Dedicated to horror films directed and produced by women and non-binary filmmakers, Final Girls Berlin Film Festival is one of Berlin’s superlative cinematic fixtures and a treat for dreadheads, gore hounds and discerning movie nerds. For its 6(66)th celebration of women in horror, the festival shifts online for the first time and invites viewers to clutch their pillows at home between February 4-7.
The chilling line-up for this first virtual edition includes five feature-length, continent-hopping films. There’s Sabrina Mertens’ Fellwechselzeit (Time of Moulting), which tackles oppressive family dynamics in 1970s West Germany, and Laura Casabé’s Argentinian chiller Los Que Vuelven (The Returned). Set in 1919 against the backdrop of a tribal cull, it follows a desperate mother who gets more than she bargained for when her indigenous maid helps resurrect her dead child.
Our hottest tip is to curl up and dye with the German premiere of Jill Gevargizian’s The Stylist. Based on her impactful 2016 short of the same name, it follows a hairstylist with a disturbing, Maniac-echoing extracurricular hobby; the film toys with your sympathies and reveals itself to be both an unnerving look at loneliness and an astute commentary on the conformist pressures women are systematically subjected to.
As always, Final Girls has also lined up a wickedly expansive selection of horror shorts. The lean, all-killer-no-filler selection is divided into five short blocks, and features overarching themes of loneliness and technical reliance, topically speaking to our present-day anxieties. Our top picks are the ‘Busting A Gut’ comedy horror and the ‘Cabin Fever’ isolation horror sections.
The first boasts a series of stellar works that deftly balance laughs and chills, with standouts including Lael Rogers’ The Claw, (performance anxiety that takes on Kafka-esque dimensions within a Seattle punk band), Suki-Rose’s Ding Dong (a disturbing mix of The Twilight Zone and Real Housewives) and director-actor Allison Miller’s Growth, a terrific short about a young woman who becomes a hateful online troll, and doubles as a commentary on the way our cyber incarnations can bring out the worst in us.
As for the isolation horror shorts, Janina Gavankar’s Stucco deals with the timely dangers of self-isolation through an eerily surreal lens that should delight fans of both A Nightmare On Elm Street and the TV show Hannibal, while the ingenious Lose It by AJ Taylor and Maximilian Clark will linger in your mind for longer than you’d like. Whatever you do, don’t miss the dread-soaked Finnish short by Petra Lumioska, Now That You’re Mine. One of the longest fixtures in the programme, this will keep you on the edge of your seat whilst addressing the calcifying and distorting effects of childhood trauma.
As if that wasn’t enough to quench your bloodlust in these bleak times, there’s also an eye-wateringly good slate of talks, workshops and special offerings. Tune in for these, especially the ‘Ghouls To The Front: Rethinking Women’s Horror Filmmaking’, hosted by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, the wonderful Australian film critic and author of the recently released ‘1000 Women in Horror’, who questions whether films made by women are necessarily ‘feminist’, and asks if women and men represent violence in different ways.
Final Girls Film Festival, February 4-7. See the full programme here and book tickets for individual events or a full festival pass here.