BITS 2020: Come True (2020)

Come True (2020)

Come True

Director (and screenplay): Anthony Scott Burns

Cast: Julia Sarah Stone, Landon Liboiron, Tedra Rogers, Chantal Perron, Carlee Ryski, Christopher Heatherington

A teenage runaway takes part in a sleep study that becomes a nightmarish descent into the depths of her mind and a frightening examination of the power of dreams. – IMDB

Dreams, nightmares, science fiction and fantasy all come into play when talking about Come True. It starts off on a premise that may feel familiar as its about a teenage runaway who ends up joining a sleep study in order to find a place to stay while making money but at the same time, it helps her look further into her dreams and nightmares. As the study comes to play and it starts to see what the study is about, she starts to get closer to the unknown figure that appears in her sleep. What is reality and nightmare and where does it all draw the line?

Come True is one of the best offerings of BITS 2020 and that has to do with a good combination of everything: visuals, characters, the story and wrapping all that up with a mindblowing ending. The atmosphere creates a building tension. Its a deep question about what is going on with this character and her dreams and how does it all connect which makes it stand out all the more as it creates this looming question. Perhaps what makes it stand out is using one unique situation to build on, giving shape to a more fleshed out situation from it being in the dreams to how dreams a converted into visible elements on screen and then further into how this translates into reality or not. The unknown is the main element of horror and its done fairly well.

These characters and cast are pretty well done also. The character that is the most fleshed out is the main character Sarah, played by Julia Sarah Stone, who experiences this whole situation where is everyone else seems like they just cross by her. However, it never forgets that the main character may be going through her issues but she is still a runaway teenager and she can still have fun with her best friend and find ways to fix her situation on her own even if its an unsettling choice to join an sleep study off some ad for money. She has suffice back story to make the audience care about what she’s going through. On the other side is the researchers who are observing these subjects, including Jeremy, played by Landon Liboiron who seems to be popping up on my radar quite a bit since he was in Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare (review) who is a pretty decent actor and this role is works well for him. Jeremy is also a relatively well-written character. He plays a character that has some unknown motive and creates this connection with Sarah. To be fair, the story focuses on Sarah’s character the most, which is a good direction to not create too many tangents and makes it more complex.

Unlike Anthony Scott Burns debut feature film (review), Come True is definitely a hidden gem. One that carries an intriguing story and a well-crafted atmosphere. Its a mixed genre sci-fi horror that dives into the world of nightmares, dreams and reality, blurring the lines between them. If dreams could be mapped out, wouldn’t that be something, right?

BITS 2020: The Return (2020)

The Return (2020)

The Return

Director (and co-writer): BJ Verot

Cast: Richard Harmon, Sara Thompson, Echo Andersson, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Erik Athavale, Gwendolyn Collins, Zoe Fish, Kristen Sawatzky

After the death of his father, a brilliant college student returns to his family home where he learns that the horrors from his childhood aren’t as dead and gone as he once thought. – IMDB

There’s no doubt that based on the synopsis above that The Return sounds like a unique horror experience. However, The Return isn’t quite as generic as it makes it out to be. In fact, its one that starts off with a general horror tropes seen in ghost stories. Creepy dolls, jumpscares, slamming doors: the basic elements of a haunted house, right? Its all wrapped up a college student going back to his childhood home after his father passes away in a questionable manner. With his girlfriend and best friend in tow, they go to the funeral and sort through the house when his long return dredges up something else and eventually bringing him to dig up some things in the past that he has forgotten.

The Return’s first part although fairly predictable in its scares actually manages to build a decent atmosphere. However, the first part is also the weaker part of the film. Not only are the scares fairly familiar haunted house tropes but its really the pacing of revealing this “ghost/monster” (whatever you want to call it) to quickly that messes up a little of the turning point/twist. With that said, it also tries to pack in too many scares in a short amount of time that decreases the scare element. At one point, the “monster” revealed itself over and over again in quick frequency and anything in frequent amounts tends to dull the effective of what its trying to achieve. With anything lurking in the background, the mystery of how its executed is incredibly important and somehow that seems lose a bit of that in the first half, even though the set up was done well enough story-wise.

