Fantasia Festival 2020: Shorts Round-up

Like every year, the final post for Fantasia Festival 2020 is going to be a short film round-up.

Abracitos (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Tony Morales

Cast: Virginia Gomez, Beatriz Salas, Carmen Salas

This Spanish horror short running at 11 minutes is set in the bedroom of a little girl when a phone call rings and the two sisters picks up the phone to realize that there’s something outside the little hideaway. While there is a little bit of campiness in the design of the “monster” on hand, the execution and atmosphere is done so well that it is very creepy and unsettling of tension build-up as anticipation of something happening builds up more and more of what will appear and all ends in a startling ending.

Abracitos is an incredible short executed with such a strong sense of horror that just makes you cringe in your seat waiting for what will happen next but never actually knowing when it will happen.

Downs of the Dead (2019)

Director (and co-writer): Even Husby Grodahl

Cast: David Vekony, Svein Andre Hofso Myhre, Eili Harboe, Ivar Lykke, Jeppe Beck Laursen, Elg Elgesem, Giulia Hellesdatter Roi, Trond Halbo

Running at 23 minutes, Downs of the Dead is a horror comedy set in a home for the intellectually disabled when the zombie apocalypse hits. The nurse tries to find a way out with the residents as the people around start turning one by one. The comedy elements of Downs of the Dead is pretty good. The incorporation of the different character groups with both the residents and the nurse’s collaboration to escape taking a different angle while using the visiting music band and the boss who gets turned into another element of added danger. Its all rather entertaining to watch and runs at a decent pacing. Horror comedy set during zombie apocalypse is really a been there done that sort of premise however its characters and setting is really what gives it the unique edge.

Suspense (2020)

Director (and writer): Ben Burghart & Jacob Burghart

Cast: Robert Coppage III, Jelani Talib

Running at a swift 7 minutes, Suspense starts off with an army pilot caught in the canopy of trees after he escapes the crash. As another army pilot reunites with him on land, they realize that something is chasing them in the shadows. Playing a little like Predator, this story takes a turn for the worse really quickly as the invisible enemy is tracked mostly by its sound with the aid of the camera. Its a fast-paced and excitingly intense short film that delivers on executing some thrilling build-up.

Dead Birds (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Johnny Kenton

Cast: Shannon Tarbet, Tara Fitzgerald, Luke Newberry, Synnove Karlsen, Lydia Wilson

A failing teenage badminton player at a Catholic Girls School is visited by a Saint – who agrees to help her if she’ll complete three tasks for him. Dead Birds is a twisted Super Natural Black Comedy about competitive mother daughter relationships, losing your religion and learning how far you’d go to get what you want. – IMDB

Running over 30 minutes, Dead Birds is one of the longer short films in this batch and also that I’ve seen to date. Its a dark comedy that elevates in its intensity gradually and also a horror comedy that doesn’t use zombies but rather the psyche of a badminton player striving for success and recognition to move up before a big competition. Its quite a wild ride with a good execution on the humor (at least for myself) and all builds up to this fairly alarming twist ending that becomes a little apparent by the final moments right before it as things all piece together from the various conversations. Its a fun and engaging short film that feels very different from any that I’ve seen before.

Homo ErecTattoos (2020)

Director (and writer): Kim Tae-woo

A terrible accident leaves a young soldier horribly scarred, but his rediscovery of art heals his wounded soul, in this brief but powerful animated documentary. – Fantasia Festival

If there was any short film that’s unique, it would definitely be this 8 minute South Korean animated short film. One of the most standout points is how it uses its black and white art style to execute each of its scenes as the pictures morph into one and another to progress through the story of a soldier recovering. There’s such a powerful story told here while still keeping it stylish and visually gripping. Its a movie experience that shouldn’t be missed.

BITS 2019: Dark Visions Shorts Program

BITS 2019 banner

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 Shorts: Giltrude’s Dwelling/EXT/The Remnant

BITS 2019 banner

The final batch of pre-feature short films are coming up with the last three! This time, its still some horror but a lot more fantasy and science fiction elements in the first two. The trio in review here is: Giltrude’s Dwelling, EXT, and The Remnant.

