• Maxwell J.

2022 Panic Film Festival Review

On a whim I decided to purchase a ticket to the 2022 Panic Film Fest, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Virtual film festivals are such a cool concept to me, and I love the fact that I get to spend time watching burgeoning talent and new perspectives in horror. One day I would love to get a chance to visit in Kansas City to check out the festival in person, but until then I am very happy with my experience this year. I watched 14 films which averaged a 6.25/10 rating from me, which means I saw plenty of excellent films here.


Due to the nature of Panic Fest, however, there are some great films I could not see due to timing and their exclusion from their virtual lineup. Thankfully, plenty of them will be released soon. The Innocents, Hatching, and Wyrmwood: Apocalypse have already released late April or May. Releasing this summer, Dashcam and Hypochondriac are at the top of my list to catch in theaters in June and July respectively. Also this summer, Shudder will be releasing Revealer in June while Allegoria will kickstart their August lineup. Also coming to Shudder is Watcher, set for a June theatrical run and undisclosed Shudder release, and She Will with a July theatrical release and October premiere on Shudder. So far the only entry I am unsure of a release date for is Crabs! which is easily one of my most anticipated festival films of the year.


Without further ado, here are the 14 films I watched at this year’s Panic Film Festival and my personal ranking of how much I enjoyed them.



14. The Chamber of Terror (Director: Michael Pereira; Canada)

The operations of a powerful mob family are in danger due to the meddling of macho man Nash Carothers. Daughter Ava is running operations of their torture chamber while her younger brother Tyler remains missing. The specter of her overbearing father haunts Ava as she leads a team of hapless grunts into kidnapping Carothers so they can torture him together. The stakes raise higher when they realize they have been made and that the consequences for their actions will be a visit from a powerful supernatural entity from their past. Easily the most niche and irritating of the films screening at the fest is this indie venture. Many of my issues with The Chamber of Terror lie in its horrendous script and uneven delivery. It has the makings a of fun B-movie but fails to capture the right tone to portray the wildness underneath its core premise. Fans of more schlocky entertainment may have reason to seek out this film but for those that prefer less ham-fisted approaches to horror may want to look elsewhere.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


13. When I Consume You (Director: Perry Blackshear; United States)

Daphne and Wilson are haunted by the demons of their past. Forced to grow up at a young age, the two look out for each other after the foster system failed to protect them from the harshness of life. Trying to re-establish themselves as stable and promising parental figures, they try their hands at adopting a child to save them from the life they had. After they are denied, Daphne is attacked by a mysterious stalker. What happens next sets off a chain of events that threaten to destroy the siblings in life and in death. Another demonic allegory for addiction and trauma, When I Consume You retreads a story that we’ve seen many times before this. Its leads are written and played sufficiently nihilistic with the slightest glimmer of hope, apt for a film about the destructive nature of life. Strong cinematography and an appropriately dark tone make a case for a good film. Unfortunately, its story is uneven and generic, throwing in some spirituality in the mix without much thought. If dark and depressing is your thing, there may be something for you to consume in this mental health horror flick.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)



12. The Passenger (Director: Raúl Cerezo/Fernando González Gómez; Spain)

Van driver Blasco embarks on another lengthy road trip transporting passengers from the city to deep in the countryside. Among his most recent passengers is a mother, Mariela, and daughter, Marta, on their way to Marta’s father place where she will stay while her mother takes on a new international job. Marta isn’t happy with it but thankfully Lidia, a sympathetic nurse who is facing her own battles, is there to lend an ear to Mariela’s troubles. Despite the women’s complaints of Blasco’s personality, the trip is going off without a hitch. It is, until they hit a stranded motorist and decide to transport them to the hospital. Unfortunately for them, this will not be their final foray into violence that night. A small cast of well-developed characters fighting an unknowable alien force in an isolated setting is exactly the type of film I am rooting for and The Passenger delivers most of it. The best part of this indie film is Blasco and Marta’s relationship, which mimics the father and daughter relationship each wishes they had. The comedy is well-timed, the action is wild, and it is generally well filmed. It falls apart in its story, as the film has multiple plausible endings within its 90-minute runtime. Furthermore, its indecisive tone makes it hard to pin what the movie is going for overall. Does it want to be a gross out comedy? An unbelievably scary movie? An action thriller? It doesn’t quite balance all these sub-genres of horror leading to a production that looks like many different films stitched together.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here


11. Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes (Director: Kevin Kopacka; Germany)

Time passes by slowly for a couple in a vast castle in the middle of the forest. Things change for them as narratives are challenged and cycles are broken for the better. Full of dreamlike wonder, timelines collapse, relationships are tested, arguments flair up, and bonds break indefinitely. It is difficult to give little away when discussing this German oddity, as much of what is shown onscreen is not what meets the eyes. Visually, this film is the most interesting and beautiful experiences out of Panic Fest. It is evident that much care went into creating the dazzling sets, vivid colors and lights, and memorable imagery. Its striking aesthetic is backed up by equally strong performances. Where Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes struggles is in its story. More metaphorical and abstract in its vision, Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes revels in its feminist, non-linear story. It can be frustrating at times to understand where everything fits together structurally. There is plenty to chew on in terms of its commentary on cyclical relationships and power dynamics that may draw appreciation from those interested in those themes. At the end of the day, I may not have “gotten it” but I hope you do when it premieres on Shudder next month!


