FrightFest 2020 Short Film Show Cases 1 and 2 Reviews

Bark

 

A trope of horror film scenery and settings are forests and trees, but what thoughts would a sentient but immobilised tree have if it observed a Friday 13th style murder? Bark sets out to answer just this quirky question. Rapport with the viewer is quickly established through some compelling voice acting. In this way, Bark comically establishes a tree as a compelling character (something which other horror films fail to do), and through which the rest of the story is seen. “Good luck with your emotional scars, I’ll just stay here with mine,” is one of the funnier lines that draws a nice connection between the monster chase and subsequent confrontation. At just over five minutes it felt a tad too long and could do with some trimming (no pun intended), but this odd quirky short with an Archer-style voiceover was a nice way to ease into the rest of the showcase.

 

A Bit of Fun

 

A 90s’ séance set in a student flat forms the backdrop for this Craft meets Sixth Sense short. For a short set in a flat, in one room and based around a séance, the balance between static shots and cuts managed to maintain visual interest. The balance between the shock of the twist and integrity of the story could have been evened out a bit more. The central premise around the séance itself and each of the participants reasons for doing it as well as their relationship with each other could have been explained more upfront or at least hinted at, which would have made the conclusion pack more punch. A nice trick pulled off at the end though.

 

Breakfast

 

This short managed to scare while evolving its style with heightened effects throughout. The short starts with a set of sparse no dialogue series of scenes which involve a woman waking from an accident and incredibly hungry in her home. Exploration of her bruises as well as some off-kilter splice cuts of breakfast cooking help create a nauseating effect, an unease, which the viewer needs to continue watching to work out. The change in lighting style in the second half feels unnatural but works. The introduction of dialogue also serves to fill in the backstory but also points to a mania and an inversion of a typical family ritual. The final effects and scares look convincing and tie together the visual language we’ve been introduced throughout. The short’s final scene truly packs a punch. This is good horror.

 

Flesh Control
An upfront claim: the sound mix on the dialogue as well as the dialogue itself was difficult to make out on this short. The story appeared to be about two fly humanoid exterminators who tracked humans in a weird role reversal. Beyond that I couldn’t discern much more.

 

Subject 3

A team of medical researchers searching for a cure for a virus that has seemingly overwhelmed the world and the aftermath of human testing is the focus for this road journey short. Playing close parallel with the current pandemic tropes, the story follows a researcher as she returns to connect with a person from her past. The short mines some nice introspections about connecting back with the past for safety when the future doesn’t work out quite the way we had hoped. Coupled with some excellent cinematography and lighting this short seemed like a calling card for a much bigger story to be told and piqued enough interest in the core relationships from the performances for me to want to know more.

 

Jeff Drives You

We can all find it hard to be without our phone at the best of times, but when AI takes the personalisation of self-driving cars to the next level, just what kind relationships can we expect to have between us and our devices? Jeff Drives You was a really well-executed idea. It proved that while having a neat idea can be enough to fuel a short, if you treat the idea just right, you can mine some real humanity to make the idea really connect with the viewer. The performances and light comedy between the actor and the voice of the car ease you in with a few chuckles as they take their 15-hour journey. Gradually, as the toll of isolation takes effect on the passenger and with the AI system taking advantage, the passenger reveals truths which take his bonding with the car further. A superb meditation on how we start owning things and that if we’re not careful, our things can end up owning us.

 

Ouzo and Blackcurrant

A pair of friends reunite and reminisce in their teenage haunts – with haunts being the operative word. This was beautifully filmed – the cinematography and lighting really provided a rose-tinted backdrop through which the story unfolds. For a story which was effectively two people in a single place, my visual attention was always kept. The performances were natural, which, coupled with the setting made the scares work as they slowly crept in. Kudos also has to go for the inventive use of the characters using their phones as a means of telegraphing the spectres presence. You’ll look twice through the viewfinder next time you take a selfie.

 

Tarrare

A spoken word piece with images and text tracking to the narration. This reminded me of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes – albeit with an amped up horror element.

 

Guest

A truly spooky little short that was highly effective. A woman on the run is pursued by a phantom and, where she can’t outrun it, takes an extreme measure to be rid of the sight and sound of it. The lack of sound, the weirdness of the phantom and the kicker at the end of the story pointing how you can’t run away from yourself or that the more you try to run, the more inevitable your fate is gives you pause for thought.

The Beholder

A mixed-media rendering of an Edgar Allen Poe tale in the style of Dave McKean. This looked visually interesting and I would have been keen to see this in a longer form.

 

Werewolf
This was the highlight of the festival showcase for me. A brilliant ensemble piece that takes the evening social of games night to a heightened level with a werewolf thrown in for good measure. As the card game is played, social truths pertaining to each guest are slowly unravelled and the group ties slowly dissolve with some great comedic effects. What really made this short work were the brilliant performances and a well-observed script. The interplay between characters just crackled and there was some great comedy timing along with some well-observed dinner party talk. What’s more, the zaniness of the concept and introduction of the card game host completely worked and complimented the tone laid out at the start.

