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With the cancellation of SXSW and BUFF, these 13 films missed out on major festival buzz. But they deserve lots of love and attention from genre fans.

Intro by The Angry Princess

It’s been heartbreaking to see the impact of the deadly Covid-19 outbreak, which has deeply affected so many lives. Among those significantly impacted by the virus and the subsequent shelter-in-place orders have been the indie filmmakers, who rely heavily on film festivals to generate buzz for their films and to help secure distribution partnerships.

Unfortunately, two of the biggest and most influential film festivals, South by Southwest® (SXSW®) in Austin, Texas, and the Boston Underground Film Fest (BUFF), were forced to cancel or postpone this year’s events. These fests are near and dear to our hearts because of the support they show genre and fringe films.

We were greatly looking forward to covering these events and introducing you to the best, must-see genre films headed your way soon, as well as the rising filmmakers poised to be the next big thing in indie horror. But we don’t want to let these unfortunate cancellations stop these films and filmmakers from getting the attention they deserve.

Thus, our team has rounded up 13 films out of SXSW and BUFF we have been most excited to check out, including many female-directed films.

While none of these films are currently available, we hope they will be very soon. And we want to make sure you keep them on your radar. For those filmmakers who have already made waves with previous feature films or shorts, we’ve included information about where you can familiarize yourself with their other work while you wait for these exciting new releases.

YUMMY (LARS DAMOISEAUX)

Recommended by The Angry Princess

A once-in-a-century Pandemic forced one of the world’s biggest film festivals, SXSW, to cancel all events. Oddly enough, one of the films I was most looking forward to was the apocalyptic horror comedy Yummy from Belgian director Lars Damoiseaux, making his feature film directorial debut.

Yummy is an orgy of blood, violence and fun in which a young couple travel to a shabby Eastern European hospital for plastic surgery.

The young woman wants a breast reduction. Her mother comes along for yet another face-lift. Wandering through an abandoned ward, the boyfriend stumbles upon a young woman, gagged and strapped to an operating table; she is the result of an experimental rejuvenation treatment. He frees her, but does not realize he just caused the outbreak of a virus that will change doctors, patients and his mother-in-law into bloodthirsty zombies.

If that description alone isn’t enough to entice you, the frenetic, sexy, funny, balls-to-the wall trailer ought to do the trick. 

The tagline for Yummy is “Facelifts, boob jobs and zombies,” which leaves little doubt about the type of insanity we can look forward to when this foreign zomedy finally invades North American soil. Personally, I can’t freaking wait. And the timing couldn’t be better for a film about a deadly viral outbreak, as well as one which promises a fun and very necessary escape from world real horrors.

If you want a teaser of what you might be able to expect from this film, you can check out Damoiseaux’s wickedly fun, insanely gory, take no prisoners short, Patient Zero. This 2 1/2 minute proof-of-concept film teases the fast-paced, totally non-PC, wryly funny zombie mayhem that Yummy surely promises. Check it out here.

Originally set to make its North American Premiere at SXSW, Yummy was to be included in the famed Midnighters section, a perennial favorite for SXSW audiences thrilled by the weird, electric, and sometimes terrifying selections. Scary, funny, sexy, controversial – SXSW’s Midnighters section was to include ten provocative after-dark features. In addition to Yummy, genre fans like myself were hoping to catch Dembanger, Lucky, Psycho Goreman, Relic, Run Sweetheart Run, The Silencing, The Toll, The Vigil, and Witch Hunt.

Learn more about many of these highly anticipated films below. 

PSYCHO GOREMAN (STEVEN KOSTANSKI)

Recommended by Bud Fugate

With all the cancelations going on, I am most disappointed in the delay of Steven Kostanski’s latest feature Psycho Goreman, which was set to have its World Premiere at SXSW.