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here


10. Dawning (Director: Young Min Kim; United States)

Trauma therapist Haejin Park rushes home at the suspicion of a family emergency. When she returns, she finds her sister Soojin in a dejected but overall stable state. As the days bleed into one another, Haejin suffers terrifying nightmares stemming from the dark events of her childhood. She must face the traumas that shaped her head on if she has any hopes of reconciling with the demons that live on in her mind. Another allegorical mental health horror film, Dawning takes an even more muted approach to its story. The more we learn about the events that took place on this farm many years ago, the sadder the story gets. Some revelations that come to light just before the final act of the film may alienate those who are looking for a more straightforward film instead of a meditation on grief and familial trauma. Personally, I wanted a bit more out of it, as it leaves very little up for interpretation and verges into some tropes that feel a bit outdated. Nevertheless, Dawning is a competent horror drama that carves out its own niche in the mental health subgenre of horror.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)



9. Presence (Director: Christian Schultz; United States)

After leaving New York three weeks prior due to a mental break down, Jennifer is contacted by her best friend Samantha about good news concerning their conjoined business venture. Within the hour, Jennifer is boarding a private plane and walking on the docks of billionaire David’s private yacht. Together, they sail the Caribbean to discuss their upcoming deal to supply David’s manufacturing company with their new zipper design. All is well except Jennifer is plagued by violent visions of her ex-boyfriend Keaton, who visited her the night before she left. Is Jennifer’s unchecked anxiety attempting to self-sabotage her once again or has a sinister presence latched onto her? Beautifully shot, tense, and sufficiently mysterious, Presence is an odd duck of a film. The leads bring plenty of talent to the table, all playing their strong personalities exceptionally and craft realistic relationships and power dynamics in a unique setup. It never quite crescendos into a satisfactory story by the end though, its script plagued by a refusal to answer many of its posited questions. Ambiguity is great but the unexplained is consistent in nearly every thread that ties it all together. Viewers aware and excited for that possibility, however, should adore it for that virtue.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


8. Woodland Grey (Director: Adam Reider; Canada)

William has been living alone in the woods for as long as he can remember when he stumbles upon the unconscious body of Emily. After a series of misadventures on a solo hiking trip initiated after the sudden passing of her grandfather, Emily finds herself accepting William’s help to get her back on her feet and into town. Before the deal can be actualized, Emily discovers something sinister behind William’s trailer home that changes everything and sets off a series of events that will test both of their will and minds. There’s something familiar about Woodland Grey that makes it so comforting to watch. It unfurls like an adult fairy tale expounding on the ways grief and fear torture ourselves way worse than anyone else can. The performances can get a bit shouty but overall, Woodland Grey is a tense and well-made nature horror film. Once you get past the familiarity, you’ll find that the woods aren’t so bad to figure yourself and this film out.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


7. When the Screaming Starts (Director: Conor Boru; United Kingdom)

Wannabe serial killer Aidan is contacted by a filmmaking team led by Norman to document him achieving his dreams of becoming a murderer and ascending into the circles of the great serial killers before him. Joining him is Claire, his girlfriend who is very supportive of his dreams. Unfortunately, Aidan kind of sucks at his dream. Yet to pull the trigger, or complete any sort of killing, Aidan opts to start a Charles Manson like cult so his followers can do his bidding for him. Among the group he recruits is Amy who harbors true talent as a serial killer and begins to question Aidan’s authority as head of the family. Slapstick British comedy paired with an excellent cast, makes this mockumentary a delightfully fun horror romp. The setup is surprisingly typical for a found footage film, but the deeper the story plays out, the more fun the team has with its concept. By the end, there are plenty of memorable kills, bits, and jokes to color the experience of watching. It may lean a bit too hard into cringe humor at times for me, but it is still a deeply charming horror comedy that deserves your attention. I promise you’ll be screaming laughing at least once by the end.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


6. The Creeping (Director: Jamie Hooper; United Kingdom)

Anna moves back in with her grandmother Lucy to assist with her care after her father Harry passes away. Once there, she is greeted by Lucy’s cheerful home nurse Karen and gets reacquainted with her grandmother. Unfortunately, Lucy’s memory is in flux, where sometimes she doesn’t remember where she is or that Anna is her granddaughter. Not long after she settles in, Anna begins to experience strange and unsettling happenings in the house that lead her to believe that something is wrong. The beauty in The Creeping is in its simplicity. A scaled-back, period haunter, The Creeping plays like a forgotten gem from the 70s aching to be re-discovered. Great performances, beautiful aesthetics, and a neat little story make this indie film one worth watching. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel and for that I thank it for avoiding the urge to shock simply for shock’s sake. It does feature some rough cgi, but it is almost charming in a way. If you are looking for lighter horror, look no further than this creepy little film.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


