The 9th Annual Charlotte Film Festival: A retrospective

Films from every corner of the world in every genre come together for 10 days in a joyous celebration of film in the Queen City

| October 7, 2017

Each Fall, the Charlotte Film Festival takes place, and for the last three years, I’ve attended the festival for the Niner Times. It’s a slice of cinematic bliss in a sea of corporatized movie theaters and provides for some of the more interesting film experiences I remember come year’s end. Being my senior year, I had a bit of a bittersweet feeling covering the festival for the last time, but with over 100 films screening this year at the festival, I had to dive in head first if I wanted to even slightly cover the festival for all its worth. I wasn’t able to see everything, or even close to everything, but to say that this expertly organized festival doesn’t offer up something for everyone would be a massive falsehood. From every genre films come, and while not everything is for everyone, the Charlotte Film Festival is a cinematic event like none other in the area.

Here’s a rundown of what I saw this year:

Photo courtesy of FilmRise

“My Friend Dahmer,” dir. Marc Meyers

When it comes to serial killers, there aren’t many quite as prolific as Jeffrey Dahmer. While Dahmer doesn’t hold any records on how many people he killed, but rather the way in which he killed them, often in gruesome manners, cannibalizing his victims. “My Friend Dahmer” doesn’t actually show any of these killings at all, but rather examines the life Dahmer had leading up to his eventual downfall. One of the best parts about “My Friend Dahmer” is the complete and utter humanization of Dahmer through both Marc Meyers’ clever writing and Ross Lynch’s fabulous breakout performance as the eponymous killer.

Set in 1978 during Dahmer’s senior year of high school, Meyers paints a story of a sad, but likable outcast with a few concerning quirks about him. The way in which the narrative frames Dahmer in a surprisingly normal light. This isn’t a film that demonizes Dahmer from the start due to his later horrific acts, but rather seeks to understand the environment that might’ve worsened Dahmer’s already unstable mind into becoming one of the most prolific serial killers of our time, as well as having a fair bit of fun with it too.

Check out full review for “My Friend Dahmer” when it releases Nov. 3.


Photo courtesy of IFC Films

“78/52,” dir. Alexandre O. Philippe

If you think about your favorite documentaries, chances are that they cover big topics with big dreams and achieves them with dexterity. But “78/52” is an entirely different documentary beast altogether, detailing the production and impact that the shower scene from “Psycho” had on film history and society following its release. You might be wondering: “How can a two minute scene in a film translate to a 90 minute documentary?” To which I don’t have an answer for, but it somehow does.

The thing about the shower scene from “Psycho” that Philippe understands so well is how differently every person has reacted to and perceived it over time. Interviewing countless filmmakers and actors (including Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh’s daughter), director Alexandre O. Philippe gets to the underlying question of it all: how has one scene changed cinema so incredibly? Each interviewee has their own take on the scene and the film could’ve gone on forever with just how different each perception about the scene someone has and how it has affected them differently. It might not make sense at first, but what Philippe has crafted here is one of the more fun, ingenious documentaries of the year so far.

Check out full review for “78/52” when it releases Oct. 13.


Photo courtesy of Feral Productions

“Feral,” dir. Mark H. Young

I’ll admit that I might have a bit of a bias here, as I consider myself friends with both the co-writer/director of the film, Mark H. Young, but especially with the other co-writer of the film, Charlotte-area film critic Adam Frazier. Still, in being film critics, we all know that there’s a job to do regardless of personal attachment.

“Feral” is an indie horror film that twists the “cabin in the woods” formula without having to be so overtly ambitious like Joss Whedon did in “The Cabin in the Woods.” I’ll be honest in that I doubted “Feral” at first, if only because I didn’t familiarize myself with the trailer or anything before seeing the film, so I only had the short synopsis of what to expect going in, which sounded like every other low-budget horror film in the world (Sorry Mark and Adam…). But unlike those other films, “Feral,” for lack of a better term, has bite to it. This isn’t a film that tries to be more than it is, and its in that wonderful minimalism that brings forth the elements that make “Feral” work so well overall.

With a cast of mostly well-seasoned horror actors, including Scout Taylor Compton, Olivia Luccardi and Lew Temple, this is a film that’s far scarier when it leaves much of the terror to the audience’s imagination. No, that doesn’t mean the film cops out by not showing you what you’re supposed to be afraid of, but instead times it out so when you finally do see it, the effect is chilling and jarring. In fact, “Feral” might have some of the best special effect makeup I’ve seen for an indie horror film in a while. “Feral” did not come to fuck around.

