TADFF 2021: The Free Fall (2021)

The Free Fall (2021)

Director: Adam Stilwell

Cast: Andrea Londo, Shawn Ashmore, Jane Badler, Michael Berry Jr., Elizabeth Cappuccino, Dominic Hoffman

After attempting to take her own life, a young woman must wrestle with an overbearing husband. – IMDB

The big finale for my coverage of Toronto After Dark Film Festival is also the high point of the entire festival with this clever, thrilling and tense psychological horror film. There is so much to love about it and yet, what really pulls it together is its fantastic twist that gives this movie such a unique concept that pulls together the whole film in a way that hasn’t been done before (at least in my film experience). I don’t want to dive into the details as that will definitely ruin what makes this so cleverly structured and written. With any film which relies heavily on the ending being able to pull all its pieces together in a rewarding way for its audience, it also comes with a lot of mysteries and questions built out throughout that will definitely be very mindboggling and confusing. However, trust me on this one, if you stick it out, the ending is well worth it.

Moving away from the element that I can’t talk about, there’s a lot of other things that make this film pretty well-executed. The first has to be its one setting. One setting films are really quite fun as it works well to use its space efficiently, having spaces left to be explored and in this case, with a main character suffering from amnesia also brings in going into spaces that may or may not bring in new memories and create different atmospheres.

The atmosphere is also built up pretty well especially when it comes to the imagery and visuals. The house itself having a lot to do with how some shots are set up in an appealing way. The atmosphere also changes with the fluctuation of the main character Sara as she struggles with what she is seeing in reality or her imagination. It brings in a lot of darker and sinister moments that create the horror lurking in the background whether its through reflections or dark spaces. At the same time, there’s a nice control of how to use some of the scenes repeatedly but also expanding on them to add more to the story as it progresses.

A lot of credit does have to go to the cast here. Andrea Londo as Sara does a great job right from the start as she experiences the trauma that drags her into this situation where she struggles with recovering from amnesia and dealing with all the odd and suspicious things that seems to be happening in her home. Andrea Londo has a good control over her role which is ever so important here as it makes sure there isn’t any overacting. Much like Shawn Ashmore who also delivers a good performance as the husband Nick. Nick’s character is suspicious right at the beginning and in some ways, its meant to have that feeling especially when amnesia and suspicious husband roles come into play as they are estranged characters that haven’t been introduced until that moment. His character develops and changes over the course of the film especially in its character’s intensity and calmness that delivers a different layer.

Overall, The Free Fall is an outstanding psychological horror film. Thrillers are so hard to do great and this one manages to make the ending so rewarding and gives such a unique angle to the horror subgenre that its tackling. The writer Kent Harper deserves a lot of credit. The cast, the cinematography, the writing are all really well-executed, making this film well worth a watch.

TADFF 2021: Ditched (2021)

Ditched (2021)

Director (and writer): Christopher Donaldson

Cast: Marika Silas, Mackenzie Gray, Kris Loranger, Declan O’Reilly, Lara Taillon, Shawna Pliva McGill, Reamonn Joshee, Lee Lopez, Michelle Molineux, J. Lindsay Robinson

After a routine prison transfer crashes in the forest, young Inuit paramedic Melina finds herself surrounded by murderers with a mere 100 feet to climb out of a ditch to escape. When they are attacked by an unseen force in the forest, Melina’s short journey to safety becomes the ultimate contest of wills. – IMDB

Ditched is a 2021 Canadian survival horror film where it almost feelings like Panic Room but in an isolated country road but instead of an actual panic room, its the insides of an overturned ambulance. As the people involved in the accident both in the police car and the ambulance wakes up, they start to realize that there is a group of brutal killers outside waiting to kill each one of them one by one.

The isolated ditch in the middle of nowhere at night is a wonderful horror/thriller setting. It brings in the helplessness and the fear even more as the unknowns lie in the dark. The mystery also comes from why this group has targeted them specifically: Is it for the prisoners that are being transferred or is it just for the hunt itself? The questions that build up do get answered gradually towards the middle which does feel like the reveal is a little bit early at times as this leads into this long face-off period which loses steam as the final confrontation is also drawn out as it faces down to almost monologue moment that also feels a little tedious. This is definitely a pacing issue with the script itself as perhaps the entire plot was structured a little straightforward in the beginning that there isn’t as many angles to play with in execution.

With that said, the tension that is built in the first act is done really well and does trail into a good portion of the second act. A lot of it also comes down to some well-structured kills as they go through them one by one while they try to survive in their own way. Its a rather psychological battle for the most part as well as a battle of the wits in the final act. While there are quite a few characters in these interactions, the main few do focus around Melina the paramedic, the strapped down manipulative prisoner as well some other paramedics that make it out. As they use the resources in their tight ambulance space to survive, it does make for some nice fight back moments.

The main element with Ditched is that where it works and doesn’t work is in its plot. Where is doesn’t work is in how it seems to get to the reveal point of what the goal is as mentioned before. However, it also works in the plot as it creates this more conflicted view towards people in general where it makes the audience think about whether the killers are actually bad and the survivors are actually good. In more simple terms, the gray area gets explored here in human nature and probably how some people aren’t exactly what meets the eye completely while also leaving some room at the end for a little further contemplation about whether what is done as the big finale is actually justified.

