Month: July 2019

PHFF 2019 Shorts: Day 3 & 4

portland-horror-film-festival

For my final bit of coverage for the 2019 Portland Horror Film festival I’m giving a rundown of all the short films! From terrifying to beautiful to hilarious, this year had a range of different shorts that covered virtually every subgenre of horror. Here are my thoughts on the short films from day 3 and 4:

THE FOG VS THE MIST

Another one minute “bumper” for the festival hilariously combines two classic horror films. The short acts as a fake trailer in a 70’s grindhouse style showing a man in a house that is simultaneously invaded by both the mist and the fog. The style is grainy and offers a delightful throwback. While only a minute long, the short delivers on the laughs as the narrator confuses which entity is the mist and which is the fog. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

LOOK TWICE

Kyle Wilson’s horror short shows a young night guard just starting his shift. When he notices someone lurking around outside, he tells them to leave through the intercom. The guard quickly regrets getting the intruder’s attention when he realizes they might not be human. The story and imagery are definitely spine-chilling and effective, although the plot moves in ways that can be a bit confusing as well. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

NEST

Brennan Gilpatrick and Erin Walsh combined forces to create this terrifying 2-minute short film. Shot entirely with an iPhone, it shows two young women as they go check out an apartment they want to rent. Once inside, they realize something horrifying is waiting for them. This short is definitely one of the most terrifying, which is especially impressive given the 2-minute run time. It also has some great creature design to add to the scares. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

WATER HORSE

A woman spending time with her husband and daughter is disturbed by a small boat that washes ashore near her family. From there her life turns into a nightmare where she can’t determine what’s real and what’s not. The film has a very panicked feel to it as the mother tries to keep her daughter safe. Unfortunately the play on reality makes it a bit confusing on what’s actually going on, which can take viewers out of the moment. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

CULPRIT

All the way from Tawain comes a chilling film by Shuan Yu Lin. On a visit to a public bathroom a man receives a strange picture of himself. From the moment he sees that photo the short film builds tension quickly. This leads the audience down a swift and sinister path. It is a quick horror film with effective storytelling, despite the lack of dialogue. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

WITCHES GET STITCHES

This local Portland short horror film, written and directed by Matthew K. Robinson, follows a coven of witches. They are attempting to summon a demon through a blood sacrifice, but it doesn’t go quite as planned. This hilarious short takes a simple action commonly seen in horror films and turns it into a 4 minute joke. What makes it so hilarious is the way Robinson says what audience members everywhere have thought, but characters in film almost never say. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

THE DARLINGS

In this world premier audiences were introduced to a group of ladies in an 80’s glam-rock band. They go to a secluded rented mansion after a show to hear over the radio that a psycho killer is on the loose. Yet these “darlings” aren’t as helpless as they appear to be. This is one of the most memorable films in the festival because it truly captures the look and feel of an 80’s film with great twists and turns. There are even some fantastic practical effects. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

HERE THERE BE MONSTER

Coming to us from Australia is one of my favorite shorts, written and directed by Drew Macdonald. A young girl experiences brutal bullying on the bus home from school. After falling asleep on the bus she awakes in the dark to find herself alone in the bus yard and she’s trapped there with something dangerous. This short is beautifully shot, has a compelling plot, and includes creepy creature design. The young lead, played by Savannah Foran-McDaniel, will instantly capture your heart and make the ending all the more satisfying. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

CEMETERY SONG

Another world premier introduces this absolutely gorgeous short film, directed by Michelle Prebich with animation by Justine Prebich. This animated short film follows one man and shows a day in the life of those who inhabit the cemetery. The animation is truly stunning and the song that accompanies the short is equally beautiful. Because it is one of the few animated shorts in the festival, it definitely stands out from the crowd and it also has a sorrowful beauty to the story being told that resonates with audiences. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

I LEARNED HOW TO DRIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD

This touching short horror film from China introduces audiences to a young couple. As the man is trying to teach his wife how to drive they discover the world has been overrun by zombies, forcing her to learn at lightspeed. The film builds suspense very well in a short amount of time while also allowing time to get to know the characters. This assures the audience cares about the fates of the young couple. It results in a very sentimental yet frightening short film. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

FIVE COURSE MEAL

In James Cadden’s short horror comedy we meet Mark and Jenny. They agree to be part of an experiment to get some extra cash. They are confined to a room and served meal after meal through a slot in the door. From there things quickly escalate in hilarious and disgusting ways. While there is a lot of repetition that can get stale after a bit, the climax of the film has fantastic practical effects that almost makes up for it. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