The second half is much stronger as it consists of a clever twist and at the same time, it has a lot more action of the characters actually being in some kind of peril. The threat is in action a little more. While some reactions were a little silly, the search for what happened to the main character and his lost memory along with connecting all the dots to why his childhood home is haunted does add a lot to making it much more unique and adding in some of the mixed genre elements, in this case a bit of science fiction and time travel.

The Return is one of those movies that might not be really at first glance or even the beginning segment as the setup does feel a little been there done that in horror films however, once the past of the main character becomes more clear and and the things start to build up along with a clever twist, it does add a lot of charms to it. Its not exactly a pure horror film however, its unique because of this and adds a lot of extra points when those other elements come into play.

BITS 2020: Bloodthirsty (2020)

Bloodthirsty (2020)

Director: Amelia Moses

Cast: Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Michael Ironside, Judith Buchan

Grey is an indie singer who is having visions that she is a wolf. When she gets an invitation to work with notorious music producer Vaughn Daniels at his remote studio in the woods she begins to find out who she really is. – IMDB

After her psychological thriller team-up Bleed With Me, Amelia Moses’s second film at Blood in the Snow Festival is a psychological slow-burn werewolf film, Bloodthirsty. Feeling a bit like the psychological journey of Raw at the beginning with the main character Grey having these dream sequences of eating animals and going with her girlfriend tagging along to a music producer’s remote studio to create her album, it turns into a journey of self-discovery that unleashes another side of her. Without knowing anything about the film, Bloodthirsty feels like a lot of different horror movies and its the unknown the truly gives the first half a slow-burn but intriguing psychological trip. Both Grey and the music producer Vaughn have a mysterious dark edge. Vaughn seems to be hiding something about his past which comes to light as a final twist at the end.

Its always great to see more directors exploring a werewolf premise. Recent years has seen more of this films show up taking different tones. Bloodthirsty is a more serious story about a girl embracing her true nature but at the same time, struggling to let go of her current things. As she unleashes the beast inside, the main question is what are the consequences. Bloodthirsty grabs the right tone and atmosphere. As its characters are music-oriented, the soundtrack is also distinguishes the gradual changes in Grey’s character from the change in her music and the lyrics. Its a great angle and one of the strengths of this movie. Paired up with the remote setting of the house in the woods, they all come into play to give it an ominous feeling.

Looking at the characters, its a small cast that basically floats between the growing connection between Grey, played by Lauren Beatty (also in Bleed With Me which also questions whether the two stories have some sort of connection as both characters revolve around blood) and Vaughn (Greg Bryk). Vaughn becomes something of a mentor who helps Grey find her musical inspirations and make more music but at the same time, he pushes her into a certain direction to follow her desires and temptations starting from little things like eating meat (a big step for her vegan character). There’s a dark side to Vaughn which sometimes plays a little too heavy which destroys a bit of the subtlety of developing Grey’s character which takes a little more time. Perhaps its that push and pull that gives the pacing a little imbalance. Plus, these two dominant characters also render the two supporting characters of Grey’s girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So) and Vaughn’s housekeeper Vera (Judith Buchan) feel a little insignificant except for two scenes respectively that help give the story a push.

Bloodthirsty is a decent horror film. Extra points for taking on the werewolf premise. It has a great setting as well as a good story premise. Lauren Beatty does a decent performance as Grey and same goes for Greg Bryk. Their characters build to the finale. The twist is fairly good although the ending is a little questionable (not exactly to my liking). Its really the imbalanced pacing and some execution choices that leaves me a little less enthused. However, the soundtrack sets the tone really well and a great angle. Plus, Michael Ironside has a cameo/supporting role which is always great to see. Overall, Bloodthirsty is a decent werewolf film but its definitely much more than that as it tackles more of a subtle psychological angle which I do appreciate.

