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8 Indie Horror Films You'll Soon Be Talking About

These innovative and genre-bending horror films left the most lasting impression at this year's SXSW Film Festival.

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1. The Alchemist Cookbook

Oscilloscope Laboratories

Directed by: Joel Potrykus

Written by: Joel Potrykus

While living in a secluded cabin in the woods, Sean (Ty Hickson) tries to use his knowledge of science and magic to make himself rich by mastering the titular art of alchemy. But messing with demonic forces, however lucrative the results might be, is never worth the risk. The Alchemist Cookbook is bound to be divisive, a credit to writer-director Joel Potrykus's insistence on a deliberately slow pace and his focus on the mundane aspects of Sean's life over the supernatural ones. At times, the film can feel like an endurance test — if you can't stand the sounds of chewing and swallowing, beware — but it's one that pays off with a darkly funny and deeply frightening final act. Hickson delivers a compelling and unsettling performance (matched by his cat sidekick Kaspar), which stands out as a strong antidote to the underrepresentation of complex characters of color in horror.

Distribution: The Alchemist Cookbook will be released by Oscilloscope Laboratories later this year.

2. Carnage Park

IFC Midnight

Directed by: Mickey Keating

Written by: Mickey Keating

In 1978, bank robber Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hébert) takes Vivian (Ashley Bell) hostage, but that's just the start of her ordeal. Soon, she finds herself at the mercy of the maniacal Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), and Carnage Park transitions from a modern Western to a brutal survivalist thriller. Not that it can't be both: As No Country for Old Men and, more recently, Bone Tomahawk have shown, the line between Western and horror is thinner than one might imagine. (Also at SXSW this year: Ti West's In a Valley of Violence, which straddles the same divide.) Carnage Park is the most evolved and stylish work yet from Mickey Keating, one of horror's most prolific young filmmakers. Bell, who dazzled horror audiences in The Last Exorcism, is an exceptional Final Girl, and Healy once again proves, as he did in Cheap Thrills, that he's adept at finding the balance between deranged and hilarious.

Distribution: IFC Midnight picked up Carnage Park at SXSW and will release the film later this year.

3. Another Evil

Memory

Directed by: Carson D. Mell

Written by: Carson D. Mell

Dan (Steve Zissis) is desperate to rid his vacation home of ghosts, so he reaches out to eccentric exorcist Os (Mark Proksch), only to discover that the cure is worse than the disease. Another Evil is a horror comedy that sometimes feels like neither. Its plot twists and tonal shifts make it seem like three distinctive movies, some more successful than others. And while it's far from an unmitigated success, Another Evil is undoubtably ambitious. The turn it takes toward the end — without giving too much away because this is a film that largely hinges on pulling the rug out from under its audience — is a genuinely daring storytelling choice that, at the very least, underlines writer-director Carson D. Mell's impressive ingenuity and courage to take risks. Another Evil may not be the best reflection of his talents, but it bodes well for whatever he does next.

Distribution: Another Evil is seeking distribution.

4. Pet

Revolver Picture Company

Directed by: Carles Torrens

Written by: Jeremy Slater

Like Another Evil, Pet's twist dramatically changes its effect. That's why the less said about the plot the better. Troubled loner Seth (Dominic Monaghan) becomes fixated on the beautiful Holly (Ksenia Solo), and though seemingly harmless at first, his obsession with Holly grows stronger until he's keeping her captive in a cage at the animal shelter where he works. If this sounds like a psychological thriller you've seen before, try to keep an open mind, because as Pet goes on, it subverts its familiar tropes. The ever-shifting power dynamic between Seth and Holly, strikingly embodied by Monaghan and Solo, is itself worth the price of admission. But Pet is most successful for the genuine surprises in Jeremy Slater's clever script, which upends expectations from beginning to end.

Distribution: Pet is seeking distribution.

5. Beware the Slenderman

Vermilion Films

Directed by: Irene Taylor Brodsky

While it's possible for a documentary to be a horror film — take a look at last year's The Nightmare if you have any doubts — classifying Beware the Slenderman as horror might be a bit of a stretch. And yet, it's easily the most terrifying movie that premiered at SXSW this year. Irene Taylor Brodsky's documentary examines the case of two 12-year-old girls, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, who stabbed their friend Payton "Bella" Leutner 19 times and left her for dead, all to appease the internet boogeyman Slenderman. The film includes YouTube videos of purported Slenderman encounters, which are all very clearly fake but still unsettling. The real horror of Beware the Slenderman, however, is in the starkly honest confessions of Geyser and Weier. This is what happens when untreated mental illness and the overactive imagination of children spark the first meme-inspired attempted murder.

Distribution: HBO Documentary Films will air Beware the Slenderman later this year.

6. The Master Cleanse

Courtesy SXSW

Directed by: Bobby Miller

Written by: Bobby Miller

Aimless loser Paul (Johnny Galecki) embarks on a spiritual retreat where a cleanse designed to rid him of toxins actually rids him of a strange sentient creature. The Master Cleanse doesn't quite feel like it fits the horror genre, but it's got enough body horror weirdness going for it that it merits inclusion. The debut feature from writer-director Bobby Miller — full disclosure: a former employee of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures — is an odd and unexpected satire on dieting fads and self-help culture. The creepy little things Paul and his fellow cleansers vomit into existence alternate between vaguely cute and menacing, recalling Gremlins' Mogwais. Also threatening: Anjelica Huston as the intense leader of the retreat who literally enters screaming. The Master Cleanse is not really scary, but its humor and surprising poignance make up for it.

Distribution: The Master Cleanse is seeking distribution.

7. Don't Breathe

Sony Screen Gems

Directed by: Fede Alvarez

Written by: Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues

When it arrived at SXSW, Don't Breathe didn't have a title and there was very little information about its plot available anywhere, which made it one of the festival's most exciting premieres. The film, which reunites director-writer Fede Alvarez and his co-writers Rodo Sayagues with their Evil Dead star Jane Levy, is a sort of inverse home invasion thriller. Here, the home invaders (led by Levy's Rocky) are trying desperately to escape after they find themselves locked in with a dangerously unhinged blind man (Stephen Lang). Alvarez, with the help of cinematographer Pedro Luque, ratchets up the tension of the tightly confined spaces because the blind man's house is nearly pitch-black. There are some questionable twists, including one truly unnecessary gross-out moment, but when Don't Breathe shows restraint, it's a satisfyingly stressful experience.

Distribution: Sony Screen Gems will release Don't Breathe in theaters Aug. 26.

8. Hush

Intrepid Pictures

Directed by: Mike Flanagan

Written by: Mike Flanagan and Kate Siegel

Hush has a lot in common with Don't Breathe on paper, though the results are quite different. The former, from Oculus director Mike Flanagan, feels like a more standard home invasion thriller, but it's also scarier. And its lead character's disability is again central to the plot: Here, Maddie (Kate Siegel, who co-wrote the screenplay) is a deaf author who is stalked by a masked psychopath (John Gallagher Jr.) in her secluded home. It's a relatively simple setup, complicated by the fact that Maddie can't hear her attacker and must rely on her other senses to outwit him. Meanwhile, the naïve killer repeatedly underestimates his target. Given its concept, Hush is mostly devoid of jump scares, which ultimately makes it more effective. The killer's steady approach behind Maddie, who can't hear him coming, is more startling than anyone screaming "Boo!"

Distribution: Netflix acquired Hush and will stream the film beginning April 8.

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