Giltrude’s Dwelling (2019)

Giltrude's Dwelling

Director: Jeremy Lutter

Cast: Kacey Rohl, Liam Hughes, Priscilla Faia, Jesse Hutch, Kennedi Clements

Orphaned at the age of 11, Giltrude, an interdimensional shut-in, has waited 15 years for her parents to come home. When a life or death dilemma comes knocking, Giltrude must look beyond her front door and face the outside universe. – IMDB

Giltrude’s Dwelling is a fantasy science fiction short. It is shot beautifully in different locations that centers around a home that literally disappears from a location every night. The color palette in each scene and each location makes the scene very atmospheric. It creates mystery by the unexplored grounds especially the ominous place that the house disapparates to every night, leaving a lot of questions as to what lurks outside or what is the evil that Giltrude’s parents talk about as well as what attacks the boy that shows up at her door. There are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers but perhaps, this story isn’t really about that so much as a story about Giltrude who must find a means to stop her routine and waiting game for her parents but find the courage to step outside to seek her path, despite the possibility of it being dangerous outside in the big unknown world.

*Giltrude’s Dwelling screens with Deep Six on November 25th at 9:30pm in the Blood in the Snow Festival*

EXT (2019)

EXT

Director (and writer): Adrian Bobb

Cast: Cara Gee, Zoe Doyle

200 years after humanity has abandoned the real world for a digital one, the system’s most talented security agent is forced out of retirement to recruit and lead a team of talented warriors to eliminate a threat from a world no one has seen for centuries. The real world. – IMDB

EXT is a futuristic science fiction action short. There’s a beautiful cinematography of this machine-filled world that has now entered into a battle. The visuals of the character and costume design as well as the mechanical designs are done very well. There is a wonderful control on usage of color as well as the snow-covered landscape that the fight is going on that adds a certain mood and tone that matches to its whole atmosphere. The dialogue exchange also is done well, however the story does get a little confusing. The premise though if given more time probably could give a lot of space of development for both the characters and the entire world building. There are already some creative ideas floating around here.

*EXT screens with Deep Six on November 25th at 9:30pm in the Blood in the Snow Festival*

The Remnant (2019)

The Remnant

Director: Navin Ramaswaran

Cast: Peter Keleghan, Kaniehtilo Horn, Grace Lynn Kung, Michael James Regan, Jill Frappier, Jennifer Dale, Joyce Rivera

A team of con artists posing as paranormal investigators steal from the home of an affluent elderly woman, only to find themselves unleashing a dormant malevolent spirit. – IMDB

The Remnant is rather interesting short with a nice twist of using its paranormal investigators as a front for their own business. It adds in how they make the little tricks and effects happen to make it convincing. Of course, the short goes for something with a more sinister turn of events. The reality of the smokes and mirrors that the team puts up gets a little mixed up with what could be happening as part of the actual paranormal ongoings. The characters are rather entertaining to watch and the whole set-up while the winning element is how it wraps up the whole story. Its a fun little short with a little bit of tension and some creepy elements to it.

*The Remnant screens with Z on November 26 at 7pm in Blood in the Snow Festival*

BITS 2019: Emerging Screams Shorts Program

BITS 2019 banner

Emerging Screams Shorts Showcase is a collection of Canadian horror short films featuring either brillian first time directors or the most promising student filmmakers. It features 10 short films over a variety of horror subgenres. There’s a lot f unique visions here whether in script or atmosphere or tension respectively in each of these.

Emerging Screams

Emerging Screams Shorts Showcase is screening at Blood in the Snow Festival on November 24th at 2pm. 

Spectre (2019)

Director: Gabriela Diacon & Mariana Diacon

Cast: Julia Krikorian & Alina Lapteva

Things turn sinister at midnight when Anna realizes a presence in her house. – IMDB

Running at 4 minutes long, Spectre is a very quick short that sets up its atmosphere really well. There are some creepy background details that go on. What is very  nice is how they set up the whole scene of each one, leaving space for the expectation of something to happen to ramp up some dread. Its a bit predictable in how the whole short runs, it uses the off screen and sounds to add to its atmosphere and mood.

Solitude (2019)

Director (and writer): Andrew Fleming

Cast: Andrew Fleming

Solitude is a very short thriller, running at 5 minutes, about a man who disconnects from the city life while campy and canoeing on his own through the Ontario backcountry. What starts out as a calm and mundane trip takes a turn when he discovers something very unsettling. The moment of change from nothing to something takes it off guard. It uses its single tone lurking and building intensity of the soundtrack to fill in the void and quietness and then ends it on a wonderfully clever ending, leaving a lot to the imagination. At the same time, it uses its lighting and darkness to build up the atmosphere and emptiness of being in the wild. Its a wonderfully executed short.