FINLEY

Writer and director J. Zachary Thurman brought the film festival what was definitely a crowd favorite. After a group of college kids move into a new house, they discover a creepy puppet. It doesn’t take long to realize the puppet is alive and he’s hellbent on killing the college kids. This familiar plot is turned on its head in a truly hysterical way. Between the creepy puppet and the hilarious hijinks he gets up to, the audience was laughing from start to finish. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

RE-HOME

Izzy Lee’s short film touches on a poignant political issue. A young Mexican woman brings her baby daughter to an American couple in order to give her a better life. Yet the couple isn’t all they appear to be. The film delivers some shock value while also showcasing indie horror favorites Gigi Saul Guerrero and Morgan Peter Brown. It could have benefited from being a bit longer with a bit more plot, but it still drives home an important message. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

THE STRING

Another bumper contest winner, written and directed by Tom Eastwood, takes the audience back to an old age of filmmaking. Feeling reminiscent of 50’s films such as Plan 9 From Outer Space, the short follows an experiment gone wrong resulting in a string monster. It hilariously hits many of the tropes of horror sci-fi films of that era in this quick one minute film. OVERALL RATING. 3.5/5

VINYL DESTINATION

This short follows a man on the hunt for treasures at a yard sale. He finds a strange vinyl record, which he brings home to his roommate in the hopes of reselling it for a profit online. When they play the record, they realize it’s not your average vinyl. What makes this short so humorous is how it presents certain tropes, but then subverts audience expectations in unique ways. Combine that with endearing characters and you get a very entertaining short film. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

GEORGIE

Have you ever wondered what happened to little Georgie after Pennywise the clown got him? This short film shows him all grown up and following in Pennywise’s footsteps. The creepy reimagining of the classic Stephen King tale even brings together original cast members from the 1990 mini-series; Tony Dakota, who reprises his role as Georgie, and Ben Heller, who played young Stan Uris. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

I AM NOT A MONSTER

Ambrose makes an unexpected visit home just before his brother’s engagement party. What complicates things is he was born with a sinister growth on the back of his head that controls his mind and attempts to make him do things. This Irish short film is beautifully shot, has strong performances, interesting practical effects, and it does a great job of making it unclear what is real and what is in Ambrose’s head. This is another more unique short film from the festival that definitely sticks with you. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

RETCH

Keir Siewert delivers a unique short film all the way from the UK. This short depicts a woman going through a strange illness, but this isn’t your average cold. The short takes on a creepy and disturbing tone as it shows the woman struggle with the illness while also going through a physical transformation. There are great practical effects in this short which are very well done, but the highlight is the surprisingly humorous tone. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

30TH NIGHT

Megan awakes one morning to find her husband murdered and she is sent to jail for it. 30 nights later, all hell breaks loose in the prison, leaving Megan’s cellmate fighting for her life. This film packs a lot of action into 8.5 minutes and the two leads, Laura Burke and Jodi Pongratz, are delightful. Throw in some awesome creature makeup and you get a very entertaining short film. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

THE LESHIY

Anya must confront a dangerous demon in order to save her husband in this visually gorgeous short film. The plot alone is fascinating as it shows the young wife attempt to outsmart a demon from ancient legends. Yet what makes this short truly stand out are the visuals. The film is shot in black and white and only illuminated with natural light. This being a dark horror short, that means all the light comes from fire and candlelight. It allows for some gorgeous shadow-play that is only more beautiful in black and white. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

THE FISHERMAN

Rion Smith spins a yarn of a fisherman who is a less-than-pleasant fellow. After a lovely day of fishing his trip home is interrupted by something very unexpected. Smith does a great job of making you instantly dislike the main character, making the second half of the short all the more entertaining to watch. It’s surprising and it’s funny, even if the short feels a bit less polished than some of the other short films from the festival. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

WE GOT A MONKEY’S PAW

Jakki and Zack are roommates. Zack comes home one day with a monkey’s paw and convinces Jakki they should use it to make wishes. The ensuing chaos is shocking and hilarious, leading the pair down some unexpected paths. This short has so many different horror elements thrown into one film, yet it all creates a cohesive story. The two main characters are lovable, the effects are great, and it is impossible not to laugh at this bizarre adventure. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