And while “Feral” is a bonafide gore fest, the film does pack some truly chilling punches. While Young spoke at the Q&A saying he wished the film had better lighting, I found the lack of light in the film to actually work in its favor. The feeling of an organically dark forest housing some truly terrifying horrors makes the bumps in the night more frightening than if we were to simply see them moving freely. And I think that’s what makes “Feral” such an awesome watch. Even though it’s a far-out, fantastical horror film, it feels pretty organic for the effect that its going for, which only amplifies it beyond what an audience would expect from a film like this. “Feral” did not come to fuck around.


Photo courtesy of Synapse Films

“Suspiria,” dir. Dario Argento

This movie is perfect. Case closed.

Okay, fine. The highlight of the Charlotte Film Festival came in the presentation of the 4K restoration of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic, “Suspiria.” While the film is accessible to watch for anyone on the internet, seeing the film in full 4K glory on the big screen was the experience of a lifetime. Seeing as the film has been out for 40 years, I won’t bore you with the details of the film, but I simply can’t reiterate to you just how wonderful of a film “Suspiria” is. Produced in Italy, it’s inherently different than any sort of horror you might find stateside at the time, evoking the far more lurid “Giallo” feel about it than anything that Hooper or Craven were making in the early stages of their career in the U.S.

Restored in 4K, this is one of the most beautifully restored films I’ve seen to date, paired with a wonderful four-track restoration of its iconic soundtrack. I almost wish I hadn’t seen Suspiria prior to watching this restoration of the film, but it’s so meticulously treated and masterfully made that any re-watch of the film feels like the first time all over again. That’s how good “Suspiria” is.


Photo courtesy of Full Exposure Films

“The Lavender Scare,” dir. Josh Howard

As a gay man, I always seek to learn more about the difficult history of my community and how to grow from learning from our past. “The Lavender Scare” seeks to tell me that, but the execution and the narrow focus of the film doesn’t necessarily help me understand it quite as well as I wish I could have.

Focusing on the 1950s and its treatment of gay men and women at the time, especially during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s purge of gay and lesbian workers in the State Department for over three decades, “The Lavender Scare” shouldn’t feel as messy as it is. With dramatized voiceovers and flashy graphics to tell the stories of gay men and women at the time, the film doesn’t inspire much of a drive to fight more than I already have, and the film feels a bit amateur.

The film also focused relatively narrowly on the struggles of affluent, white gay Americans and didn’t seek to tell the stories of people of color disenfranchised by both their race and their sexuality at the time. And even after all of that, “The Lavender Scare” seemingly tells a similar story over and over again. Telling an important story doesn’t absolve one from telling interesting ones. A story can be interesting, but repeating the same one over and over again doesn’t do much to inspire. Perhaps it’s my own identity as a gay man that makes me long for more in media detailing our history, but I feel it regardless.


Photo courtesy of PBS/Makepeace Productions

“Tribal Justice,” dir. Anne Makepiece

Now, as a white man, I simply cannot even try to understand from a personal perspective what the lives of people of color go through in this country on the daily, but I can seek to learn more about the lives they live and the cultures they have through media. One of the most underserved populations in the country is that of the Native American. Pushed aside, relegated to reservations to preserve their own culture, underserved by society, the struggles poised on the population is one of the most severe, but completely unknown struggles of American citizens today.

“Tribal Justice” gives a look inside those seeking to change the trajectory of their community through restorative justice. Focusing on two judges, Abby Abinanti of the Northern California Yurok Tribe and Claudette White of the Southern California Quechan tribe and the courts they run in their respective tribes. The goal of “Tribal Justice” is to detail the benefits of restorative justice as opposed to criminal justice. Focusing on rehabilitating offenders rather than punishing them, “Tribal Justice” is a completely moving, absolutely beautiful look inside the lives of those affected by the work of these two judges. It’s a powerhouse documentary that was one of the best of the festival.


Photo courtesy of Sparkling Pictures

“Replace,” dir. Norbert Keil

“Replace” is an interesting piece, as it’s a film I really wanted to like, but couldn’t bring myself to do so. I’m not a massive fan of body horror, as I often find it too disgusting to stomach sometimes, but that’s not the reason “Replace” didn’t work for me. Produced in Germany and shot in Canada, the biggest issue with “Replace” is that much of it just didn’t really make any sense. Focusing on a young woman who develops a skin disorder in which her skin falls off, but can be replaced by using another person’s skin, it presents a moral dilemma of how far a person would go to save their skin.

