Panic Fest Film Review: “Black Mold”

Starring: Agnes Albright, Andrew Bailes and Jeremy Holm
Directed by: John Pata
Rated: NR
Running Time: 92 minutes

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I’m asked anytime by people who find out that I do urban exploring (the art of exploring abandoned buildings, tunnels and everything in between) about whether or not I get scared. Of course. That’d be like asking a trapeze artist if they’re ever worried about plummeting. The thought will always be there. When it comes to my side hobby, I’ve almost been attacked by humans and animals, nearly broken bones, and, worst of all, almost been caught by authorities. So when I recommend “Black Mold,” a film about two urban exploring photographers taking on a deadly task, it’s not because it taps into that fear.

Brooke (Anges Albright) is going through the motions as her and her budding photographer, Tanner (Andrew Bailes) are adding more photos to their portfolio. The abandoned countryside homes they photograph aren’t enough for Brooke today though. She’s got her eyes on the duo’s white whale, a rundown government facility that is the center of several area rumors. Ignoring the fencing, warning signs, and obvious threats, the two are dropped off by their driver, whom they tell to come back in three hours. The two then  set foot inside a building they may never leave.

“Black Mold” never does what you’d expect, which is a treat because it uses a lot of horror tropes. While the story is familiar, the path isn’t. Brooke, we learn, has never come to grips with a traumatic part of her childhood, the death of her father and the ensuing blame being directed at her. While the movie solely focuses on her, Tanner is also dealing with his own personal demons even though they’re never discussed or shown. We just see him react to what he thinks he’s seeing or actually seeing, just like Brooke begins to wonder if a homeless person they encounter in the building is her father.

That is one of the more befuddling parts of this film, what’s real and what isn’t. It’s intentional, but also confusing. For about half of the film, we’re left wondering what experiences are real and which ones aren’t. Eventually day turns to night and we even have to question if time is changing along with perception. I’m not sure why Tanner is in the film, but over time, I wondered if the film could have been better without Tanner because we have no emotional attachment to him. That, and I imagine the isolation would be more impactful for Brooke and the audience.

“Black Mold” is kind of a play on the idea that mold in a dilapidated building could impact your mind. I also believe it’s how the trauma that Brooke experienced not only effects her creatively and in her hobby, but also emotionally because it’s obvious she’s never dealt with her father’s death in any meaningful way or talked with anyone about it. Psychologically and visually speaking, “Black Mold” is a fascinating watch, but the horror itself isn’t as scary as it could be, and the ending feels like a little bit of a letdown.  Overall, the film is an enjoyable journey into the psyche of regret, loss and broken relationships.