LOBISOME

All the way from Spain comes a tale of two men trying to make an illegal deal in an airport bathroom. As the try to make the exchange, a briefcase for the cash, something goes horribly wrong. The short film is very tense and manages to have some surprising parts, while also injecting a bit of comic relief. The practical effects aren’t the strongest, but it is still a very entertaining 11 minutes. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

PHFF 2019 Shorts: Day 1 & 2

portland-horror-film-festival

For my final bit of coverage for the 2019 Portland Horror Film Festival I’m giving a rundown of all the short films! From terrifying to beautiful to hilarious, this year had a range of different shorts that covered virtually every subgenre of horror. Here are my thoughts on the short films from day 1 and 2:

2019 HORROR BUMPER

Made specifically for the festival by writer and director Tim Blough, this one minute horror short hilariously dives into all the different horror tropes. This contest winner kicked off the horror shorts and set the tone perfectly. It isn’t necessarily the most memorable short of the festival, but it works very well given the incredibly short runtime. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

BAD RESOLUTION

Not everyone likes celebrating the new year and coming up with resolutions. In Steven K Jackley’s 7 minute horror short, we follow Betty as she rings in the new year in her own special way. I loved this one because I could definitely relate to Betty on her darkly humorous journey. The short also had an almost dreamy look to it, adding some visual interest to the fun plot. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

@SELFJUNKIE

Ty Huffer’s 2 minute short horror film takes on something familiar to most people these days. With the popularity of social media and selfies, Ingrid is obsessed with staying connected. While alone late one night in her house, a dangerous encounter leads to some hilarious results that also deliver a bit of social commentary on today’s social media obsession. The short drives the point home in a delightful little package. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

THE MONSTER

In this fascinating horror short, writer and directer Neil Stevens introduces the audience to a young boy and his father. The boy is afraid of a monster he believes lurks in his room, while the father attempts to help the boy conquer his fears. This short is a combination of different horror subgenres that blend together seamlessly. With only 11 minutes to tell the story, The Monster packs quite a punch that will stick with you. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

CREAKER

Vidar T. Aune’s short hails all the way from Norway. A young girl awakes in the night to a creaking sound and knows she’s not alone. The short is very well shot and the end is shocking while also making me inappropriately laugh. Looking at it on it’s own, the film is clearly well made. I think it ultimately suffered by being shown after The Monster as both had a few very similar shots. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

BARREN

This is probably one of the most unique short films at the PHFF made by local Portland filmmakers. The stunning stop-motion short follows a woman desperate to have a child. She goes to great lengths only to have dire consequences. It relies on visuals to tell the story instead of dialogue. Between the sad story of the barren woman and the gorgeous stop-motion, this short film definitely stands out from the crowd. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

THE HIDEBEHIND

Parker Finn’s short horror film is the only one to genuinely send chills down my spine. A hiker is injured and lost deep in the woods. He comes across what he thinks is another person, but quickly realizes it is something terrifying. The film has a bit of humor and some great scares created by simple effects. This short creeped me out enough that I felt like someone was behind me on my entire drive home. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

TICK

I actually reviewed Tick through Nightmarish Conjurings for another film festival. You can read my full review of the short here.

FANATICO

Portland local students Hannah May Cumming and Sam Schrader made movie magic with their short. Inspired by Italian giallo films of the 70’s, the film follows a girl as she joins a Catholic school just as other students are being murdered. The film has the look and feel of an Argento film, but with a definite feminist twist. It is clear that these young filmmakers have a promising career ahead of them. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

ROAD TRASH

This short features Natasha Pascetta as the writer, director, and star with none other than Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street) narrating. The darkly comedic horror short follows a young woman with an affinity for road kill. When she messes with the wrong corpse, she ends up being stalked by an evil creature. The concept is unique and the film takes some hilarious turns. Plus, it’s hard not to love a film with Langenkamp attached. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

3 DAYS

This short film by Julie Sharbutt is one that will definitely hit home with almost ever female viewer. While on a camping trip, three women hear something in the woods outside their tent and try to laugh off what could potentially be danger. What makes this short so effective is how it shows how difficult it is as a woman to feel like she can go camping or hiking alone without the threat of danger. Not only does the short convey that very well, but it also does it in a way that helps male viewers get a better understanding of what it is like for women. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

