This past weekend, the first-ever Overlook Film Festival took place at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. Mercury writer Ben Coleman was there, checking out the scene and the movies—when he wasn't being all scared.
The first question I bet you have is, "Was the Overlook Film Festival basically like #fyrefestival, but on a mountain and with horror movies?" and the answer to that question is a categorical "no." (But also a categorical "Yes, I would absolutely watch a horror movie based on that pitch.") No doubt some attendees had sticker shock at spending upwards of $1,500 to attend, but realistically, that's what it costs to stay a weekend at the rich-person Timberline Lodge, plus the cost of a film festival pass. Personally, I sprung for a cheap motel in Government Camp and had a fine time, and most of the people I talked to did something similar—I met a podcast team who drove down from Toronto in a rented RV.
Your follow-up question is undoubtedly, "Okay, fine, but was it full of horrible snobby film nerds and LA douchebags, but on a mountain and with horror movies?" And while yes, the field was dense with the bearded and bespectacled, everyone I talked to seemed genuinely enthusiastic for the genre. Crucially, it felt like people with varying levels of industry experience were mixing freely. Festival scenes usually calcify into dense cliques of wealthy, ubermensch insiders and the unwashed masses who don't get invited to the cool parties. Thankfully, that wasn't the case at Overlook—although the flip side is that there wasn't much of a celebrity presence. Still, I'll take the fellowship of humankind over a fleeting glance of Jason Momoa.
There were a good number of filmmakers in attendance, too—just not really anyone you'd chase into a public toilet for an autograph. I got a chance to sit down and interview Natalia Leite, the director of M.F.A. (a film I quite liked, as noted in the Mercury's Overlook preview), and Teal Greyhavens, the co-writer of Mule, a VR experience in which your POV is that of a naked man (I saw SO many wieners this weekend) who dies, is autopsied, and then is either cremated or buried alive, depending on which options you find the most/least palatable. And on Saturday, legendary director Roger Corman swung by to accept an award and present X: The Man with The X-Ray Eyes while simultaneously pitching us on a big Hollywood remake. "They can do all sorts of things with computers now!" he eagerly informed us.
I had some trepidation about Overlook's much-touted interactive theater experiences, as I am (A) a prize coward and (B) awful at improvisation, but I feel like I came away with something special (and a lot of fake blood on my shirt, but that's a story for another day). I knew a few of the actors involved with Bottleneck Immersive's live-action role-playing game, and so I had to recuse myself, but from what I can tell, it was well-received by the more hardcore aficionados.
I did, however, get to participate in The Chalet, a modified version of Annie Lesser's LA-based installation A(Partment 8)—an extremely intense experience that crossed a lot of personal boundaries. While it was initially quite distressing, it's also something I'll think about for a long time. Audience wrangler Teresa Loera told me that more Northwest participants just straight-up bailed than did so in LA, which is a fact I both resent and am unsurprised by.
As for the facilities, that's where the caveats start: Timberline is a beautiful space, but it's simply not set up for a good film-viewing experience, which is a slight problem at a film festival. I only saw films in the larger of the two dedicated theater spaces, where the experience was on par with what you'd see at a comics convention screening: Attendees were packed in dense rows of stackable chairs, completely at the mercy of someone tall sitting in front of you. The sound and video were fine, but a lack of microphones lead to lackluster Q&As.
But even the most palatial theater setup isn't worth much if the films are crap, which was blessedly not the case. I didn't love everything I saw, but the ratio of hits to misses was where I wanted it to be. The undisputed champions of the weekend were Hounds of Love (which I've covered previously) and the misleadingly titled but otherwise phenomenal It Comes at Night, which follows a small family dealing with the consequences of an unnamed global plague. If you've played The Last of Us, you can skip ahead, because thematically, this is as close to a movie version of that game as we're likely to get. The film reduces the themes of post-apocalyptic cinema down to their essential conflicts: compassion vs. prudence, short-term survival vs. long-term preparation, the cost of doing violence vs. the necessity of it. It's emblematic of the Overlook's programming, which emphasized tension and drama over monsters and entrails.
That said, it was blood by the bucketful at Joe Lynch's Mayhem. Essentially The Raid by way of Office Space (but dumber), the movie traps Steven Yeun (the best part of The Walking Dead) and Samara Weaving in an office building where every single person is going kill-and-or-sex-crazy. It's pulpy, slick, and pitch-black in temperament, and manages to avoid a lot of the shortcomings of Lynch's previous outings.
The big letdown of the fest, though, was The Bad Batch, from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night director Ana Lily Amirpour, which I went into with perhaps unreasonably high expectations. If you'd asked me before the festival what I'd recommend you drive up and see, I would've said Bad Batch (and indeed, a few of my friends did drive up the mountain just for this, and were similarly disappointed). But after a strong opening in which a beguiling ingenue Suki Waterhouse is partially dismembered by horrible cannibals, the film almost immediately devolves into a series of listless desert wanderings, punctuated by dream sequences, drug sequences, and druggy dream sequences that also center around wandering through deserts. It's a fascinating aesthetic experience, and an extremely unrewarding narrative one.
But I don't want to end this post on a negative note. Despite being a rather indifferent horror fan (and a huge wuss) I had a great time at Overlook, and I met some great folks. Claire Bellmont, one of the festival volunteers I spoke with, called the weekend a perfect mix of fear and isolation—and it turns out, that combo produces some strong social bonds. Which means maybe—just maybe—the real Overlook was the friends we made along the way.