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2017 FilmQuest Festival: Horror Student Films
Provo, Utah’s Covey Center for the Arts hosted the 2017 FilmQuest Festival recently and the talent on display easily rivaled any of the preeminent US-based events including, Sundance and Tribeca, in terms of quality movies. Over 1,000 films and screenplays were submitted for consideration, with more than 200 projects being officially selected for exhibition and competition. And the seven horror films in the Student Film category displayed a wide array of complexly engaging narratives and numerous emerging creative talents.
Home Education (United Kingdom, 2016)
“Psycho is a film I love and I’m sure it had something to do with all this on some level.” – Andrea Niada.
Writer/director Andrea Niada’s Home Education is a clever and disturbing look at the power and perils of knowledge. In this uniquely-conceived narrative, Rachel (Kate Reed) and her mother Carol (Jemma Churchill) await the return of the family patriarch, Philip (Richard Ginn). There’s just one little problem: he is dead and rotting away in the attic.
Niada’s ideas for the short film are the result of lofty goals. “The film began as a feature-length idea, so I did a great deal of brainstorming and exploration of the world around the characters, slowly adding various layers to it,” Niada explained. “My partner (who is also the amazing producer of the film) was vacuum-packing some of her winter clothes and that’s how it happened. It seemed to tie in perfectly with the rest of their twisted logic.”
Indeed, like many well-known horror films like Psycho (1960) and Silence of the Lambs(1991), Home Education found inspiration in real life. “I was on the subway and came across a brief article describing how police in Russia had connected a man’s body they found in a dumpster back to a lady who turned out was his wife and had kept him in bed for years, certain he would resurrect,” Niada said.
“She had made her kids wash and feed him daily, until they were old enough to realize she might be a little unhinged and had thrown him out. As soon as I read this I knew I wanted to do something with it. The dread of dying is something I have felt very strongly and the subsequent mechanisms we employ to shield ourselves from this finality have always fascinated me.”
In addition to ideas that are sure to resonate with audiences, another strength of Home Education is the virtuoso performance of young Kate Reed. It’s frightening, in a good way, how precise she is delivering her lines of dialogue in such a realistic and believable fashion. And even when Reed isn’t speaking, she’s saying volumes with her eyes and subtle facial expressions – techniques that elude even some of Hollywood’s leading thespians.
“Kate is a brilliant actress and wonderful person! She was the last actress we saw for the role and happened to be the best for the role,” Niada explained. “We knew it was her from the minute she opened her mouth to read for us.”
Gemma Churchill also gives a noteworthy performance as the misguided mother. Jemma was another wonderful actress and person,” Niada said. “We did work a lot on making her as real as possible and for her denial to come from a well-defined place. I think that’s the only way absurdity can really work and also when madness is at its most effective – when people FULLY believe what they’re saying and in some twisted way it makes sense.”
In fact, it is truly terrifying at the conclusion when Carol’s daughter goes from suddenly being the learner to the teacher. Saying more would give the riveting end away, but Churchill and Reed are at the top of their respective acting games when the climax hits audiences over the head like a shovel. That final scene will scare the hell out of any parent – guaranteed.
“I think the fact Rachel becomes even more unhinged than her mother is the only way she could go in reality,” Niada said. “And I think it’s also the more quietly terrifying element of this kind of psychological ‘abuse’. She’s rebelling against her mother just like any other teenager, but with the distorted tools she has available in her sealed off reality.”
One of the more surreal elements used in the story, and that’s saying something when the father is rotting upstairs, is the bone that Rachel utilizes. Yes – a bone. It’s not at all what you expect a little girl to possess or play with, but everything about its inclusion screams The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), in terms of scenery and prop elements.
“I hadn’t seen Texas Chainsaw yet when I made this, funnily enough,” Niada said as he described the use of the bone in the film. “Rachel’s bone is supposed to be attracted to a particular space in the woods where she believes she can find some answers to how to save her father from his ‘condition’. The idea came when writing the feature and writing the rules of the woods and the ‘in-between’ space within it. I suppose that since most of what I was writing centered around decay, death and the deathly, it seemed appropriate that a bone would be the object guiding her!”
In addition to the imagery of the bone, Carol also has all of these notes posted around the house like one might highlight events in their smart phones or even employ those little yellow Post-its. “All the signs and ‘decorations’ once again came from really trying to connect with the characters’ psychologies and their beliefs and how, therefore, they might manifest them in their world,” Niada explained. “I also think I channeled a lot of my own obsessiveness into them. For the record – I don’t have signs like that all over the house, but I think I connected with a place in myself that made me see how someone would want to do that!”
Home Education is wonderfully-constructed realism, with just a dash of the unorthodox, which culminates into one of the most dangerously unhinged teenagers in horror history. And that unique mixture makes Niada’s tour de force one of the must-sees from FilmQuest.
Full review HERE