When the horror genre is at its best, it gives the viewer a place to fit and a place to safely feel the things we usually leave boxed up under the bed where no one will find them. ‘Black Mold’ is the kind of film that digs into those deep dark feelings while also working perfectly well at a surface level if the emotional themes don’t resonate with you personally. Both genuinely creepy and emotionally cathartic, writer/director John Pata has an absolute success in this film.
The story follows two photographers, Brooke Konrad (Agnes Albright) and Tanner Behlman (Andrew Bailes) as they shoot in abandoned locations that they definitely do not have permission to be in. With an important gallery show looming and a grant on the horizon Brooke decides that they need to go for the silver tuna of neglected locations, a remote former testing site with a mysterious history. As the building and its contents start to warp their minds they encounter a dangerously paranoid squatter (Jeremy Holm) who doesn’t handle visitors well. Throughout the film Brooke is plagued by dolorous thoughts and memories of her late father who died by suicide when she was a child. We aren’t given much background about the events leading up to his death but she carries a heavy sense of guilt into adulthood that haunts her as she moves through these places frozen in time.
The inherently eerie vibe of long forgotten buildings ravaged by decay is the perfect backdrop for a character working through grief that has been festering for far too long. As Brooke and Tanner spend more time in the rotting building, breathing the mold and chemical filled air, the line between reality and delusion becomes harder and harder to find. For the viewer it becomes difficult to know if we are seeing what is really happening or if the characters we are living through are losing their grip. This is one of my favorite things a film can do and I found myself as invested in Brooke finding a sense of closure as I was with Tanner facing his worst fear. If you thought you weren’t afraid of scarecrows, ‘Black Mold’ is here to add that one to your list of nightmares.
Brooke’s experience with grief and guilt had me turning this film over in my head for days. Pata expertly slips in details that you might only recognize when you’ve lost someone as close as a parent. The way an inflection or a turn of phrase can immediately thrust you back into the emotions you’d thought you’d conquered is captured masterfully in Brooke’s interaction with the squatter. The desolate and deteriorating locations serve as apt metaphors for figurative locations we build in our minds to store our deepest pain and fear. ‘Black Mold’ is equal parts darkly beautiful and heartbreaking, with some very effective scares along the way. The characters and their experiences feel real and the chemistry between Albright and Bailes is authentic and charming. Perhaps most importantly if a film is going to make me feel my feelings and address my own guilt and grief I also want there to be some decent blood and violence and it absolutely pays off in that regard as well.
‘Black Mold’ had its World Premiere at Panic Fest on 4/15/2023
Panic Fest 2023: Darkly Beautiful, ‘Black Mold’ Delivers Real Scares