Film Reviews: NEW RELIGION and THE UNDERBUG (Slamdance Film Festival)

January 25, 2023

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at [email protected] He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

New Religion

Writer/director Keishi Kondo’s haunting debut feature New Religion (Japan, 2022) offers a unique take on ghost stories. Focusing on existential horror and a dread-filled atmosphere rather than easy jump scares and CGI effects, Kondo unveils the tale of Miyabi (Kaho Seto), a divorced woman whose daughter died when the youngster was watering plants on the balcony and fell off while Miyabi was reading a book indoors. On a decidedly downward spiral, Miyabi begins work as a call girl, taking over a mysterious client when one of her coworkers begins a murderous spree. The client, shut-in Oka (Satoshi Oka), speaks using a mechanical voice box and only wants to photograph Miyabi one body part at a time, with the woman requesting he not take pictures of her eyes. The more photos he takes over time, the stronger the sensation Miyabi feels that she is making contact with the ghost of her daughter. 

Besides being visually hypnotic, New Religion also boasts intriguing sound design. Kondo’s film is a meditation on grief and social isolation that uses horror and science fiction elements in a presentation that is at once icy and distant but also incredibly thought-provoking, emotionally taut, and unnerving. He has crafted one of the most unique and rewarding cinematic works in recent memory.

 

 

 

The Underbug

The official logline for The Underbug (India; 2023) is, “As India is ravaged by sectarian violence on the eve of its Independence Day, two rioters take refuge in an abandoned house. An eerie presence in the house, however, haunts the men to the edge of sanity.” Director/cowriter Shujaat Saudagar’s film focuses on the psychological warfare between two men (Ali Fazal and Hussain Dalal) — neither of whom wants to be forthcoming about their identities, their religious beliefs, or their political stances — who cross paths at a rural house where it seems that something violent has taken place. As the two men engage in a power struggle, they find what seems to be a common enemy in someone or something else hiding from them in the house. 

The Underbug features solid performances from its two leads, and Saudagar keeps the suspense going well as secrets are slowly unraveled. However, at only 68 minutes running time, the film still feels like it could have been pared down to the length of a longer short film, as much of the proceedings consists of one or both characters walking around the house or its grounds trying to find something, accompanied by shots of the surrounding flora and insect life. Viewers who appreciate socio-political horror films should find plenty on which to ponder with this film.

 

 

New Religion and The Underbug screen as part of Slamdance Film Festival, which takes place in-person from January 20–26 in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah and virtually from January 23–29, 2023.

 

You May Also Like…