero chance that there is a murderer amongst them. A relatively straightforward mystery horror, Cryo is a good time if you allow it to be. It is not without issues: the performances can get strained, the script needs tightening, and the camerawork is flat, it is still a triumph when it comes to student filmmaking. While it is clear that this isn’t a big budget film, the quality does not betray it for one done entirely by students! Regardless, there is suitable tension and scares found in Cryo that make it worth seeking out and taking a quick dip inside, that is if you can handle the cold.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here


7. A Pure Place (Director: Nikias Chryssos; Germany)

Siblings Paul and Irina grow up on a secluded island populated by the members of an eccentric cult. Headed by Fust, the group adheres to strict rituals to maintain order. The children, and one of the members, are forced to dirty themselves in order to produce enough soap for the island to sell and for the adults to purify their bodies with in order to reach a higher level of being. When Irina comes of age and is allowed to pass into adulthood, leaving behind Paul, a chain of events set off that endangers everyone in the community. A Pure Place is a gripping, muted horror drama that deftly mixes coming-of-age beats with the sentiments that arise when growing up in cult. Many of the injustices are seen through the eyes of young Paul as he questions and fights the norms surrounding the existing power structure in the admittedly delicate ecosystem of the island. Beyond its compelling narrative, A Pure Place sports some breathtaking scenery, as the backdrop of the tale is set against the beautiful Mediterranean. This is important, as the film juxtaposes the concepts of purity and beauty with filth and ugliness. These lines skew as the film goes on, leaving viewers with a new perspective on the appearances of ideal society and people.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


6. The Third Saturday in October Part I (Director: Jay Burleson; United States)

Years after the brutal slayings that claimed the lives of several locals, drifter and serial killer Harding is set to die by electric chair. Survivors of the previous massacre Ricky Dean Logan and Vicki Newton attend, hoping to get some closure for the night that took away those close to them. Suspicious that the execution didn’t go as planned, the duo drives out to the cemetery so they can watch Harding get buried. Instead of finding the workers setting his coffin in the ground, they find several mangled bodies. They make a b-line for the small town where the slayings took place where they will eventually cross paths with Heather Hill who’s night of revelry and celebration of another Alabama Mobile University football victory is about to sour. Capturing the magic at the heart of Halloween and Deep South football culture, The Third Saturday in October Part I is a worthy slasher that sticks to the basics of suspense and character development. While the jokes sometimes get stale, it is still a good ole time that matches the bravado of the small town it sets its tale. Classic slasher fans will adore the aesthetic and modern fans will appreciate the commitment to its bit.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


5. Something in the Dirt (Director: Justin Benson/Aaron Moorhead; United States)

New neighbors Levi and John discover something bizarre in Levi’s apartment, which has supposedly been abandoned for a decade. It appears to be a supernatural presence that only appears when they interact in specific ways. They vow to research and examine their subject and turn it into a documentary. Along the way their fixation grows harmful as they spend more time devoted to making meaning out of things that could conceivably be coincidences. As their lives break down, so does their trust in one another. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead can be trusted to make some of the most intriguing and captivating sci-fi horror films of the modern day. Something in the Dirt doesn’t quite eclipse their previous efforts, but it is another solid entry in their already strong filmography. Top notch character work, confounding special effects and editing, and sturdy performances keep this ambitious film grounded when it reaches too far in the sky. Perhaps its most special quality is its commitment to its underlying themes. Conspiracy theories and horror can go hand in hand, but the approach that Benson and Moorhead take is unconventional, giving more nuance and humanity to those that fall into their own rabbit holes. Captivating and thought provoking, Something in the Dirt is bound to catch your interest.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