I first learned of Kostanski through his absolutely bat shit insane, Lovecraftian horror film The Void and decided to jump into some of his other filmography.  In 2011, he released a film called Manborg about an apocalyptic future where Lord Draculon and his demon army have destroyed Earth. Only the resurrected from hell, half-man, half-machine Manborg can save the human race. Yeah, it’s fairly insane.

When I saw the trailer for PG, aka Psycho Goreman, I was immediately hooked. The trailer keeps the overall story pretty vague. But the visuals? OH. MY. GOD!

It looks like a cosmic, cyberpunk GWAR concert filled with bright neon colors and outstanding creature effects. Seriously, this trailer is 1 minute and 19 seconds of 100% “my shit”. But now, the goddamn COVID.  DAMN YOU, COVID!  I want Psycho Goreman!

While I wait impatiently for Psycho Goreman, I am going to catch up on some other films from Kostanski. 

In 2018, he did a reboot of the leprechaun series with Leprechaun Returns. He also has a film he co-directed with 4 other directors called Father’s Day about a guy named Ahab, a street hustler and a priest who are hunting down a monster called the Father’s Day Killer. The trailer for that one looks like an absolutely insane film with a Machete/Hobo with a Shotgun type vibe to it.

All of Kostanski’s feature length films are available for streaming, so I urge you to support this great filmmaker and check them out now.

LUCKY (NATASHA KERMANI)

Recommended by Jason McFiggins

March 17, 2020: The new film from filmmaker Natasha Kermani, a suburban horror/thriller called Lucky, had its world premiere last night at Austin’s SXSW Festival to a great response from the lively crowd in attendance. Following the screening, Kermani herself said she was overwhelmed by the response and couldn’t be more proud of her cast and crew, adding that she was excited to see what happened with Lucky from here.

Obviously with the cancellation of SXSW this year, none of that actually happened. Nor will it happen at the Boston Underground Film Festival, where Lucky was scheduled to play next.

With Coronavirus rocking the film world, Lucky is one of the many temporary victims of the pandemic, its ironic title being anything but for the production and crew involved. But this is temporary, and when the film is released for the public to see, Kermani will have a winner on her hands.

The talent involved is just too good, starting at the top with Kermani herself.

In 2017, Kermani wrote and directed her feature film debut, Imitation Girl, a beautifully done sci-fi/drama starring indie darling Lauren Ashley Carter. The film presents thought-provoking themes of meaning in life and searching for oneself (read the full review here), presenting Kermani as a technically skilled and visionary filmmaker to get excited about.

Lucky is written by indie favorite Brea Grant, who also stars in the film as a woman who is stalked every night by a threatening figure. Grant has given horror fans great performances in such films as Beyond the Gates and Dead Night, and her presence in any film should grab the attention of fans. The fact that Grant also wrote the script is an added bonus, as she is well respected in the indie horror community and is always surrounding herself with top talent.

Described as a dark feminist thriller, Grant’s script for Lucky examines current cultural themes.

The female character of the film fights to be believed while being stalked by a threatening figure who returns to her house night after night. When she can’t get help from those around her, she is forced to take matters into her own hands.

Co-starring Kristina Klebe and Hunter C. Smith, Lucky sounds exciting and thrilling and in the capable hands of Natasha Kermani and Brea Grant, horror fans are in for a treat and should be feeling lucky indeed.

Lucky is produced by Epic Pictures and will play at future film fests, with plans to be released in the U.S through the company’s genre label Dread.

THE VIGIL (KEITH THOMAS)

Recommended by Richard Tanner

As a low budget filmmaker, let me tell ya, getting a successful screening of your movie at any time is an uphill battle. But losing a screening at SXSW due to a global pandemic is kind of heartbreaking. However, I have faith in the future success of The Vigil, because I’ve been following Keith Thomas since all of this started. And the wait only makes me want it more.

Thomas worked in medical research in Denver before pursuing a career as a novelist and screenwriter. He has published the novels The Clarity and Dahlia Black, and has developed many book, film, and TV projects with creators like James Patterson. The Vigil marks his directorial debut.

