Kicking off the Made in Michigan Film Festival on Friday, February 3rd are two short films and two feature narratives showcasing work by directors in the genre of Contemporary Horror that are best suited for mature audiences. According to festival organizer Paul Weiss, “These are films you wouldn’t necessarily want to take your mother to see, but are exemplary works that are achieving marked levels of success.”
The Accidental Exorcist •
Friday • February 3rd • 8:50 PM
Narrative Horror Feature (109 minutes)
Director/Writer: Daniel E. Falicki Producers: Daniel E. Falicki/Warren Croyle
Fate has dealt Richard Vanuck a very strange hand; he’s a natural born exorcist. In fact, he’s the best there’s ever been, and with demonic possessions on the rise across the city, he’s booked very solid. Eventually he comes to realize that performing exorcisms is the only thing he’s truly good at, even though his daily battles with Satanic forces are wearing him down.
Such is the premise for Daniel Falicki’s riveting masterpiece The Accidental Exorcist, which critics have lauded as ‘Epic in scope and message’; and which Scream Horror Magazine described as a ‘melancholy tale of possession that feels more ‘Evil Dead’ than ‘Shaun of the Dead’.
When asked how he developed the narrative for the film Falicki says it is “basically my take on the films Barfly, which starred Mickey Rourke and was based on the life of writer Charles Bukowski; meeting up with that classic horror epic, The Exorcist. I wanted to create something completely different, so decided to adopt a realistic take on John Constantine films. Through these various situations I came up with, while the film is considered to be a horror movie, it’s really to my mind a very dark comedy.”
“Everyone is different and everybody sees things differently,” he continues. “Some people get freaked out by this movie while others find it funny. But I realized long ago that a horror idea is essentially an idea created by another idea, that was created by something unrelated to the initial idea. So much of horror is borrowed in some form or fashion; and it’s hard to scare people, especially millennials in the new generation. Basically, I decided to develop a series of strange situations and go with it.”
Falicki has been working with the Grand Rapids Production company Sector Five for about five years now and has numerous films under his belt; but does feel there are several factors about The Accidental Exorcist that distinguish it and make it a unique movie-going experience. “It has horror movie traditions and has a build-up designed for scares, but there is a key element involved where I do believe that everybody can relate to this character because all of us have had bad jobs at some point in our lives where we get to a point of asking do we quit, or do we allow the dissatisfaction of continuing with this bad job to swell to the point we’re going to explode. Most of us do decide to quit, so a lot of people can relate to that end of the character.”
In terms of transitioning what he conceived in his mind’s eye and translating it for the screen, Falicki says his biggest challenge involved casting. “Originally I wanted the lead actor to be in his mid-50s and kind of on the point of retirement to the point where he’s always getting real cranky, because the narrative seemed more funny to me that way; but something happened last minute and the actor I wanted to hire dropped out, so I was forced to cast myself in the lead role.”
“That was very hard for me to do,” he continues, “because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. This character has to be pretty much intoxicated the whole movie and playing drunk is very hard to do unless you are kind of drunk,” he laughs. “Consequently, instead of editing the film myself, I ended up hiring an editor instead of doing it myself and asked him to edit my rants. This was a way to control what I was trying to achieve.”
His bet paid off and both critical & popular reaction to The Accidental Exorcist has been remarkably strong, with the Los Angeles based distribution company Gravitus Ventures picking up the film and adding it to their catalog. Plus its received some good critiques and successful reviews and can be seen on many streaming channels nationally such as Amazon.com, Hulu, and Vudu.
“I had a very small crew – basically just me and the cinematographer,” he relates. “But I like to work small. If I had a million dollars it would be different, but what it all comes down to at the end of the day for any film is the story and the acting – that’s what I learned the most from making this film.”
The Alchemist Cookbook •
Friday • February 3rd • 6:50 PM
Horror (82 minutes)
Director/Writer: Joel Potrykus Producer: Ashley Young
Suffering from delusions of fortune, a young hermit hides out in the forest hoping to crack an ancient mystery, but pays a price for his mania. Such is the premise for The Alchemist Cookbook, which is the latest work from writer/director Joel Potrykus, who resides in Grand Rapids, where he continues to work with his filmmaking band, Sob Noisse.
This film is the follow-up to what Potrykus calls his ‘Animal Trilogy’ that began in 2012 with the feature film, Ape; which earned him the honor of being selected Best Emerging Director at the Locarno Film Festival, which was followed by the super-8 short Coyote in 2010, and continued in 2014 with the film Buzzard.
His latest narrative involved a young outcast named Sean, who has isolated himself in a trailer in the woods, setting out on alchemic pursuits with his cat Kaspar as his sole companion. Filled with disdain for authority, he's fled the daily grind and holed up in the wilderness, escaping a society that has no place for him. But when he turns from chemistry to black magic to crack nature's secret, things go awry and he awakens something far more sinister and dangerous.
As Sean labors over what appears to be a bomb; having run out of his antipsychotic medication, he begins hearing voices and engaging in devil worship; and his only visitor, an old friend (Amari Cheatom), is being chased by some dudes over a drug deal gone bad. Essentially Sean serves as a cipher - he plays with his cat, boogies around to a cassette of the Smoking Popes — and partly because the action functions less as a story than as a checklist of transgressions (eating cat food, killing a possum, self-extracting a tooth) - the movie peaks at its midpoint with a chilling nocturnal encounter that blurs the line between hallucination and the genuinely supernatural.
So compelling is writer-director Potrykus’ unnerving scenario — with its largely ambiguous tone of horror dramatically offset at times by explicit frights — that a viewer isn’t necessarily bothered by a lack of basic story information about the who, what, when, where and why.
There are voices heard and dark figures seen at a distance in a forest thicket — knots of trees visually suggesting the tangled shadows in Sean’s head. But there are also scenes that go well beyond one’s ability to rationalize such scary things, leading us instead into pure fear.
Potrykus and his cast do a superb job of driving it home.