There are two FrightFest films this year in which would-be artists explore abandoned buildings and learn to regret it (the other is Hostile Dimensions). There are also two FrightFest films this year with intense performances by Jeremy Holm (the other is Herd) – who has a distinctive, burly look but a protean range which is marking him out as a solid genre character actor (he was the Ranger in The Ranger and also impressed in The Block Island Sound).
In writer-director John Pata’s Black Mold, photographers Brooke (Agnes Albright) and Tanner (Andrew Bailes) warm up by venturing into two derelict family homes … snapping images of abandoned clothes, photo albums, furniture, etc., which are being lost to the elements. It’s suggested that Brooke is drawn to such places because of a fracture in her own family, which might also give her an artistic edge over the more nervous Tanner – she’s just scored a gallery show and a grant and he’s working hard on not resenting that while being treated as a sidekick. Their pal CJ (Caito Aase, from Revealer) is functioning as chauffeur and getaway driver – circling while they’re doing their stuff, because a parked car might invite attraction and Brooke feels that asking beforehand would inhibit her inspiration to turn trespass into art. Next up is a huge, abandoned government testing facility – obviously, a great subject, but equally obviously a bad news location. What was tested there – and why did the government abandon the place?
As it turns out, the exploration brings the pair into contact with a) a paranoid bipolar derelict (Holm) who believes they’re part of the ‘they’ who are out to get him (and violently resists) and b) a black mold with hallucinogenic properties which makes those exposed present with respiratory symptoms, plague blotches and visions prompted by deep-seated nightmares and casual conversations about scary things. Tanner is, like many other people, still freaked out by a childhood viewing of Dark Night of the Scarecrow – while Brooke has a few werewolf worries, which lead to an impressive, brief Larry Talbot lookalike cameo. Though childhood traumas have been overworked in horror recently (and always, come to that) and what Brooke went through (discovering her father’s body after suicide) is one of those situations which tends to crop up as shorthand for mental problems later in life, Albright is excellent as a woman with issues who isn’t wallowing in them but actually trying to use them. Actually, Bailes has the less stereotype role – as the okay guy coping with not being outstanding, loving and resenting his friend (who has no romantic interest in him) in equal measure, and sometimes given the let’s-get-the-hell-out sensible streak.
The real location evokes Session 9, though there’s an obvious change from dilapidated working environment to true dereliction – suggesting the downward drift of certain sections of the American economy (a real motor for horror resurgence) in the interim.