BITS 2020: Bleed With Me (2020)

Bleed With Me (2020)

Director (and writer): Amelia Moses

Cast: Lee Marshall, Lauren Beatty, Aris Tyros

During a winter getaway at an isolated cabin, a self-destructive young woman becomes convinced that her best friend is stealing her blood. – IMDB

Cabin in the woods, cold winter and bunked up for a getaway with a couple and a best friend is the set up for Bleed With Me. The isolation, the single setting and the obligation for the characters to interact with each other builds up through a well-executed atmosphere and tension, wanting or not, its inevitable. As best friends Rowan (Lee Marshall) and Emily (Lauren Beatty)are using this trip to bond, Emily and her boyfriend Branden (Aris Tyros) are there to take some time together where Branden voices his reluctance to bringing Rowan along.

Bleed With Me is shot from Rowan’s angle right from the beginning as she drowsily lies down in the backseat of the car for the road trip. The audience sees what she sees. Its a clever way as her observations and feelings as well as the effects of her blurry sight when she wakes up in the middle of the night keeps the unknown feeling going. As she tells her stories and experiences to Emily and Branden, her character starts to form especially of self-harm issues. Especially since Rowan is set up to be socially awkward especially in this weird third wheel situation as she flails between keeping her distance to give Emily and Branden space but also drinking to try to ease herself and fit into the conversation.

As she starts suspecting that Emily is taking her blood at night and growing increasingly suspicious of her as more cut marks appear on her arm, its a big mystery where the uneasy starts to take effect as it plays on whether she is really experiencing it and Emily has ulterior motives or whether its all in her mind, playing on the psychological horror/thriller element very well. The small cast delivers some good performances, notably Lee Marshall. Although, deliberate or not, Lauren Beatty’s character sometimes feels like its laying the creepy vibes a little heavy, especially when Lee Marshall’s portrayal of Rowan is much more subtle.

Bleed With Me uses its dim setting, the environment and the isolation as well as the character development to give it an unsettling feeling and to keep suspecting between Rowan and Emily. As Rowan explores the cabin on her own and how Emily reacts to certain things, the mystery starts to have a few hints towards what this all is about. While the ending is a tad odd but the sum of its parts and the entire movie before then worked really well together. Using dark settings and low lightings along with her blurry/distorted vision and the horror of the unknown, Bleed With Me is an effectively unsettling horror film.

BITS 2020: For The Sake Of Vicious (2020)

For The Sake Of Vicious (2020)

Directors (and writers): Gabriel Carrer & Reese Eveneshene

Cast: Lora Burke, Nick Smyth, Colin Paradine, T. J. Kennedy, James Fler

An innocent nurse, a tortured maniac and a suspicious hostage face off against a wave of violent intruders as they descend upon their place of refuge on Halloween night. – IMDB

Running at a swift (rare) 80 minutes, For The Sake of Vicious is a revenge action thriller more than a horror movie. Its more of the former than the latter. It starts off quickly with the three character, a nurse playing out like a mediator controlling the situation between two men: a father seeking revenge for his daughter on the man who raped her and the man who he suspects is responsible but evaded his sentence. The tension in the conversation reveals the personality of these characters. Before its resolved, a swarm of masked men come in under command by the man that was seemingly asked by the hostage to come to help. Its unclear how all of this comes into play together. Packed in its single setting and a turn to survival sort of action film, it turns into a non-stop heart-pounding fight scene moving throughout the house as more masked men come in one batch after another. The revenge plot gets a little lost in the action as it loses sight of that angle but turns more towards why these men are asked to attack them.

The single setting of the nurse’s house is a little house with some tight rooms and narrow hallways which gives it a bigger sense of dangerous as the fight scenes moving from one room to the next. The use of the space is explored really well as it uses the items broken to their full purpose and there are some nifty attacks with the tools/weapons that they use. It also helps that the cast did all the stunt themselves which makes it so much more engaging.