Overall, Ditched is a decent horror thriller. It does show a lot of low budget elements. It also does feel like it has a lot of influences in terms how certain moments are treated. The director’s message at the beginning does talk about his intentions of creating something that feels like it been the missing 80s film that no one ever saw before but finally get a 4K release and in many moments, it definitely feels like an 80s film whether in dialogue or the effects or how certain scenes are structured.

TADFF 2021: Nightshooters (2018)

Nightshooters (2018)

Director (and writer): Marc Price

Cast: Adam McNab, Nicky Evans, Rosanna Hoult, Jean-Paul Ly, Richard Sandling, Kaitlyn Riordan, Mica Proctor, Nicholas Aaron, Ben Shafik, Doug Allen

An action thriller about a group of filmmakers who find themselves on the run from a violent horde of criminals after witnessing a brutal gangland execution. Unable to flee the derelict building they have been shooting in, the hapless film crew must use their technical skill and cinematic knowledge to defend themselves. The stunt man is a martial arts master, the special effects guru disregards safety and sets lethal traps, and the sound department strategically lay radio mics to detect when the hoodlums are on their way. Cue lots of thrills in a cat and mouse game of survival. – IMDB

For fans of The Raid and Snatch, there’s a lot to love about Nightshooters, a low budget action thriller that takes place in one location, a soon-to-be demolished building which almost feels like some kind of the real situation being reflected in a more fictional setting but similar as the story also features a group of filmmakers making a low budget film in a soon to be demolished building with a few hours countdown. This right away sets up this urgency that this will come into play as the two groups goes up against each other. While there is not actual counter, its a little detail that really does bring the setting as a constant reminder.

When the crew ends up witnessing a crime execution in the other side of the way and the criminals goes after them in this building, its all a great set-up in the first act which sets the tone especially in terms of the dark comedy and the characters involved and their basic characters and abilities. Much like how it naturally flows into some fantastic action sequences and choreography when it gets into the criminals against filmmakers running and hiding through this building which is both dangerous as it already has all its demolishment explosives in place which could easily be triggered but also the criminals being rather a wide group of characters and lethal in their own ways as well.

Talking about the characters, there’s so much to love about them as well especially when it comes to the film crew themselves. This group is definitely the characters which are meant for the audience to connect to a lot more. Their different roles and their abilities and know-how come into play as they try to survive the chase from the other criminals. With a lot of the action sequences powered by a fantastic action choreography and sequences with Donnie played by Jean-Paul Ly (also, could the name be a nod to Donnie Yen?), there’s some exceptional moments here through these fight scenes.

However, not only their more professional fight sequences are great to watch but also a moment where the more amateur fight moments like one with the character Kim (Mica Proctor) which was a lot of fun but the other character encounters also leading to some creative death sequences as they defeated the criminals one by one. There are some really cool effects executed there. The stand-out characters has to be the three girls of the film crew as they are very resourceful especially Ellie (Rosanna Hoult) who has some foreshadowing in what she will use at the beginning but also a lot of other know-hows that effectively come into play. Of course, for much more personal reasons, Kim is a character I rooted for (considering I’m also a Kim and she kind of reminded me of myself).

Overall, Nightshooters is a really entertaining low budget action thriller. Its effective in what it achieves as the setting and the tone is used really well. There are definitely nods to other films throughout that are rather apparent but also fit incredibly well and adds to the film itself. There’s a cast of characters that have their own value and personality which adds contrast and makes them all stand-out and fun to watch. Nightshooters has a very straightforward plot which works well with what they are trying to do.

*Nightshooters is available on Toronto After Dark Film Festival from October 13th to 17th on their virtual platform. You check it out HERE*

TADFF 2021: Post Mortem (2020)

Post Mortem (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Peter Bergendy

Cast: Viktor Klem, Fruzsina Hais, Judit Schell, Andrea Ladanyi, Zsolt Anger

A post mortem photographer and a little girl confront ghosts in a haunted village after the First World War. – IMDB

This year’s Toronto After Dark is definitely new experiences coming one after another. Post Mortem is a Hungary horror film. Being someone who hasn’t seen a Hungary film before, this is a completely new territory to explore. Horror movies especially revolving ghosts and hauntings are the creepiest types of horror in my personal opinion so this one was right up my alley.

Port Mortem is set during the times of World War I and after that and the Spanish Flu and centred around a photographer Tomas (Viktor Klem) that has survived a near death experience during the war to come out afterwards selling his craft as a post mortem photography. A little girl Anna (Fruzsina Hais) shows up one day from a neighboring village and asks him to help with her own town’s hauntings. Packed with part skepticism and curiosity, he goes to the town as weird things start happening as he helps the recently deceased and their families with their post mortem photographs.

The story overall is pretty good. The whole investigation and a stranger going into a small village brings in a lot of suspense as he is discovering what’s going on along with the audience. Plus, ghost stories are rather appealing overall especially when it involves hauntings where this one is executed rather well in terms of plot. The film does almost reach 2 hours in length so in the middle it does seem to drag out a little. The setting and time period adds a certain level of atmosphere which makes almost like a gray filter over the screen and adds a very gloomy feeling.

