PHFF 2022: Day 3 Short Films

Day 3 of the Portland Horror Film Festival was another big day for shorts. While these covered a variety of different subgenres of horror, the festival boasted the day 3 shorts as the scariest short films of the festival. Let me tell you, the festival did not lie. While not all of the shorts were terrifying, the ones that were brought plenty of frights for the audience. Here are the short films shown on day 3 of PHFF.

Festival director Brian Callahan with Brian Sepanzyk, Sara Canning, and Christopher Langston

BEAST IN THE BEDROOM (Bumper) – Directed by Matt K. Robinson

A young man hears strange noises inside his home, but when he investigates he finds something more horrifying than he could have ever imagined. This short film is another bumper contest winner, and while I couldn’t find the credits for it, Beast in the Bedroom is a great time. It’s a quick little short that still manages to make itself memorable by subverting expectations. The final shot is such a delightful surprise that got quite the reaction from the PHFF audience. Overall rating: 4/5

WELCOME – Written and directed by Yanglu He and Sia Du

A poor young girl is invited into a luxury store during the night where mannequins dress her in finery, but the cost might just be her life. This animated short horror film is a great gateway horror for younger audiences. Not only is it visually stunning and effectively creepy, because mannequins are inherently unsettling, but it also serves to tell a cautionary tale. Not only should children learn to be happy with what they have and not be greedy, but they must learn that everything has a cost, even if it’s supposedly free. Overall rating: 3.5/5

SHADOW OF A SILHOUETTE – Written and directed by Jason Affolder

A woman is haunted by visions of a cyclist killed in an unsolved hit-and-run accident. Shadow of a Silhouette hit home for me as I have a family member who was also struck by a car and killed while riding his bike. There was even a “ghost bike” placed at the accident site just like in this short film. Affolder strikes a delicate balance between terror and heart by having a frightening ghost with unfinished business, but it is clear very early on that he means no harm to the woman. It’s a sad, haunting short that has a few good scares layered within a compelling plot. Overall rating: 4/5

I’LL BE BACK TOMORROW – Written and directed by The Summers Brothers

A woman is woken by a nightmare and, upon recounting the dream to her partner, realizes it might be closer to reality than she had feared. The Summers Brothers do an excellent job of building the suspense of this short film. At first, there is something disarming about the way the woman recounts her dream. Yet as the partner confirms some of the things she learned in her dream, the tension rises as the threat feels more and more real. It all leads to a final shot that is a real heart-stopper. The playfulness combined with the rising terror makes for an effective combination. Overall rating: 3.5/5

7 MINUTES IN HELL – Written and directed by Shane Spiegel and Justin Reager

A group of friends sneak into an abandoned house with a dark past to play 7 minutes in Heaven, only to realize they’re trapped in a Hell on Earth. 7 Minutes in Hell manages to pack in a lot of mythos and scares in a short amount of time. While some of that mythos forces the audience to simply accept things as the way they are, there is still quite a bit of interesting plot points that take the short beyond your typical haunted house story. There are strong visuals that add to the terror and make the short a spooky jaunt. Overall rating: 3.5/5

LOVE YOU, MAMA – Written and directed by Alexandra Magistro

After the death of her father, a young woman becomes fearful of the world outside the safety of her home. Love you, Mama was one of the most haunting shorts at PHFF. Not only does it have a compelling plot that, while it wasn’t written as a “quarantine” short, feels all too relevant for those living through COVID times, but it’s also quite frightening. Magistro manages to tell a power and terrifying story in just 20 minutes with absolutely phenomenal performances from Madeleine Arthur (Color Out of Space) and Samantha Sloyan (Midnight Mass). Love You, Mama is one I hope to see become a feature-length film. Overall rating: 4.5/5

#NOFILTER – Written and directed by Nathan Crooker

A woman in her 20’s becomes obsessed with a beauty filter app, but soon learns the importance of reading the terms of service. Crooker’s short film takes a pop, candy-colored approach to examining the horrors of body dysmorphia and how we present ourselves on social media. The bright neon colors effectively disarm the audience before we watch the protagonist experience horrific physical changes the more she uses the beauty filter app. While the practical effects might appear a bit cheesy, their impact and the message of the film remains quite clear. Overall rating: 3/5

HELL HOLE – Directed by Gregory Shultz

A maintenance worker gets more than he bargained for while working at a top-secret facility. Hell Hole is quite the unique and visually stunning short film. It appears to be about 90% done with miniatures and models, only the close-ups of the maintenance worker showing an actual human actor. It makes the short film have a charming and nostalgic look as the chaos ensues, feeling somewhat reminiscent of old kaiju films of the 1950’s and 60’s. The production design is great and helps to tell a fun story as it happens around the bumbling, unwitting maintenance worker. Overall rating: 3.5/5

IN THE SHADOW OF GOD – Written and directed by Brian Sepanzyk

A woman returns to her family home after the death of her father and soon realizes something evil is at work on this land. Sepanzyk really created something special with In the Shadow of God. This is likely the most frightening short film at PHFF while also feeling like it tells the most complete story, despite its 18 minute runtime. There is a fascinating mythos throughout the short film, and disturbing visuals to match. The entire cast delivers remarkable performances. This is a short film that works as is, but I have so many questions surrounding the mythos that I hope to see it become a feature-length film. Overall rating: 4.5/5

SMILE – Written and directed by Joanna Tsanis

A woman’s depression takes on a life of its own in her struggle to smile. Anyone who suffers from depression can understand the struggle to find a reason to smile. Tsanis gives that feeling a supernatural flair as an evil entity forces the protagonist to put a smile on her face. It’s a disturbing take on how even the desire to do something as simple as smile can only make the feeling of depression even worse. The effects of the entity are well done, but at the same time the “why” behind the way it looks is never really addressed. Overall rating: 3/5

RELAX WITH DRACO – Written by Caleb Wells, Directed by Julia Zanin de Paula

Viktor has to resort to a self-help style podcast to keep his bloodlust at bay as he tries to live a normal, human life. This short film is such a clever little horror comedy mashup. It plays with the popularity of changing diets (except in this case it’s stopping bloodsucking rather than going vegan) and the influx of podcasts to help you along the way. That is already a humorous concept, but the nods to classic vampire tropes adds in another layer of humor. Relax With Draco is a laugh-out-loud short film. Overall rating: 3.5/5

WHILE MORTALS SLEEP – Written and directed by Alex Fofonoff

A novelist trying to get away from the outside world goes to stay at a friend’s house, only to find a couple claiming to be the caretakers already inside. While Mortals Sleep is a weird, goopy, cult film with a bit of a Lovecraftian twist. Fofonoff tells a complete story, yet there is still a lot of mystery to it. It keeps the audience guessing while also leaving them wanting for more. While the plot itself is interesting and unsettling, the practical effects and creature design are probably the most memorable and effective aspects of the film. It combines creepy, cute, and gross seamlessly. Overall rating: 3.5/5

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