The characters also create their own sort of dynamic. As they fight for survival with the infiltration of masked killers and the helmeted assassin (or what I think he is meant to be), Romina (Lora Burke), Chris (Nick Smyth) and Alan (Colin Paradine) end up having to set their differences aside to work together in order to survive and possibly have some resolution to the previous conversation. Lora Burke delivers a stellar performance as usual. Its a different role from her prior roles in Poor Agnes and Lifechanger but one that drives the plot. She finds her strength but still has a side of her that is shocked by the events as any normal person innocently thrusted into this situation would be. Nick Smyth’s role feels a little overacted although it does deliver how his character is very unhinged and troubled and very desperate to get a confession but still has a fight to survive. Colin Paradine’s character is done fine as Alan gets left hanging on whether he is just a shady man or he also is a shady man that raped a child. The verdict hangs in the air since the discussion never finished before the killers arrived giving it that extra thriller element.

Revenge thrillers are always a tough storyline to tackle. In some ways, venturing off from it and focusing on the action, like a dialed down The Raid gives it a lot of style. It makes the revenge plot change direction into something else unexpectedly, making it more suspenseful than if they pushed further with the rape-revenge that could be more emotionally manipulated. This is definitely a decent way to approach this will giving it a little twist. The story gets a little thin because of the heavy focus on the action but somehow, it really does work out to be a satisfying action-packed effectively executed watch.

BITS 2020: Anything For Jackson (2020)

Anything For Jackson (2020)

Director: Justin G. Dyck

Cast: Sheila McCarthy, Julian Richings, Konstantina Mantelos, Josh Cruddas, Yannick Bisson

A bereaved Satanist couple kidnap a pregnant woman so they can use an ancient spellbook to put their dead grandson’s spirit into her unborn child but end up summoning more than they bargained for. – IMDB

Kicking off this year’s Blood in the Snow Festival is Anything For Jackson, a horror film that revolves around Satanism and supernatural possession and an unexpected pair of grandparents in lead roles. Anything For Jackson is a unique horror film. While Satanism is almost never my first choice in horror premise, this one is rather intriguing. Perhaps it has to do with the two awkward grandparents and it might that the expected becomes a little unexpected by the end.

Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings lead this movie as two grandparents who seek out this ancient book that can hopefully bring their grandson back. The movie starts as they execute the first step of the plan which not only giving us two unknown characters but also throwing the viewers into the story right away to gradually learn about them as they interact with the pregnant woman that they kidnapped. The two are truly incredible to watch their roles progress as things inevitably turns out to be more than they bargained. The change in tone right from the start especially on how the two elderly couple breaks out of the expected mold of what grandparents feel like being warm and friendly turns into this other side of them. Turning the known premise on its head right from the start.

Anything For Jackson is more than that. It moves between the present of what they are trying to achieve and the little hiccups along the way and giving a parallel of how they came up on this idea and how they planned the whole thing. As the final act comes into play, the set of their relationship with this kidnapped girl and how it takes a rather different supernatural turn of events as well as the Satanism ritual all pulls in different characters that all come into play. The movie subconsciously takes the viewers for a ride from the structure of one event of the next and each one making it feel more intense and dangerous than the previous time. As more people get added to the equation, the chances of being revealed becomes much more pressing. Its the clever execution that adds so much to this horror film.

Anything For Jackson is a hidden gem. It twists the story right from the start with its leading characters and is probably one of the quickest film to set up its main plot. It only features a handful of characters but the way its filmed and the structure of the story and progression all works out smoothly. Its not exactly a jumpscare sort of film but more of a tension building sort of atmosphere from the cinematography to how the whole thing gets slowly out of the control more and more. The type of movie that’s right up my alley. Let’s face it: there’s no way that its unexpected that things will go out of hand because if they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a movie but it still manages to keep it very engaging. Coming from someone not really into the Satanism angle in horror, this one was a pleasant surprise!