ESSERE AMATO

Writer and director Bas-Tzion Beahan creates a nightmarish black and white short film about love and abandonment. A young pregnant woman leaves her strict home to be with the one she loves. From there the film examines the sadness of being alone and feeling unloved. This one might not be the most memorable short of the festival, but it has quite a bit of depth and stunning imagery. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

SMILEY DEATH FACE

This short is another social commentary on the use of technology. The film follows a young woman alone at home when she begins to get increasingly menacing texts. It’s a clever short because it takes a concept horror fans are familiar with, but fits it in the modern world by having the texts be entirely with emojis. The only speaking roles are from a newscast on the tv, while everything else is the emoji texts superimposed in mid-air for the viewers to “read.” It’s incredibly clever and uses some great camera work. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

Z-GOAT: FIRST BLEAT

All the way from Belgium comes a post-apocalyptic horror short. The short follows a young woman as she hunts for food and resources, only to be stalked by something we’ve never seen before. The film is fun and exciting. It also has some creepy creature design to delight horror fans. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

THE ONLY THING I LOVE MORE THAN YOU IS RANCH DRESSING

This one minute short film by Sydney Clara Brafman definitely manages to bring the laughs considering how short it is. Everyone knows someone who puts ranch dressing on everything. This short shows a woman taking that love to a bizarre extreme. There isn’t necessarily a complete story here, but it still puts a memorable idea in the mind of viewers. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

HANA

One of the most compelling shorts at PHFF this year came from Korea. Written and directed by Mai Nakanishi, this disturbing short shows a young college student getting hired to be a nanny for a little girl named Hana. Once the two are left alone, frightening things begin to happen. The film is gorgeously shot and the story unfolds in a clever and chilling way. This is definitely one of the most memorable short horror films of the festival. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

CODA SACRA

Pol Barrós delivers a unique short film all the way from Spain. The black and white short shows a group of people as they dive into the water in order to hunt an unseen evil. The short effectively throws viewers in the midst of high tension and builds upon it. The cinematography is beautiful and the creature design is gorgeous. With no real dialogue the film relies heavily on the audience to pick up on visual queues in order to understand the plot. OVERAL RATING: 4/5

DEAD TEENAGER SEANCE

This Brazilian short film combines 80’s slasher with the supernatural in a hilarious way. A group of teens who have all been killed by a serial killer in a creepy mansion combine forces to perform a ritual and stop the madman once and for all. The filmmakers do a great job of presenting traditional horror tropes and then changing things up in fun and unexpected ways. The result is an entertaining and hilarious short film. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

THE FOG VS THE MIST

Another one minute “bumper” for the festival hilariously combines two classic horror films. The short acts as a fake trailer in a 70’s grindhouse style showing a man in a house that is simultaneously invaded by both the mist and the fog. The style is grainy and offers a delightful throwback. While only a minute long, the short delivers on the laughs as the narrator confuses which entity is the mist and which is the fog. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

LOOK TWICE

Kyle Wilson’s horror short shows a young night guard just starting his shift. When he notices someone lurking around outside, he tells them to leave through the intercom. The guard quickly regrets getting the intruder’s attention when he realizes they might not be human. The story and imagery are definitely spine-chilling and effective, although the plot moves in ways that can be a bit confusing as well. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

NEST

Brennan Gilpatrick and Erin Walsh combined forces to create this terrifying 2-minute short film. Shot entirely with an iPhone, it shows two young women as they go check out an apartment they want to rent. Once inside, they realize something horrifying is waiting for them. This short is definitely one of the most terrifying, which is especially impressive given the 2-minute run time. It also has some great creature design to add to the scares. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

WATER HORSE

A woman spending time with her husband and daughter is disturbed by a small boat that washes ashore near her family. From there her life turns into a nightmare where she can’t determine what’s real and what’s not. The film has a very panicked feel to it as the mother tries to keep her daughter safe. Unfortunately the play on reality makes it a bit confusing on what’s actually going on, which can take viewers out of the moment. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

CULPRIT

All the way from Tawain comes a chilling film by Shuan Yu Lin. On a visit to a public bathroom a man receives a strange picture of himself. From the moment he sees that photo the short film builds tension quickly. This leads the audience down a swift and sinister path. It is a quick horror film with effective storytelling, despite the lack of dialogue. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