The film is about a man providing overnight watch to a deceased member of his former Orthodox Jewish community when he finds himself opposite a malevolent entity.

Fortunately, The Vigil did get to make its World Premiere as part of Midnight Madness at TIFF prior to this global outbreak.

The following synopsis was provided by the programmers at TIFF to share their excitement in bringing this film to the prestigious festival:

In what is essentially a one-man show, Dave Davis is profoundly affecting in his portrayal of the hesitant sentinel, exuding an empathetic combination of frayed nerves and timid weariness. Throughout this uncanny night, his vigil gradually transforms into a harrowing spiritual investigation of both his cursed surroundings and his pitiable past — a journey in which the very recesses of his community’s collective trauma is confronted.

By the surreal and unnerving climax, under the assured auspices of writer-director Keith Thomas — making his feature film debut — the plentiful, hair-raising scares give way to poignant catharsis with a spectre of dread that is sure to stick with audiences and occupy their subsequent nightmares.

Operating within the parameters of a horror subgenre that more commonly trades in Christian mysticism, The Vigil uniquely unveils a supernatural domain less trodden. It’s thrillingly rife with demons, curses, and all the under-your-skin scary stuff that Midnights are made for.

You can hear director Keith Thomas talk about the film, live from TIFF, right here.

I always love seeing a movie that explores culture through genre.

Director Keith Thomas

I feel you learn more about both that way.  Mark this one as a must see guys!

Keith Thomas has something that’s gonna blow us all away… as long as we keep supporting indie film.

RUN SWEETHEART RUN (SHANA FESTE)

Recommended by Jackie Ruth

Run Sweetheart Run is an upcoming horror film written and directed by Shana Feste. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and its planned release is May 8, 2020 — though we’ll have to wait to see how that works out.

The film stars Ella Balinska as a single mother named Shari, who reluctantly goes on a blind date with a man named Ethan (Pilou Asbæk). At first, she’s charmed by the handsome stranger. But it’s not long before things get dark, and she’s running for her life through Los Angeles.

So why am I excited for this film?

Well, aside from the Sundance reviews being overwhelmingly positive, this is a Blumhouse feature.

They don’t always hit their marks, but when they do, it often comes with impressive results (think Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man). I think that this movie will be one of their best yet.

I won’t ignore the fact that there is one slightly confusing aspect: Jason Blum also produced last year’s Sweetheart. After watching that film and reading up on this new one, I can say that the similar titles (along with the tongue-in-cheek use of that word, probably) are just about all the two appear to have in common.

Another reason to get on board for Run Sweetheart Run is that it was written and directed by a woman.

This isn’t a subject that can’t be handled by a man, but if our protagonist is a woman being terrified and tormented by a man…well, we’ve seen that movie a lot. It’s nice to get the story from a different lens.

It appears that Feste hasn’t really dipped her toe into the horror genre until this movie, so it’s interesting that it caught Blum’s eye. It could be a sign that she’s using her past experience in comedy, drama and romance to creatively maneuver a horror story.

Lead actress Balinska is fairly new to the scene as well; the only notable movie she’s been in is last year’s Charlie’s Angels reboot, and that was not as successful as the studios had hoped. But it’s always nice to see a fresh face, especially as horror picks up its momentum as a beloved and respected genre, not one that’s as likely to be shunned by actors.

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to look forward to Run Sweetheart Run: Just take your pick!

WITCH HUNT (ELLE CALLAHAN)

Recommended by Nightmare Maven

Witch Hunt is a fantasy horror movie that takes place in modern America where witches are real, and witchcraft is illegal. A sheltered teenager (played by Gideon Adlon) must face her own demons and prejudices as she helps two young witches avoid law enforcement and cross the southern border to asylum in Mexico.

Adlon will be joined by Abigail Cowen (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost), and Christian Camargo (The Hurt Locker). This will be the second feature film from Elle Callahan who also wrote the screenplay for Witch Hunt.