BITS 2020: Shall We Play? (2020)

Shall We Play? (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Anne Forry

Cast: Matreya Scarrwener, Michelle Creber, Jessica McLeod, Philip Granger, Dolores Drake, Blake Williams

A troubled teenage girl, downloads a new app, ‘Shall We Play?’ in an attempt to heal her past but unknowingly, the app possesses her into the game. – IMDB

As we all try to find the new game that can be turned into horror, Shall We Play tries to modernize a familiar game, Ouija except in this case its a phone app called Shall We Play which unleashes an evil that possesses its user. There’s really nothing wrong with the premise that Shall We Play aims for except a lot of things feels a little overused like sound cues, casting choices and even the sinister bits aren’t executed too well, making the movie feel increasingly frustrating to watch as it progresses especially when the beginning does start off well with some mystery and creepy atmosphere to eventually lose its way.

The biggest issue probably would be the writing that makes these characters seem a little flat. The flow having some issues as a result. The dialogue and conversations being one of the bigger issues. There are some characters like Grandma that feels like she’s trying to be creepy but also feels like its meant to be that way. an annoying character of the main character’s friend Jess and a scene that was supposed to be a turning point get really oddly scripted. The mom character also had some issues, not exactly the acting but just how the character dialogue gave her this really unbearable feeling.

With that said, the main character Stacy, played by Matreya Scarrwener was done really well. She was able to move through the possession phase well and grasping the different changes in her personality. At the same time, the character design of her the other friend Emma played by Michelle Creber was also a good element. They both seem reasonable as friends and work together logically.

Considering that the premise of evil possession isn’t exactly my cup of tea and the second half didn’t really give justice to how it started, Shall We Play definitely already starts off a little less in my favor. Shall We Play tries to be different but the script and dialogue that lets it down more than the atmosphere that it creates. There’s some decent use of sound design at the beginning and a couple of effective jumpscares so overall, a rather middling horror experience.

BITS 2019: Hunter’s Moon (World Premiere 2019)

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Hunter’s Moon (2019)

Hunter's Moon

Director (and co-writer): Matthew Campagna

Cast: Steven Morana, Holly Deveaux, Ari Millen, Colm Feore, Katie Boland, Art Hindle, Marco Timpano, Bobbie Philips, Melissa D’Agostino, Jon Cor

A creature-feature twist on the Agatha Christie Whodunit thriller-genre, that turns into an action-packed race for survival when the killer is revealed. – IMDB

I always say that werewolf movies are really not done enough. In fact, if you look back at the last while, there really hasn’t been too many without them having to pair with the vampires world or some other world. Its why Hunter’s Moon is a movie that hits a lot of elements that become very intriguing and one that breaks through overused topics especially as it hits a clever style of whodunnit (which is a fairly challenging mystery to tackle) and action-paced survival.

Hunter’s Moon is about a video game launch party that has to be hosted by their introvert and anti-social lead designer, August (Steven Morana) who reluctantly takes the reins when the game development company’s owner Brian (Art Hindle) is under scrutiny for some questionable practices. While August would prefer to be anywhere else but the party, he is motivated to be there to meet an online friend, Cheyenne (Holly Deveaux) that he has been interested in furthering their relationship. Unfortunately, the party takes a turn when the guests start falling dead in different ways and its seeming that the game is somehow coming to life in its way. As they try to survive while deciphering who is behind all this, its a rather wild ride.

There’s this very cheesy satisfaction to Hunter’s Moon. Its not that the effects aren’t done well or that there are any technical elements that aren’t done on point. Actually, the scenes itself including the cinematography and the atmosphere matches with the style here, whether its in the first part of the whole who-dunnit mystery investigation or the second part where its a game of survival. The story here feels like a fun little ride. Its never really that intense but its an entertaining fun time, which feels like what its partially trying to achieve. The oddest part of the film is some weird change in tones with its background music especially one specific scene that gets some sudden action happens and then switches to some sexy music. Its a bit odd in the beginning but then its also something has this very satisfying moment to it all in the most awkward way. Plus, the whole werewolf transformation (which is a key element in werewolf films) as well as the whole blood and gore is executed pretty good.

