These are five of the most memorable, innovative, affecting films from GenreBlast 2021 — from the sublimely weird to the darkly hilarious.
I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s outstanding GenreBlast film festival over Labor Day weekend, and it was a feature-packed program boasting three days of spectacular shorts and feature films.
We’ve covered several of the standout features from the fest here on this site, including the remarkable Best Feature Film winner Blank, the crowd-pleasing Best Horror Feature and Audience Award winner Red Snow, the surprising and hilarious Best Ensemble winner Keeping Company, and the endearing love letter to retro video games Midnight Science. I also previously covered the riveting Australian found footage gem We’re Not Here to F*ck Spiders.
But even with that depth of coverage, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the GenreBlast bounty of genre goodness. And there was just too much impressive work that demands to be celebrated. Thus, I’m sharing five of my absolute favorites from the fest.
1. The Transformations of the Transformations of the Drs. Jenkins
This year’s winner of the coveted GenreBlast Forever Award for a film that truly encapsulates the spirit of the fest — fiercely independent, highly original, and spectacularly innovative — was The Transformations of the Transformations of the Drs. Jenkins. That’s quite a mouthful; an unusual title for an exceedingly unusual, and unforgettable, film.
When you watch as many movies as I do, it’s easy to convince yourself that everything under the sun has been done. Being truly surprised by a film is no easy feat.
But Jenkins surprised me with its truly inspired, “why didn’t I think of that” idea that is so simple yet so brilliant.
This is a masterclass in no-budget filmmaking that doesn’t just make the most of its resources; it capitalizes on its limitations in the most ingenious way.
It’s cliché to say, but the less you know about this film before watching it, the more you’ll be delighted at every turn.
It took some time for me to fully understand what was happening and the sheer brilliance of it all. At times incomprehensibly strange and even a bit vexing, there is an unmistakable method to the madness that reveals itself slowly, like peeling layers of an onion, until you’re crying tears of absolute joy.
I’ll give you the basic premise, with the caveat that it doesn’t even begin to prepare you for the experience of watching this film.
Determined to create the ultimate pandemic film, Stephen Stull brings a team of filmmakers together over Zoom, believing he has created a brand new genre of filmmaking — a meta-commentary that will transform moviemaking itself. His idea is to write a brilliant script and have 20 different filmmakers each shoot a different scene of the film. The trick is, nobody — not even Stephen or any members of his team — can know what scene has been assigned to each filmmaker.
Together with his producers — Kate McCoid, Bob Rose, and Michael J. Epstein — they begin an ambitious project that ends in disaster and hilarity.
Michael convinces the team he can program an AI better than Amazon. Bob wasn’t invited. Kate has regrets. For Steve, the ringleader of this calamitous circus, he faces a fate worse than death: “I’m gonna have to leave Facebook!”
Despite everything going wrong that possibly can, somehow, for us the viewers, it couldn’t be more right.
The segments are all wildly different — ranging from campy and sci-fi b-movie inspired to funny and irreverent to truly inventive and off-the-wall. Some even feature spectacular no-budget visual effects, memorable props, and cool animation.
From the stylish to the silly, it’s an absolute blast seeing such a smorgasbord of visual styles, filming techniques, sub-genres, and singular interpretations of the subject matter.
Creating a unique kind of anthology film showcasing the creativity of 20 different filmmakers (each given no direction and only one rule: use only what you have on hand), combined with an engaging and side-splittingly funny wraparound about the making of the film, the end result is an enormously entertaining midnight movie that doubles as a highlight reel for some of the best indie talent working in the genre.
It also ends with quite a bang, including one of the most entertaining and illustrious credit sequences I’ve ever witnessed.
2. The Movie
A creepy director forces a washed-up actress to star in his movie with him — which just so happens to be the worst movie of all time. But will it be her final act?
Titled Renegade on IMDb but screened as The Movie at GenreBlast, Michael Mandell’s Kickstarter-funded indie horror-comedy is a delightfully twisted take on the home invasion sub-genre and one hell of a good time. Featuring a clever script, shrewd use of a single location, and two captivating leads, The Movie is another standout example of a film that does a whole lot with very little.
Mandell purposely kept his production as lean as possible — two actors, one location, a small crew, minimal shooting days, everything shot on iPhone. The script was written in such a way so that the budget constraints would not become an impediment to bringing his vision to life.
In fact, keeping everything super pared-down helped make this a more intimate and investing film. There’s an authenticity to this film that feels believable, even as things become more and more unhinged.
Winning the award for Best Feature screenplay at GenreBlast, Mandell does indeed wow with his well-crafted script that brilliantly blends comedy and horror while keeping the audience guessing at every turn.
I had no idea where the film was heading or how it would end, and I love that it never stopped surprising me and subverting my expectations.
Besides a witty script from Mandell, which is equal parts blackhearted and hilarious, all that was really needed to make this movie shine was stellar performances — and The Movie‘s Bonnie Root and Jarrod Pistilli more than deliver. GenreBlast audiences even awarded Root a Best Actress win for her role as a former child star turned has-been actress, Janet Gillespie.
