The Film from Hell winner of NFF 2019 is the incredibly brutal 29 Needles. Aptly enough, the film was screened at 2:00 AM during the Late Night Mind Fuck block on Saturday night. The title is a reference to notorious killer Albert Fish: when he was apprehended for over 100 child murders, he had 29 needles inside and around his penis. Similar to Fish, the main character of this movie has an infatuation with both enduring and inflicting pain to calm the proverbial voices in his head. The film was directed by Scott Philip Goergens and stars Brooke Berry and Jamee Nicholson.
Francis is a seemingly normal man who, at the beginning of the film, who uses alcohol and self-harm to quiet the literal demons looming over him. At first, this method seems to work well for him. However, he begins to see and hear his demons quickly after inflicting pain to himself and thus delves deeper and deeper into sadomasochism to calm the inner rage. As he begins to inflict pain on other willing participants, the effects wear off far too quickly and he seeks solace from his addiction with increasing intensity.
His appetite is well-known at the bar he frequents and for this reason, a man named Hans approaches him. Hans introduces him to an extreme secret club where each floor allows increasing levels of extreme behaviors. As Francis moves through each level, he finds short-lived peace that soon requires more and more of the drug to keep his demons at bay.
Amazingly, Goergens created the film with $2500 of his own money and a cast of crew of volunteers who simply believed in the project. Though the story is compelling and the direction is fantastic, what ultimately elevates this film is the performance of Brooke Berry (nominated for Best Actor). Goergens found most of his cast via social media-based first on the lengths to which they were willing to go and acting ability secondarily. Berry truly understands the character and plays him with an honesty that a standard actor could not. The audience is with Francis in his darkest moments of solitude and due to Berry’s performance, we too endure his impending doom and need for release as the demons close in on him.
With accolades from this prestigious festival now tied to the film, it should not have a problem finding the right distributor to bring this film to the right audience. While not for everyone, 29 Needles simply shows the dark descent of a man that will resonate with fans of deep, uncomfortable, and honest character studies.