The idea of post mortem photographs in itself is a pretty creepy thing in general. A lot of the unsettling horror moments do involve the actual post mortem photography as Tomas sets up his shots and works with the different bodies. A lot of unexplained things happen creating some great scary and unsettling moments. There are also other rather mysterious and sinister things that happen creating a good part of the horror and bringing in the ghost element a little bit more as Tomas and Anna try to find out why this is happening and what it wants. Some other horror elements include some possession going on which has a rather scary sequence with a little boy involved at one point while in contrast, there’s a part in the final act which sees a lot of people being pulled up levitating in the air that feels a little overdone.

In terms of characters, its main focus is on Tomas and Anna who are really good characters overall. They do have their own little stories through conversations which shed some light on the village itself. At the same time, there is a deeper meaning to Tomas for agreeing to do this for an unknown little girl which also builds up on their dynamic as they investigate together. The older character and the younger girl does have this protective element to it especially putting in contrast their reactions to the scary events happening. I’d like to say that Anna, played by Fruzsina Hais is absolutely fantastic. She is such a charming character despite her age.

Overall, Post Mortem is a pretty effective ghost haunting horror film. There are some moments which feel a little stretched out and some horror elements feel a tad overused losing its effect and actually having an oddly comedic feeling to it. However, its core element of photography and recording technology in that time and era is incorporated well, much like using the post mortem photography as an effective horror element. Its definitely one worth checking out!\

*Post Mortem is currently available from October 13th to 17th on Toronto After Dark Film Festival’s virtual platform. You can find all the info HERE!*

TADFF 2021: Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020)

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Yernar Nurgaliyev

Cast: Daniar Alshinov, Asel Kaliyeva, Azamat Marklenov, Yerlan Primbetov, Dulyga Akmolda, Almat Sakatov, Rustem Zhaniyamanov, Yerkebulan Daiyrov, Bekaris Akhetov

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is a 2020 Kazakhstan horror comedy that tells the story of Dastan (Daniar Alshinov), a husband awaiting the birth of his child. As his wife Zhanna (Asel Kaliyeva) hounds him over the name for their first child, he suddenly decides to take a day trip to escape with his two friends, Arman (Azamat Marklenov) and Murat (Yerlan Primbetov) to go fishing on the countryside. As they start their fishing, they end up seeing something that they shouldn’t have and from then on, their fishing trip takes a dangerous turn as they need to run for their lives to not get caught and get out of this predicament alive.

First off, let’s go on the record that this is definitely the first Kazakhstan film that I’ve ever seen. Being completely new to country’s offerings, this was a really great first film experience. The film starts off setting the tone pretty well with a lot of comedy between the couple quarrelling over their newborn baby and the name that they should give it. From the reactions to the facial expressions to the whole interaction, it gives a good idea of the main character Dastan right away and also sets up the comedy tone right away. The film is not about this couple though because shortly after, Dastan runs off for a fishing trip with his two buddies. During the car ride, it reveals a lot about these three guys and the ridiculousness and in turn, the hilarity that will ensue especially when the truck is full of sex dolls that ends up being turned into a makeshift raft when these three going on a fishing trip and know nothing about fishing.

At the same time, the film also focuses on a group of mobs/psychopaths living in the area that is bringing their hostage to settle some issues with them when they end up angering a killer in the vicinity who goes after them one by one. As this group crosses with Dastan’s group and they witness something that they shouldn’t, the mob ends up chasing their group as the one-eyed killer goes after them and then all three get tangled with each other. Thing is, the film’s horror comes from the one-eyed killer hunting down them and the different ways that he kills them right up to the end. At the same time, it mixes in these hilariously ridiculous moments that are so over the top that its hard to not find it funny even if some of it is so silly and absurd. And yet, somehow it works so well and creates a fantastic balance between the comedy and the “horror”.

The film does have really good pacing. Its executed really well as it does pick up as it moves along especially when these guys are all chasing after one and another. Right down to some pretty well-choreographed action sequence in the final act as they all reconvene in a tight space trying to get out of this. There are some other moments where this feels very apparent with their action sequences. It almost feels a little comedic like one moment where one of the friends flies through the window and then ends up coming back through the other window on the other side almost feeling like a cartoon.

Overall, Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is this fun little slice of life horror comedy especially for these friends as they experience this whole predicament which feels too ridiculous to believe. As usual, comedy is a rather subjective thing so perhaps this feel might feel dumb to some people but I’m a big fan of over the top absurdities and this film is a absolute trip, an awesome one at that!

*Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is available to stream across Canada on Toronto After Dark Film Festival’s virtual platform throughout the festival from October 13th to 17th. You can check it out HERE along with the rest of the schedule.*

TADFF 2021: Canadian Shorts After Dark

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2021 goes completely virtual this year as it kicks off its 15th annual edition milestone filling five days of horror, sci-fi and action films from October 13th to 17th. If you are in Canada, film festival access is nationwide so you probably don’t want to miss out! You can find the schedule line-up HERE.

Kicking off the festival on Day 1 to start off in a little bit of a unique way and probably the way I’m used to previously covering TADFF is with its short films selections. Nothing like some Canadian Shorts to kick things off with 9 short films in the Canadian Shorts After Dark showcase. There’s a few that I have seen before in film festivals but the majority are first time watches.