Callahan’s IMDb bio states she specializes in the genres of mystery and magical realism. In an interview with Deadline she shared that she’s always been a fan of genre films because they get people to think differently and from new perspectives. She explains:

“For me, WITCH HUNT is an opportunity to turn the camera back on ourselves and show what’s possible in a society where irrational fears take favor over common decency.”

The title of the movie alone indicates that pop culture boom of witchcraft-infused shows and movies aren’t going anywhere.

Director Elle Callahan

These past few years, this witchcraft craze has proven to be an expression of female frustration and anger to real-world misogyny. Unfortunately, we don’t have much more to go on than the brief synopsis for the film, but even that shows that the witch craze is far from over.

Callahan’s first feature film, Head Count (2018), follows a group of teens being terrorized in the desert by a shape-shifting creature that is summoned after one of them reads a mysterious chant from the Internet. The movie is currently available on Netflix, and you should definitely give that one a watch while we wait for Callahan’s highly anticipated sophomore film.

If you’re like me, and you can’t wait to see Witch Hunt when it finally premieres, I would recommend checking out Elle Callahan’s Instagram where she has a story highlight called “Movie Making” which has some cool behind-the-scenes photos and videos!

SAINT MAUD (ROSE GLASS)

Recommended by Kourtnea Hogan

With a trailer that harkens back to Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, the directorial debut from Rose Glass shows us the horrors of piety.

Rose Glass is a name you might not be familiar with, and granted, one I wasn’t familiar with either. But it’s definitely one you should be, and will be soon enough. Her debut feature length film, Saint Maud is one of the most anticipated horror movies of the year.

I’ve tried not to spoil the film for myself by looking into it too much, as I’m anticipating the release on April 10th (hopefully, that release date doesn’t shift). However, the trailer (shown below) is a terrifying glimpse into religion and how far people will go to please their gods.

If you’re looking to scratch your Rose Glass itch before then, and by god you definitely should, you can check out her vimeo, which is full of beautifully lit short films and music videos.

One of my personal favorites is the music video for “Hey Master” by The Midnight Barbers. And if the aesthetics of the trailers for Saint Maud peaked your interest check out Glass’s short film Room 55, available in full on her vimeo.

THE SILENCING (ROBIN PRONT)

Recommended by The Angry Princess

The Silencing is another film which would have had its World Premiere at SXSW. Starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, best known for his role as the complex anti-hero Jaime Lannister on “Game of Thrones”, the film follows a reformed hunter living (Coster-Waldau) in isolation on a wildlife sanctuary who becomes involved in a deadly game of cat and mouse when he and the local Sheriff set out to track a vicious killer who may have kidnapped his daughter years ago.

Also starring Annabelle Wallis (The Mummy) and Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, the film ­comes from the Nicholl Fellowship-winning script by Micah Ranum and is executive produced by XYZ Films.

Coster-Waldau plays Rayburn Sawnson, a man who understands loss. 

His only teenage daughter was kidnapped five years ago and since then, he has slipped into a downward spiral of alcoholism and self destruction. After his daughter went missing, Rayburn swore off hunting and decided to help the very animals he used to kill by establishing a wildlife sanctuary that borders the inhospitable Boundary Waters Wilderness.

His life becomes in jeopardy when Rayburn spots something horrifying on one of the security monitors; a killer, dressed in a ghillie suit, hunting a girl who resembles his missing daughter. Determined to save the her, Rayburn sets off into the wilderness in a race to find her before the killer does.

This one should hold a lot of appeal for fans of serial killer thrillers, a sub genre I find particularly chilling due to how real these stories feel. And after sadly saying goodbye to “Game of Thrones” almost a year ago, I can’t wait to see more from the exceptional acting chops of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

Need another reason to get excited for this one? 

Director Robin Pront

Belgian filmmaker Robin Pront has already made quite a name for himself. With a master’s degree from Saint Lukas in Brussels, his breakout feature The Ardennes garnered worldwide attention. The slow-burn crime drama screened at TIFF in 2015, where it turned a lot of heads, and it became Belgium’s Oscar hope in 2016. It also put Robin on Variety’s ‘Ten Europeans to Watch’ in 2017.

