Short Film

IHSFF 2018: Horror Shorts B

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The International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival always shows a great collection of short films. Because there are so many to discuss, I decided to write-up little blurbs about each one and organize them by how the short films were programmed in the festival. Here are my reviews and ratings for the short films in HORROR SHORTS B:

ALFRED J HEMLOCK – Written by Edward Lyons & Melissa Lyons, Directed by Edward Lyons

This darkly twisted tale follows a young woman whose date ditches her in an alley one night. In that alley she meets a strange character named Alfred J Hemlock who is anything but human. This short has strong performances and a fascinating concept. The one thing that will make this film less enjoyable is that it feels like it tries too hard to emulate the work of Tim Burton, yet it falls short. If the styling had been different, putting the focus more just on the characters, it would have been a much stronger short. OVERALL RATING: 2.5/5.

HOPE – Written by Adam Losurdo & Chris Stival, Directed by Adam Losurdo

In a world filled with zombies, one zombie wanders around looking for love. The zombies are different in this short; they don’t attack people. Instead, it’s the people who are terrible to zombies. The film is unique, funny, and has a great ending. It’s the kind of film that makes you hate people and human nature, which is something I always enjoy. Plus, the zombie makeup is pretty fun to look at as well. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

EN PASSANT – Written/Directed by Barron Hilton

One thing I can say definitively about this short film is that it is beautiful. It is filled with beautiful people, beautiful cinematography, and beautiful sets. It is the kind of film that blends sexy and dark very well. There is even an appearance by the late Rick Genest (aka Zombie Boy). Beyond the beauty the film lacks a bit of substance, choosing to have no dialogue and focusing more on the sex appeal rather than the sinister ending. With just a bit more explanation into the “why” of what happens, even without dialogue, the film would have been exponentially better. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

WHAT METAL GIRLS ARE INTO – Written/Directed by Laurel Vail

The film follows a group of female metal fans as they rent a place to attend a metal music festival. They quickly realize their host is up to no good. The plot is quirky, humorous, and has a very satisfying ending. The film is also relevant in the #MeToo era. Audiences will even recognize Matt Mercer (Contracted: Phase II) as the creepy rental host and writer/director Laurel Vail (Contracted: Phase II) herself also stars in the short. Of all the shorts at the festival I had the most fun watching this one, and it is honestly probably my favorite this year. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

THE DAY MUM BECAME A MONSTER – Written/Directed by Josephine Hopkins

This short film comes from France and follows a young girl who lives with her divorced mother. The estranged father is supposed to come for the girl’s birthday, which delights the girl but has the opposite effect on the mother. This short has a similar feel to The Babadook. As the mother becomes more depressed over her situation she goes through a physical transformation that represents her internal turmoil. It’s a very compelling, gorgeous, and well acted film. It also has some fantastic practical effects portraying the mother’s transformation. This is a short you won’t want to miss. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

GRIN – Written/Directed by Tanuj Chopra, Story by Sheetal Sheth

A young woman goes on a photoshoot where the photographer crosses a line that should never be crossed. The short film follows her mental and emotional unravelling after these events with stunning visuals. The film is beautifully shot, but it lacks a bit of substance. It seems to focus to much on making something visually beautiful rather than sending the intended message that relates to the #MeToo movement. There needs to be a bit more actual plot to go along with the artistic imagery. As it is, the short is more of an art installation than a well hashed out story. OVERALL RATING: 2.5/5

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IHSFF 2018: Horror Shorts A

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The International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival always shows a great collection of short films. Because there are so many to discuss, I decided to write-up little blurbs about each one and organize them by how the short films were programmed in the festival. Here are my reviews and ratings for the short films in HORROR SHORTS A:

LOVE CUTS DEEP – Written/Directed by Veronica Shea

This short follows Jeremy, played by Trevor Stevens (Swipe Right), as a serial killer who hates love. That is, until he meets someone who could be the girl of his dreams. This short is quirky and fun. It has a little bit of something for everyone, from a sweet and romantic story to blood and gore. Stevens is great as the lead. He has a distinct American Psycho vibe as he plays Jeremy as a charming sociopath, even breaking the fourth wall throughout most of the short by talking to the audience. OVERALL SCORE: 4.5/5

FISHER COVE – Written/Directed by Sean Skene

A fisherman and his dog go out for a normal fishing trip, which turns strange when a mysterious creature appears. This short actually won Best Horror Short Film at the festival, and it’s easy to see why. It’s an exciting plot that goes in a direction you wouldn’t expect for a short film. The practical effects for the creature are also very well done. What might be even more surprising is that the creature has an apparatus on his head that moves that was done with CGI, but when I saw the short I was convinced it was practically done. That is very unexpected in a low budget short, and a sign that this is a must-see flick. OVERALL SCORE: 4.5/5

IT BEGAN WITHOUT WARNING – Written/Directed by Jessica Curtright & Santiago C. Tapia

The generally premise of this short film is very interesting. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will say the filmmakers do a really great job of making you think one thing is happening, only to turn the tables. It gives audiences a shocked or “aha” moment when the realize the truth. It’s surprisingly effective, especially considering there is virtually no dialogue. The one thing that detracts from the short a bit is a practical effects “creature.” It looks a bit too much like they just grabbed a wound prosthetic and turned it into an evil being. Still, the short film is worth a watch. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

THE NIGHT DELIVERY – Written/Directed by Scott O’Hara

This is probably the only short at the festival that genuinely scared me. The creepy short film follows three grocery story delivery boys turned would-be thieves who discover something evil is in the house they targeted. The short feels like a well thought out, complete story and the three leads do a great job. There are also some phenomenal practical effects and creature design that elevate the beautifully shot short film. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

THE DOLLMAKER – Written by Matias Caruso & Directed by Alan Lougher

A dollmaker offers to make doll in the likeness of a child who has died to help the family grieve, but there are rules that come with the magical doll. This is a sad, sentimental short that will touch anyone who has experienced loss and/or any parents. Sean Meehan (The Normal Heart) and Perri Lauren (Grey Lady) both give compelling performances as the grieving parents. The filmmakers do a great job of keeping a constant sense of dread throughout the film as it approaches the inevitable, yet still somewhat shocking end. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

AVULSION – Written/Directed by Steven Boyle

This short film is interesting because it begins with what appears to be an encounter between a high-class prostitute and a client. As the plot progresses things take a turn for the gory. One of the most successful aspects of this film is the little clues the filmmakers leave for the audience. When the big twist is revealed at the end it is shocking, yet when you think back to the bread crumbs left throughout the film it all makes sense. There are also a lot of really well done gory practical effects and a creepy creature design. If you enjoy gore and films that discuss the darkness inside everyone, then this is the short for you. OVERALL RATING: 4/5.

SOMETHING IN THE DARKNESS – Written/Directed by Fran Casanova

All the way from Spain comes a short film about a little girl’s fear of what lurks in the dark. This is something that almost every horror fan (or really any human being) can relate to, especially from their childhood. Young Luna Fulgencio (El es tu Padre) is perfect as Veronica. The film does a lot by simply setting the mood and putting the audience on edge as they experience the little girl’s fear. There are also some fun twists and turns to thrill and shock the audience. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

RIGOR MORTIS – Written by Matthew E. Robinson & Shandton Williams, Directed by Matthew E. Robinson

This is the most comedic short of this block at the festival. Conjoined twins go through the surgery to separate. When one of them wakes up, he realizes his brother didn’t survive the surgery. From there it is a lot of strange hallucinations of his brother intertwined with comedic elements as the surviving twin goes through survivor’s guilt. It is an interesting concept with decent acting, but there is something about the color pallet and sound mixing in the film that detracts from the overall appeal. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

The Rage (Short)

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A man goes to a bar with a friend. The friend leaves, and the man is left alone. He sits at the bar avoiding calls and texts from his significant other. This triggers strange and violent hallucinations. When a woman at the bar bumps into the man, and they hit it off, the hallucinations only seem to get worse.

At first glance, The Rage appears to be a rather disturbing short film showing violence towards women. Upon closer inspection, the short is more than that. The violence takes place between the main character, Oscar, and his significant other, Kate. Both characters exhibit violence towards each other, so it isn’t one-sided, and all of the violence takes place in Oscar’s head. Initially the film gives the impression that Oscar is a budding psychopath or serial killer, imagining the things he wanted to do to the woman who hurt him. As the plot continues it becomes more clear that the hallucinations are not things Oscar wants to happen. Instead they are a visual representation of his emotions following an unfortunate discovery. While this is a very interesting way to convey the inner thoughts and feelings of Oscar, I almost wish they had been expanded upon a bit. Would these images in Oscar’s head lead to actual physical violence? Does his one night stand, Sylvi, have similar thoughts in her head when she is stood up? Going just a bit deeper would have made the plot that much more compelling.

Director Alrik Bursell made some interesting choices in his storytelling for this film. The most obvious is the use of hallucinations to convey intense emotions. A less obvious one is his choice to have almost no dialogue in the film. Even the bit of dialogue that is in the short is more in the background. This forces the viewer to focus on the visuals of the film, both with the hallucinations and the body language of the actors. It gives the short a more visceral, even primal feel, because the words are not as important as the physical expressions taking place.

The leads in the film do a surprisingly good job considering they don’t have much dialogue to lean on. L. Jeffrey Moore (Toxin) plays the jilted Oscar, while Sophia LaPaglia (Shout it Out!) plays the equally lonely Sylvi. Both actors excel at using their body language to tell the story, from how they feel when hurt by their significant others to how they feel when they first meet. This is vital considering the only speaking either character does is when they first bump into each other at the bar. Without the ability to speak through non-verbal means, the plot would not have flowed quite as well.

The Rage gives a look into the mind of an emotionally tortured man. The performances are strong and focus on the body language between characters. The short film has an interesting premise which relies heavily on visual storytelling more than it does dialogue. While that is one of the most successful aspect of the short, I also can’t help but wish the hallucinations and their implications had been expanded upon. The short is still an entertaining and interesting 6 minutes that will give viewers a unique view of what goes on inside a person’s head.

OVERALL RATING: 3/5

Heartless (Short)

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Shelby, a young business associate, is unappreciated by her superiors. When her boss doesn’t show up to work Shelby is forced to do a big presentation. As she attempts to complete the presentation her mind becomes unhinged. A dark secret is knocking away at her sanity like the beating of a heart.

Heartless is a short film inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Writer/director Kevin Sluder took Poe’s concept and updated it for the modern age. It focuses on a young woman trying to make it in the business world, only to have opposition from both her female boss and the other “boys club” type businessmen. This refreshing update makes Poe’s story more accessible for viewers. Most people can relate to trying to make it in the business world. Even more poignant is watching a woman in the workplace facing discrimination and cruel jokes from her male superiors. Sluder does an excellent job of making viewers empathize with Shelby, even as we learn more about her rather disturbing secret.

The storytelling of the short is very well done. The film begins with Shelby as she is about to enter the conference room where she must do her presentation for the male executives. As the short progresses, little things take Shelby back to the night before. The audiences gets more and more bits of information about the events leading up to the presentation. Then, of course, there is the beating of a heart. That beating leads to the unravelling of Shelby’s mind while also making her finally stand up for herself. This format only adds to the empathy audiences will feel for Shelby as the story unfolds. Yet she isn’t completely innocent.

The performances in this short film are entertaining to watch. Stacy Snyder (Pretty Dudes) is an excellent leading lady as Shelby. What I enjoy most about her performance is how easily she transitions from being a relatable, stressed out businesswoman to being completely unhinged. Snyder at times reminds me of the character Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. The supporting cast is also quite enjoyable to watch. Shelby’s boss, Clare, is played in a delightfully evil way by Joanna Sotomura (Contracted: Phase II). Matt Mercer (Contracted: Phase II), Blaine Vedors (Mainline), and Ron Morehouse (Hill Yes) make up the business executives. Their performances are great because they are the kind of men you can’t help but hate. Together the cast helps to create a darkly humorous short film.