The Acrylic (2019)

The Acrylic

Director (and writer): Daniel Pike

Cast: Athena Kaitlin Trinh, Wendy German, Jarrett Siddall

On the hunt for some new art for her apartment walls, Rosie acquires a bizarre painting from an equally bizarre art collector… – IMDB

The rule of life we can all learn from watching horror movies is to not buy anything too ancient because its probably not going to be too good or something that looks ominous, like a completely blacked out painting. Just like the painting, The Acrylic is rather ominous. There are some very inexplicable things that happen to it throughout the course where as the owner of it probably wouldn’t dismiss like the one in the short. There’s a little leap of imagination to get past that point. However, the great part of this is the creativity in how the story goes and the creativity behind creating the unknown here. There’s some foreshadowing in the dialogue and then it really takes a creepy dark turn and does ramp up the tension very well in how the cinematography works and how each scene is set up to garner its focal point.

Snack Time! (2019)

Director: Kaw Tay Whee School students

Full of hand puppets and made by students from Kaw Tay Whee School which is located in Yellowknife, Snack Time! is all kinds of weird. Running at a mere 4 minutes, its a rather horror comedy sort of deal. There’s flesh-eating puppets with a plan to pretend to be kindergarten kids to find their next snack. Its honestly a bit wild and there are really no words to say about its execution but as a student project, its oddly entertaining. That’s probably the best way to describe it.

Experience Machine (2019)

Experience Machine

Director: Ivana Bittnerova

Cast: Joanna Caplan, Nicholas Koy Santillo, Jonathan Davies

A young mechanic and his family lead comfortable lives in a sleek underground bunker. His life of futuristic luxury begins to deteriorate when the medical device strapped to his wrist is corrupted, revealing the reality of their true dystopian world. – IMDB

Experience Machine is a much more refined short. It has a decent cast with pretty good acting. The story itself builds up the futuristic world that it is set in, giving the setting a background and foundation. The science fiction elements of this future also works with the broken down elements of technology and the luxuries it can bring as well as the escape from reality in the dystopian world. There’s quite a lot to like about the depth in the world created here which leaves a lot of space for its premise to be expanded if ever desired.

Death’s Toll (2019)

Death's Toll

Director (and co-writer): Spencer Hetherington

Cast: Nick Nylen, Rob Hetherington

When the bells toll, the heads roll. A bell tower becomes the harbinger of death at the hands of an ancient creature, Mortuus.

Running at less than 4 minutes, Death’s Toll is a rather peculiar one that doesn’t have much dialogue but lets its own lore to told through the course of events. While I am personally unfamiliar with ancient creature or if Mortuus is a real thing or a figment of the writer’s imagination, the short does achieve a nice cinematography in executing the film to build up on the suspense and the fear. The creature itself is also done rather well. Its a simple and straightforward horror story and there’s a lot of appreciation in creating something without a lot of dialogue.

New Woman (2019)

New Woman

Director: Benjamin Noah

Cast: Rhiannon Morgan, Stephen Oates

New Woman is a gothic tale about a mysterious wealthy woman living in a castle that has recently moved into the area and her invitation to a male pickpocket to her home which ends up into a descent into a labyrinth of terror in 1888.

Definitely one of the more polished short films presented here, this short starts off with a quick note on the whereabouts of the scenario and then follows the woman, their encounter, the invitation, the dinner and then what happens afterwards. The film score is so enchanting and beautiful and a little haunting as well, creating a fantastic atmosphere. At the same time, as the story progresses, there is an edginess and ominous feeling to the beautiful woman and then hints of what she might be. The cinematography of both capturing the beautiful snowy setting all the way to each interaction and focus and when to pull away for the each shot is set up so intricately. This is well-shot, well-executed and well-paced and very mysterious and captivating as a whole.

Trash (2019)

Trash

Director (and co-writer): Suzanna Etheridge

Cast: Ian Etheridge, Suzanne Etheridge, Heather Nice, Michael Russer, Braedan Alexander, Sherri Young

They thought the dump fires were behind them, but something has emerged from the flames. Actions have consequences in this dark fairy tale, reminding you to take care of your trash, before it takes care of you. – IMDB

Starting up a broadcast about the current news and trash and dump fire issues and the focus on missing dog flyers in the area followed by Moonlight Sonata playing, Trash is set in Iqaluit where trash isn’t being taken care by its community well and comes to life to start take action on its kids causing a lot of missing kids. Dark fairy tales are always a welcome sight (in my world). It always anchors itself on a greater issue of the society that calls out for a dark force (that might not be completely right in its execution) and uses its way to share a message. In this case, its about trash and the importance of its being treated and taken care of properly. The Creature here is actually done pretty nice and suitably in shredded garbage bags and such. The quick rundown of the situation is set by its voiceover and the conversations between its members of the community so see the situation. Its a bit disjointed in its execution but the message sent is well worth a watch.