Partly inspired by Mandell’s experiences as a struggling screenwriter, The Movie‘s antagonist is Walter (Pistilli), an awkward aspiring filmmaker who believes he’s written a killer script. All he needs is a great actress to perform it, and his heart is set on the former ingenue, Janet.
When he poses as a delivery driver to infiltrate his way into her home, pitching the perfect vehicle for her to return to the limelight, she tries to let him down easily. But Walter is persistent, to say the least, and he simply won’t take no for an answer. Unfortunately for Janet, Walter’s movie idea just happens to be the worst movie of all time.
In fact, a huge part of the fun in this zany but sadistic movie-within-a-movie is just how utterly ill-conceived every single page of Walter’s revolting script turns out to be.
Of course, it quickly escalates from simply off-putting to downright horrific, and Janet soon discovers that the potentially disastrous reviews are the least of her worries.
Even though The Movie was shot on an iPhone with a shoestring budget, it still looks and sounds great — delivering that cinematic quality that modern audiences crave.
Walter’s little homemade movie may have been offensively bad, but Mandell’s THE MOVIE is a microbudget masterpiece.
3. Hotel Poseidon
Let me be clear, this film is definitely not for everyone. It gleefully flies in the face of mainstream sensibility, leaving the casual viewer confused and frustrated.
However, for the midnight movie crowd yearning for the perfect marriage of artful and strange, the dazzling Belgium oddity Hotel Poseidon from Stefan Lernous is well worth checking in to.
From the opening frame, as the camera sweeps the lobby of a dilapidated hotel, it’s immediately clear why Hotel Poseidon took home the Best Cinematography award at GenreBlast.
Cinematographer Geert Verstraete expertly frames the grotesquely beautiful, inventive, and painstakingly detailed production design that takes center stage in this film.
His otherworldly camera movements, combined with an anxiety-inducing soundscape, help establish an atmosphere rich in texture — both unnerving and captivating.
The titular hotel is a giant, rotting corpse, recently inherited by Dave (Tom Vermeir), a man who sleepwalks through life lacking passion or purpose.
He’s content to live in his own filth, amidst the panic-inducing putrescence of his tiny room, and idle the day away while listening to his neighbor relentlessly consuming porn through paper-thin walls.
It’s this unseen neighbor who gives Dave a bit of a motivational pep talk that prompts him to leave his room and embark on his descent into a nightmarish exploration of existential dread.
Scene after increasingly outlandish scene, Dave contemplates the inevitability of despair and disillusionment, as he shuffles through a hallucinogenic hellscape like an outside observer to his own existence rather than an active agent.
In a film that seems to be both a metaphor for depression and a dissertation on the downfall of humanity, there’s a palpable sense of hopelessness; yet, it’s tempered with an absurdist sense of humor and a heavy dose of pitch-perfect dark comedy.
The performances are jarring, intentionally cartoonish, and over-the-top.
The makeup effects make the entire cast look like ghoulish specters haunting the halls of Hell itself — a Lynchian Carnival of Souls where death isn’t the tragedy but rather life itself.
Hotel Poseidon is the debut feature film from Lernous, the artistic director for the provocative Belgian theater ensemble Abattoir Ferme, and it’s one hell of a calling card. It reflects an iconoclastic vision, an immersive and unforgettable experience far and away from the usual genre fare.
Just as the hotel itself lies buried beneath layers of nauseating filth and decay, a thought-provoking treaty on what it means to be human lies buried beneath layers of unmistakable visual style and artistic expression in Hotel Poseidon.
This surrealist horror film may not make waves outside of the festival circuit — it’s far too unconventional and narratively challenging — but it seems destined for inevitable cult status.
Church bells ring out over a cemetery. A man in a creepy handmade mask steals some letters from a sign to spell out his name: Jacinto.
Jacinto (Pedro Brandariz Gómez) is a nine-year-old trapped in the body of a middle-aged man. As a result of childhood trauma, he doesn’t speak. He lives in Mallou, a small mountain village in Galicia/Spain, along with his parents and beloved pet pig, Martiño. His mother (played by the director’s own mom, Pilar Miguélez) dotes on him while his father (Miro Magariños) is the stern disciplinarian. His unscrupulous younger brother Millan (GenreBlast Best Supporting Actor winner Juanma Buiturón) left home years ago, returning only when he needs money.
Jacinto lives a simple but happy life, playing in the woods, watching old vampire movies, and retreating to his secret safe space when life gets a little overwhelming.
However, his world gets turned upside down when two black metal artists, Alex and Ana (real-life metal musicians Anxela Baltar and Corinna Rautenberg), arrive from Sweden looking for a peaceful place to record their next album.
A series of tragic events convinces Jacinto the women are evil vampires hellbent on destroying everything he loves.
It would be amusing were it not so horribly harrowing, as an anguished Jacinto falls victim to a more concrete and insidious evil.