4. The Third Saturday in October Part V (Director: Jay Burleson; United States)

PJ is excited to spend the night with her awesome babysitter Maggie while her parents celebrate the annual Alabama Mobile University and Tennessee A&M football game. Maggie plans to spend the evening at next door neighbor Peter’s house so she can catch the game with her friends. She ensures PJ has the option of a few rented vhs tapes, but the precocious child is determined to get her babysitter to take her to the best restaurant in town: Catfish Cabin. Amidst the hubbub and anticipation, a masked killer is breaking and entering homes in their town to carve up the townsfolk after seven years of lying dormant from killing on the infamous third Saturday in October. While both films are pleasing for different reasons, Part V oozes confidence and charisma as a charming throwback to 90s direct to video sequels that dominated VHS rental store shelves. The cast of characters are brash and obnoxious but strangely endearing all the same and the kills associated with them are equally as memorable. Leaning into its concept rather hard, the production values intentionally look stilted in this “sequel” which makes it more loveable. Slasher fans will delight in its good nature and horror fans in general will enjoy its take on franchises.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


3. Pussycake (Director: Pablo Parés; Argentina)


Pussycake follows the mishaps of an all-girl rock band of the same name. Bandmates Elle Cake, Sara Cake, Juli Cake, and Sofi Cake finish up a gig only to head to another one set up by band manager Pato. While on the road, their van mysteriously breaks down and they must walk through the night to get to their next show. When they arrive the next morning, the town is desolate, and their contact is nowhere to be found. They decide to split to find more information, stumbling into the realization that something terrible has happened in this town and now they have to work together to survive. Easily the most fun I have had at the Chattaoonga Film Festival this year, Pussycake is a delightfully energetic B-movie that knows how to deliver on the goods. Chock full of allusions and throwbacks, this Argentinian sci-fi horror comedy wears its inspirations on its sleeve. Beyond the gallons of blood and goo, the forefront of this feature is a strong female protagonist who learns to take charge and heal from her trauma as she tries to survive the worst the universe has to offer and save her fellow band mates. Do not skip out on this one when it comes to Screambox this August.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


2. LandLocked (Director: Paul Owens; United States)

Mason returns to his childhood home after his father passes away. Both his siblings Paul and Seth make quick visits to the house but otherwise leave it be. Unbeknownst to them, Mason has found a camcorder amongst the dust and broken-down furniture. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be much of a find until Mason decides to use it. Through the camera’s lens, he’s transported back to a summer where he was a kid, and his family is playing soccer. Mason realizes the gravity of his discovery. With this camera he can travel back in time to record and relive his childhood. His obsession with the past may cause him to end up just like his father. Delightfully somber and unexpectedly creepy, LandLocked is a curious mix of science-fiction, horror, fantasy, and drama. Told through the eyes of a wayward college student, LandLocked is more than just its trippy narrative. It speaks of the loss of youth, the longing for family and connectedness, and the grim reality of loss. Stretching its budget to a surprisingly large scale, LandLocked pulls off some impressive moments that are both immersive and unnerving. If you are searching for something truly out of left field, LandLocked is a great film to check out.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


1. Night Shift (Director: Greg Swinson, Ryan Thiessen; United States)

Forced to take on a new job as an overnight sanitation worker, Karen must slum through her shift all alone in an abandoned warehouse. Despite her daughter Lily dealing with a rising fever and an unresponsive sitter, the job is going well. Until, that is, Karen begins hearing and seeing things. While her initial response is dismissal, it becomes all too evident that someone has broken into her place of work. Reacting quickly, she makes a break for the exit, any exit, so she can leave the would-be robbers to their spoils. Unfortunately, Karen has been locked in and soon understands that these invaders have different intentions and will stop at nothing to see her dead by morning. Night Shift is an exceptionally tense and unnerving film. Sweeping camerawork, tantalizing set pieces, and an easy protagonist to root for makes Night Shift one of the most engaging experiences of the year. It may be light on characterization and plot, but it makes up for it with its pure adrenaline take on an invasion. Fans of similarly themed siege films will relish in its simplicity and flinch with glee at its utilization of its creepy setting. Needless to say this is one Night Shift that you must sign up for.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)

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