What’s Within (2019)

What's Within

Director (and writer): Haad Bakshi

Cast: Risa Cohen, Kaija Kalev, Vijay Mehta, Ali Shmaisani, Connor Atkins

When everyday problems in a home are seen as routine, Jane, a 16 year old is locked in her room in need of help. Her parents Amelia, and Zach approach her problems as normal teenage behavior. – IMDB

What’s Within takes a clever twist in the dynamic of what is seen as a troublesome teenager daughter behavior and her parents when the expectations or routine of doing wrong causes her to be neglected when she is actually in danger. Call this something of a The Boy Cries Wolf sort of deal but at the same time giving it a lot of suspense to give children the benefit of the doubt. Its a fairly extreme situation presented here and yet its executed with a lot of tension as it lands as a edge of the seat thriller to see how Jane will get out of the situation. A lot of credit goes to how well Risa Cohen does playing Jane as her fear truly comes through. This 7 minute short packs in quite a unexpected experience full of suspense and thrills.

Willa (2019)

willa

Director (and co-writer): Corey Mayne

Cast: Kelsi Mayne, Adrian Jaworski, Bex Carney, Nick Szeman, Gar Reid, Madison Seguin

A classic, haunting ghost story based off of Stephen King’s original tale. – IMDB

Willa is a 15 minute short about a man David who insists on leaving the stalled train in the middle of nowhere to find his fiancee Willa. Stephen King stories are always such great source material to work with. While I’ve never read this short story, Willa is really  nice ghost story. Its about a couple and then about their discovery of the situation on hand. The flow of this short works very well as well as the play of the light and darkness in contrast with the setup of the situation. The little details and the twist in the story all come together. The cinematography of the smoke and how the camera pans over the different scenes adds a lot of depth. Its one well worth watching.

BITS 2019 Shorts: Sky So Blue/One in Two People/Songs My Mother Taught Me/Break In Break Out

BITS 2019 banner

As we continue the Blood in the Snow Festival coverage, these are the next batch of films that were paired with full feature films screened. This time, we’re taking up four films: Sky So Blue, One in Two People, Songs My Mother Taught Me, Break In Break Out. Four very impressive horror shorts!

Sky So Blue (2019)

Sky So Blue

Director: Tyler Williams

Cast: Jeff Sinasac, Daniel Park

After being attacked and imprisoned in his own home, a man stands accused of creating a strange piece of music that may or may not have the power to kill anyone who hears it. – IMDB

Sky So Blue is a 15 minute short that is a psychologically unsettling and suspenseful interaction between two people: a man being accused of creating a deadly music piece that has gone viral and since then killed a lot of people and the other a man who has lost his family because of it. The interaction leads to a whole did he or did he not do it. Is the accusation right? Is the other one just acting innocent? The questions constantly rise as the man asks him questions to get the reason of why and how he created this music. Its a little bit of a cat and mouse sort of conversation with not a whole lot of resolution but as revenge seems to get stronger between them, its a rather “shocking” sort of ending that still manages to keep it slightly ambiguous. Those types of endings are the best as they can spark up some nice afterthought and reflection.

*Sky So Blue screened at the Blood in the Snow Festival with Dead Dicks on November 23 at 7pm*

One in Two People (2019)

One in Two People

Director: Ali Mashayekhi

Cast: Ashley Leggat, Katie Boland, Karissa Strain, Jade Hassouné, Katie Strain, Adam Tsekhman, Matt Murray

Emily is surrounded by her friends as she reveals her dark secret. – IMDB

One in Two People is a 7 minute short that plays with the unseen and the unknown. This one is executed really well as it leaves a lot of suspense and guesswork that only be deciphered through the conversation between the friends and their different position in Emily’s life and how they view her. It all becomes a question off deciphering both the character of Emily and whether she is to be believed. Of course, being a short film, it wouldn’t possibly be nothing but rather how this something will be presented. One in Two People uses the reactions of entering into this locked and the aftermath that builds up the unsettling horror feeling and giving this well-executed finale that honestly was rather creepy. As an addition, Jade Hassouné who played Meliorn in Shadowhunters plays the boyfriend of Emily in this short which was pretty great.