Morbus (2020)

Director: Kerim Banka
Cast: Nicole Hrgetic, Benjamin Liddell, Konstantina Mantelos

Morbus is a second watch and one that I remembered fairly well except I can’t remember from which festival I first saw it and then didn’t end up reviewing. However, better late than never as Morbus does have a rather intriguing premise.

Morbus tells the story of a young couple that is halted on an isolated country road by blocked cars in their path. When they get out to investigate, the woman notices something in the distance and they follow in pursuit to find a woman in the woods who has some weird growths and attacks them.

There’s so much to love about this. The isolated road is a fantastic setting. There’s a lot of mystery with this type of body horror-esque phenomenon where its not certain what is going on but yet, it shows the signs of humanity of the woman’s infection causes the man to react in his own ways. As much as its horrific and a tad disgusting in terms of the whole body changing, there’s also a human element at play that gives the story a little more depth. Its only a short and yet, there’s so many things to explore with this one.

Le Reflet (The Reflection) (2018)

Director: Louis-David Jutras
Cast: Laurence Anais Belleville

Alone in her apartment, Anais realizes that something is wrong with her reflection. Trapped, she tries to escape this entity that manifests itself only through reflection. – IMDB

Reflections and mirrors are such a great tool when it comes to horror films. Le Reflet does a great job and using its sound design, a lot of quiet moments and the different reflective surfaces to play with this reflection premise. While some of the scares are rather predictable, it all depends on the timing and anticipation that it manages to ramp up before executing the scare that makes it rather effective. Plus, it creates this unknown of why this is happening.

I’m a big fan of films with this sort of horror style which is much more subtle and atmospheric. For myself, this short was absolutely outstanding. Plus, it leaves such a mystery that it feels like the premise could be expanded into a full film and potentially be a rather fun horror experience.

Maybe You Should Be Careful (2021)

Director (and writer): Megan Robinson
Cast: Dan Beirne, Brittany Rae Robinson, Kelly McNamee

Maybe You Should Be Careful is about a young couple trying to reignite their passion and intimacy when the boyfriend finds a post about a female killer in the neighborhood that is shockingly similar to his girlfriend and starts building paranoia and fear towards her in his mind.

Paranoia and fear is such a great pair to use when doing a horror film that it adds this whole psychological element to it that works incredibly well especially in this case. This is a quirky little short. There’s a weird dynamic between the couple but then the suspicions start to form, its quite fun to see how it progresses. In many ways, its simply a miscommunication between the two and a different type of focus during the entire encounter that drives to a finale that is fairly expected once it happens but does leave a lot of space during the entire short of whether the girlfriend is or is not the killer preying on the men in their neighborhood.

Family (2020)

Director (and writer): Mark Pariselli
Cast: Neil Paterson, Tarick Glancy, Peter Campbell, Tracy Woods

An accident on the way to the cottage has horrifying consequences for an interracial gay couple contemplating parenthood. – IMDB

The elements of the road trip are pretty well set up at the beginning from the relationship between the two and their many stops which fit this season especially with pumpkin stalls and corn mazes. Plus, for those familiar with the dark country roads, there’s really nothing quite as spooky as its only lit up by the car headlights making what’s ahead a complete mystery. The mood is set up really great with the isolation and quiet rural area while adding in this dire accident which needs to be taken care of. It takes quite the alarming twist as the film progresses which is a pretty neat turning point. For gamers like myself, it might actually feel very familiar giving hints of Resident Evil 7 especially with a dialogue. I’m not sure whether that is deliberate or just a coincidence but its pretty fun.

Kweskowsiu (She Whistles) (2021)

Director (and writer): Thirza Cuthand
Cast: Sera-Lys McArthur, Aiden Devine, Sebastian Bertrand, Eileen Li

On the way to her girlfriend’s place, an Indigenous woman is assaulted by her cab driver. Amidst the struggle, she discovers a deadly supernatural power that may help solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. – IMDB

There’s a lot to love about this short. For one, it dives into Native American beliefs and/or myths about the Northern Lights specifically regarding what happens when you whistle at it. Using this as not only a faux-pas in conversation but also afterwards, using it to the main girl’s advantage. Second is the familiar face of Sera-Lys McArthur who is really good here especially after seeing a good performance of hers earlier this year in Don’t Say Its Name (review). The conversation between the cab driver and her character during the taxi ride is actually rather unnerving especially awakening some fear about how much privacy is being pried but also touching on the prejudices towards Native Americans in the community as well.

Whether its the thriller element or the other messages portrayed in this short film, its a very intriguing one overall and one that opens up unfamiliar myths which adds to the intrigue and at least for myself, lead me to do a little more research.

Sang Jaune (Yellow Blood) (2019)

Director: Julie Roy
Cast: Catherine-Audrey Lachapelle

Sang Jaune crafts a story of Jenny whose life is relatively routine as it revolves around work and collecting sports cars. One day, she wakes up in a yellow field in the middle of nowhere when she starts realizing that her belly is growing abnormally and things start getting weirder after that.

Sang Jaune is a second watch for myself. I believe that I had seen it in Fantasia 2020 but never got around to reviewing it. There are some great ideas here which center around some kind of unknown creature or alien as a subcontext. It revolves around one character. The area and the premise is rather intriguing overall and leaves a lot of space to connect the dots. However, it is one that feels a little abstract at times.