5. Masking Threshold (Director: Johannes Grenzfurthner; Austria)

A man struggles with his unshakable affliction of tinnitus. After seeking out answers from every doctor, lab, and online forum possible, he decides to work out the answer to his ailment himself. Using his background knowledge of science from his recently abandoned doctorate in physics, he attempts to discern what causes the unceasing noise and if there is a way to stop it. The farther he descends, the more volatile his behavior and the further reaching his conclusions become. Once he makes a breakthrough, however, he becomes unstoppable. Easily one of the most unique films out of the fest is this Austrian descent into madness. Told through a series of videos that emulate a DIY Youtube channel, Masking Threshold examines the breaking points of a disturbed and vulnerable man. Fantastic leading performances by the voice and the body, played by two different actors, elevate this film into something truly special. Throw in some commentary about internet culture, radicalization, and conspiracy theories and you have an unnerving feature. I’m very glad to have watched this at Panic Fest after missing it at Fantastic Fest last year. My theory is that you will find Masking Threshold as smart, captivating, and shocking as I do.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


4. Bitch Ass (Director: Bill Posley; United States)

Q is struggling to find a way to pay for college and support his mother, Marsia. Unbeknownst to his mother, Q has decided to gain membership into the Sixth Street Gang. His final test is robbing the home of a recently deceased elderly woman along with fellow initiates Tuck, Moo, and Cricket. The leader of the gang, Spade, impresses upon Q the importance of following through and being better for himself and his mother. All goes according to plan until the crew breaks into the house. They find themselves playing a series of games with deadly consequences against the elderly woman’s son, the first Black serial killer to don a mask: Bitch Ass. Hear me out, this description reads sillier than the film is. It’s not super serious by any means, but Bitch Ass packs a serious punch. Capitalizing on its gimmick, the film puts plenty of effort into making it as visually stimulating as possible. Top notch cinematography, editing, and direction elevate this indie film into an endearing slasher film with plenty of franchise potential. The characters are memorable, but the kills are even more so. Check out this slice of Black horror and find out if this game is up your alley or not.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


3. Malibu Horror Story (Director: Scott Slone; United States)

Paranormal investigators Josh, Matt, Ashley, and Jessica set out to investigate the disappearance of four teenage boys from Malibu ten years ago. What began as tragedy turned to scandal when the video tape taken the night the boys vanished is found and reveals the indulgence and debauchery of the boys and their peers. Soon after, a quick and easy determination is made in their deaths: a natural accident caused in a cave. As the film crew wrap up their second day of shooting in the cave system, they discover something sinister that points them closer to the truth behind the final moments of the teens. The cost for such discovery may be their lives. I’m a sucker for a good found footage film and Malibu Horror Story hits all the right spots. Its location and setup are to die for. The caves off the coast have plenty of mystery surrounding them and offer up a unique location for horror. Conceptually, mixing up multiple modalities of found footage and blending them together is a refreshing way to update the subgenre, which admittedly gets over-saturated in waves. Above all else, Malibu Horror Story is simply a terrifying film and worthy of your attention when it gets its wide release.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


2. The Abandon (Director: Jason Satterlund; United States)

Just as Miles Willis thinks he is about to succumb to gunshots sustained in action he awakens in a barren grey room with no doors or windows. Realizing he must not be in Iraq anymore, Miles attempts to call for help on his satellite phone. Without a signal and slowly losing blood, Miles resigns himself to waiting for support. His captors have other plans, however, as the room begins to manipulate itself tormenting Miles. Between temperature fluctuations and spinning walls, Miles is stuck until he finds out he is not alone in his turmoil. I knew The Abandon was going to be near the top of my list as soon as I read the synopsis. Blending science fiction, mystery, and horror, The Abandon pulls off its ambitious concept with finesse. Powerful leading performances and an engrossing story help keep the film tight and interesting despite 90% of the action taking place in a single, barren room. The most exciting thing about The Abandon is that it proves more can be done with less and that good horror can be as existential as it is visceral.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)



1. The Outwaters (Director: Robbie Banfitch; United States)

A trip to the Mohave Dessert turns deadly for a group of friends shooting a music video. Robbie has put considerable effort in planning Michelle’s production shoot for her first music video. His brother Scott and make-up artist/hometown friend Ange join them for the trip. Once they arrive, a series of mysterious noises and strange phenomena upset the vibes of their picture-perfect desert adventure. What happens next verges on the unexplainable as they are forced into a terrifying foray into darkness. All that remains is their video camera and three memory cards detailing the events that transpired. Quite possibly one of the most unique found footage films ever created, The Outwaters is a testament to indie filmmaking and one that deserves your attention. It starts out innocent enough, lulling viewers into familiar territory before veering left and taking you on a journey through unimaginable hell. Told almost exclusively through the lens of its lead character, audiences will find themselves assaulted with some of the most terrifying amalgamations of sound and imagery. This film is a must see and is going to easily going to be one of the top films of the year and potentially even of the decade.


Full Review: See Here

Where to Watch: See Here (Wide Release TBD)


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