WITCHES GET STITCHES

This local Portland short horror film, written and directed by Matthew K. Robinson, follows a coven of witches. They are attempting to summon a demon through a blood sacrifice, but it doesn’t go quite as planned. This hilarious short takes a simple action commonly seen in horror films and turns it into a 4 minute joke. What makes it so hilarious is the way Robinson says what audience members everywhere have thought, but characters in film almost never say. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

THE DARLINGS

In this world premier audiences were introduced to a group of ladies in an 80’s glam-rock band. They go to a secluded rented mansion after a show to hear over the radio that a psycho killer is on the loose. Yet these “darlings” aren’t as helpless as they appear to be. This is one of the most memorable films in the festival because it truly captures the look and feel of an 80’s film with great twists and turns. There are even some fantastic practical effects. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

HERE THERE BE MONSTER

Coming to us from Australia is one of my favorite shorts, written and directed by Drew Macdonald. A young girl experiences brutal bullying on the bus home from school. After falling asleep on the bus she awakes in the dark to find herself alone in the bus yard and she’s trapped there with something dangerous. This short is beautifully shot, has a compelling plot, and includes creepy creature design. The young lead, played by Savannah Foran-McDaniel, will instantly capture your heart and make the ending all the more satisfying. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

CEMETERY SONG

Another world premier introduces this absolutely gorgeous short film, directed by Michelle Prebich with animation by Justine Prebich. This animated short film follows one man and shows a day in the life of those who inhabit the cemetery. The animation is truly stunning and the song that accompanies the short is equally beautiful. Because it is one of the few animated shorts in the festival, it definitely stands out from the crowd and it also has a sorrowful beauty to the story being told that resonates with audiences. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

I LEARNED HOW TO DRIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD

This touching short horror film from China introduces audiences to a young couple. As the man is trying to teach his wife how to drive they discover the world has been overrun by zombies, forcing her to learn at lightspeed. The film builds suspense very well in a short amount of time while also allowing time to get to know the characters. This assures the audience cares about the fates of the young couple. It results in a very sentimental yet frightening short film. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

FIVE COURSE MEAL

In James Cadden’s short horror comedy we meet Mark and Jenny. They agree to be part of an experiment to get some extra cash. They are confined to a room and served meal after meal through a slot in the door. From there things quickly escalate in hilarious and disgusting ways. While there is a lot of repetition that can get stale after a bit, the climax of the film has fantastic practical effects that almost makes up for it. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

FINLEY

Writer and director J. Zachary Thurman brought the film festival what was definitely a crowd favorite. After a group of college kids move into a new house, they discover a creepy puppet. It doesn’t take long to realize the puppet is alive and he’s hellbent on killing the college kids. This familiar plot is turned on its head in a truly hysterical way. Between the creepy puppet and the hilarious hijinks he gets up to, the audience was laughing from start to finish. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

RE-HOME

Izzy Lee’s short film touches on a poignant political issue. A young Mexican woman brings her baby daughter to an American couple in order to give her a better life. Yet the couple isn’t all they appear to be. The film delivers some shock value while also showcasing indie horror favorites Gigi Saul Guerrero and Morgan Peter Brown. It could have benefited from being a bit longer with a bit more plot, but it still drives home an important message. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

THE STRING

Another bumper contest winner, written and directed by Tom Eastwood, takes the audience back to an old age of filmmaking. Feeling reminiscent of 50’s films such as Plan 9 From Outer Space, the short follows an experiment gone wrong resulting in a string monster. It hilariously hits many of the tropes of horror sci-fi films of that era in this quick one minute film. OVERALL RATING. 3.5/5

VINYL DESTINATION

This short follows a man on the hunt for treasures at a yard sale. He finds a strange vinyl record, which he brings home to his roommate in the hopes of reselling it for a profit online. When they play the record, they realize it’s not your average vinyl. What makes this short so humorous is how it presents certain tropes, but then subverts audience expectations in unique ways. Combine that with endearing characters and you get a very entertaining short film. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

GEORGIE

Have you ever wondered what happened to little Georgie after Pennywise the clown got him? This short film shows him all grown up and following in Pennywise’s footsteps. The creepy reimagining of the classic Stephen King tale even brings together original cast members from the 1990 mini-series; Tony Dakota, who reprises his role as Georgie, and Ben Heller, who played young Stan Uris. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

I AM NOT A MONSTER

Ambrose makes an unexpected visit home just before his brother’s engagement party. What complicates things is he was born with a sinister growth on the back of his head that controls his mind and attempts to make him do things. This Irish short film is beautifully shot, has strong performances, interesting practical effects, and it does a great job of making it unclear what is real and what is in Ambrose’s head. This is another more unique short film from the festival that definitely sticks with you. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