The Silent Lay Steady (2020)

Director (and writer): Travis Laidlaw
Cast: Katrina Elmsley, Spencer Hanson, Justin Hay

A woman finds herself alone with the body after a funeral in her 1860’s farmhouse. – IMDB

The Silent Lay Steady is definitely one of the standout shorts in this programming. The premise and the story is very multilayer as it plays around with this starting point that loops back at the end. Its a rather fun play on the supernatural element and some shots actually remind me a little of The Haunting on Hill House (review). There’s a lot of different horror elements executed really well where there’s a bit focus on sound design to create the atmosphere.

The most outstanding element has to be its cinematography. Each shot is framed very uniquely that creates this different feeling, leaving some things hidden behind the walls. Whether the camera is following the character or its framed on one spot while the character moves in and out of rooms or keeping sounds and lighting coming from off screen, there’s a lot of really great visuals that make the whole short film even more engaging.

10-33

Director (and writer): Alexander Maxim Seltzer
Cast: Alison Louder, Andrew Chown

Ava’s quiet date night out at the cinema turns into a nightmare when she’s trapped in a toilet stall during an active shooting attack. With only a thin door separating her from the gunman, she is forced to confront him and try to find a way to survive. – 10-33 Website

Shootings anywhere is always a scary scenario to imagine. The films crafts it in one location when Ava is hiding into the toilet stall after hearing the other girls in the washroom being shot. As she tries to stay quiet, unnoticed and stay calm, things don’t go exactly as plan. The interaction between her and the gunman is through the stall door. Its a rather normal sort of conversation but reveals quite a bit about both Ava and the gunman which also works to build up the tension.

To be fair, the film premise and execution is overall very engaging. Ava’s fear and the gunman being an unknown factor other than his voice makes it all the more nervewrecking to watch. Whether its to show an aggression or frustration or to highlight the type of person the gunman is, the dialogue has a lot of f-bombs. At one point, it felt necessary but over time, it felt a little annoying as pushing something too much feels like an overuse. Its just a little observation for myself and very much nitpicking at the details since 10-33 really did standout a lot.

Crawl Space (2021)

Director (and writer): Andrew Ellinas
Cast: Andrew Ellinas

A man battles a giant spider in his garage. – IMDB

Wrapping up the Canadian Shorts After Dark is this creature feature which centers around this man finding this crawl space and digs through the spider webs to find a giant spider living in it and it ends up battling it. There’s a definite budget at play here that makes the spider a little funny-looking but spiders are really unnerving in general especially then its a big one. Its uses the things in the garage at hand for the fight and it is pretty fun overall in a silly sort of way.

Not exactly one that I’m especially impressed with but spiders as creature features seem to be wildly underused. I definitely appreciate that this one plays on that creature but also adds a little twist in the end.

TADFF 2019: Canadian Shorts After Dark

Toronto After Dark Film Festival

Imagine a World (2019)

Imagine A World

Director (and writer): Joanna Tsanis

Cast: Gina O. James, Tevin Wolfe, Rob Notman

Imagine A World tells the story of a brother and sister who lets in a door to door salesman hoping to offer them a plan for a new internet and phone service much faster than the current on they have to find that he will not take no for an answer.

Imagine A World works in a few folds. The first is the horror which is set on the mysterious salesman who is very persistent. While he does feel a bit bizarre through the whole conversation, which will be revealed to be within reason, the horror it brings is of letting in a stranger into too much of the personal information and letting them into the house and the disadvantage of overinformation as a cautionary tale. At the same time, the other side of the spectrum works as to how technology has powered a good part of our life and the necessity of it even the neglect of the importance of having a functional phone signal in a world where actual communication is neglected in the majority of the other non-urgent parts of our lives. Packed with some gory bits and a rather psychological atmospheric build-up, Imagine A World works to help build a tense situation of having a stranger and their persistence being the central focus of giving a sense of fear and possible danger noticed a little too late.

Plainsong (Melopée) (2019)

Plainsong

Director: Alexis Fortier-Gauthier

Cast: Antoine DesRochers, Rosalie Fortier, Antoine L’Ecuyer

Plainsong, originally titles Melopée, is a French-Canadian short film about three friends who go out to a beach house to celebrate St. Jean Baptiste Day when one of them summons a sea creature with a song.

Plainsong is done really well. It goes for about 16 minutes long and pads out quite a decent bit of intrigue although in the heart of French-Canadian cinema also adds in some romance which doesn’t end up having much drama. The short actually works really well and executes its suspense very well probably until the creature reveal which probably could have been done with better poise with a better budget and that ruins the illusion a little. However, using sound as a trigger and having one of the three friends being deaf is a rather common blend as there’s one person that is rather unsure about what is going on while the other one will be disturbed a little more. What does carry here and makes it work is the atmosphere that it gives. For its length, its a little less straightforward than it should be but then, if this were to be expanded into a full feature, this would be a nice concept short film to show an idea that could very well work with much more time to explore these three friends and the sea creature that is summoned. As a short, it lacks a little on both ends whether its the romantic bit or the creature feature bit. A lot of good elements here but put together, its a bit fragmented making the story less effective than it could be.

Moment (2019)

Moment

Director (and writer): Geoffrey Uloth

Cast: Emelia Hellman, Patrick Abellard, Dayane Ntibarikure, Jonathan Bedard, Allan Chou, Jonathan Silver

Moment is about a homeless girl, Charli who is attacked by three masked hoodlums on her way home from a Halloween party when two masked superheroes stop time and help her devise a plan when she wakes up to save herself.