 

The Motorist

A Wicker Man style short based on a confrontation between a countryside cult and a lone city traveller. The Motorist is a really good example of how a story can start at the point the drama starts and how an audience should be trusted to keep up with the pace as it unfolds without the need for lots of exposition. After a hit and run driver refuses to meet justice by existing his car, a weird ritual is performed on him and his car in a way which allows the cult to exact proper justice. What I liked about this short was how fast the storytelling was and how quickly it managed to unpack its core concepts. No filler here: just a compelling and suspenseful short.

 

Love Bite

While a zombie apocalypse could bring about the end of the world, the argument which breaks out between a couple under siege by zombies threatens to do it far quicker in this short. As the couple take refuge in a truck against the zombies, they argue over the cause and effect of what turns someone into zombie. The dynamics at play centre around the man’s need to be right and win the argument while his girlfriend goads him about being wrong all the time. To this end, Love Bite neatly predicts the social tensions families and couples have had to work through during lockdown as they spend more time together. That said, the bickering and anger the couple show from the start and throughout makes you wonder what brought them together and more importantly why they are still together. Given that the relationship is the source of interest, I felt the tonal shifts between comedy and drama plus the constant bickering, did not allow me to invest myself fully in the characters.

 

The Gift

The persecution of women throughout the ages as witches with a modern-day woman coping with her period is the subject of this short. The Gift manages to elegantly draw parallels between the treatment of women historically with the coping mechanisms of women today. Not wanting to give too much away but the two strands of stories tie neatly up with the character asserting her power and finding mastery of her environment. A great short.

 

 

Wash

Wash was another one of the shorts that really managed to produce an unnerving scare for the total length of time it ran. Moody, atmospheric with some great cinematography and performances, the Wash is a meditation on the interplay of control between a parent, a child and the child’s object of play. During lockdown I’ve heard friends discuss the difficulty of controlling kids and the subtle and noticeable shifts in power that take place as parents give in to children’s demands for distractions such as iPhones. Wash neatly manages to elude to these themes, heightening the effect of control as well as highlighting the gaps which parents clearly don’t have over their children.

 

Fuel

A theatre actress needs to discover the fuel which will lend motivation to her performance in a play. Anger, hatred and desperation are the emotions she needs to mine and the real world stands ready to give her those life experiences. The short itself was well-directed with some good performances and a great score, however I didn’t feel the story had enough time to mature. The plot covered from the opening scene to the last one didn’t point to a causation or a change which had been achieved. Had Fuel had a bit more time to breathe and explore its own concept I think its end effects would have been better conveyed.

 

Polvotron 5000

This was a neat sci-fi concept fuelled by a man’s visit to a holographic brothel and the relationship which develops between a client and his hostess. The production design on this short was well done – the futuristic slum aesthetic really conveyed a sense of place and time. I liked the underlying idea of this film but the one thing which worked against the short was the lead character’s motivation: he wants to be left alone and enjoy a moment of silence and yet comes to a holographic brothel buying a hologram for the evening. What’s more, his initial adamant protests with the hologram about wanting to be left alone give way all to quickly to an in-depth interaction. While the later interactions are heartfelt and meaningful the big jumps in how the characters felt about each other undermined its emotional integrity.

 

Keith

This was a fun twist on the traditional monster under the kid’s bed scenario and carried a subtle and heartfelt message about how parents and children alike can be seen as monsters in each other’s eyes. The voice acting of the monster under the bed was superb and deeply human, while the performance of the child actor came across as authentic and smart and not sickly sweet or naïve. The twist at the end was meaningful and goes to prove that it’s always handy having a monster (or a parent) looking out for you.

 

Death walks on Nitrate

An experimental film done in the style and score of an Italian Giallo: think The Ring meets Mario Bava and you get a flavour for what this short is all about. This was a visually interesting execution of a neat concept with a cool score. For a short film, it was great to see the efforts to which the filmmakers had gone to create something so authentic. There’s enough there laid out for the average horror fan but if you’re a fan of Gialllo you’re sure to appreciate this more.

 

The Afterlife Bureau
A Kafka-esque view of an afterlife processing centre for the recently deceased forms the backdrop for this quirky short. The production design and performances are top notch and carry an Inside Number 9 / League of Gentleman vibe. The central story around a recently deceased applicant and their case worker was a bit unclear through. While the applicant wants to return to life with enhanced conditions, the case worker’s motivations for hurrying his application at all costs seemed counter to the officious nature of the environment. Another short which could have benefitted from spending a tad more time unpacking the stakes in the story upfront.

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