The Ardennes, about a man who is released from prison following a failed home invasion and tries to jump right back into his old, destructive lifestyle, is available to rent on Amazon Prime. Check out the trailer below.

SHE DIES TOMORROW (AMY SEIMETZ)

Recommended by Jason McFiggins

Amy Seimetz is probably most known to audiences as Rachel in the 2019 adaptation of Pet Sematary. She’s also starred in such hit films as You’re Next, Alien Covenant, as well as dozens of indie productions from highly regarded filmmakers like Ti West, Joe Swanberg, and Shane Carruth. But Seimetz is a Swiss army knife when it comes to filmmaking, having produced, edited, written, and directed.

After receiving rave reviews at SXSW in 2012 for her feature film writing and directorial debut, Sun Don’t Shine, her directorial/written by follow up feature was set to have its world premiere at this year’s festival, a comedy/drama/thriller titled She Dies Tomorrow.

The film focuses on a woman named Amy who is convinced she’s dying tomorrow.

The oddly prescient part of the story is that her death centered thought process is contagious, creating an emotional, dread induced contagion.

The film reunites Seimetz with her Sun Don’t Shine star Kate Lyn Sheil and features some familiar Hollywood faces such as Josh Lucas, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris Messina, and Katie Aselton. Having done it before in her slow burn, sun soaked, film noir road movie Sun Don’t Shine, Seimetz knows how to make a damn good thriller.

Sun Don’t Shine is a highly recommended movie, so everyone can see just how talented this woman is while we wait for news of a She Dies Tomorrow‘s release.

Director Amy Seimetz

The good news is that She Dies Tomorrow was able to hold some press screenings in New York and Los Angeles right before theaters were closed due to COVID-19 and is already garnering plenty of buzz. Rogerebert.com calls it, “a surreal, experimental nightmare,” and film journalist Anne Thompson spoke highly of the film on IndieWire’s Screen Talk podcast.

In fact, these press screenings went so well that the film has reportedly already been acquired by NEON, which is excellent news as they are one of the best and hottest distributors for indie film. According to the Film Comment podcast, there’s even talk of NEON looking to release the film sooner rather than later, perhaps by some form of VOD or streaming option.

As of this writing, no official release news has yet to be confirmed. But be sure to keep an eye out for She Dies Tomorrow and get to know Amy Seimetz the filmmaker by watching Sun Don’t Shine, available free on Amazon Prime.

RELIC (NATALIE ERIKA JAMES)

Recommended by Jamie Alvey

I’m always excited about new voices in horror, so when I learned about the premise of Natalie Erika James’s debut feature Relic, I was instantly interested. The masterful cast that includes Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote only made me even more excited to see what is sure to be a deliciously creepy tale that offers an allegorical take on Alzheimer’s.

Even better, the king of whimsical actor weirdness, Jake Gyllenhaal, is a producer on the film through his production company Nine Stories, which he founded with Riva Marker in 2015. Marker is also credited as a producer on Relic.

James is an up and coming Japanese-Australian filmmaker.

Director Natalie Erika James with Emily Mortimer and Robyn Nevin on Relic

Her previous projects are two shorts titled Creswick and Drum Wave. In addition to directing shorts, James has directed commercials and music videos as well. Creswick has been screened at over fifty plus festivals, including Austin’s other crowned festival jewel, Fantastic Fest.

She has many accolades already, including the 2017 AWGIE Award for Best Short Form Screenplay for Creswick and the 2015 Triple J Award for Australian Music Video of the Year for direction of the music video “Mine” by Life is Better Blonde. If all of this already didn’t make Natalie Erika James cool as can be in your eyes, know that she got the opportunity to be a director’s attachment for Leigh Whannell while he was filming his feature Upgrade.

