The eighth annual Irvine International Film Festival is right around the corner, and it’s going to be a dark one. The festival, which was founded with the intentions of showcasing international films and providing seminars for its attendees, will take place from March 22 – 28. Its three official selections in the category of feature narratives have been announced, and all three films are either thrillers or horror movies. This trend defies that of last year’s diversity. The five selections from last year’s feature narratives category included films that were of the comedy, drama, horror / fantasy and thriller genres – the winner in this category, last year, was Peter Luisi’s comedy “Streaker.”

“Map of Salvation” commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

The festival’s executive director and co-founder, Jack Kaprielian, told the Orange County Register, “We have no hang-ups or prejudice against any genre. … We simply choose the best films, help filmmakers network, have premieres, invite distributors and make it an event not to be missed.” 

The first of the three entries is a U.S. production called “Act of Desperation,” by director Richard Friedman. The least horrific of the three, the official synopsis of “Act of Desperation” has a, perhaps, unintentionally amusing aspect. Specifically, it pushes the envelope for how many times variants of the word “desperate” can be used in the description of the film. It reads: “A desperate cop on the edge is obsessed over the fact that his beautiful but desperate wife is having an affair. At the same time, he tracks a desperately shrewd bank robber who is falling in love with a desperately obsessed woman whose life he just saved from suicide. As if that’s not enough, he is also being blackmailed by two desperately unhinged street criminals who will stop at nothing to get their money. Time is running out for all of them as their worlds collide in this intensely unique and desperately compelling and unpredictable thriller!”

The next film for consideration is “Buckout Road,” directed by Matthew Currie Holmes. This Canadian project carries the tagline: “Buckout Road is The Omen meets Urban Legend.” This horror film tells the story of three young people working on a class project about modern myths. Their research into a particular urban legend – having to do with the titular Buckout Road – evidently gives them more of a taste of its haunted history than they’d bargained for. While the synopsis of the film doesn’t provide more insight into said urban legend, this film is based upon a fairly well-known story (or series of stories). A 2011 New York Patch article on the tale of Buckout Road reveals a collection of the various tales associated with the legend, which range from stories about a Great White Deer, a demonic doll, flesh-eating albinos, three witches whom had been burned, a haunted mansion, a cannibalistic serial killer and more. Which individual tale – or collection of tales – will be the subject of the film remains a mystery.

The final of the three narrative feature selections is called “Ghost Mask: Scar.” This thriller, directed by Takeshi Sone, was apparently filmed in Japan and South Korea. The story follows a Japanese girl named Miyu who travels to Seoul, South Korea to look for her older sister. Her sister has been missing for two years, and when Miyu gets close to discovering the fate that befell her sister, she becomes entangled in a complex love triangle involving identity-changing plastic surgery, jealousy and murder.

While documentaries aren’t typically sub-divided into genres in the way that narrative films are, it is worth noting that there is a discernible trend of some darker subject matter among the feature documentaries in IIFF’s line-up this year as well. Daniel Bernardi’s “The American War” uses rare North Vietnamese archival footage, animation and interviews to examine the Vietnam War from the perspective of several Viet Cong veterans. The film includes discussions of the Tet Offensive, the Mỹ Lai Massacre and the creation of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. “Cyberworks and the American Dream,” directed by James Shelley, examines both the role of personal responsibility in an age of a nation overwrought by fear, and the prospect of a human workforce threatened by the growing developments of technology and artificial intelligence.

Sarah Kerruish’s film “General Magic” wins our vote for the least scary-sounding premise of a feature film at IIFF. Kerruish’s film examines the birth of the smartphone. The smartphone was apparently developed in the labs of a company called General Magic, which history seems to have forgotten in lieu of the names of the current major players in the smartphone industry. Finally, “Map of Salvation,” directed by Aram Shahbazyan, focuses on five Europeans who left the safety of their homes to fight for human rights at the end of the 19th century / beginning of the 20th century. The film emphasizes their sacrifices during the Armenian Genocide.

“Buckout Road” – Photo courtesy of IMDB

Beyond the feature narrative and feature documentary categories, the festival has numerous competitive categories, including: short narratives, documentary shorts, animation shorts, school / college / university shorts, television pilots, feature screenplays, short film screenplays, music videos, webisodes and trailers. As usual, the bulk of the entries are in the short narratives category, with 39 official selections. 

For more information on this year’s festival, including the announcement of this year’s lifetime achievement award, 2019’s list of festival judges (which include esteemed filmmakers and Academy Award nominees and winners) and information about buying tickets — as such information becomes available — visit IIFF’s website. All screenings will take place at Starlight Triangle Square Cinemas, 1870 Harbor Blvd., in Costa Mesa.