The Overlook Film Festival is four days of contemporary horror cinema contained entirely in the frosty confines of Mt. Hood’s Timberline Lodge. “Oh, ‘Overlook!’” you say. “Like the hotel in The Shining, right?” Please don’t interrupt, but yes. “And Timberline is where they shot The Shining, right?” Well actually, only the exteriors. The interiors were built on a British sound stage! And the part with the car driving up the hill was shot in Montana. “So....” So don’t expect a creepy haunted mansion when you get up there, dummy. It’s a very nice ski lodge that probably isn’t even haunted.
As for Overlook’s films, the schedule is a well-curated, impressively diverse selection from a wide range of horror sub-genres. I talked to festival co-directors Landon Zakheim and Michael Lerman, who told me they were looking for a “well rounded” program, which they’ve achieved. Along with films from circuit favorites like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’s Ana Lily Amirpour (her Overlook contribution is the cannibal-filled The Bad Batch) and Alex de la Iglesia (The Bar), there are strong offerings from first-time feature directors, like Nicholas Verso’s Donnie Darko-ish Boys in the Trees and Dominic Bridges’ Kafkaesque parable Two Pigeons. That said, only seven of the festival’s 37 films were screened for critics, so I can’t exactly give you a comprehensive guide.
What you definitely should see (although probably not in a row, and absolutely not if you are triggered by sexual violence) are Hounds of Love, M.F.A., and Killing Ground. Each presents a single, shattering incident (the abduction of a teenager, a rape in a dorm room, a family murdered at a campground) and then spins outward to chronicle the aftermath. These three films depict and contextualize the sexual violence central to each story differently, but the results are uniformly harrowing. In a genre that too often uses the violation of women’s bodies as a cheap form of dramatic escalation, these films feel like they have important stories to tell.
In a genre that too often uses the violation of women’s bodies as a cheap form of dramatic escalation, these films feel like they have important stories to tell.
So why Timberline? Lerman and Zakheim tell me they were being pragmatic. Mt. Hood is “just close enough [to Portland] that it’s not a nuisance, and it’s just far enough that it’s a little bit isolated, a little bit of its own world,” Lerman explains. The festival also boasts a number of what they describe as “experiences,” ranging from a live audio play, to an extremely distressing VR demo about getting cremated, to a weekend-long interactive horror game that appears to be a mixture of an escape room, geocaching, and dudes screaming in your face when you least expect it. So that should be interesting.
If all this sounds familiar, it’s because Lerman and Zakheim programmed the Stanley Film Festival—which, from 2013 to 2015, offered a similar slate of programming at a spooky old hotel in Colorado (where they shot the TV miniseries adaptation of The Shining, for the record). When the Stanley’s owner shut that fest down, Lerman and Zakheim started up Overlook, which is thematically similar, but otherwise unaffiliated.
“The whole idea is to create a genre summer camp,” Zakheim says, and that mentality is reflected in the price. Full packages that include accommodations at Timberline start at $1,300—although, if you don’t mind driving, festival passes can be had for $175-$350. Individual ticketing is available for most screenings, parties, and events, and grabbing one of each could offer a practical way for most people to experience the festival.
But even if you can’t make it up there, I’ll be checking it out and posting afterward about all the gory details on for the Mercury. Because I’ve got your back, even if you don’t know where The Shining was filmed.