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.
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.
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.
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.