RETCH

Keir Siewert delivers a unique short film all the way from the UK. This short depicts a woman going through a strange illness, but this isn’t your average cold. The short takes on a creepy and disturbing tone as it shows the woman struggle with the illness while also going through a physical transformation. There are great practical effects in this short which are very well done, but the highlight is the surprisingly humorous tone. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

30TH NIGHT

Megan awakes one morning to find her husband murdered and she is sent to jail for it. 30 nights later, all hell breaks loose in the prison, leaving Megan’s cellmate fighting for her life. This film packs a lot of action into 8.5 minutes and the two leads, Laura Burke and Jodi Pongratz, are delightful. Throw in some awesome creature makeup and you get a very entertaining short film. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

THE LESHIY

Anya must confront a dangerous demon in order to save her husband in this visually gorgeous short film. The plot alone is fascinating as it shows the young wife attempt to outsmart a demon from ancient legends. Yet what makes this short truly stand out are the visuals. The film is shot in black and white and only illuminated with natural light. This being a dark horror short, that means all the light comes from fire and candlelight. It allows for some gorgeous shadow-play that is only more beautiful in black and white. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

THE FISHERMAN

Rion Smith spins a yarn of a fisherman who is a less-than-pleasant fellow. After a lovely day of fishing his trip home is interrupted by something very unexpected. Smith does a great job of making you instantly dislike the main character, making the second half of the short all the more entertaining to watch. It’s surprising and it’s funny, even if the short feels a bit less polished than some of the other short films from the festival. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

WE GOT A MONKEY’S PAW

Jakki and Zack are roommates. Zack comes home one day with a monkey’s paw and convinces Jakki they should use it to make wishes. The ensuing chaos is shocking and hilarious, leading the pair down some unexpected paths. This short has so many different horror elements thrown into one film, yet it all creates a cohesive story. The two main characters are lovable, the effects are great, and it is impossible not to laugh at this bizarre adventure. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

LOBISOME

All the way from Spain comes a tale of two men trying to make an illegal deal in an airport bathroom. As the try to make the exchange, a briefcase for the cash, something goes horribly wrong. The short film is very tense and manages to have some surprising parts, while also injecting a bit of comic relief. The practical effects aren’t the strongest, but it is still a very entertaining 11 minutes. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

Crawl

crawl

A category 5 hurricane is heading straight for Florida. A young woman is unable to reach her father, so she decides to brave the storm to try and find him. What she finds instead is a nest of dangerous alligators. She will have to fight the predators and the rising floodwaters in order to save herself and her father.

This tension-filled film is directed by Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) and written by sibling duo Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (The Ward, The Inhabitants). The film follows Haley, who is on the college swim team. She has a strained relationship with her father, but when she can’t reach him as the storm approaches, she is compelled to drive over to check on him. When she discovers him in the crawl space under their house and realizes he’e been attacked by an alligator, she has to go into full survivor-mode.

The thing that makes this film so effective and brings suspense to the audience is the combination of killer animals and being trapped in a small space. Killer alligators are terrifying enough on their own and, as we have seen in many “when animals attack” type horror films, they are very entertaining to watch. But alligators aren’t all that fast on land, so something more needs to be done to make them more frightening. The filmmakers take it to the next level with Crawl by keeping most of the film confined to the tight crawl space with no means of escape. It gives the film a very claustrophobic fear to compound the terror brought by the alligators. Then that terror is taken to all new heights when the small crawl space begins to fill with flood waters. It leaves the characters with the options of staying put and drowning or attempting to get past the alligators. Both options are enough to strike fear and panic in the hearts of audiences.

Crawl primarily focuses on two characters and both of them give the audience someone to root for. Kaya Scodelario (The Maze Runner, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile) is tough as nails as Haley. She is a very strong female character with a complicated relationship with her family and a love-hate relationship with being a competitive swimmer. Scodelario is always a joy to watch and her portrayal of Haley delivers a dynamic, complicated, and kick-ass character. Barry Pepper (The Green Mile, True Grit) plays Haley’s dad, Dave. Pepper does an amazing job of playing the supportive dad who sometimes takes things a bit too far when trying to push his child to do better. Scodelario and Pepper play off each other very well. Much of the complexity with both of their characters comes from their strained relationship as we watch Dave fall back into his old swim coach ways as he talks to Haley. Their relationship and the way it strengthens throughout the film gives Crawl it’s heart. I also want to give a very special shout-out to Cso-Cso, the dog who plays Sugar, for being absolutely adorable, even when in peril.

