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The Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival 2023 Report: Part 2

October 5, 2023 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival 1 Image Credit: Buffalo Dreams

The Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival Report: Part 2

Image Credit: Buffalo Dreams

The Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival recently celebrated its tenth year of existence this past August (August 18th-24th, to be exact) at a new location, the majestic Dipson Amherst Theater in Buffalo, and over its seven day run showed 16 feature films and 63 short films, 79 films in total. I was able to attend two non-consecutive days of the festival (day 2 and day 7) and this is part 2 of my festival report (you can check out the first part here).

And so, without any further what have you, what did I see on my second day of the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival 2023 edition?

The Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival 2023 Report: Part 2

Short Films

The Beautiful Mess: Easily one of the weirdest short films I’ve ever seen, The Beautiful Mess appears to be a segment of some sort of larger, ongoing work by director Sal Monaco. The five minute movie is best described as “rough around the edges” and filled with actors who are clearly not actors, at least in the professional sense. The story, as far as I can tell, is all about a group of people who like to engage in “barefoot cosplay” complaining that they can’t do that anymore for some reason. It should be a disaster for anyone outside of the world The Beautiful Mess exists in because odds are the plot isn’t going to mean anything to anyone who isn’t involved in it. And yet The Beautiful Mess is oddly engaging. Even if you have no idea what’s really going on you end up liking everyone in the short. You want to know more about this world and the people in it. You also get a real sense that these characters belong to a community that cares about the people in it, which is truly endearing. You root for everyone involved, even if you’re not entirely sure what you’re rooting for. You just know that you want these people to succeed. I liked it.

Rating: 6.5/10

Short Features

Halloween Eve Studios

Willowvale Harbor: This short feature by Timothy Davis frustrated the hell out of me. On one hand, it’s a beautiful looking movie that’s technically proficient and filled with a palpable sense of dread throughout most of its 55 minute runtime. The movie also features a top notch performance from its lead actor Dean Marconi. However, the big hooha conspiracy at the heart of the plot is beyond confusing and because of that complication the movie just never really comes together at the end, which is what you need to have happen with this kind of story. If the story had just been about a guy looking for his wacked out friend who has been brainwormed by conspiracy theories and then a bunch of weird stuff happened to that guy while looking in the woods, maybe Willowvale Harbor would be more successful. The idea behind the conspiracy that makes up the plot is terrifying and unnerving, and it likely would have been wise to focus on that and just that, the idea of the conspiracy, instead of the murky machinations that we do get (there’s a sort of twist towards the end that just doesn’t work). Of course, it also would have worked if there was a monster of some sort in the woods and that monster goes after Marconi’s character for most of the movie as Marconi searches for his missing friend. Simple and fleeting is always better than dense with this kind of story.

As something to look at and just experience, Willowvale Harbor is slightly more satisfying, especially on a big movie screen. Director Davis and company develop a scope and atmosphere that’s hard to pull off even in big budget Hollywood thrillers, and they should be commended for that. Davis is clearly talented and if Willowvale Harbor is used as a sort of “calling card” for future potential movies, I will be all for it and endorse it enthusiastically. As a standalone work that’s its own thing, Willowvale Harbor is a miss. A well-made miss, but a miss nonetheless.

If you want, you can actually watch Willowvale Harbor on YouTube here, but I encourage you to watch it on as big of a screen as possible.

Rating: 7/10

Image Credit: Barile Films

The Rise of Marco Alfonsi: Part action movie and part mob revenge drama, The Rise of Marco Alfonsi has Marco Alfonsi (Vincent Barile, who also directs) go from a sort of mild mannered, middle class life being a family man and professional pen salesman who does odd jobs for his mobbed up father (and by “odd jobs” I don’t mean killing people) to a pissed off orphan and widower who decides to don a skull mask (it’s more like a gaiter) and wipe out the rat bastards that have lied to him and ruined his life. The main bad guy is Vincent Ferrari and is played by Dale E. Rugg Sr., and he is a great slime ball villain. Ferrari also surrounds himself with plenty of scumbag henchmen and henchwomen that you want to see die (Nick Flare, Ella Swanson, and Xavier Padilla are the top henchpersons here). I liked this, it’s entertaining, but it’s also very uneven and it has plenty of issues.