A director’s attachment is essentially where an aspiring filmmaker will shadow an experienced filmmaker for around three months. The program is funded by Film Victoria and Screen Australia.

Relic revolves around Kay (Emily Mortimer), whose mother goes missing.

As a result of the disappearance Kay and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) must travel to their isolated family home in order to attempt finding the family’s matriarch. James has stated that the idea for Relic has come from an extremely personal place and that horror was the best genre in order to tell the story that she wanted to tell. She drew heavily on her own experiences dealing with her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

When you pair James’s previous experiences with her clearly emotional attachment to her project, you can feel the greatness already oozing from Relic. It’s exciting to see such inventive horror coming from not only abroad but also from new and interesting filmmakers who have a deep love and respect for the horror genre.

James has been able to learn from some of the best that Australia has to offer, and we all know that Australia has produced some excellent horror as well as amazing horror filmmakers. I definitely look forward to finally getting to settle in and screen Relic someday soon. It’s one of my most anticipated 2020 films in my to watch list, and I just cannot wait for a trailer for it to drop.

I’m over here rooting for Relic and Natalie Erika James, who seems like a lady truly after my own heart.

DEMBANGER (JOHN BERARDO)

Recommended by Alli Hartley

The loss of this year’s SXSW Festival is particularly felt when you have an inkling of just what you’re missing out on. For me, that’s the highly anticipated World Premiere of Dembanger. Based on a short film of the same name, Dembanger is billed as a “Slasher film for the social media generation.” I’m picturing something between Scream 2 and Unfriended.

The official synopsis is as follows:

Ellery Scott’s world unravels when her star athlete brother is murdered on campus amidst a brewing scandal, kicking off a spree of social-media-linked slayings that leave her racing alongside the police to uncover the university’s hidden secrets.

While the feature has been unfortunately delayed, the short it’s based on is currently available to watch for free online. 

Having screened at ScreamFest in 2013, the short is a slick, fun homage to Scream — with the updated twist for the social media age.  In this nine-minute short,a teenager is harassed by a blocked caller who is accessing all of his information from his Facebook page.

In reading interviews with Writer/Director John Berardo, it seems as if watching Scream for the first time was a formative experience. As a huge fan of that landmark film myself, it was fun to see that snarky, twisty tone that made the Wes Craven’s 1996 film so memorable incorporated into a more modern take for today’s vastly more interconnected world.

Berardo is definitely one to watch.

Director John Berardo

His other short film Strings, which appeared in the unfortunately-named horror anthology Labyrinth (2015), is also available online (watch it here). It contains some of the same breathtaking visual composition and technological-savvy that seems to be his calling card.

One of SXSW’s stated goals — and an admirable one at that — is to raise awareness for the work of talented new filmmakers. And although this year’s fest was cancelled, it has still made a significant impact by putting Berardo on my radar and the radar of so many other genre fans who are now eagerly awaiting Dembanger‘s arrival to streaming platforms. Here’s hoping this exciting new voice in indie horror gets his next big break very soon.

THE DEEPER YOU DIG (TOBY POSER, JOHN ADAMS)

Recommended by Vicki Woods

I have heard nothing but amazing things about The Deeper You Dig, but that is not the primary reason I am excited about it. It’s the filmmaking family – the incredible John Adams, Toby Poser, Lulu Adams and Zelda Adams — who have made it their passion to do films together. For me, that’s the coolest part!

The Deeper You Dig is the fifth film for their company Wonder Wheel Productions. And here again John, Toby and Zelda (with Lulu off at college) continue the family tradition of producing, writing, directing, acting in and scoring their own films. In addition, this time 14-year-old Zelda co-directed, and her vocals can be heard in the song played during the closing credits.

What can’t this talented family do?

I wanted to know more about how this family came to make this film, so I was thrilled to talk to Toby Poser herself and ask why they were so passionate about making indie films.