For a summer creature-feature, this film has some very impressive effects. Most of the alligators are CGI, but they look absolutely stunning. There is one scene where the CGI looks especially gorgeous as the audience is shown a close-up of one of the alligator’s mouths. The use of CGI allows for the alligators to traverse the crawl space and the flood waters in order to deliver many fantastic jump-scares. The practical effects are equally well done. In any animal attack film it is a guarantee we will see bloody wounds from bites. The gore is truly taken to an unexpected level in this film. Most likely this is Aja’s influence. He is known for lots of amazing gore. Between bites, breaks, and other horrifying injuries, the practical effects are sure to make audience members cringe, gasp, and maybe even avert their eyes.

Crawl is the perfect summer creature-feature bringing action, scares, gore, and tons of thrills. Aja is definitely known for giving crowd-pleasing, bloody horror films and Crawl is no different. He expertly combines different fears to create a fun and thrilling summer flick with fantastic performances by Scodelario and Pepper. It may surprise audiences, but the story created by the Rasmussens delivers not only on the action and scares. It’s also a great heartfelt story about family coming together and conquering past issues. I wouldn’t suggest going into this film assuming you will see the next Oscar-winner, but if you go in expecting something that is fun and will have you on the edge of your seat, then Crawl is sure to be a fan-favorite.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Midsommar

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Dani has experienced recent emotional trauma. When her boyfriend invites her on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a solstice festival in Sweden, she thinks it is just what she needs. The sunny, idyllic location is the perfect setting for the festivities. Yet the rituals become increasingly bizarre and violent, threatening the lives of Dani and her friends.

Writer and director Ari Aster (Hereditary) has created another work of art with his sophomore feature film, Midsommar. This film takes on a different kind of cult that focuses more on the pastoral horror seen in films like The Wicker Man. The audience is first introduced to Dani as she is going through a very traumatic time in her life. She gets roped into what was supposed to be a guys’ trip to Sweden for a festival that only happens every 90 years in a remote village. The insanity that ensues is beautiful, disturbing, sometimes humorous, and everything in-between. Aster clearly has an affinity for paganism and cults and he takes great care in creating an intricate mythology.

There are two aspects of the film that give it quite a bit of intensity. The first is Dani’s emotional issues, which are exacerbated by the tension in her relationship with her boyfriend and the events of the festival. She is constantly at odds with her own emotions. Even when everything is falling apart around Dani, she tries her best to hold herself and her relationship together. The second is with the festival itself. While the events become increasingly horrific, there is an even deeper dilemma that arises with the rituals. Many of the outsiders who are in Sweden for the festival are anthropology students. They show how there is a delicate balance when observing different cultures. Sometimes what you see is horrifying to you, but from that culture’s perspective it is normal. I studied anthropology in college, so I can understand the moral quandary that comes from wanting to be respectful of different customs and cultures, even when faced with something shocking. The way the rituals in Midsommar gradually become more strange and violent allows for tension to build while also conveying the increasing difficulty the outsiders have in deciding when things have gone too far.

One of the most surprising plot points of Midsommar is the underlying theme of home and family. Home can mean different things to different people, but the common thread is usually having a place to belong and being around people who care about you. Much of Dani’s journey relates to family and the need to feel as if she’s at home. The character arc Aster creates in relation to Dani’s quest for that feeling of home is compelling and ends in an entirely satisfying way.

On top of the intricate and suspenseful story, Midsommar also has powerful performances. Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth, Malevolent) stars as Dani. Pugh makes Dani a fascinating and sympathetic character. Her portrayal especially shines when she conveys Dani’s emotional trauma in a way that is absolutely gut-wrenching. Jack Reynor (Free Fire, Sing Street) plays Dani’s boyfriend, Christian. In many ways Christian is the polar opposite of Dani. Reynor manages to make Christian a very unlikeable character, especially when he is gaslighting Dani and just generally being a terrible person. Normally it is important for couples in film to have great on-screen chemistry. That isn’t the case for Pugh and Reynor as their lack of chemistry only helps to tell the story of their unfortunate relationship.