If there were any little things that may have fell a little short, it might be that some of the characters weren’t written well or there was some overacting for some of the supporting cast. There are quite a few smaller roles here and its a question of whether they were intended to have this bit of over the top elements to give them a sort of more comedic element to the film. I can’t quite decide the intention yet. Other than that, there is a certain level of deliberateness to how some items come into play like Cheyenne having a gun in her purse for example. Coincidences sometimes gives the film a level of being on rails but yet, there are quite a bit of unpredictable turns here and transitions that do take it off guard mostly in a good way.

The main cast was very fun to watch including Steve Morana as the male lead here who has this subtle intensity to this character behind his introvert personality paired up with Holly Deveaux as Cheyenne who is a rather bad-ass female character. There are some comedic reliefs  as well as some other more intense characters like Remy (Ari Millen) and even a supporting role from Colm Feore (who honestly seems to appear in some of the less expected films).

Overall, Hunter’s Moon has some little things that fall short here and there but its a fun little experience. Its always great to see these lesser used film story telling themes/genre get used and in one film, they hit werewolves and whodunnit all in one shot along with the backdrop of a video game launch party turned into a night of survival which somehow all fits together rather well. Its shot well and the atmosphere is done well and between all this supposedly more suspenseful environment, there still a good balance of fun entertaining elements. Its a satisfying film overall to watch and so much to appreciate.

As an ending thought, the ending does leave me wondering whether there is space for a sequel because that could be fun.

BITS 2019: Dark Visions Shorts Program

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The last shorts program to be presented at Blood in the Snow Festival 2019 is Dark Visions which features 10 Canadian short films which are dark, scary, moody and intense. 9 of which I was able to check out remotely.

BITS 2019 Dark Visions

Romi (2019)

Romi

Director: Robert Cuffley

Cast: Camille Sullivan

Romi is a 10 minute short about a woman who is terrorized by her virtual assistant Romi after it keeps refusing to let go of her past. This short is fantastically well-executed. In terms of building up the horror of technology and meshing somewhat with the paranormal to add it all together to make it a scary world when technology manages every aspect of everyday life that its malfunction or abnormality will cause uncontrollable consequences. Romi also shot really well with each frame capturing so much in it, giving it space to anticipate something that may or may not happen. This short is every bit scary the event of her past starts to reveal itself again as she tries to push it away and forget it.

The Thought of You (2019)

The Thought of You

Director (and writer): Elvis Deane

Cast: Avelyn Graye, Aundreya Thompson, Letréal Farquharson, Aziza Jaffer

A woman tries to move on from the events of a violent night, but finds that it’s not only trauma that comes clawing back. – IMDB

The Thought of You is almost completely filled in the beginning by a monologue that recaps the traumatic event that has happened and fills in the information with news headlines of what happened for a vague idea. On one hand, the distress of the woman is felt from the start but its easy to feel that the second half as the trauma comes back to haunt her that it makes it much more unsettling to watch. The tension built up in the second half of the short definitely seeps through effectively and the ending it chooses is also great for the situation, leaving a little space for imagination.

Abhorrent (2019)

Abhorrent

Director (and co-writer): David Scott

Cast: Stacey Iseman, Garth Wigle, Alex Friesen, Elliott Scott

Abhorrent is a 15 minute short film about a woman who learns about her husband’s sinister secret and decides to take action to prevent her sons from being badly influenced. Abhorrent is very odd. The way the characters talk are rather weird but then maybe its just the emphasis on the odd characters, making them feel more unsettling to watch. The story itself in the big reveal and all the secrets revealed in the 15 minutes are actually pretty decent. The story itself thought probably could have been done in less time. There’s definitely something more to the story and it leaves a little bit of questions at the end from the different elements of what has hinted at but never completely revealed until the end. The ending is more satisfying than the whole process of the short perhaps.

