PHFF 2022: Day 1 Short Films

The Portland Horror Film Festival returned in 2022 for both in-person and virtual horror film screenings. One things fans can always count on at PHFF is a fantastic array of great short films from around the world. This year the festival directors managed to pack in a ton of horror shorts that have a little something for everyone. Here is a rundown of the shorts* shown on day one of the festival!

Festival director Gwen Callahan and shorts filmmakers/actors Hannah May Cumming, Emma Cogan, BreeAna Miyuki Eisel, Simeon Gregory, and John Skipp

OLD TIME RADIO – Written and directed by Joel Harlow

A decrepit, grumpy old man lives in a decaying manor with his bumbling man-servant. This short film has no dialogue other than what comes through the radio, and the main characters communicate through grunts and gestures leading to some great laughs. There isn’t a lot of plot, but the look of the short and the practical effects are quite stunning. There were some sound issues throughout the short, but it’s difficult to tell if that was the fault of the short film itself or opening night theater issues. Overall Rating: 3/5

DEATH IN A BOX – Written and directed by Simeon Gregory

Samara (BreeAna Miyuki Eisel) convinces her friend Ava (Sloan Mannino) to drive outside of town to see a mysterious floating box leading to deadly consequences. This short film has some beautiful cinematography, especially when the mysterious box is shown, and it relies almost entirely on practical effects. The two leads are great, and there are some truly spine-chilling moments of terror. Audiences are sure to want to learn more about the box. Overall Rating: 4/5

BABY FEVER – Written by Hannah May Cumming and Alex Hartwig, Directed by Hannah May Cumming

Teenage pregnancy has never been so scary. When popular teen Donna (Helena Berens) finds herself unexpectedly knocked up just before prom, her life is turned upside down. To say Baby Fever was the hit short film at PHFF is an understatement. Everything from the the performances to the practical effects to the script were expertly crafted to create a short film that is as gory and fun as it is topical (whether it be 1972 or 2022). The audience fell head-over-heels in love with this pro-choice darling, and you will too. Overall Rating: 5/5

THE WEREBACK – Written and directed by The Estrada Brothers

In this short film, a truck filled with undocumented migrants crosses the southern US border and makes a horrifying discovery when the full moon rises. The short is lean and mean with great practical effects. There wasn’t a ton of plot, but the events going on before the werewolf aspect are familiar enough for people to understand what’s happening. Overall rating: 3/5

DOPPELBANGER – Written and directed by John Skipp

A woman with an angelic voice sings at a karaoke bar, but the night isn’t over until she is forced to confront herself. This short is quite a feat because writer/director John Skipp wrote all the karaoke songs himself. Yet it seems like not as much care was given to the plot of the short film, which builds into a climax that might leave the audience more confused than anything. Much of the short is helped because of its endearing lead, Kayla Dixon. It’s an idea that could work if expanded and given more context, but as it is there just isn’t enough substance. Overall rating: 2/5

VISITORS – Written and directed by Kenichi Ugana

When three friends go to visit another friend they haven’t heard from in a while, things take a turn for the strange. Visitors is a delightful short film from Japan that feels like a hybrid of The Evil Dead and The Grudge. It combines wild practical effects with slapstick humor. The plot might not always make the most sense, but it is guaranteed to bring the laughs. It’s an endearing love letter to horror, and the ending is sure to put a smile on audiences’ faces. Overall Rating: 4.5/5

BUTTON MAN – Written and directed by Josh Todaro

Two sisters on a hike in the remote Victoria High Country realize they are not alone in the dark woods. Button Man is a master class on building suspense. The Australian film builds tension, even during what seems like mundane scenes on the surface, by incorporating clues in the background of the inclement danger. It’s the kind of short film that works perfectly as is, but horror fans are likely going to want to see a feature-length film about the Button Man and his deadly exploits. Overall Rating: 4/5

WILLOW & LYDIA – Written by Scott Alexander Naar and Sarah Naar, Directed by Scott Alexander Naar

After lesbian couple Willow and Lydia’s unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant with IVF, Willow turns to more ancient and extreme measures. This short horror film is an updated take on classic horror films such as Rosemary’s Baby (and there’s even a fun Exorcist III homage for eagle-eyed viewers). There is quite a bit of familiar ground tread, but the filmmakers and actors bring the story into the modern age. Some of the ritualistic aspects might leave a few open-ended questions, but it’s still an enjoyable time. Overall Rating: 3/5

BLACK – Written and directed by Matthieu Ponchel and Prïncia Car

A strange shadow is spreading terror and death throughout the projects. This black and white short horror film from France has a lot of potential. There is a lot of brilliant simplicity to it by having something as commonplace as a shadow being the “villain” of the story, and the choice to use black and white adds quite the visual impact. That being said, there just wasn’t enough substance in the plot to give it any significant stakes. Overall Rating: 2.5/5

THE TRUNK – Written and directed by Travis Laidlaw

When a teen and her father find a trunk buried in the woods, they think they’ve found a treasure, but what they’ve truly found is untold horror. The Trunk is a great short film that tells a complete story while still leaving enough mystery that a feature-film could easily be made. The two leads are great as father and daughter. What really makes this short stand out is that it has some truly chilling moments, as well as disturbingly great practical effects that are sure to burn at least one scene into audiences’ brains. Overall Rating: 4.5/5

*Note: I did miss the bumper short film titled “The Last Pickup” directed by Tim Blough.

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