An Interview with Joshua Criss, Writer/Director of Leaving D.C.

This interview contains minor spoilers, so if you have not yet watched the films mentioned in this post please do so first and come back!

I had the opportunity of sitting down with filmmaker Joshua Criss to discuss his 2012 found footage creep-fest, Leaving D.C. The film chronicles the adventures of Mark (played by Criss), a man who makes video diaries of his move from Washington, D.C. to the isolated woods of Virginia, where he unexpectedly encounters a pesky, ghostly neighbor.

Criss, along with his playful cat, informs me of the pros and cons of filmmaking (especially with his newest project, the horror-comedy The Caretaker, which he also stars, along with his mother), his love for The Blair Witch Project, and how much he would like to be eyewitness to a real paranormal event.

Both Leaving D.C. and The Caretaker are available on Amazon Prime. Criss’s novel, The Moving Soul, is also available on Amazon.

Horror at Sundance ’21

I had the opportunity to participate in this year’s virtual Sundance Film Festival, and naturally I selected most of the titles out of the horror section. In doing so I watched several good new horror films that will hopefully find larger audiences later this year.

My favorite pick out of the five movies I watched over the weekend is easily Eight for Silver, Sean Ellis’s (Anthropoid) brooding, exciting take on the werewolf story. The film stars Boyd Holbrook (Logan, Gone Girl) as a pathologist in late-1800s England who’s sent to a remote town where a mysterious animal attack has taken place against the son of the land’s owner (Alistair Petrie). Also written by Ellis, the movie cleverly mixes old school atmospherics with modern storytelling, creating a film that feels fresh while at the same time manages to hit you with several good scares.

Impressing me, as well as the critics, was British filmmaker Prado Bailey-Bond’s full-length directorial debut, Censor. The movie is set in 1985 London at the height of the “video nasties” panic as film censor, Enid (Niamh Algar, Raised by Wolves), begins to unravel when she believes an actress in one of the newest horror flicks she’s reviewing is her long lost sister. Fiction and reality begin to blur, sending Enid down a rabbit hole of obsession and violence. Bailey-Bond does a great job mirroring the real life hypocrisy of the time as well as both poking fun at the gory B-movie horrors of the early ’80s and embracing them.

Knocking is Swedish director Frida Kempff’s first fictional feature-length movie and based on a short story. The film stars Cecilia Milocco as Molly, a woman released from a hospital and dealing with the recent death of a loved one. In classic Polaski fashion, Molly begins to hear strange noises in her small apartment that may or may not be real. Much like Censor, Knocking questions reality and brings us into its central character’s psyche, and although Knocking doesn’t go as far as it could, it’s a solid little movie with a wonderful performance by Milocco.

One of the bigger disappointments is the New Zealand shocker, Coming Home in the Dark. Written by James Ashcroft and Eli Kent, and directed by Ashcroft, this centers on a school teacher (Erik Thomson) who, along with his family, is taken hostage and terrorized by two men who may have something to do with the teacher’s past. Made in the same visceral way as Last House of the Left and Wolf Creek, Dark isn’t shy about presenting its violence up close and personal. But, unlike those films, Dark doesn’t understand that it’s not the brutality of those classics that make the story work; it’s the suspense that it could happen.

Anyone familiar with director Ben Wheatley (Kill List) will expect a unique, crazy movie experience, and the filmmaker’s newest, In the Earth, is no exception. Filmed last year during the pandemic, the film is about the aftermath of a devastating virus and a scientist (Joel Fry) who, along with the help of a forest park ranger (Ellora Torhia), must trek on foot to reach a colleague doing research in the woods. They get in over their head when they encounter an unstable man living in the woods.

As with Kill List, the less you know about In the Earth the better. The film unravels like a psychedelic nightmare, and at times it’s not clear what is and isn’t real. Although its plot is murky at times and character motivations are unclear, the movie does offer several shock-worthy moments, including one that could rivals the hobbling scene from Misery.

Although this year’s Sundance didn’t offer the next Blair Witch Project or Hereditary, it did feature some wonderful little flicks that deserve wider audiences, and will hopefully be available on a streaming platform sometime soon!

For more information on the Sundance Film Festival, please visit their website.