Moment is a spectacular little short. Running at over 20 minutes (which a rarity in shorts that I’ve seen before), this one shows off a fantastic story. Charli is a young adult who lives on the streets with her boyfriend. She’s plays music to pass the time and yet, there’s a hint of the life that she’s left behind and how she struggles with it. Its her own story in this short as she takes the moment in her own hands and saves herself. Not only is it a story about her but its a fun little idea with superheroes that can stop time but can’t change anything, making them break the illusion of the all-powerful, can do everything sort of superhero but one that is honestly there to help but everything still remains in her hands to work with what the moment presents to her. There’s a subtext of what could happen as a follow-up as she also takes that one moment to reflect on the different parts of her life. Moment is a fantastic short and done so very well.

Alaska (2019)

Alaska

Director: Gwynne Phillips, Briana Templeton, Chris Wilson

Cast: Chris Wilson, Gwynne Phillips, Briana Templeton, Paul Beer, Sharjil Rasool, Chris Sandiford

Alaska is a horror comedy about a couple arriving to their friend’s dinner party late and due to his suspicion of being disliked, starts to believe that he is being poisoned.

The charm and stellar points of this short has to go to its script. Although by the last thing before its reveal, its quite obvious what it wants to do, there is such a charm to how dangerous our minds can be especially when one choice can cause everything to spiral out of control. There is also a good group of characters here which are alright and they work well enough, some more deliberately fillers as a means to an end. Still, a fun little short set in Alaska which remembers to bring it into the equation.

No One Will Believe You (2019)

No One Will Ever Believe You

Director (and writer): Frédéric Chalté

Cast: Mandy St-Jacques Turpin, Emilie Lovitt, Maryline Chery

Most kids believed that they had monsters under their bed at one point or another (or in their closet). No One Will Ever Believe You is a horror short that tells the story of a sister who wants to scare her sister on Halloween and when she prepares for it, she notices that there is a monster under the bed planning the same thing.

There’s always this haunting element to using childhood beliefs as the catalyst of any horror event. With this one, the monster under the bed and the whole atmosphere behind it was done really well. Its not that we haven’t quite seen but as something from a third perspective of one character watching another, the whole idea behind it works. Its a bit cheesy at bits and the final part with that one final line was where it breaks the immersion as its not completely necessary. Some things are better left to the audience to deduct which would have given it a much more powerful ending.

Best Friends Forever (2019)

Best Friends Forever

Director: Emily Gagne & Josh Korngut

Cast: Michelle Coburn, Addison Holley, Katelyn Wells, Nicole Samantha Huff, Jen Pogue

Best Friends Forever is a horror short set in 1996 with a group of girls telling the story of Nancy, an outcast in 1970s that was tricked at a party and is now a vengeful spirit haunting teenage girls to find a friend, anyone who lets her into the house. While they were trying to use it as a prank on their friends, it turns out that Nancy actually does exist.

Using legends that come true is rather normal to see in horror stories. Best Friends Forever plays on this with some familiar premise and gathers up a group of girls who share different characteristics. Although this is a short so it quite expands on these characters but it does take the time to give them all different murders each time and keeps it fairly off-screen which also keeps the appearance of Nancy a secret and keeps her appearances rather creepy. They use a tint of neon pink throughout which contrasts well with the dark atmosphere. Best Friends Forever isn’t quite unique but then a lot of its execution is pretty good.

TADFF 2019: International Shorts After Dark

Toronto After Dark Film Festival

Compiled as 8 short films from various international locations, a few of them from the USA and screened as the International Shorts After Dark, here are 6 of the 8 shorts reviewed. One of them called Bar Fight was paired with a feature during Fantasia Festival in July so the review is linked at the bottom.

Maggie May (2018)

Maggie May

Director (and writer): Mia Kate Russell

Cast: Lulu McClatchy, Katrina Mathers, Sophia Davey, Ditch Davey, Don Bridges

Maggie May is about a sister who stays back to help out after their mother dies to end up in an accident which leaves her dying but her sister Maggie May simply ignores it. Sometimes, the scariest thing is not what someone does but in some situations, what someone doesn’t do. That is what powers the horror and unsettling feeling in Maggie May.

While the short itself is done fairly well, there’s this over exaggeration (perhaps deliberate) of the character of Maggie May and that makes it too over the top to make it feel as horrifying and more just a loathing in general to watch. What does work for the concept itself is the whole idea of passivity being more dangerous than the other way around in some cases. However, what does balance it out is the whole process of dying with the sister and the both the psychological and physical changes that she goes through hoping for help but also noticing the pieces around her fading away.  There’s a decent amount of blood and gore that somehow balance with the psychological elements of the whole story and pulls through a fairly effectively little short.

Puzzle (2019)

Director: Vincenzo Aiello

Cast: Marie Wyler

In a fairly concise story, Puzzle is a rather creepy one as it is based on the premise of a woman finding puzzle pieces around her home. As she pieces them together, it reveals something frightening. This one is very well-executed. It keeps its setting confined in a room mostly while using the puzzle pieces to each lead to the next one and it having the final unveil of what and possible who is responsible and yet, it still manages to keep some mysteries, mostly because its less than 5 minutes and the ability to craft something rather unnerving is already very impressive.

