TADFF 2022: International Shorts After Dark

Tistlebu (2022)

Director (and co-writer): Simon M. Valentine

As a young urban couple on a working holiday hopes to connect with nature at Tistlebu farm, a primordial power comes into play, changing them both forever. – IMDB

Tistlebu is an interesting and creepy setting. It sets itself in the mountainous wilderness in a rural farm where two city youngsters are there to help and while one of the tasks given to them is normal, the other one is taking care of this odd mushroom thing which seeps white ooze occasionally. Things start getting very odd of how they react to this giant mushroom. However, the film takes a twist when it feels like it was reacting to one when actually the other falls prey to it. Its not really prey I guess but the consequences are rather creepy especially as it builds to the final scene.

The premise, the setting and the living thing works together to create a rather spinetingling and oddly profound message about nature and at times, the ugliness that people seem ignore. It works because this same message can be applied to anyone incredibly familiar with their own setting compared to how visitors feel about it. This one feels prime for a feature as there leaves a lot of mystery behind this mushroom entity.

Role Play (2022)

If our parents hasn’t engraved the concept of stranger danger when we were young, horror films and the abundant documentaries of serial killers should have. Role Play is exactly that when they have two men who met randomly assumingly at a club go back to one of their homes and is asked to do role play. I mean, logically in my mind I don’t know why anyone would accept this weird request by a stranger. If we look past that point, everything sinister starts as the host disappears and starts conversing through questions written on cards. What does in Role Play is how the whole situation is set up. We have sufficient information about the two men and as one of them follows along, the house’s decor changes and the atmosphere builds through this odd conversation with questions of the 4Ws. There’s this oddity and tension in the air that something is going to pop out and yet it all leads up to a well-deserved scare. Its does take an odd turn and its never quite certain what happens specifically but this one has a really great execution.

O (2022)

Director (and writer): Dominik Balkow

Jasmin sees a fist-sized hole in a brick wall. She’s hypnotically drawn to it and can’t focus on anything else. An increasingly morbid obsession begins, until the hole suddenly disappears. – IMDB

O is an incredibly weird one and yet, looking at its description, it does make sense that its about the downward spiral of obsession. This is a no narrative film so every shot is so important to getting the emotions across. The creepiest part of this which never faded away were the constant close-ups of Jasmin. At the beginning, it would be focusing for a long time on her huge smile. Its an interesting piece since it plays along the curiosity as well of wanting to put her fist into the hole to the part where after it disappears, she was obsessing over anything with a circular depth to it. It gets very intense and morbid by the end. There’s a lot to appreciate in O since it doesn’t have any narrative and still manages to keep it very poignant to the viewers.

The Blood of the Dinosaurs (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Joe Badon

Uncle Bobbo teaches children where oil comes from. – IMDB

Picture Mr. Dress-Up (that’s what I grew up with but this is compared to Mr. Rogers) making a very disturbing educational program and this what Blood of the Dinosaurs is. The film is like those children programs as it jumps through a lot of different scenarios and topics and sandwiched in between is the main piece of what the blood of dinosaurs is. I do have to say that there’s one specific part that I felt incredibly disturbed and honestly felt like it went a little far, maybe slightly distasteful in some ways. For that, I didn’t really like this one so much. However, I do understand what the film is trying to achieve and in many ways, it does achieve creating this very creepy children’s program figure that feels completely wrong in all ways.

Mantra (2022)

Directors (and co-writers): Pascal Bourelier & Stef Meyer

When a couple moves to an suburban mansion and the husband ends up leaving for work, the wife ends up finding companion in one of her husband’s insects, the praying mantis. The slow descent to this friendship with this insect is the focus of the short.

The short is a quiet setting. The film follows her loneliness and need for companion in an insect that is also under covers all day. What takes place after is a rather disturbing spiral of events. The film itself is pretty powerful in their narrative. The praying mantis is such a great choice for a horror story.

Smile (2022)

Director: Ryan Joseph McDuffie

There are honestly no words to describe how bizarre this 2 minute short is. Its packed with a lot of smiling and instrument. Its rather silly and to be honest, a short that I am not quite sure how to place.

Shut (2021)

Director: Niels Bourgonje

Jonas visits his father Arend after a long time. Jonas is startled when his father is almost unrecognizable. Has he deteriorated badly or has something taken possession of him? – IMDB

If we are talking about a coherent story and some great cinematography, Shut is the short in this set of international films. The film makes use of its setting and plays the story towards the mysterious nature of the father but the ending takes the audience for a spin. Shut tells a compelling story about possession and makes use of smokes and mirrors incredibly well. The creepy feeling sinks in very well by the end. This is a Netherlands short that I’d honestly love to see made into a feature. While the possession idea isn’t all that new, it feels like there’s an interesting angle to it here that could be explored further.

