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Final Girls Film Festival: ‘Tis the season to be spooky

With Halloween approaching, Final Girls Berlin have just the lineup to make dreadheads and gorehounds drool this weekend...

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Saint Maud, one of the best horror debuts in recent memory, screens on the opening night of Final Girls Film Festival. Photo: Studio Canal

After a successful digital edition earlier this year, the second part of Final Girls Berlin’s 6(66)th edition will be held in person at City Kino Wedding from October 29-31. This Halloween weekend, the festival has a fantastic new line-up of short and feature films made by women and non-binary filmmakers, as well as special events to die for.

Final Girls has spared no effort in bringing to Berlin some of the finest unreleased-in-Germany gems: the opening night is Rose Glass’ Saint Maud, one of the best horror debuts in recent memory, alongside Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor and Natalia Erika James’ Relic, the latter of which (rather perfectly) closes the festival on Sunday. Saint Maud is a queasy and claustrophobic psychodrama that captivates as a nerve-jangling portrayal of religious fanaticism (and much, much more); as for Relic, it could be described as the harrowing counterpart to Florian Zeller’s The Father, an emotionally bruising portrait of dementia that brilliantly toys with haunted-house tropes, as well as the beloved horror theme of intergenerational trauma.

Frankly, how these two brilliant films didn’t get distribution in Germany is baffling.

There’s also the German premiere of Kier la Janisse’s debut feature to look out for on Saturday: Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a mesmerising documentary about the history of folk horror cinema. It’s followed by one of the most controversial entries in the programme: Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s Violation, a mercilessly realistic exploration of assault, betrayal, trauma and revenge which strikes an initially meditative tone through its non-linear storytelling, and upends any expectations you may have as the runtime progresses. It’s challenging filmmaking at its very best.

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Catch Nouvelle Saveur (Haute Cuisine) on Saturday as part of the Horror Adjacent Shorts programme. Photo: Topshot Films

As always, Final Girls’ expansive shorts programme is a highlight, curated into blocks that are this year dedicated to social ills, family horror, queer horror, witches and the ominously titled “midnight mayhem”. There are two standouts we recommend you don’t overlook.

The first is Polish short Home Sweet Home (screening in the ‘Family’ block), which follows how an Orwellian nightmare of a programme called Rent A Life (“Your life is our business”) proves the Bard was onto something when he wrote “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. The ingenious high-concept works well and you’ll end up wishing that director Agata Puszcz could be given a full feature-length runtime in order to explore the story further.

The second can be found in the ‘Horror Adjacent’ block of the shorts programme: Nouvelle Saveur (Haute Cuisine) is Merryl Roche’s remarkable short about a young cook (the fantastic Joséphine Japy) who joins a Michelin-star restaurant. We won’t spoil the surprises, but if you’ve ever felt like you’re bleeding yourself dry for your job, think again: the expression takes a literal spin in this intense story, tangentially reminiscent of Laura Esquivel’s novel Como Agua Para Chocolate (‘Like Water For Chocolate’). Haute Cuisine is a tense and perfectly crafted masterstroke that keeps you hooked throughout as it deftly explores themes of sacrifice and how women in the workplace often have to go unfairly above and beyond compared to their male counterparts in order to be heard, accepted and seen to excel.

Don’t miss out on these shorts, or Final Girls’ ultimate treat, which comes in the form of talks from visiting feminist film scholars; these include author-lecturer Valeria Villegas Lindvall on “The Awakening of Female* Horror in Latin America” and author-professor Patricia Pisters’ talk on “Growing Pains: Breasts, Blood, and Fangs”.

Treat yourself by spending Halloween with the Final Girls – you won’t regret it.

Final Girls Berlin / Oct 29-31, at City Kino Wedding. (A selection of screenings will also be available for streaming during the festival – although we recommend you head to City Kino Wedding if you can.)