Eject (2019)

Eject

Director (and writer): David Yorke

Cast: Elena Saurel

Eject is about a woman that finds her arm has a USB port and proceeds to plug it in and ends up in another place where she can sort through files of her life. There are some fairly horror elements here and yet, characters finding too good to be true situations and using it to their advantage is not a new concept although this one for being a short did leave a fairly precious deeper message (in my mind but I might be overthinking) about the impossibilities of casting everything bad out of life as that isn’t reality. Its the mechanics of how this dimension works that becomes the mystery and the horror all wrapped up together. Its not a long short, less than 10 minutes and yet, long dark tunnels and empty room with a cabinet and a mysterious door leading to who knows is the unknown factors that add to this short film.

La Noria (2019)

La Noria

Director (and writer): Carlos Baena

La Noria is a Spanish animated short with no dialogue about a grieving boy who sees creatures in his attic who ends up showing him compassion.

La Noria is possibly the best short so far in all of the shorts shown at the festival. The animation is absolutely brilliant. On a visual level, the color palette is beautiful. The creature designs are also incredibly creative. There’s something of a Christmas holidays setting but somehow its the tint of light that works here. What starts off as failing to put together a ferris wheel and remembering his father turns into an intense walk through  his home festering with all kinds of creatures, all different in their appearance and having their own characteristics but all takes a surprising turn of events to something very touching. This one shows off the concept of being able to deliver an effective story with the power of visuals and sound effects and score to give it all it needs. Even the ending credits are done fantastically.

The Haunted Swordsman (2019)

The Haunted Swordsman

Director: Kevin McTurk

Cast: Jason Scott Lee, James Hong, Franka Potente, Christopher Lloyd

In terms of uniqueness, The Haunted Swordsman is a short that definitely fills that criteria. Its a ghost story puppet film that takes a horror adventure following a samurai in a world of witches and creatures. Made with 36 inch tall bunraku puppets and in live action, The Haunted Swordsman is a lot of fun filled with sufficient amount of horror, fantasy and adventure.

The story itself is a lot of fun as it starts with a samurai on a quest with a severed head, The Navigator as his companion guide, whichever it is in search of the The Black Monk, voiced by Christopher Lloyd. The samurai being voiced by Jason Scott Lee and The Navigator voiced by James Hong. The score itself blends well with the samurai tale elements and for a puppet film, the action is incredibly on point. A lot of compliments go to the attention to detail given to the puppets and how great it all looks as well as the puppeteers who make it all come to life convincingly. Its definitely a realm well worth looking at. While this is a short animated film at about 15 minutes or so, the samurai is sent on a quest, giving this concept and story a lot of potential to explore further and hopefully, director Kevin McTurk will do just that in the future.

Place (2019)

Place

Director: Jason Gudasz

Cast: Emily Green, Nick Hurley, Stella Edwards, Emmanuelle Roumain, Willy Roberts

Place is a short about a couple the goes into their new home to find the electrician dead in a freak accident to find that something seems to also be inhabiting it.

Place is about a family adjusting to all the ghosts in the place. While the ghosts never quite reveal itself, it does take over the family one by one. It gives them a rather edgy character and each of them change in their own way as they each take on a different oddness to them, whether its their change in how they talk. A lot of it is rather deliberate and possibly in a fairly dark comedy sort of way. Each of them interact with it in a different form as well. The character changes are a bit abrupt for a short, it needs to be paced fairly quickly. However, the daughter in here does bring in those little details of giving out clues of what legends are in the equation, inhabiting their place. Place is quite odd but then its meant to be that way with those little details which adds to the story plus it does have a rather good twist at the end.

Other shorts in this showcase not reviewed here:

Bar Fight (Fantasia Review)
Your Last Day on Earth

TADFF 2019: Dark Before Dawn: Convoy/Patterns/The Changeling

Toronto After Dark Film Festival

Dark Before Dawn: Convoy (2019)

Dark Before Dawn: Convoy

Director: Brodie Spaull & Paul Krysinski

After some research, Dark Before Dawn  is a YouTube series and this little part shown at Toronto After Dark is episode 10 called Convoy. Convoy is a little segment which tells the story of some men carrying previous cargo when they are infiltrated by some other men and end up fighting for their lives. You can watch the episodes HERE.

Looking really good right from the start, this episode of Dark Before Dawn as a start-off episode looks really intriguing and definitely sparks an urge to check out what came before to see whether it will reveal why the cargo itself is precious and whether its just a bunch of different people in the same (what would look like) post-apocalyptic world. The action itself is great and the whole tone works well. Its straightforward as small segments like these should be. Its just a lot of action and works for its context. There is some blood going on here and it all looks good and nothing low budget, which is always a plus. Definitely looking forward to check out the rest of the series and see what is in store for it, especially how the Dark Before Dawn element works in the series and story as a whole.

Patterns (2019)

Patterns

Director (and writer): BJ Verot

Cast: Steven Ratzlaff, Karl Thordarsson, Jake Kennerd, Aidan Ritchie

Patterns tells the story of an older man Henry who goes to a facility to get a treatment procedure and ends up being set on a path of killing after he receives a phone call.

