Featured photo: Still from ‘All the Way Down, This Time’ (courtesy photo)

We’ve seen it all before.

Lumbering male killers chasing scantily clad young women up narrow staircases to their bloody end. Wholesome teenagers drive out into the woods to party only to find the car won’t start as the monster closes in. 

Horror films have a reputation for having a certain narrowness with traditional tropes like the masked killer and the final girl long been the hallmark of scare films.

In the last few years, an increasing number of films have expanded to include innovative structures and diverse storytelling that represents the genre’s broad fanbase. Enter the Queer Fear Film Fest, based in the Triad and now in its second year, as a unique film festival which celebrates all the possibilities of zombies, monsters, apocalyptic happenings and dark intentions. 

Festival founder Tiffany Albright conceived QFF as a way to bridge the divide between her two passions – queer culture and horror – highlighting the wide spectrum of experiences that each can encompass. There is nothing quite like it anywhere, particularly given its recurring status. This year, QFF saw a 50 percent increase in the number of submissions over last year. The festival is also adding an in-person component through its partnership with a/perture theater, which will include Q&A sessions, and cash prizes for winning films. 

Part of the festival’s success comes from its determination to be inclusive. QFF defines both queerness and horror in broad terms, allowing for the inclusion of filmmakers and genres that might not be welcomed at other horror gatherings. Films must either have LGBTQIA+ content or have creators who identify as part of the community, but they can be in any horror subgenre and of any length. This year, all but one film is created by a queer identifying creative team.

“Film is so special because it’s a collaborative process,” Albright says. “In both queer and horror, we rely on each other to make the cut and also to exist in the world.”

#NoFilter still (courtesy photo)

The 19 films being screened at a/perture this weekend include everything from abstract doomsday horror to short thrillers, from a full-length, campy slasher to a heartfelt animated short. Creators range from those who have roots right here in the Triad all the way to those grounded in Korean traditions. Throughout the films, authentic characters bring new dimensions to the horror genre. 

Albright shares that, though NC filmmakers tend to leave the state to find work, several of the pieces part of QFF maintain a connection with the area. An accomplished independent filmmaker in her own right, she understands the challenges of creating outside of mainstream studios and away from Hollywood. Raising the profile of all included groups is a primary part of the long-term vision of the festival, which hopes to continue to expand and support filmmakers.

Though horror can seem like it’s only for those with a strong stomach, QFF has been curated to give everyone a chance to enjoy spine tingling thrills and high quality filmmaking. Here, knee-slapping comedies live harmoniously alongside occult gore. Each of the blocks of films appeals to a different element. TCB had the chance to preview several of the films, getting a taste of what audiences can expect from QFF this year.

Friday night: Block 1

On Friday night, Block 1 offers lighter fare that leans on emotion over entrails while still being slightly serious and seriously entertaining.

“What Being a Woman Means to Me” is a 27-minute short directed by North Carolina native Ezra Brain that explores the nuanced and often horrifically anxious inner journey of transgender identity. Challenging and deeply personal, this film is slow burning and at times deeply uncomfortable for the viewer thanks to a raw performance by actor Holly Gould. After a virtual showing as part of last year’s online QFF, the film is back this year to have its chance on the big screen.

Also showing in Block 1 is the emotive and lingering short “Night Waking.” Based on a short story by Benjamin Rosenbaum and directed by Shoshana Rosenbaum, this piece is an eight-minute crescendo that is powered by the breathtakingly resonant performance of star Marni Penning. Production designer and NC filmmaker Trystin Kier Francis will be in attendance at QFF to talk about this not-to-be-missed treasure.

In total, QFF will show seven spine tingling shorts as part of its Friday night offerings. 

Saturday afternoon: Block 2

Block 2 on Saturday features the first full-length film for QFF, a campy horror comedy romp titled Mystery Solved

Written and directed by Tim Connolly, who also stars in this rolicking slasher adventure, this film keeps things fun while taking the audience through several unexpected twists. The standout performance comes from Connolly himself, who steals the show with his authenticity and clear joy in the role. Though the pacing slows down towards the center of the movie, the last half hour offers gratifying payoffs that simultaneously challenge horror tropes while also satisfying even the most dedicated slasher fan. 

Paired with a tongue-in-cheek short about a ghost who haunts her former roommate called “Gonna Haunt,” QFF has put together an easygoing and accessible afternoon for those who are more interested in fun than in nightmares.

Still from ‘Mystery Solved’ (courtesy photo)

Saturday evening: Block 3

Closing out QFF is the most intense content. Intended to elicit screams and sleepless nights, the 10 films in this section range from demonic possession to technological horror to monster sculptures that come to life. 

The world premiere of the horror/satire short “All the Way Down, This Time” takes place on Saturday night. Written by and starring North Carolina native and former UNCSA attendee Sophie Neff, who will be in attendance, this Michael Rogerson piece is 20 minutes of tauntly pulled emotional chords. “All the Way Down, This Time”  is a fierce, bone-chilling tale of three women who wind themselves into an intense “moon ritual” at a remote campsite. With electric performances by all three main actresses, it’s a film that hovers on the edge of mystery and ferocity.

Frightfully accessible 

All of the films selected for QFF will show on the big screen at a/perture, either through online ticketing for each section, weekend passes or day-of sales at the door. Festival-goers can also choose to purchase a 24-hour pass for virtual viewing on Sunday. This intentional access will allow a larger audience to enjoy these films and is part of the vision of Albright and her collaborators at QFF.

“There is a long history of queer characters in horror being the butt of of the joke, being the punchline,” says Albright. “That is not what we want to present.”

Instead, QFF is a celebration of community — a community that is sometimes bathed in buckets of fake blood. 

Find tickets and more info at aperturecinema.com/movies/queer-fear-film-festival

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