Spurred on by his villainous brother, motivated by greed and a fractured moral compass, gentle Jacinto is driven to commit a terrible act of violence — one he confuses as an act of heroism. It all culminates in a brutal bloodbath that sends shockwaves through the rural community and puts Mallou on the map, for all the wrong reasons.
Billed as a slasher horror comedy, that description doesn’t fully reflect the soul of this genre-bending Spanish film.
Director Javi Camino describes Jacinto as a film influenced by slasher cinema, in which “a group of young people is killed by a psychopath in a rural setting.” He goes on to explain, “but unlike The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, where we know the victims better, here we know the killer better.”
GenreBlast audiences voted Jacinto Best Midnight Feature, and it’s not hard to understand why.
This is a truly special film that explores the nature of good and evil, with a sympathetic “monster” and a deceptively charming devil.
Although Jacinto is often seen wearing a literal mask, a defense mechanism for a world that often feels frightening and anxiety-inducing, his handsome and smooth-talking brother hides behind a metaphorical mask that conceals his dubious nature and unforgivable sins.
Be forewarned, there’s some intense animal violence. The most disturbing scene is not shown, but the audio is painfully real and disturbing. It’s difficult to watch, but Jacinto makes up for it by being a must-watch.
A note to my fellow horror fans who eschew subtitles; you’re missing out on some of the most original, provocative, and impressive genre content being made today. Exhibit A: JACINTO.
5. Kringle Time
The surprisingly tender and twisted Kringle Time was perhaps my favorite film of the fest, and that’s saying quite a lot given the caliber of programming this year.
I had no real expectations going into this screening. It had not yet landed on my radar, which makes sense given the festival’s commitment to screening the latest independent, cult, niche, and underground films that aren’t easily accessible. The description for the Virginia-made dark comedy was intriguing but obscured the amount of depth, humor, and heart I could look forward to:
The manager of a small-town public access station questions the legacy of his favorite children’s show mascot when he learns that the man inside the costume had been carrying a dark and scandalous secret.
It begins with a young boy forced to hear his parents scream at each other yet again. To escape the sounds and the sadness, he retreats to his happy place: the fictional world of Kringle the dancing and singing cowboy snowman.
Cut to 25 years later, and that boy is now a man, giving himself a pep talk in a public bathroom. “You are more than this. More than the job you hold, more than the town you live in.” And, honestly, who among us hasn’t given ourselves that same pep talk at one point or another in our lives?
That man is Jerry (Best Actor in a Feature winner Benny Elledge), and he’s made a career out of his lifelong love of the public access show Kringle Time, a show he now produces.
It might be a dream come true, were it not for the fact that no one shows him any respect or kindness. His staff treats him terribly. And Kringle himself? He’s kind of the worst.
The man behind the beloved children’s entertainer is Herb, played deliciously by the great Vernon Wells.
One day while recording an episode of Kringle Time, Herb has a heart attack and dies on live television. Much to the chagrin of Jerry’s boss, and pretty much everyone on the show, Herb decrees in his will that he wants Jerry to pick up the Kringle mantle and continue his legacy.
Despite everyone doubting him and urging him to quit, Jerry does in fact step into Kringle’s boots, bringing along decades of bold and controversial new ideas for the show.
As Jerry’s childhood dream finally becomes a reality and the increasingly popular Kringle Time stands poised for national exposure, he must grapple with the problematic legacy of his predecessor and decide how far he is willing to go to maintain the status quo.
Everything about this unexpectedly magical little film works.
Made on a backyard budget over two years, this offbeat gem marks the feature debut of Matthew Lucus, who self-produced and financed the project with writer Zan Gillies.
Kringle Time takes viewers on quite a journey. It starts off laugh-out-loud funny and slowly becomes something much darker and deeper, with many moments that are surprisingly emotional. It’s tonally all over the place, but I found that bumpy ride to be fun rather than frustrating. I loved not knowing what to expect with this strange but compelling roller coaster, moving from delightful to disturbing to heartwarming at breakneck speed.
The acting is sublime. Elledge definitely steals the show as our unlikely hero, but the entire support cast is stellar. This even includes the outstanding child actors. One of the home audience members is an adorable little girl, and her reactions during pivotal scenes of the film are absolutely priceless. I also adored Jeff Wincott as the inept but well-meaning Mayor Rodney Jorkins.
Additionally, Kringle Time boasts a killer soundtrack featuring indie artists, like the end credits song from Matt the Electrician, “Got Your Back”, which you can listen to here.
Viewing tip: When you check this one out, which I really hope you do, pay special attention to the crawl along the bottom of the public access newscast shown throughout the film, with the hilariously awkward Ernest Hawkins (Mike Zinkham). There’s some real comedy gold buried in these blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments.
It’s available now on VOD everywhere, and I would love for more people to discover KRINGLE TIME, a shining ball in the darkness of existence.
Michael J. Epstein-Jenkins wrote: