Short Film

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

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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)

Favorite Things: Best of 2017

Disclaimer: 2017 was a busy, stressful, and emotional year. Between working full time, going to school full time, trying to maintain this website, and dealing with personal issues, I have neglected my site more than I care to admit. As a result there are several films I saw in 2017 that I unfortunately never had time to write reviews for. Instead of stressing out about it and trying to cram multiple reviews into the last few days of the year, I’ve decided to instead start 2018 with a clean slate. Some of the films in my top 10 list I did not write reviews for, but I will include a number rating for those films and links to the full reviews for others.

Ok, now for the fun stuff. There were many amazing great horror films, shorts, and TV shows in 2017. Here are my top picks for the year!

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2017

10. It Comes at Night

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This film suffered from misleading advertising. Between the name and the trailer, audiences got the impression it was going to be a very different film than what they got. Looking past that, It Comes at Night is still an intense film that puts audiences in the frame of mind of the main characters. All we know is there is an end-of-the-world type virus killing everyone, but no one knows anything more about the virus or what is going on in the rest of the world. The concept, along with a stellar performance from Joel Edgerton (The Gift), makes for a suspenseful film that sticks with you. OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

9. A Dark Song

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A Dark Song is a polarizing film. The majority of the plot is a slow burn showing the meticulous ritual a mother goes through to get revenge on those who killed her son. The climax then goes in a wildly different direction leading to a fascinating image that some will love and others will hate. Personally, I thought it all worked well together, and the two leads are both fantastic, especially Catherine Walker (Critical) as Sophia. Click here for my full review.

8. IT (2017)

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The latest adaptation may not have had the scares everyone expected, but it was exciting, well written, and had a superb cast of young actors. This film managed to make Pennywise a much more terrifying monster because they actually showed him being violent towards kids, something lacking in the first adaptation (and something many horror films don’t have the guts to do). This film makes me excited to see part two. Click here for my full review.

7. Hell House LLC

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There is one thing that makes me love Hell House LLC so much; it is not only the scariest film I saw in 2017, but it is also the scariest film I can think of in recent memory. Writer/director Stephen Cognetti took the more subtle approach with his scares, and it definitely paid off. This film is a perfect example of found footage done right. Click here for my full review.

6. The Devil’s Candy

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Metal music and the devil go hand-in-hand in The Devil’s Candy. The film is haunting and atmospheric, utilizing music to drive the plot down a dark and twisted path. The great story is accompanied by an even greater performance by none other than Ethan Embry (Empire Records). This could be Embry’s most powerful performance yet. Click here for my full review.

5. Gerald’s Game

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I hadn’t read Stephen King’s book before seeing Gerald’s Game. The plot sounds like something that wouldn’t work in a feature length film, but director Mike Flanagan made a thrilling and suspenseful film with various scenes that won’t leave my mind anytime soon. The film also has one of the strongest female performances of the year from Carla Gugino (San Andreas). OVERALL RATING: 8/10

4. Tragedy Girls

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Tragedy Girls was one of the most fun film experiences I had this year. It is disturbing, hilarious, and sweet all at the same time. Both Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse) and Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) deliver hilarious performances with great chemistry between the two of them. The film perfectly displayed the lives of teenage girls; these teenage girls just happen to be serial killers. OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

3. Get Out

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Jordan Peele gave audiences a socially poignant thriller that is equal parts disturbing and funny. Get Out may be one of the most important horror films to come out this year because of the social climate throughout the country. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s just a genuinely great film with an interesting story and lots of little hidden meanings throughout. Click here for my full review.

2. Raw

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For most of the year Raw held the number 1 spot on my list of favorite films in 2017. While it got bumped at the last minute, this film still stands out in my mind. Raw is a French film focusing on a girl going through a sexual awakening while also discovering she has cannibalistic tendencies. The film is intense, unsettling, and even beautiful. Click here for my full review.

1. The Shape of Water

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The Shape of Water is not only my favorite film of 2017, but it just might be my new favorite film of all time. It is visually stunning, well acted, and has a beautiful story that many people will be able to relate to. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Elisa. Guillermo del Toro yet again proves that he is a master of his craft with this gorgeous piece of art. Click here for my full review.

Honorable mention: Dave Made a Maze, The Night Watchmen, The Babysitter, Boys in the Trees, Better Watch Out.

TOP SHORT FILMS OF 2017

TOP TV SHOWS OF 2017

  • The Exorcist
  • Stranger Things
  • Bates Motel (series ended in 2017)
  • American Horror Story: Cult
  • Grimm (series ended in 2017)

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

Foxglove (Short)

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In a remote area of Western Ireland, an engineer lives with his young daughter. He is there to continue work on a wind turbine project. The engineer decides to sign off on building more of these turbines, despite concerns of the environmental impacts. Soon after, it becomes clear that he and his daughter are being targeted by something ancient, and it is not pleased by the changes to its land.

I was lucky enough to get to view this short by director Brian Deane after discussing his previous short, Blight. While the two shorts are very different in theme and plot, they are both frightening tales. Foxglove is a chilling story set in modern times. What I really love about the plot is that it takes a modern concept like finding renewable energy and adds in elements of ancient folklore. Most of the folklore that is referenced in this short comes from old stories about fairy folk and fairy rings. Even today, folklore is a part of Irish tradition. The film made the combination of these two opposing aspects meld together to create a fascinating plot. While I will spare specific details, I will say the end of this short film made my jaw drop in the best way possible. It was simple, yet shockingly effective.

The acting in this short was also quite powerful. Bob Kelly (1916 Seachtar Dearmadta) played Dave, the engineer father. It is clear that Kelly’s character is concerned about the environmental impact of his wind turbine project, but circumstances are keeping him from taking the time to make sure it is safe for the environment. When his actions lead his family into darkness, the desperation that a father feels when protecting his child comes across as intense and genuine. Not only did Kelly star in this short, but he wrote it as well.

Foxglove makes excellent use of “unseen” characters. Throughout the story you hear the fairy folk speaking to Roisin, the young daughter. While we cannot understand what they are saying, or see them, Roisin clearly does. It almost makes it even more menacing not to see the very thing you are supposed to be afraid of. On the other hand, the wind turbines are also a bit of an unseen character. The turbines are shown from time to time, but even when they are not on screen you can hear them around the house. During the final moments of the short, the sounds from the wind turbines act as a score. It is a very effective approach that adds to the intensity of the last few moments.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: what makes a short successful for me is that it works in the small run time it has, but it leaves me wanting more. This is a short I can easily see becoming a feature length film. What I would especially love to see is the plot going deeper into the ancient folklore surrounding the fairy folk. Luckily, I knew a bit about the stories from other films and books, but some viewers might not be as aware. When this short becomes available online, or if it is showing at a festival near you, run, don’t walk, to see it. Foxglove is a chilling story that brings the dark side of fairy tales into the modern age.

OVERALL RATING: 5/5 (short film scale)