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{Chattanooga Film Festival} Review: The Pandemic Anthology (2020)

At the beginning of the pandemic, I had every intention of using the stay at home order as a growth opportunity. Now, eight weeks later, instead of the six-pack abs or a polished novel, simply putting on pants feels like a major accomplishment. Luckily, there are people far more driven than me in this world and many of them were featured at this year’s Chattanooga Film Festival. I was excited to dive into an action-packed weekend of horror, but with so many great features and shorts, I would have never guessed that the most memorable would be The Pandemic Anthology.

To me anthologies are often a  let down. They feel too scattered and while there may be one of two solid shorts, they aren’t strong enough to make up for the duds that make up the majority. In fact, I dislike anthologies so much that I completely stopped watching them about fifteen years ago. Thinking back, I think the last anthology that I actually liked was Tales From the Hood (1995). I was twelve years old. Luckily for me, I decided to give anthologies another shot because The Pandemic Anthology was fantastic.

The Pandemic Anthology was a project from Fantaspoa Productions—who also released the feature film, Skull: The Mask during the festival—that invited filmmakers from around the world to submit their pandemic related stories from their homes, while following social-distancing, and with the materials they already had on hand. It is the limitations that enhanced my enjoyment of the film. I was very impressed by the creative innovation and resiliency each filmmaker utilized in order to complete such an ambitious project while the world was locked down. In the end, the fourteen films, from eight different countries, perfectly captured the universal traits we’ve experienced during the pandemic: fear, propaganda, misinformation, isolation, loneliness, frustration, apathy, anger, helplessness, hope, and an endless stream of online meetings. 

While I can’t give all the shorts the mention they deserve, I will focus on a few spoiler-free highlights. One of my favorites, was also the shortest film, “Last Day” which is about two minutes long, with little to no dialogue. It initially presents as something very simple, just two kids that have been in lock-down for over 2,100 days, but at the end the filmmakers really pushed their skills by dropping in some well-crafted special effects. I was amazed at the film’s ability to tell a complete story in two minutes.

Similarly, “Unearthed” was a creepy, suspenseful ghost story without dialogue. It’s a great example of crafty camera work and old school ambiance that when done well, like in this case, create a lovely scare. Which takes me to the scariest story in the anthology, “Stain on the Wall” which used the perfect blend of traditional hauntings with new technology by using a phone to guide the way through the dark rooms in search of the moving stain on the wall that the woman living in the house feels is the spirit of a child. It gave me the chills.

In addition to traditional scare tactics another dominant theme was the close relationship between humor and horror. Specifically, the healing role humor plays in our lives during stressful times. ”Stupidemic” had the best blooper of the series, when the dog humps its owner as she tries to go to sleep in the opening scene. Although the dog’s actions were unscripted the decision not to cut the scene post-production was pure comedy. In addition to the delightful spoof, it also highlighted the political extremes that have boiled over during the pandemic, but managed to do so with humor rather than judgement.

Next, was the bizarre and hilarious short about online dating during the pandemic, “Baldomero” which featured a woman that may or may not have been catfished by a non-human. Which is almost as funny as seeing the pandemic through the eyes of a feline that will stop at nothing to survive, even if it means making a deal with the devil, in “Jerome: A Christmas Carol.” While these were great, “Macabre Hide and Seek,” was the perfect blend of horror and comedy. It featured a campy doll relentlessly attacking a man in his apartment.I liked it so much, I watched it two more times before moving on to the next one. It was the perfect blend of horror comedy throughout that made The Pandemic Anthology the festival’s biggest surprise.

Fantaspoa Productions

While most anthologies have dull points, this one truly didn’t. Despite not being my thing, even the Film Life style shorts were very well done. In this case, the issue was my reliance on subtitles to keep up with the story. Group chat dramas are carried by dialogue and as the tension increases, so does the rapid-fire dynamic which was a little hard to appreciate with subtitles. I did, however, really appreciate the bizarre, Birdman-style short, “Hatching Out” which displayed the best variety of characters, camera angles, and special effects of the entire project. In the end, The Pandemic Anthology may have been the film that best represented this year’s Chattanooga Film Festival as a whole. In the face of a global pandemic that shut down most festivals and Hollywood completely, they both personified the “show must go on” attitude that we all need in our lives; now more than ever.

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