Panic Fest 2023: Horror thriller Black Mold grows tension in the walls of rotting memory

Agnes Albright as Brooke in the new thriller Black Mold.

This story is part of our coverage of Panic Fest 2023. Read more from our film team here.

Black Mold’s director, writer, and editor, John Pata, expertly builds tension throughout the thriller horror flick—feeding the audience false evils and misdirects that will have you looking over your shoulder. 

The movie has you hooked from the beginning. It opens on a traumatic memory of the main character, Brooke, as a young girl, and from the first shot my stomach was turning. This film is set in some creepy, disgusting locations, and, true to the title, the mold is its own character from the opening scene. 

When you meet the main duo in the present, they are traveling between abandoned buildings for Brooke (Agnes Albright) and Tanner (Andrew Bailes) to build their photography portfolios. This is based on Pata’s real love for photographing abandoned structures, and they were filmed on location in old homes scattered across Southern Illinois.

The beginning scenes do a fantastic job setting up a strong friendship between the two, providing background information, and building suspense. Brooke and Tanner have light hearted banter and explore the buildings without hesitation, but an eerie feeling follows them through the photoshoots. My expectations were raised by the lack of action and by the time they arrived at their final location, I was wound so tight that I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat.

Tanner (Andrew Bailes) and Brooke (Agnes Albright) head to their next photo location.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances during their final photoshoot in an abandoned military campus, they have to stay the night.

Albright and Bailes bring a breath of fresh air to classic horror movie characters. “Leading lady” is the perfect description of Albright’s portrayal of Brooke in this film. She isn’t a sniveling damsel in distress, but takes control over every situation, sometimes making choices that perhaps don’t end up being the best option. Albright gives Brooke a confidence that makes her a capable heroine, but also keeps her closed off, so you don’t know exactly what she’s thinking until the last scene.

As much as I enjoyed Albright’s performance, I wanted Bailes to win. There wasn’t a competition, but I was rooting for him. Bailes portrayed Tanner as a man that never hides his emotions and has a stubborn streak that both saves and endangers his life. He doesn’t approach a situation with brute force, but will act on his first impulse. Bailes uses fantastic body language and facial expressions to show every inner-struggle that Tanner has to face, and he stumbles into some truly nightmarish events.

Black Mold tugs on every mundane fear that plays in the back of our minds. For example, sending someone to wander alone in the dark and the feeling that there is someone watching you. There is also a frustration that builds when you are continuously being fed half-truths by increasingly unreliable narrators.

Writer, director, and editor John Pata talks with Agnes Albright and Andrew Bailes on set. // Photo by Dave Burke

The classic “she hears a noise and follows it rather than staying in a safe location” is a constant in this film. Although this made some of the jump scares more predictable, the story and mysterious relationships between the characters kept me engaged and hoping for a happy ending. 

Black Mold hits all the beats of a classic thriller, while adding its own unique elements that keep you asking questions even after the credits are rolling. Each character embodies someone you can relate to, making each suspenseful event even more haunting. The movie keeps your eyes peeled for surprises while lulling you into a false sense of security until you watch the end with your jaw on the floor. 

This story is part of our coverage of Panic Fest 2023. Read more from our film team here.

Categories: Movies