Credit: Collingwood Film Co.
by Alex Fields Feature Articles Featured Film

2024 Nevermore Film Festival

February 26, 2024

In one way, horror fans have a lot to be happy about. Over the past decade, the genre has broken out of its “midnight movie” cage and become a mainstay in arthouse festival programming and critics’ year-end lists. Genre film is an increasingly popular choice for young filmmakers looking to break through professionally, offering better hopes for a commercial return on investment than conventional drama, and thus easier sources of funding. But this success is a double-edged sword, as the festival circuit is flooded with second-rate copycats of Ari Aster and Jordan Peele, movies that seem convinced the only way to be a serious film is to announce their seriousness tonally. Many of these works have little to say beneath their façade of self-importance, the exact inverse of the great genre films of the 1970s, which dug deep into their culture’s political subconscious while reveling in a low budget, countercultural aesthetic.

Thank the Old Gods, then, for small festivals like Durham’s Nevermore, which keep lit the flames of the weird, unfettered, and fun genre film. Hosted by Carolina Theatre, the festival is celebrating its 25th edition, and its programming continues to embrace work that is proudly independent and risk-taking. Some of these, like Kevin Kopacka’s Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes, are among the best horror films of recent years that have still not received their due. This year’s festival platforms ten features and as many blocks of shorts. The physical festival occurred February 23-25, but three of the features and all of the shorts are available via streaming (geo-blocked to Southeastern states) until March 1. Most of the films are horror, but the slate also includes science fiction, mystery, and animated films. We took a look at three of the features as a sample.


A spiritual sequel to director Michelle Iannantuono’s earlier Livescream (2018), Livescreamers follows a team of professional online-gaming streamers and one special fan who joins them as they explore a new horror game. The tensions between members of the team – which represent a clear and angry commentary on the tensions in the gaming and streaming community more broadly — emerge as they play, as do the fatal real-world consequences of failure in this particular dark web game. The airing of grievances thus takes on a life-and-death importance as racism, transphobia, sexual harassment, and willful cover-up create obstacles to survival greater than those of the game itself.

Like the numerous other livestreaming and group chat horror films of recent years — Deadstream, Dashcam, Host — the format becomes a virtue as Iannantuono is able to visually lean into the video game world, delivering most of the scares and violence within that context, while also maintaining a feeling of realism and high stakes. It’s essentially a long dialogue, but this strategy means it never feels like we’re just watching people talking. Having the characters talk about themselves and each other while their in-game avatars face mortal danger is a clever tool for suspense, and one that arguably captures the fundamental appeal of gaming livestreams: as a character says at one point, it’s not really about the game, it’s about the social aspect of feeling that you’re playing the game with these people.

But major flaw in Livescreamers is that the themes are spelled out too overtly through the dialogue. Initially, this approach makes sense, as the group collectively learns of an incident involving one of them that another had covered up, and so begin to argue about it. But the strategy of using a character’s big reveal in order to highlight particular issues pertaining to their identity is repeated too many times to fully suspend disbelief. Fortunately, then, Iannantuono is smart enough to avoid letting her film become the predictably moralistic story about team-building and communication that it would’ve been in a typical studio production. Like the other most successful examples of screen-mediated horror, Livescreamers works because of its essential mean-spiritedness, which keeps it fun even when it preaches, and gives its ending a bolt of energy.

Saint Drogo

Outsiders arrive to a homogenous community. Everything seems too perfect to be true, and the visitors ignore some early warning signs until it’s too late. This narrative structure is classic folk horror, but in Saint Drogo (directed by Michael J. Ahern, Brandon Perras-Sanchez, and Ryan Miller) the essential twist comes via the film’s setting, which is a sort of Fire Island gay vacation spot during its deserted off-season, when it’s apparently populated exclusively by conventionally attractive white men. The fellas are interested in more than hookups, though, and the protagonists — who visit looking for one of their exes who disappeared — are soon in over their heads.

Saint Drogo’s problem is that while its reference points are clear — The Wicker Man, Midsommar, Eyes Wide Shut — its original vision is not. Aside from one climactic sequence where the big reveal more or less lands because of strong practical effects, the film feels like a series of riffs on canonical movies and tropes, which is an especially unforgiving strategy when your budget is a fraction of the classics you’re gesturing toward. In execution, too many scenes simply feel like watching an attempt to create a familiar type of scene rather than just watching something you feel and believe. Saint Drogo is also muddled thematically, coasting along on a mix of halfhearted commentary on gay relationship dynamics and Midsommar-style anxieties about cult-like community before trying to shoe in some overt criticism of wealthy gay gentrification in its epilogue. Too much and not enough.

The Hyperborean 

Perhaps the first film where an alien ice mummy fails a breathalyzer test, Jesse Thomas Cook’s The Hyperborean aims for nothing less than the sort of self-consciously absurd fun that such an image suggests. Structured as a series of flashbacks, with corporate lawyers and investigators trying to piece together the events of a fateful family gathering, the film alternates between present-tense scenes of dialogue and moments that occurred earlier in the night. The owner of a whisky company gathers his family for a major product announcement — his team has discovered 170-year-old casks of whiskey frozen in the Arctic — and nothing goes quite as planned. Each of his kids, and their partners, is an exaggerated caricature of a type: the rich kid playacting as cowboy, the self-obsessed influencer, the hipster with a ridiculous vest and moustache who operates a fancy bar. With one partial exception, they’re all incompetent nepo babies fighting for their claim on the inheritance. It’s Succession as sci-fi-horror-comedy. 

These characters are often on the border of being convincingly fun vs. emptily signifying a type. They work best, as does the film itself, in the moments of greatest activity, when the family fights among themselves or with a whiskey-drunk, laser-eyed ice mummy. The scenes of dialogue after the fact allow for an effective pacing strategy that alternates between hectic and calm and underscores the former, though those sequences don’t work as well in and of themselves. The cast and screenplay are much more successful at delivering humorous action than at finding the real personalities beneath these characters’ posturing, but for viewers primarily looking for the former, there is plenty to enjoy in The Hyperborean.