The final day of the Portland Horror Film Festival was split into two parts. There was a matinee of shorts and a feature film at the Clinton Street Theater, followed by an evening showing of two feature films and another block of shorts. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the matinee short films, but they were definitely an enjoyable group. Here are my reviews of the day 5 matinee short films*.
ORDINARY FAMILY – Written and directed by Funing Tang
As a zombie outbreak takes over the country, a young man must face his family trauma. Ordinary Family had its world premiere at PHFF. The Chinese short film shows the widening cultural divide between Chinese parents and their adult children, but heightens the tension with the help of a zombie outbreak. It creates a compelling look at how we deal with family, and all the baggage that entails, while also giving horror fans a zombie outbreak that has a unique flair. The performances are incredibly strong and the plot is fascinating, but it does drag a bit in the middle and would have benefited from being edited down to a shorter runtime. Overall rating: 4/5
POSTED NO HUNTING – Written by Alisa Stern and Scott Ampleford, Directed by Alisa Stern
A trail cam captures footage of something sinister lurking in the woods. One part found footage and one part stop motion, Posted No Hunting is a gorgeous short film that uses unique methods to tell a creepy little story. It has the look of being filmed by a trail cam, yet the entire short is made with rubber, wool, and clay. The story itself is unsettling on its own, yet the choice to combine different filming techniques and animation styles creates something special. Even with the animals, humans, and creatures being made with household materials, this short will still make you second guess going into the woods alone. Overall rating: 4.5/5
PLANTAE – Written by Jenna Mahmoud Bosco, Directed by Steven Mosley
An environmentalist resorts to extreme measures to confront her litter-bug neighbor. Our deteriorating environment and the consequences of that are quite scary, but many have a hard time understanding this since they don’t feel the immediate effects. This short brings the consequences of littering and being cruel to plant life to the present in a way that is both comedic and cautionary. The performances are great, especially from Bosco, who also wrote the short. With a vibrant green color palette and the weaving of different film types, Plantae is a gorgeous short horror comedy for the environmentally conscious. Overall rating: 3.5/5
INFESTED HEARTS – Written and directed by Michael Varrati
Ethan’s relationship and life spirals out of control when he becomes convinced his home is infested with insects. Infested Hearts is a black and white nightmare that made it’s world premiere at PHFF. The plot is a methodical slow-burn that will keep the audience guessing as the protagonist is sure he’s seeing bugs everywhere, keeping him up at night, yet his partner doesn’t believe him. It’s a fascinating story with strong performances from the two leads, especially Ben Baur (#Adulting) as Ethan. The short also boasts stunning visuals as the muted palette allows for gorgeous light and shadow play, while also utilizing strong CGI and practical effects. Infested Hearts is an examination of a failing relationship with a final shot that is guaranteed to strike fear in the hearts of audiences. Overall rating: 4/5
YOU WILL SEE ME – Written and directed by Jennifer Wolfe
During a men’s rights uprising, a woman working as a ride-share driver experiences an uncomfortable drive with a familiar passenger. While this short is loosely based on a true story, many people can relate to having an awkward encounter with someone you went on a date with, then never called back. You Will See Me turns that experience into something even more terrifying. By adding in the all-too-real fear of rising men’s rights groups and the popular figureheads that speak out for them, the film becomes every woman’s worst nightmare. It’s the kind of story that walks the line between fiction and reality in a frightful way. Overall rating: 4/5
TAPEHEAD – Written and directed by Jason Zink
A documentary film crew follows a VHS-obsessed man as he finds himself in increasingly dangerous situations while on the quest for rare tapes. This is a great short film both for horror fans and anyone who is a collector of any kind. While the character is fictional, many can relate to the thrill of the hunt as you search for rare items to add to your collection. Tapehead takes the audience on a hilarious journey with its protagonist, whom you can’t help but pity a bit even while relating to him. Overall rating: 4/5
IN THE DARK – Written and directed by Bronson Allen
A woman just trying to find a normal guy to date thinks she’s finally found a good one, until the lights go out. In the Dark is a Canadian horror short that had its world premiere at this year’s PHFF. The audience watches as our protagonist goes on a very typical dating journey that many can relate to. At first, when things start to get weird, the audience isn’t entirely sure if this guy is just another weirdo. The two leads deliver great performances that endear the audience to their characters. The short ends up taking us on a journey that starts out comedic, but gets increasingly more and more frightening as the evening wears on, eventually leading to a shocking conclusion. Overall rating: 4.5/5
CAREGIVER – Written and directed by Rafael De Leon Jr.
A graduate student researcher records and interview with a young woman who volunteers as a caregiver, but the student comes to realize the woman has a dark secret. This is the kind of film where audiences might be able to decipher what’s going on fairly quickly, but the protagonist isn’t quite as astute. It elicits a reaction where you want to scream at the guy to get out of there, but unfortunately he realizes this far too late. The performances from the two leads are fantastic, and the gradual build-up of tension leads to a satisfying end for this short film. Overall rating: 4/5
THE SICKNESS OF PERFECTION – Written and directed by Andile Pelelani
A photographer obsessed with getting the perfect shot is taken on a surreal journey with the model. The Sickness of Perfection is the kind of short film that is like an art installation and almost feels reminiscent of European horror of the 70’s. It is absolutely stunning to look at and leaves much of the plot up to interpretation for the viewer. The two leads, Tia Madalynn and Ivy Votolato, deliver wonderful performances, but Volotato really shines in their role as the photographer. This short film is sure to be a conversation starter as audiences argue over the meaning behind it. Overall rating: 4/5
STUCK – Written and directed by Arturo David Roncone
A woman moving into her new house unwittingly unleashes a demonic entity that had been locked away in her attic. This frightful short horror film utilizes an already creepy looking house to unsettle audiences before incorporating the real terror. The filmmaker manages to pack in a lot of good scares in just a 9-minute runtime, and the lead gives a performance that adds to the suspense. The creature design for the demon itself is horrifying, but it does include some unnecessary CGI enhancement. Overall rating: 4/5
SAFE AND SOUND – Written by Ian Kammer and Joshua Storms, Directed by Ian Krammer
A babysitter gets more than she bargained for when something starts to trip the security alarms around the house. Safe and Sound is a chilling horror short that taps into both the fear of earthquakes and fear of what could be lurking in the darkness. The babysitting protagonist, Charlie Morgan Patton (Back to Lyla), immediately endears the audience to her, which makes the horrors she faces all the more frightening. The CGI creatures are a bit cheesy, but their design and ferocity is still enough to insight terror. Overall rating: 4/5
*Note: This does not include the bumper short film “Return”, directed by Marcelo Fabani.