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Panic Fest 2023 Trader Review- Color-Saturated Strangeness At Its Unnerving Best

Some movies are impossible to define. They are a vibe, a feeling, an emotion, or lack of one. Corey Stanton’s Trader showing as part of Panic Fest 2023, is all three. It’s a film designed to get inside your head and worm under your skin. It is the song you can’t stop singing even if you hate it and the image that appears when you close your eyes to go to bed at night. Although not a traditional horror movie, it leaves you feeling nervous.

Billed as a success story, Trader is the story of success. Just not the type you think it is. Sometimes the difference between good and evil, heroes and villains, is blurred beyond explanation. Writer and director Corey Stanton immediately establishes that this won’t be a happy story. Something is wrong in the stark, dingy, closed basement setting. Our lead Kimberly-Sue Murray is odd, aggressively unsettling, and determined to do something even if you aren’t entirely sure what that is right away.

The film opens with credit card fraud and ramps up from there. Murray’s unnamed person has no problem conning vulnerable people out of their money. But that’s the least of her transgressions. All of it is done from the safety of their home base and behind the anonymity of their phone and computer. At first, it seems like it is all about money, but that is just the starting point. Trader’s primary focus is control, respectability, and domination.

We stay with Trader, entombed in her claustrophobic dwelling and chaotic mind the entire runtime. Through music and jarring lighting, the viewer lives inside Trader’s mind. Murray does an admirable job of making the inscrutable clear. Her character is calculating and cold when not running red hot. Diabolical and scheming Murray allows the sociopath to show a full range of emotions in effective and bizarre ways. Initially, she rigidly adheres to her plan and begins a meteoric climb up the financial ladder. She wants to be a broker, a trader, and an analyst with a major fund. However, it isn’t enough to be a successful day trader. She conquers that hurdle early.

Her failures, even if they aren’t fully earned, haunt her. She is a seemingly simple character with hidden layers, all of which Murray lets play out judiciously. Murray’s Trader is the ultimate unreliable narrator because she lies to everyone, including herself. The nearly one-woman show lives and dies on her shoulders. Trader is so devoid of empathy she would kill a kid to get ahead, and Murray presents her unflinchingly. We believe she exists, and her motivations are believable if not explained. The third act lets her unleash her full dangerous potential, and it is terrifying.

Stanton’s film is a work of art best watched with that in mind. Narrative patterns and expected character tropes are pushed aside for something completely different and interesting. Trader is a weird film that makes you feel weird and uneasy while watching it. Our antihero feels real. We can smell the body odor and garbage in her home. The stench of desperation and ruthlessness permeates every shot. We both want her to succeed (at least early) and are horrified of her later. We know she is doing terrible things, but there is something magnetic about her that we can’t look away from. She could easily be the person who appears as a SCAM RISK on your phone or the puppet master staging a well-choreographed act of violence. It’s scary to think how easily something like this could happen.

Artfully shot, Stanton captures the horror of anonymous power. Trader premiered at Panic Fest 2023. Find all our Panic Fest coverage here.