*One in Two People screens at Blood in the Snow Festival with The Nights Before Christmas on November 23rd at 9:30pm*

Song My Mother Taught Me (2018)

Song My Mother Taught Me

Director (and co-writer): Doug Cook

Cast: Julian Robino, Ace Hicks, Brock Morgan, Jane Moffat, Farid Yazdani, Allison Dawn Doiron, Blake Johnson

After Bobby and Lydia lose their mother to cancer, life becomes a difficult feat, especially for Bobby. In an attempt to cheer up her brother, Lydia throws a Halloween party with a close group of friends. It is on this night that they will discover what they mean to each other and learn an important lesson…the dead should always be left alone. – IMDB 

In some ways, Songs My Mother Taught Me starts in a rather generic rundown especially with the recent overuse of Ouija as a central focus however, this short film takes it for a refreshing new twist as this Ouija channels something very different from the moment that the literal countdown starts. From the first moment of how they present what this group channels that causes from a lot of craziness that ensues. It builds up the tension very well and adds in a different element of surprise of what is actually going on, leaving a bit of mystery of the whole situation. Its a fun, tense and quick-paced spiral of events executed with a lot of heart to give this premise a refreshing take.

* Songs My Mother Taught Me is screening with Majic on November 24th at 4:30pm at the Blood in the Snow Festival.*

Break In Break Out (2019)

Break In Break Out

Director (and writer): Michael Driscoll

Cast: Athena Karkanis, Nick Smyth, James Rejent, Robert Morse, Tara Yelland

Break In Break Out is a 7 minute short about a routine burglary goes terribly wrong. This short is probably the one which is the most daring in its execution as it keeps it silent with no dialogue. Its hyper focused on the actions and the sound effects around the scene to build up the interest. Its a awesome and unique way to present this story as within the few minutes that it is presented, it adds in two surprising twists, flips the typical story that you’d expect around and then adds in so much style to its execution. Its a lot of awesomeness to this one that gives it a wow actor. Its one that shouldn’t be missed!

*Break In Break Out is screening with Hunter’s Moon on November 24 at 9:30pm in the Blood in the Snow Festival.*

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 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.

 

 

 

TADFF 2019 Shorts: Turbo Killer/Far Horizon/Flip

Toronto After Dark Film Festival

The next batch of three shorts is here! These were screened with a shorter length feature called Blood Machines, which happens to be a sequel to the first of these three shorts reviewed here. The others suitably work with this post-apocalyptic sort of concept with quite a bit of imagination and creativity behind each of these premises.

Turbo Killer (2016)

Director (and writer): Seth Ickerman

Cast: Joelle Berckmans, Guillaume Faure, Marc-Antoine Frederic, Noémie Stevens

 Set up like a music video with a great soundtrack, Turbo Killer is a visual feast. The color palette pops. The story is abstract but still somewhat easy to understand about a post-apocalyptic world where a man accidentally transports a woman and then another masked man comes to save her. Its a fun little (almost) 5 minutes short that truly shows something that can be expanded on.

Far Horizon (2019)

Far Horizon

Director: Sara Martins

Set in 2025, Far Horizon is episode one of what I’d expect would be a series with fairly short episodes. Episode 1 is called survivor. While the context isn’t quite there, the synopsis of this is pretty much that a group of soldiers search the desolate land and end up going to look through, what they believe, is an abandoned field hospital for a supply run and ends up finding the first survivor in three years.

The tone here is done well. The suspense is also quite good. The cast also works as well as the characters definitely seem to have something more to learn about. The whole episode/short builds in tension as the suspense and darkness of each scene hides a lot of whats around them, limiting the vision and giving the final discovery such a nice element of surprise. Its rather impressive and if this is an actual series, it’d be nice to see where it heads for story-wise.

Flip (2019)

Flip

Director: Jessica Grace Smith

Kept in a post-apocalyptic future trapped in a bunk, mother Flip and daughter Plug need to find a way to escape their prison. Flip tries to protect Plug as much as possible and kept her away from Helmet, a growling aggressive beast (of sorts) that goes to visit them and abuse her. However, when things go wrong one day, Plug finds the courage to protect her mother and fight back.