The movie’s sound is soft. It’s difficult to hear the character’s dialogue at times. Some of the action scenes aren’t as well thought out or polished as the dramatic scenes. I like that there’s a feeling of spontaneity to some of what happens, but you can only do that so many times before it comes off as sloppy. The main character, Marco Alfonsi, only shows his transition from mild mannered wimp to revenge fueled killer by putting on a gaiter mask. Why isn’t he stripping away his business casual attire to wear all black, or at least deciding to deliberately look rougher as he descends into violence? The gaiter is cool but there should be more to it. There’s also a weird as hell moment that takes place in 1995 and has people using I-phones. It would have been more appropriate to have people using car phones or even walkie talkies if they need to communicate with others. I know that last one sounds nitpicky but it bothered the hell out of me.

The music is good, especially the music that plays over the end credits (the music has an epic quality to it that makes the story feel huge). And even if some of the acting is uneven/dialogue is stilted, everyone has enough screen presence and general screen charisma to make you ignore/accept those issues. You like everyone in the movie, even the bad guys. I mean, you want to see Alfonsi wipe out the bad guys, yes, but in the moments before that you will enjoy watching them chew the scenery.

The ending is a bit understated, but at the same time it’s appropriate. The final gunshot should maybe be louder, but otherwise it works.

You can also watch The Rise of Marco Alfonsi on YouTube (check it out here).

Rating: 7/10


Feature Films

Image Credit: Glassheart Productions

The Haunting of the Lady-Jane: Directed by Kemal Yildirim, The Haunting of the Lady-Jane is a fascinating sort of ghost folk horror movie with plenty of mood. It isn’t necessarily scary so much as it’s disturbing/makes the viewer uneasy, and I’m not entirely sure it all comes together at the end, but it does have a hypnotic quality to it that makes you keep watching.

The basic story involves a troubled author (Lily, as played by Natasha Linton) doing a sort of extended interview with Zara (Bryony Harvey), a young Muslim woman that Lily wants to make the subject of her next book. As part of the interview process, Lily and Zara take a ride on a canal boat with the perpetually weird and religiously insane but not in a wholly threatening way at first ship captain Willard Monk (Sean Botha). We see all three interact with one another as they take a winding trip on the canal way. Sometimes it’s oddly pleasant, sometimes it’s tension filled and weird, and sometimes it’s disturbing. And that’s without the supernatural goings on happening (some bullstuff about a spirit named RAN). When the supernatural hooey starts in the disturbing feeling amps up.

The movie is also filled with an underlying social commentary that could be obvious or it could go completely over the audience’s head. Zara the young Muslim woman is always wearing a short skirt of some sort, she’s interested in smoking dope and hooking up with men, and she’s thoroughly “modern” (Zara is meant to be seen as the exact opposite of the stereotypical Muslim person as seen in Western media). There’s all sorts of “messed up family dynamics” when looking at Lily’s life and family (the movie starts with Lily being harangued by her mother at her father’s funeral, something you don’t expect to see at a funeral). And Willard’s Christianity is very much a destructive force as it’s filled with all sorts of misogyny (it makes you wonder why he would take two young women anywhere besides church or some bullshit like that).

Now, when it comes to Willard, it’s interesting how you think that he might be just misunderstood. He’s going through grief and it seems like he’s just having a hard time dealing with his feelings. But Willard isn’t all that complicated. For all of the apparent depth he exudes (I mean, he sings songs for God’s sake! Musicians can’t be assholes!) Willard is just a religiously insane jagoff. And he’s a guy that can’t get out of the way of his own misogyny. It’s annoying that he can’t see what he’s doing and who he is. You would think an artist would be able to see his own, for the lack of a better word, shortcomings, but that just isn’t who Willard is. He is exactly what he appears to be. A religiously insane asshole.

The only “normal” character in the whole movie is the young Muslim woman. And she lives in the United Kingdom! That can’t be an accident.

The movie moves along at a leisurely pace but it doesn’t waste time. And the movie’s dark cinematography and blueish haze is just something that you can’t look away from. I do wish I understood the folk horror/supernatural aspects of the story more. As I said, I’m not entirely sure it all comes together at the end. It’s possible that I’m completely missing something (it’s one of the reasons why I’d love to see this movie again. I feel like there’s all sorts of stuff that I would pick up on/realize with a second viewing).

Definitely check out The Haunting of the Lady-Jane if it’s playing at a film festival near you.