After only two films, Aster has managed to create a signature style for his films. His films always have gorgeous production design, unique transitions between scenes, and he always has a simple signature sound used throughout the film. Most horror films are shrouded in darkness, yet Midsommar takes the opposite approach. Almost the entire film is drenched in sunlight and has vibrant colors. Not only does the outdoor setting have this appearance, but the various buildings in the Swedish village have this same quality. This is a bold choice that pays off because of how well Aster makes even the most cheery-looking place seem sinister. The cinematography helps to make the production design and the transitions even more eye-catching. In Hereditary, Aster used a slight clucking noise made by one of the stars to build tension throughout the film. Aster repeated this method in Midsommar, only this time it is with a strange, quick breath out and in. This sound is haunting and memorable. It takes the most innocuous sound and gives it an edge that can insight terror.

Midsommar brings terror into the light in this shocking pastoral horror film. Aster perfectly exemplifies his talents as both a director and a screenwriter, making it clear that he is a true master of horror. The film creates a fascinating pagan mythology set in a remote village, then builds on that mythology in disturbing ways. As if that isn’t compelling enough, Aster also uses Dani’s character to convey trauma and the human need for home. Pugh’s portrayal of Dani is haunting and will stick with audiences. There will likely be audience members who don’t like this film because it isn’t scary enough for them, because of the brightly lit setting, or because of some of the more strange rituals. I believe the film is a work of art and I can’t wait to see what Aster comes up with next.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

The Funeral

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Zhong Tonghiu, a young model with a tragic past, receives an invitation to her aunt’s funeral. Even though this aunt isn’t a blood relative, and she hasn’t seen her in years, Tonghiu still decides to go. When she arrives at her aunt’s remote mansion, strange things begin to happen. Something sinister is happening and time is running out for Tonghiu.

The Portland Horror Film Festival was lucky enough to get The Funeral for its world premiere. The film comes all the way from China and was written and directed by Yujie Qiu in her directorial debut. With an atmospheric slow-burn style, The Funeral builds suspense as a strange mystery is unraveled. When we first meet Tonghiu it is when she experiences her mother’s suicide as a child. This leads to a lifetime of nightmares that only become worse when she goes to her late aunt’s mansion. Everyone in the remote mansion seems to have some sinister motive. The tension gradually grows until the climax of the film as Tonghiu tries to discover the truth.

While The Funeral tells a compelling story, the ending takes away from the overall impact of the film. I won’t go into too much detail of the actual ending, but I will say the ending makes sense after hearing the star of the film discuss it at PHFF. Leading lady Kunjue Li traveled all the way from London to be at the world premiere of The Funeral. The way she explained it to the audience after the film, there were multiple different endings filmed and she wasn’t aware of which one was chosen until she watched it with the rest of us. The ending chosen isn’t necessarily the best option to serve the plot, but Kunjue described the many rules and regulations involved in Chinese film. There is so much censorship that it is difficult to make any film, let alone a horror film. With this in mind the end of the film makes sense, but I can’t help but wonder how different the film would have turned out if it had been filmed in a country with less censorship.

Aside from the eerie story being told, The Funeral also has fantastic performances from the small cast. Everyone does a great job adding to the tension of the film, but there is one performance that truly makes this film stand out. Leading actress, Kunjue Li (Peaky Blinders, One Child) is completely entrancing as Tonghiu. She has a gentle innocence about her, but there is strength deep within that comes out as Tonghiu’s life is threatened. Kunjue even won the “Masque Rouge Award” at this year’s PHFF, which is given to the actor or actress the festival directors believe delivered the best performance.

Much of the eeriness of this film comes not only from the plot, but from the look of the film. The film is primarily set in a gorgeous yet dark mansion secluded in the countryside. What is especially impressive about the set design is that, whether in darkness or in bright light, there is an edge that implies something is wrong. There are also lovely visuals for the various dream sequences. Many of these scenes are filmed with a very soft focus, making it simple to determine what is reality and what is a dream.

The Funeral manages to be a compelling and chilling film, despite the lengths it has to go through to get through censorship regulations. The backflips Yuje clearly went through to make this film in China only proves her talent as a writer and director. She created a film that is fascinating, has great performances, and is beautiful to look at. Unfortunately the ending of the film suffers from having to follow China’s film censorship. Without the context of that censorship, I might not have appreciated the film quite as much. I would be curious to know what some of the other endings were and I hope audiences outside of China will get the opportunity to see them.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10