Bug Bites (2021)

Director (and writer): Daniel DelPurgatorio

Some house guests are a real pain in the ass. – IMDB

Bug Bites is a weird one to talk about. It takes on this genre that feels like it will go along in the veins of Fly (or Canadian feature Bite) however it quickly takes a turn into dark humor town when she calls on an exterminator to fix her possible bed bugs problem. Humor is a tricky thing and this one plays a little on the over the top expressions. Its a very wild story to say the least and while it starts off feeling uneasy and possibly going down as a disgusting body horror, the short takes a left turn down comedy lane. The tone shifts quickly when the final scene is the big reveal of what is literally hiding under your bed. At that point, it plays on a moment of quick camera through the different people and the WTF moment. While it could have played off as an annoying overly long moment if not executed right, somehow the feeling got overcome by the cleverness of the execution.

Fantasia Festival 2020: Hunted (2020)

Hunted (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Vincent Paronnaud

Cast: Lucie Debay, Ciaran O’Brien, Arieh Worthalter

Once upon a frenzied time, Woman (Lucie Debay) meets Man (Arieh Worthalter). Woman dances with Man. Man kisses Woman. Man grips Woman. Woman escapes Man. Man chases Woman… Nothing new! Or is there? The over-recycled “revenge” story takes an unexpected turn in HUNTED. The Big Bad psycho-Wolf, embodiment of patriarchy, and his dummy sidekick engage in a wild hunt, but within mother nature’s protective maze of trees, the Red Riding warrior-Hood’s got killer moves, and won’t surrender so easily. – Fantasia Festival

Hunted is a live-action adult survival horror retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It builds from the general concept of the story of not talking to strangers because it can lead to being eaten by the wolf and grows from there. While the plot itself is familiar, much like other stories of women being abducted and then hunted down in a forest in a wilderness survival horror style. It has obvious parallels of the fairy tale its based on like the main woman, Eve wears a red coat with a hood and end up in the setting of the mystifying woods that its set in and the false grandmother twist. The movie itself digs into Vincent Paronnaud’s animation roots as it starts off with an animated story told to a child in the forest about Nicodemus and the Wolf-Girl. The story takes a twist when the story takes a turn that works in Eve’s favor and she sees the opportunity to turn the situation around, using the environment to her advantage. The execution and cinematography is done in a clever way especially as between some transition scenes, the surrounding nature is capture from the animals and bugs and even the dense forest.


Hunted hones a small cast of a few people. Eve (Lucie Debay) is the Red Riding Hood who may start as a woman who goes out to unwind to end up meeting the wrong stranger, a man who is the Wolf (Arieh Worthalter) and his sidekick. They capture her not to kill her per se but to do a snuff film. Its an interesting way to present these characters. Eve herself doesn’t have so much depth but rather right away, we know that she’s not a weak female lead but actually has a lot of her own survival skills like blending with nature for example. Its a character that we can easily get behind to cheer on to get out of this ordeal alive. The Wolf is a much more unstable sort of character and probably one with a little more depth in comparison. He is an unlikable character but also one that feels a little unhinged especially when the story changes in the final act and seems to start blending in this reality and imagination/hallucination sort of deal where what he sees slowly pulls away from reality and as it pulls to the end, this is where the film seems to lose itself a little at a changing point. It gets a little hard to track in one portion, giving it this uncertainty between what is real and in their minds.

Overall, Hunted does try to be different in the realm of survivor horror. Its story is a bit confusing in its final act but it also feels like its meant to be that way as the “Wolf” seems to have lost his mind as he loses his power. It pulls in this line from the beginning story about “the company of wolves is better than that of man”. It becomes a fact of whether the wolf is just a villainous man and Eve (aka Red Riding Hood) finds her space with the woods that end up defending her. Its smart to use that opening story as a parallel to this story and then set up this retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. A lot of things are in the details and ends up finding its space even if the final act is a little bit confusing and for myself, falls apart and detracts a little. At the same time, the movie spends a lot of time chasing through the woods that in the middle, there is a little repetitive dragging feeling but as the tone and a little twist, it quickly finds its pacing again. Some little things that makes Hunted not quite as well-paced and well-executed in the second half than it did in its first half.