[Panic Fest 2023 Review] BLACK MOLD

[Panic Fest 2023 Review] BLACK MOLD
BLACK MOLD l Courtesy The Line Film Company
“Have you forgotten the face of your father?”

Unfortunately, a large number of children suffer a life-changing trauma at a small age and because these moments occur when the person is so young, the tragedies become part of their identity. When a catastrophic injury or illness happens or the loss of a loved one occurs early in life, the heartbreak forever shapes the child. But this does not mean the emotional and mental impact ever becomes fully addressed. Often the damaging memories become buried just below the surface where people know they exist but are not exposed enough for anyone to feel they need to address the issue.

So, not surprisingly, these childhood traumas fester inside and can take until adulthood to completely spread throughout the person’s psyche and cause significant damage. And if left ignored, these memories will only grow more powerful and more dangerous. Making its world premiere at Panic Fest, John Pata’s BLACK MOLD pulls from childhood loss to tell a haunted house story in which the building serves as a metaphor for a person’s mind and shows the disastrous results of what happens if someone allows painful memories to rot them from the inside out.

There is something so peaceful, yet so unsettling about being in a vacant building and this film focuses on sharing this beauty with a larger audience. Photographers Brooke (Agnes Albright) and Tanner (Andrew Bailes) seek out physical aesthetics in unconventional places because they prefer the quiet charm of abandoned and deprecated houses. These long-ago homes still share remnants of their past lives with scratches on the woodwork and once cherished items still standing guard. There are still traces of life, but none of them are current. Plus, the thrill of trespassing and peeking into the private spaces of the past all combine for an eerie atmosphere.

The photographers want to capture the ghostly attraction of man-made places that are slowly being consumed by nature, and while searching the homes, these domestic spelunkers ponder who lived here. And how did they live? While they can appreciate the physical appeal of these locations, they also hold a certain level of weariness because the buildings may be haunted by more than memories. In the midst of discussing childhood fears and breathing in moldy air, the pair of photographers discover the empty building is not so empty. An aggressive homeless man, known as The Man Upstairs (Jeremy Holm) lives there, and he refuses to believe Brooke and Tanner just happened to stumble upon his quiet home.

Pata uses the unseen black mold as a metaphor for toxic and repressed thoughts. Brooke’s mind, much like the places she explores, holds a lot of unspoken memories. And while these moments may seem forgotten, they still remain in the present, just hidden from sight. People outside cannot see what is inside the building, but the effect of the mold still holds even if the characters do not realize it. Much like painful memories, the mold festers inside, weakening the foundation and creating symptoms that leak into the minds of the sufferers. The longer Brooke and Tanner stay in dirty buildings, the more painful memories appear. Soon, Brooke cannot tell the difference between the fear standing right in front of her and the fear she experienced as a little girl.

As hallucinogenic horrors start to take over the minds of the characters, Pata expertly turns the abandoned urban setting into a gothic hellscape. Haunting specters, thunderstorms, eerie lighting, and consuming shadows dominate the screen to create an ominous haunted house. And much like the creeping fungus mentioned in the title, BLACK MOLD moves slowly until the very end when the past, present, supernatural, and organic terror all collide.

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