Kevin Sluder’s Heartless is a dark and funny horror short highlighting what it is like for a woman in a male-dominated business world. Sluder’s inspiration from “The Tell-Tale Heart” is apparent, and the update to a modern work setting gives the short an American Psycho vibe as well. The entire cast does a great job of blurring the lines of what makes a person good or bad, especially Stacy Snyder as Shelby. The story is relatable, as most people have either been overlooked in their career or experienced sexism in the workplace. Heartless is a relevant short film with classic inspiration that many viewers will enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 4/5 (short film scale)

I Baked Him a Cake (Short)

I Baked Him a Cake - Official Poster

A young girl wakes up the morning of her father’s birthday. She is excited for him to come home from work to celebrate. As she goes through the day baking a cake for her father, the young girl notices her mother’s increasingly strange behavior. What’s even more strange is that her father is late coming home and her mother may have something to do with it.

The simplicity of I Baked Him a Cake is a strength as well as a weakness for the short film. The simple plot allows director Vanessa Ionta Wright to focus most of the short film on the palpable tension that builds as the story progresses. We, as the audience, know something terrible has happened right from the beginning, but the young daughter has no clue. The building of tension doesn’t rely on impending death, but it does rely on keeping the audience guessing as to how long the mother will let her daughter think daddy is simply running late from work. While this is a very interesting and effective method of storytelling, I found myself with a few too many lingering questions. I enjoy when short films leave loose ends, making you want either a short sequel or for the short to be expanded into a feature length film, but this short left things a bit too open.

I Baked Him a Cake has two actors total, which leaves little to no room for error. If someone isn’t performing well it will stand out like a sore thumb. Luckily, the performances in this short are very well done and stand out for all the right reasons. Fleece (The Perfect Murder) delivers an unnerving performance as the mother. I got an unexpected laugh from her when she explains away a substantial amount of blood by claiming it is due to “that time of the month.” What makes it so funny is her deadpan delivery of the line. Throughout the short, Fleece makes the mother seem more and more disturbing as she continually lies to her daughter while disposing of the evidence of what truly happened to her husband. Lillian Gray (Leshyapa) also goes a great job as the daughter, Lenora. Lenora is at the age where she is old enough to know something isn’t quite right, but young enough to believe what her mother tells her. Gray portrays that delicate balance very well.

A strong aspect of this short film is how visually interesting it is. This visual interest isn’t achieved with any kind of practical or CGI effects, like many films in this genre. Instead it is the simple use of darkness and light that makes many of the scenes appear quite beautiful. Each scene is primarily in darkness, giving the home a dark and gritty appearance. Yet there is also a place of brighter, usually natural light (i.e. candlelight or light coming in through a window) that draws your eye where the filmmakers want it to go. The cinematography, combined with the use of shadow and light, adds to the otherwise simplistic short film.

I Baked Him a Cake is a compelling character study that expertly plays with light to catch the eye. The performances from the two leads carry the short, and the overall look of film is enough to hold my interest. While the short does check most of the boxes I looked for, such as working as a short film while still making me want more, I can’t help but feel I am left wanting a bit too much. There are just a few too many questions and not enough answers throughout the plot. Despite that, I Baked Him a Cake still brings something original by shifting the focus from death to the aftermath.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5 (short film scale)

The Recursion Theorem (Short)

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A man wakes up alone in a room. He doesn’t know how or why he is there. No matter how hard he tries there doesn’t seem to be any way out of the room. What’s even more strange is that the room appears to defy all the laws of physics. Is he in Hell? Is he in another dimension? Will he ever escape?

The Recursion Theorem is the second film venture by writer/director Ben Sledge. He truly knocks it out of the part with this short film. It is a short that would fit right in as an episode of The Twilight Zone, and even has scenes that are reminiscent of The Shining. The concept of a man waking up trapped in unfamiliar surroundings is a smart and simple start. It is what happens after the man wakes up that makes Sledge’s story unique, interesting, and at times even funny.

The thing that makes The Recursion Theorem stand out the most is the performance by Dan Franko (The Night Watchmen, Veep). Considering the fact that there is only one person in the entire short film it is incredibly important to cast someone who can captivate audiences. Franko excels in this as the ill-fated Dan Everett. We see Dan go through all the stages one would expect when realizing you are locked in an otherworldly prison. He feels anger, hysteria, insanity, fear, and everything else in between. Franko perfectly portrays the array of emotions and gives viewers a multifaceted performance. He single handedly carries the film and holds your interest through to the end.