Whether its the design of the mother and daughter or the world or even the villainous Helmet, Flip is a very well-executed short. Running at 13 minutes, this one has more depth than the typical short and actually manages to show off a lot of the elements of their entrapment as well as their dangerous situation and the creeping fear of the inevitable if they do stay there. The action sequence and the stakes in the story make Flip a really good short (and even one that could merit a full length project to see what this world has to offer more especially for this mother and daughter duo).

That’s it for these three shorts!
If anything, these short films show that there’s still a lot more to explore in the whole post-apocalypse idea or a dystopian future.

 

 

TADFF 2019 Shorts #1: We Three Queens/Eyes Open/Make Me A Sandwich

Toronto After Dark Film Festival

Much to our surprise, we are going to be covering Toronto After Dark Film Festival remotely for its short films selections. The festival itself runs from October 17 to 25th this year at the Scotiabank Theatre. If you happen to be in Toronto, do head over to check out this festival with its great line-up of feature films. You can find all the info HERE.

Over the next few days throughout the duration of TADFF, I will be looking at these in various categories and pre-feature shorts will be batched in 3 (or 4) films. Most of these will be paired with their screening times. These three to kick-off the first batch of pre-feature shorts are paired with screenings from October 17th and 18th.

We Three Queens (2018)

We Three Queens

Director: Chris Agoston

Cast: Erin Margurite Carter, Soma Chhaya, Emma Hunter, Rachel Wilson

*Screens with Extra Ordinary at TADFF 2019*

Beard (Erin Margurite Carter), Charlotte (Soma Chhaya) and Janet (Emma Hunter) are an all-star carolling group called We Three Queens. As they go to pick up their vests from their seamstress, they end up waking up kidnapped in her basement. With Christmas just around the corner, they need to find a way to convince Shelly (Rachel Wilson) to release them before midnight so that they can finish their carolling.

Christmas horror is always a welcome idea. Carolling has probably (at least to my knowledge) never been used in the context of a horror film. In a premise like this one, carolling definitely seems like quite the competitive world although who doesn’t want to be a part of something important or get noticed by the people that they enjoy watching, right? Running at almost 9 minutes, We Three Queens is a fun little Christmas horror short that adds a little comedy to the situation. Its not hard to see where the story goes as there is some foreshadowing but the actresses here are also quite entertaining to watch especially with their dialogue. Something about having a lot of red on screen not only makes it have the feeling of holiday but also have this more troubling situation at hand that we never know how Shelly would react to their responses to her requests.

Straight-forward and fairly unique in its premise of carollers being the central focus, We Three Queens is a fun Christmas horror short to check out.

Eyes Open (2019)

Eyes Open

Director (and writer): Jawed J.S.

Cast: Angela Bell

*Screens with Witches in the Woods*

Eyes Open is a 2019 horror short about a girl who goes for a walk in the woods to soon find out that she is haunted by an unseen presence both physically and psychologically.

Horror set in the woods has become increasingly used. Its a great choice for a setting because of its emptiness and isolation. With Eyes Open, its (almost) 6 minutes is a huge difference from where it starts to where it ends. The horror actually builds in its moments. While there were some oddities to this one, it still works overall especially as the unseen presence that haunts the single character in Eyes Open shows what it is doing: attacking when she closes her eyes. There are some odd low-budget effects but still, for its progression of horror, it does a pretty decent job at making it intriguing.

Make Me A Sandwich (2019)

Make Me A Sandwich

Director: Denman Hatch

Cast: Anne Shepherd, Peter Hodgins

*Screens with James vs. His Future Self*

Make Me  A Sandwich is a 2019 horror short (and its very short) about a wife who is constantly being asked by her husband to make him a sandwich.

Nothing is quite defining of a short film than one that runs for 3 minutes and keeps things as simple as a wife constantly being asked to make her husband a sandwich. And yet, those 3 minutes say a lot with just the wife’s reaction to each aggressive demand. Anne Shepherd as the wife does a great job at using those little facial expressions to show her lack of patience each time and how she retaliates. At the same time, what seems simple and straight forward as this story has a very startling twist at the end. Deranged might be the way to say that twist ending and actually makes you think a little more about the whole situation here and what we just watched. Its rather unsettling to watch and yet its hard to not laugh at a little of the dark humor here (perhaps its dark humor..I’m not sure anymore). If satisfying unsettling is a term that works, then this might apply to Make Me  A Sandwich.