Rating: 8.5/10

Image Credit: Chicago Skyview Productions

Fang: I wasn’t prepared for the masterpiece that is Fang. It is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen at Buffalo Dreams, and it’s easily the best movie I’ve seen (so far) anywhere in 2023. I mean, it’s possible, sure, that I might see a better movie than Fang in 2023, but I would say that the odds are super slim that that’s going to happen. A movie like Fang really only comes along every once in a while.

Written and directed by Richard Burgin, Fang stars Dylan LaRay as Billy Cochran, a sort of down on his luck artist who sweeps the floors of a warehouse for a paycheck while also taking care of his mentally diminishing mother Gina (the great Lynn Lowry in a breathtaking, no holds barred performance that would garner all sorts of major awards consideration if we lived in a just and fair world instead of the relentlessly unjust dumpster fire that we all currently exist in). Billy is beyond stressed and seemingly at the end of his rope when he is bitten by a rat. This one event initiates a change in Billy that leads to what can only be described as horrific events. That’s all I really want to say because it helps to experience the detail of what Billy goes through more or less fresh going in. I mean, I had no idea what to expect going into Fang. A guy turns into a rat after being bitten by one? That could go a million different ways.

Fang is a bit of a slow burn as it builds towards its truly horrific ending. There are moments where it seems like Billy might be able to overcome his growing issues. He’s developed a real friendship with his Mom’s home nurse Myra (a great Jess Paul). Myra really likes Billy’s artwork (during his downtime Billy draws some sort of comic involving an elaborate world that he’s been developing for quite some time). And it seems like his boss at the warehouse (Blake Wolfson, played by a hilarious Tom White) actually notices him. But the rising stress of his world and everything in it is a massive monster to try to vanquish. And that doesn’t necessarily include the rat wound on Billy’s arm, which may or may not be real.

LaRay is terrific as Billy. You can see it in his face that Billy is just trying to hold it all together every day, he’s doing his best, and that’s before the rat bite happens. As things get progressively worse, Billy still keeps doing his best, but it’s obvious that that may not be enough. Will he be able to overcome what sure as hell looks like insurmountable odds? LaRay handles every facet of Billy’s breakdown brilliantly. He makes you root for Billy throughout.

And then there’s Lynn Lowry. My God, the moments that Lowry has to go through as Billy’s Mom Gina. Gina has a multitude of raging health issues and she seems to be in denial about how bad things are for her. But then, if she is going through the ravages of what amounts to dementia, she might not know just how bad her condition is. And when you look at what she’s going through next to what Billy is trying to navigate, both pre-rat bite and post rat bite, it’s a brewing cauldron of bad stuff. Anything can happen. Lowry goes from confused but sort of sweet old woman to raging asshole at the drop of a hat, and you’re never quite sure how you should feel about Gina. What if she’s doing this on purpose? Is what she’s showing to the world just a sort of exaggerated version of her true self (exaggerated by her health issues) or is something else going on? There’s a truly disturbing moment where Gina does something to Billy that will make your goddamn skin crawl and Lowry exudes such malevolence that you will want to close your eyes (but you can’t because you know you’re witnessing acting greatness. You don’t want to miss a second of it). Such an amazing performance. You will be in awe of it.

As I said, Fang is a masterpiece. A horror movie for the ages with two of the best performances you will see in anything. Dylan LaRay and especially Lynn Lowry should be up for all sorts of awards and recognition, as well as director Burgin. Fang is a movie that people will be talking about once it’s unleashed upon the world as part of whatever wide release that’s in its future. If Fang is playing at a film festival near you, you need to make an effort to see it. It really is one of those “must see” movie experiences on every level imaginable. I can’t stress enough just how goddamn good Fang is.

You need to see Fang. You need to see it now. Track it down and do it! See Fang! See it, see it, see it!

Rating: 10/10


And now some movies that played at the festival but I didn’t get to see but hope to one day

Demon Behind the Glass Promo Reel from joshua recene on Vimeo.



I had a great time at the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival. I saw so many great movies. Festvial co-founders Gregory Lamberson and Chris Scioli, as well as their volunteers and collaborators and whatnot, have once again produced a terrific celebration of indie movies of all sorts and varieties, and hopefully this tenth edition of Buffalo Dreams is really just the beginning. It’s a film festival definitely worth checking out.

And that goes for film festivals in general. If you have a film festival in your area please do check it out. It will be worth your time and an experience you won’t soon forget, especially if you’re a movie nerd.



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