Along with a compelling story and great acting, this short also has beautiful imagery. The cinematography is outstanding. Some of the shots are framed so perfectly that they are truly works of art. Since the filmmakers chose to film the short in black and white it it was wise to focus on the cinematography. It adds a lot of visual interest that may normally by lost by the lack of color. The effects, while quite minimal, are also well done – specifically in one scene where Dan’s body seems to appear in a wisp of smoke. It is a small effect, but it is so well executed. It has a finesse that one might not expect from a short film.

The Recursion Theorem is a masterful descent into madness that will bring you back to the Twilight Zone era. It makes me wish Sledge would do his own reboot of the series, as this short film is evidence he would do it justice. The film has a fascinating story, is insanely well acted, and is very pleasing to the eye. While I normally want short films to leave me wanting more of the story, The Recursion Theorem doesn’t quite do that. I think it is great just as it is. Instead it makes me want Sledge to do more similar work, and it makes me want to see Franko in many more screen roles. I think we will be seeing great things from them both in the future.

You can view the short film by clicking here.

OVERALL RATING: 5/5

The Spirit Machine (Short)

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A down on his luck widower searches through a remote home, along with his teenage daughter, looking for old items he could sell for a profit. While rummaging through the piles of junk the daughter finds evidence suggesting Thomas Edison’s last invention may be hidden somewhere on the property. The pair decide to search for the invention known as “The Spirit Machine.” What they find is much more than they bargained for.

When I received the email telling me Timothy Plain had written and directed another horror short I was thrilled. Almost a year ago the first short film I reviewed was another short he directed, Over My Dead Body. While that film was more of a comedic short, Plain went in a different direction for The Spirit Machine. This supernatural adventure will take you back to some of your favorite childhood films. Plain drew inspiration from the booby traps of Indiana Jones films and the frightening specters from Poltergeist, as well as other classic films. The passion that went into the making of this film can even be seen in where the funding came from. In less than a month The Spirit Machine raised a whopping $96,000 on a Kickstarter campaign, and the filmmakers utilized that budget quite well. The sets are more elaborate, the period costumes are beautiful, and both the fabricated items and the CGI are very well done. It is all much better than I would have expected from a short film.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is that the so called “Spirit Machine” may actually exist. While it has never been found, rumors of the machine’s existence have been circulating since the 1920’s. Using this device as a springboard, Plain is able to create a compelling plot that goes even deeper than just the mystery of the machine. While the machine is what brings excitement to the film, this is also very much a story about grief and the relationship between a father and his daughter. It is a story that has a lot of heart behind it. My one true critique would be for a couple of the scenes with the daughter. She often seems a bit too knowledgeable or nonchalant about the strange things that are happening. For example, at one point the girl and her father almost get sliced by a booby trap, and she doesn’t seem even remotely phased by her near-death experience.

The two leads of The Spirit Machine did quite well. Andrea Ferreyra played the teenage daughter, Jane. This is his first acting role in a film, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the short. She does a great job overall. The only thing I found bothersome were those couple scenes where she is simply too nonchalant about what is happening. I know most teens are often that way in real life, but I also think they would be a bit more concerned after almost being decapitated. Will Springhorn (Loaded, Valentine’s Day) also does a great job as the father, Randy. Springhorn vividly portrays the deadbeat dad who would rather find his next moneymaking scheme rather than find a real job. I also want to give honorable mention to Karina Wolfe as the medium, who I recognized from Plain’s previous film, Over My Dead Body.

The Spirit Machine is a nostalgic and spooky adventure with beautiful steampunk touches. Plain does an excellent job of giving audiences a fun film that also goes deeper by touching on the different ways in which people grieve the loss of a loved one. You can tell while watching the film that the cast and crew enjoyed making this short. This film also passes my ultimate test for short films; it works well as it is but leaves just enough to make me want more. The only thing that I found irksome was how the daughter reacted to certain situations, but that is a small enough detail that it doesn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film.

You can view The Spirit Machine on YouTube by clicking here.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5