The film itself doesn’t really line up at all with itself, going from body horror one second, to romance film the next, to mad scientist film after that. None of these ever mesh together into anything coherent, and really just feels choppy and messy above all else. The dialogue of the film feels as if it was written in German and put through Google Translate and was read verbatim by the actors, making an already awkward films even more awkward.

Still, the film is incredibly attractive to look at, has a great performance from horror veteran Barbara Crampton and features quite an entertaining electronic score from Tom Batoy and Franco Tortora, but it unfortunately isn’t enough to save “Replace” from itself.


Photo courtesy of Faliro House

“Infinity Baby,” dir. Bob Byington

“Infinity Baby” is quite the eclectic film, but one that never really turns out to be anything of any real consequence in the end. If anything, the film feels like an overly scathing series of sketches revolving around a group of unlikable characters who often act like they’re funnier than they think they are. This is by no means a bad film, but an entirely unremarkable one. If anything, it provides a space for bigger actors like Megan Mulally, Nick Offerman and Kieran Culkin to flex their eccentric bone a little bit, even if the material doesn’t really let them do much with it. I hate saying that “Infinity Baby” might be the most inconsequential film of the festival, but I honestly can say that there isn’t too much about the film worth writing home about. Full stop.


Photo courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

“Better Watch Out,” dir. Chris Peckover

Even though it’s only October, Christmas is in full swing with “Better Watch Out,” a delightfully demented comedy-horror film from filmmaker Chris Peckover. Focusing on a young babysitter and the infatuated 12 year-old boy she babysits for the night, “Better Watch Out” takes a turn when they are forced to defend each other when, let’s say, less-than-typical home invaders break into the home.

Without giving away any precious spoilers, “Better Watch Out” is an absolute blast of a film to watch. It’s funny, it’s frightening and it’s completely lurid in all the right ways. Thanks to Chris Peckover’s wonderful balance of the two genres, as well as bathing the film in a sheen that looks like the North Pole vomited all over the house the film takes place in, this is an absolutely uproarious hybrid film, with quite the performance from young Levi Miller.

You can already read my full review of the film here, as well as catch the film on-demand.


Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

“Blade of the Immortal,” dir. Takashi Miike

It’s hard for many directors to get lucky enough to direct one feature film in their lifetime, but “Blade of the Immortal” is Japanese auteur Takashi Miike’s 100th film in his seemingly endless catalog of films. Starting off in extreme horror during the 90s and early 2000s, Miike has since moved to Samurai films being his main source of art in the past few years, with the critically lauded “13 Assassins” putting him back on the map after a few years away from the American spotlight.

“Blade of the Immortal” focuses on Manji (Takuya Kimura), an immortal swordsmen in feudal Japan, cursed with endless life by a witch following the brutal death of his beloved sister, Machi. 50 years later, when a malevolent force rises in Edo, slaughtering dojo leaders for supremacy, a young girl, Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki), seeks out the services of Manji after her father and mother are killed by this force. Rin hopes for Manji to assist her in avenging her parents death and saving Edo.

While “Blade of the Immortal” might look batshit insane, it’s actually quite restrained for a film by Miike. Sure, the film still is incredibly gruesome, it isn’t quite the insane fountain of fantastical blood one might expect, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Miike has shown a great growth in developing his films as actual dramatic works, rather than just straight gore-fests, striking a balance that makes the film feel much more engaging than something more crazy might not get. It’s straightforward, but with a surprisingly emotional story to it, as well as wonderful performances across the board, this is a film that has more dramatic merit and less crazy action than one might give it credit for.

Check out full review for “Blade of the Immortal” when it releases Nov. 3.


Photo courtesy of Greyhawk Films

“Purple Dreams,” dir. Joanne Hock

I’ll be honest in saying that “Purple Dreams” made me nostalgic as hell. In high school, I participated in both chorus and theater, occupying most of my time with it at any given time during my four years of high school. I haven’t continued it in my college career, but a film like “Purple Dreams” reminds me of the feelings that made me continue it so fiercely in high school. A documentary focusing on Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, and the intense process the school went through in putting on their production of “The Color Purple” in 2012, which led the school to perform the show at a major conference for the best high school shows in the nation, as well as teacher/show director Corey Mitchell becoming the first educator in the nation to win a Tony award for theater education.

“Purple Dreams” is a powerhouse picture about what it means to not only be a performer, but to be a teenager in today’s society. Many of these kids int he film were disenfranchised and forgotten by society, but the work that Mitchell and the children did on the stage gave every single one of them a purpose to continue striving for excellence in life. It’s wonderful to see a film that makes you feel a certain way, but to see a film that reflects real life back onto the community that it happened in is an incredibly special film that needs to be seen to be felt.


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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.


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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.