Patterns has a fragmented storyline that jumps back and forth from the past where Henry goes to get his treatment and the happenings there to the trigger that leads him down the path. Its mostly an action piece and fairly mysterious as to what this whole procedure he goes to does to him as he ends up joining their “program” which makes him susceptible to number sequences on the phone which repeat itself in his mind over and over again. While the elements here from Henry to the doctor to even the Cleaner all are great pieces to the puzzle, the acting might be the only iffy bit here that seems like everyone seems to be trying too hard to make the film more suspenseful or that they have more to them instead of it being as natural as it should be.

There’s a lot of questions that leave unanswered but that does show a potential of this concept having a further area to explore if ever it was considered as a bigger piece and gives it some depth, always a good thing.

The Changeling (2019)

The Changeline 2019

Director: David Hamelin & Neil Macdonald

Cast: Katherine McCallum, Emily Farrell, Tiarnan Cormack, Olivia Hamelin

The Changeling is a 5 minute short about a woman who comes home after a panicked call from her babysitter and frantically goes in to look for her baby daughter to find a demon looking after her instead.

There’s a lot of good elements here. The background score works well with building up the atmosphere here. There are a few jumpscares here and there however do work well enough except doors banging shut which because of its overuse in horror films in general don’t quite work as effectively. The demon itself is done really well. The acting is on point as well. The progression of events also is well-paced to give this one some tension. The Changeling isn’t exactly a new concept which probably other than the two feature films being done before and remade before, there’s a lot more but for a short, this one is well-polished and looks great and well-rounded on all the elements. An impressive short for sure!

TADFF 2019 Shorts:Barbara-Anne/Kakatshat/Schism/A Noise That Comes

Toronto After Dark Film Festival

Barbara-Anne (2019)

barbara-anne

Director: Kat Webber

Cast: Emily Coutts, Philip Riccio, Katelyn McCulloch

Starting off as a light-hearted little dancing housewife through the kitchen as she prepares a full course meal for her husband, the story takes an obvious turn stylistically as well as in atmosphere when her husband who stays in the much more modern living room with his gadgets like wireless earphones and goes to do his workout when his wife has something much darker in the plans.

Barbara-Anne is a nice blend of classic Hollywood style with a modern contrast that works so well. The wife here while being the typical blonde beauty also delivers up a clever act that turns her into quite the femme fatale which pretty much happens all to the audience’s knowledge and not to her unsuspecting husband who expects her to be the wife that waits for his attention when he wants to give it to her. Of course, nothing is as you expect and Barbara-Anne has some tricks up its sleeve that gives it that dark twist while serving up some dark comedy as well. Fantastically done short!

Kakatshat (2018)

Kakatshat

Director: Eve Ringuette

Cast: Therese Vollant, Philippe St-Arnault

Starting the short in 1829 when a son abandons his mother in the forest who in turn curses his family and all the descendants to pay for his disrespect, it continues to the present where a father and son bond on a camping trip to where the woman was abandoned and the curse follows them.

Filmed in Sept-Iles in Quebec,  Kakatshat takes a rather atmospheric build here as it moves from the past to the present, not only contrasting the neglect from a grown-up son to a parent versus a young boy and his father, who talks about being neglected by his own father and generally not wanting to be like that. It also takes a sinister turn when the curse follows them in the forest which gives a tense dark atmosphere that builds up to a truly effective jump scare. To have that effect in 8 minutes is a great feat and also shares a bit about the culture of what is shown in the beginning as well. Kakatshat is a short well worth watching if you get the chance.

Schism (2019)

Schism 2019

Director: Andrew Todd & Johnny Hall

Schism is a 3 minute black and white short that is essentially no narrative and splits the screen into two as the main character is a man that has been split into two and negotiating with himself to become whole again. What is intriguing to note here is that Schism was made during the 48 Hours 2019, which definitely shows the creativity here at work especially for something put together in such a short time frame.

While the short is a bit odd and very abstract in what it is trying to do, there is a rather cool use of how the screen is split into two and how effective it is for the execution of this short as the one person split into two is almost like two sides of his personality compromising each other. One is much more wild and sinister while the other is serious and a bit worried about being split into two. At the same time, the soundtrack it uses really adds to the entire experience and the black and white gives it a nice style.

A Noise That Carries (2019)

A Noise That Carries

Director: Guillermo de la Rosa

Cast: Paul Payne, Lee Lawson, Meredith Heinrich

A Noise That Carries is a 15 minute short about a recently divorced man who wakes up to the sound of creaking floorboards which sounds like someone stops right outside his bedroom door and suspects that someone is has broken in during the night and decides to investigate this with a neighbor that drops by with similar concerns.

Pulling in at 15 minutes, A Noise That Carries is more fleshed out just by it being slightly longer. However, it takes no time to get its story set up with the basic knowledge of its situation and starts setting up the unsettling home invasion atmosphere immediately. Its takes its time to give the quiet a chance to do its work especially when subtle noises are the elements that are creating this horror element until it turns around with the big reveal and then things still play more on the quiet evasion rather than any intense chase scene and that works so much better. A Noise That Carries lets “less is more” do its work and it works incredibly well here leaving me at the edge of my seat and wondering whether there would be a jumpscare/surprise around every corner. Great home invasion stories usually have that effect.