She shared the following:

“We started making movies in 2010, when our girls were 6 and 11. We quickly realized that this was a way for us to kill many stones at once: to be creative, cultivating a craft that never stops challenging and rewarding us; to travel, meeting film lovers and makers all over the country and beyond; and to have a great time doing it together.”

“We all share a curiosity for the medium, so we bring our collective strengths and opinions and make it a party. By now the locals don’t blink when they see us in town doused in fake blood or hanging dummies off the side of the road.”

Wow! Not only is this family awesome, I feel like I just talked to a kindred spirit.

The Deeper You Dig is a supernatural horror thriller that revolves around the tragic death of a young girl named Echo, her psychic mother Ivy, an outsider named Kurt and some serious supernatural vengeance. When a murderer tries to hide his guilt, he learns that love can’t be buried. Check out the trailer below.

I asked Toby about the inspiration for the story.

She shared that John has a lot of nightmares.

“He’s always burying people alive under the safety of sleep. For THE DEEPER YOU DIG we thought we’d turn the missing girl trope on its head. Who exactly is the victim here?  Zelda was 14 at the time of shooting, and it was paramount for her Echo character to seek a righteous twist of the knife. We also wanted to explore how far a mother would go the stay close to her dead daughter. Love knows no bounds, but Death plays by its own rules.” 

I am blown away by what I have learned so far about The Deeper You Dig and can’t wait to see the entire film. With the East Coast Premiere of the film scheduled at the now postponed Boston Underground Film Festival, the filmmakers were kind enough to share a screening link with me. I will have a full review out soon.

THE TOLL (MICHAEL NADER)

Recommended by The Angry Princess

The Toll was set to make its World Premiere at SXSW in Midnighters.

Michael Nader, 26, makes his feature directorial debut with the project, which centers on Cami (Jordan Hayes), a woman who grabs a ride share from Spencer (Max Topplin), a driver who acts increasingly suspiciously as he drives Cami to her father’s remote home. Things come to a head when the car breaks down and a rock smashes through the window with a message: “Pay the toll.” A supernatural force known as the Toll Man is after them, and one of them must die for the other to survive.

In his words, director Michael Nader explains his vision for the film: 

Director Michael Nader

“This is a movie about trying to discern the fine line of truth between instinct and anxiety – between the accurate knowledge of danger and the false perception of danger – and how sometimes, whether you live or die depends on that distinction.”

As Nader explains, the title of the film has a triple meaning: a toll that must be paid; the toll that trauma takes on a person over a lifetime; and the tolling of a bell as a symbol of death. Just like the poetic lyrics “ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” The film is about all three ideas: these two characters who are required to give something up of themselves in order to survive; the experience of living with trauma; and the finality of death.

It was inspired by Nader’s own undiagnosed anxiety disorder, which taught him the terror of not knowing if something was truly wrong or not.

Check out a clip from The Toll below (via “The Hollywood Reporter”):

After hearing Nader talk about the inspiration for the film and how he hopes it will impact audiences, this has easily become one of my most anticipated indie horror films of the year. In an interview with the SXSW programmers, he stated:

“Most modern horror movies are trying to traumatize the audience. They throw viewers over the edge of the cliff. I want to bring the audience to the edge of the cliff, dangle them over it, and then bring them back with a newfound appreciation for life.”

“Stephen King said that the reason the horror genre is largely disliked is that horror storytellers are the bearers of bad news. The bad news being, ‘you’re going to die.’ But I think only a bad horror filmmaker tells the audience, that. A good horror filmmaker tells the audience: ‘You’re going to die. But today, you’re alive.'”

Nader is still mourning the cancelation of SXSW, which he credits as being “a festival that respects genre filmmakers who stand out on a limb and ask their audience to go with them on a dangerous journey.” But he isn’t letting the disappointment hold him back and still feels very hopeful about the future of his film.

“Independent filmmaking is all about triage, about having your plans dashed and finding a way forward anyway. I know we’ll all get our films to an audience one way or another.”

We certainly hope that’s true. Because this film, like all the amazing films on this list, deserves to find its audience. 

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