Polar Tour (2019)

Polar Tour

Director (and writer): Dustin McGladrey

Cast: Delphine Menu, Elizabeth Potskin, Matt Paynter, Crow Billy

Three university friends embark on an adventure they hope never to forget. They chose the Arctic to go polar bear sighting. On their first tour, the engine of the bus breaks down. Isolated, cold and in the dark; they wait for rescue. – IMDB

Polar Tour is a simple short film. Its one that shows three friends stuck in a van stalled in the Arctic. Its not exactly quite as refined and is definitely rather expected but somehow, the isolation and how it uses its territory and the dangers that come with it does work to a certain extent. It doesn’t pull anything out of the ordinary but I have seen a film that tries to use polar bears (even though unseen) as a danger horror element and not a lot of films will have friends heading down to the freezing Arctic instead of the beach or something. It definitely has its unique elements but maybe its just a tad short to have enough of the premise fleshed out to make it have more impact.

Pepper (2019)

Pepper

Director: Kate Felix

Cast: Stennie Bell, Jennifer Hardy, Mathew Chenuz

Pepper is a 7 minute short film about Fidelma who is desperately looking for a job and ends up finding one with Weylon’s farm as his assistant to help him out. When she gets sent to do her first task, it turns out that it might be more than she expected. Its an intriguing little short that plays a lot on the unknown. The mystery of finding Pepper is the main basis as she follows the barks throughout the barn and she gradually starts seeing different things that make her (and the viewers) wonder where it is and probably what twist there is (because it gets oddly suspicious).

Foret noire (2018)

foret noire

Director (and writer): Jean-Marc E. Roy & Philippe David Gagné

Cast: Pascale Montpetit, Charli Arcouette-Martineau, Joanie Guérin, Nadia Essadiqi, Fayolle Jean

Foret Noire is a 20 minutes short about the reenactment of a crime scene ordered by a judge in France to clear up inconsistencies in the murder case, bringing back the three women involved to relive the day step by step in detail. This short is definitely longer in length than most shorts produced and because of that it has a lot of depth to every element. The place that its filmed has this sense of isolation. At the same time, the characters themselves and the little details in their moments and reactions as well as what some of the outside characters observing the case and the Judge’s requests of the little details make the inconsistencies stand out and truly highlight what might actually have been the truth behind the situation or at least where the differences may have occurred without actually ever making it crystal clear on what the truth is. Leaving a little bit of mystery adds so much charm to the storytelling here.

Le otto dita della morte (2018)

le otto dita della morte

Director (and writer): Frédéric Chalté

Cast: Rose-Marie Perreault, Pierre Pinchiaroli

An homage to Italian giallo and an affectionate tribute to the genre in the form of a 70s theatrical trailer for a fantasized faux-film from that era with Italian voice-over pastiche. – IMDB

Structured like a music video of sorts and adding a lot of theatre and drama to each of the scenes adds a lot of style to this short film. Le otto dita della morte has a story that might not be wildly clear on what is going on exactly  but for its short length, it lands to a certain extent of what its trying to pay tribute to. While the music itself is not exactly and some of the style here isn’t exactly something that I particularly like, but the story has some nice elements to it.

She Must Vanish (2019)

she must vanish

Director (and writer): Kyle Martellacci

Cast: Anne-Carolyne Binette, Renny Jachowicz, Meri Spencer, Quinn Bennett, Valerie Taller

In a seaside town, residents succumb to the malevolence of a witch, who sets a fury in motion. – IMDB

Tales about witches are always fascinating to see where it can now take its stories and unique spins from the traditional knowledge of their existence. Meshing a bit of the old and new, this witch tale She Must Vanish has some subtleties as well as the first act that gives it a lot of style in how its all executed from its lighting to to the little details on the witch. However, a lot of the follow-up afterwards uses a simple town and normal everyday and meeting some incredibly cryptic woman along the way that ends up leading to a scene that becomes rather unsettling (and was meant to be) to a scene that felt rather set up but ends on quite a high note in how the witch is revealed. This short is somewhat of a wild ride.

Lady in the Shower (2018)

Lady in the Shower

Director (and writer): Chris Borgo

Cast: Laura Woodbeck, Jennifer Swistun, Chris Borgo

A woman with a shady secret is haunted by a mysterious entity, while taking a shower in a historic hotel. – IMDB

Lady in the Shower is one of the more predictable sort of horror shorts in this group. It has the normal tropes in horror films in general from shadows to what the woman’s secret is and the whole deal behind it even up to some of the ending little bit. At the same time, what does stand out in this short is how the cinematography really does help a more familiar sort of horror give it the style it needs to stand out and become visually appealing.

Short not reviewed from this shorts program:

Dreamcatcher (director: Michael Alexander Uccello)

BITS 2019: Z (2019)

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Z (2019)

Z

Director (and co-writer): Brandon Christensen

Cast: Keegan Connor Tracy, Jett Klyne, Sean Rogerson, Sara Canning, Stephen McHattie, Chandra West

A family find themselves terrorized by their eight-year-old son’s imaginary friend. – IMDB

Coming in a year where Daniel isn’t Real (review) was an outstanding film with an well-crafted evil imaginary friend, Z takes on their own take on what can be done with the imaginary friends premise as well. Taking home the Best Director and Best Feature at the Blood in the Snow Festival this year, this movie does definitely pack quite a punch. 

Its easy nowadays to quickly assume that creepy children and evil actions and the whole lurking camera can bring a lot of general unsettled feeling. Z is a bit different. While it starts off in that familiar way, there is a hint of many great horror films and how it is execute from toning its scene into darker tones inside the house to create the atmosphere and playing with the off-scene sound effects while having the story scripted to progress in a well-paced delivery. These all add up to effective scares and a lot of them are land very well. There are quite a few startling jump scares that are delivered through its atmosphere, lighting and building the tension.

Z

The cast here also delivers some solid performances. The most notable comes from lead actress as Beth played by Keegan Connor Tracy who plays the mother who realizes that her son’s imaginary friend might actually be real and causing him to do troubling things. Beth has a lot of depth and character development and its a fairly subtle performance most of the time with little reactions and expressions running the show until the bigger moments happen. Taking on the creepy child aka the troubled son role as Joshua is Jett Klyne (who we also saw in another BITS 2019 film in Puppet Killer) who definitely delivers on this without any overacting and making it very unsettling. Finally, two actor and actress, Stephen McHattie and Sara Canning respectively, always appears in the most unexpected places and also puts in some great performances as the respective roles of psychiatrist and sister of Beth. 

A family is terrorized by their eight-year-old son's imaginary friend.

Perhaps the one thing to criticize about Z would be that that possibly its budget limited its polish of its effects. In a fire scene, there was some very apparently unreal fire and smoke circling the screen. The appearance of some of the scares while landed really well, also had the after effect of suffering one or two times from having this goofy CGI as well that took about the scare afterwards by a little. This is where we need to talk about creature design of Z, the imaginary friend in question. Z is revealed step by step and there’s a few creepy scenes that works however, there are some moments in close-up or in faster motion that gives it less of the finesse and fear that it should instigate. Luckily, the horror is maintained by how the scene was built up in advance to play up the moment, giving Z’s appearance more of a fleeting jumpscare moment. It is most effective and also frequently, remaining as the unseen presence.

Z

Overall, Z is quite a breath of fresh air. Director Brandon Christensen crafts a movie with very good horror atmosphere. There are some tropes and predictable elements at the beginning but it quickly also increasingly adds in some surprises that startles whether as jump scares or traumatic scenes or simply finding a way to change it to have its own unique elements. Despite some minor CGI effects falling short, this indie horror film takes an innocent imaginary friend concept and breaths a lot of life and builds the tension using its atmosphere and all the surrounding elements as well as great performances by Keegan Connor Tracy and Jett Klyne. A lot of Z’s charm lies in its surprises and unique twists that it takes leading into unexpected territory.