I’m always excited for the chance to see genre’ short films at a festival or event because very often they are hard to track down otherwise. So with two separate collections of shorts showing during Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas, I was pretty jazzed at the chance to see some off the beaten path work from folks I might not have heard of otherwise. The first of two groups of shorts was shown last night and it was an interesting bunch. Here is a brief rundown of each that I saw (missed one of them, titled 8):
Director: Josh MacDonald
I was already familiar with Josh MacDonald having seen his previous work, The Corridor last year and enjoying it. Game opens with a distressed woman with hands bound behind her back, tape over her mouth and a chain and post tied to her ankle running through a forest. We soon see a couple of backwoods looking guys in pursuit, armed with an axe and a chainsaw respectively. She tries in vain to untie herself but is chased down to the water’s edge, falling against the shore.
A third man appears and threatens her in a standard, backwoods-hillbilly kind of way. Soon after, we realize that one of the players in this dire situation is not exactly what they seem and a kind of out-of-left-field finale’ ensues. This one plays against ideas about how this kind of setup would play out and is clever and well shot. 3.5/5
Director: Angus Swantee
The scene and setup seem familiar: a guy (Greg) wakes up tied to chair in a dingy, ugly looking garage or dungeon with tables covered in various tools of harm. A menacing looking man with a vinyl smock and a medical mask bears down on our guy in the chair with a serious power drill.
This will be gross and messy, you think. Well, as it turns out, the guy in the chair is a victim of mistaken identity and is not the (assumed) evil camp counselor his captors think he is and is, instead, a career counselor. A fantastic breakdown of the torture framework ensues (after an unplanned wound caused by a meathook is tended to by the captor) with Greg trying to coach his captor through the process of rethinking his choice of profession as it is not something he really enjoys and wants more from life. ‘”I’m just the setup guy!” the captor moans at one point.
This whole exchange is absolutely hilarious and I need to see it again so I can catch all the lines I missed while laughing. The film wraps up in an absolutely satisfying way – really really worth tracking down as it is quite funny and well done. 4/5
Director Greg Kovacs
This short starts out with the familiar woman-in-a-house-by-herself setup with a lurking presence outside her window. Very quickly she is attacked by a zombie-looking guy and then the screen freezes. Huh? We fade back and as it turns out, the video is being analyzed by a group of zombies, critiquing the attack of the woman and pointing out issues with it. The film then backs out and we’re informed that it is a documentary put together to better understand zombies (who prefer to be called post-lifers) and how they operate.
What follows is a very Christopher Guest-like send up of the mocumentary style with our group of the undead seeming to live in a commune-like environment in the woods. We have a newlywed couple, a track star, a former adult film star (who delivers one of the film’s funnier lines), a feuding married couple among others. The interviews with each of them vary for humor and the best lines are delivered when there isn’t a punchline to jump on. Overall quite clever and funny with a slightly abrupt ending but enjoyable overall. 3.5/5
A Cooling Of The Blood
Director: Nathan Hynes
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this one right when it ended but in thinking about it a bit afterward, I was pretty pleased with it. A Cooling Of The Blood tells a story of a man who murders his wife on Christmas Eve in a fit of rage (signs point to her leaving him) and then must walk backward to determine his course of action after this unexpected turn of events.
The moral quandary he finds himself in is not spelled out in exposition spoken on-screen and is, instead shown wordlessly in his actions and you feel his decision-making in the process. It is beautifully shot and airy in its approach – a kind of semi-dreamlike type of musing on the choices we must make in the worst possible of circumstances. Well performed by Gord Rand as the husband and very lovely to look at, a solid short overall. 4/5
Director: Aaron Cartwright
So often with genre’ movies (and shorts) you will see a great concept or idea muddled or lost through a variety of factors which results in something more frustrating than enjoyable. Such was the case with Alistair. I take no pleasure in saying this because I had high hopes for how it would turn out.
We open with a man and woman sitting in a car who are casing a house for robbery. There also seems to be an undercurrent of violent outbursts between the two of them and references to previous situations made more complicated by one or the others predilections for violence and/or rage. Soon after entering, strange things start to happen and the two of them are faced with a situation made more than familiar in the home invasion sub-genre’ recently: you picked the wrong damned house.
Unfortunately, the scares come from sound spikes and off-kilter edits and once things are revealed about who Alistair is, you really don’t feel like you care one way or the other about these people and if they make it. 1.5/5
Director: Richard Powell
Switching gears, Familiar was a strong and very well made film about seething rage and vitriol just beneath the surface of a middle aged suburban husband and what that discontent might actually be. Beautifully shot with an exacting and airtight feel, Familiar is an excellent example of what all you can do when you take your time and rope the viewer in with small, steady steps. We watch John, a slightly schlubby guy go about his daily business, speaking in calm tones with his wife and daughter and generally living a mundane day-to-day life.
All the while we have a constant narrator talking to him, urging him, coaxing him to stoke the embers of frustration, bitterness against his wife and his life and behave in increasingly ugly and disturbing ways. This contrast between what we see (initially) and what we hear (from the voice) is damned unnerving and as John’s actions start to reflect the tone of the sinister badgering, nagging voice, we’re basically completely defenseless against what will happen next.
I will not give away more than I already have but I was completely impressed with this film and the remarkable directing balancing act that it took to make it as successful as it was. Seek this one out. 4.5/5
Director: Fannar Thor Arnarsson
This Icelandic film was arresting and dynamic and really tests your stomach. In what feels somewhat like a cut out of a longer film, Cold Turkey tells the story of a high school age boy who is trying to move away from his cannibalistic ways to a more normal way of living. Through very clever still shots and edits, we see him challenge himself to start trying normal foods and marking his progress on a calendar.
This process is not an easy one and he suffers greatly from not only the physical effects of malnourishment (cannot keep any normal food down) but also the mental breakdown that reduces him to a shell of a person. Both these things are handled very well by the director – you don’t ever completely despise him or completely feel for him either. In some ways it felt like a nature documentary where the subject (say a flock of flamingos or ground squirrels or something) isn’t given any help by the filmmaker and is only observed, for better or for worse.
This intimate access to this gruesome process was definitely tough to balance the right way but this film handles it very well and the result is a sharp, interesting trip. Made me want a longer version of the film for sure. 4/5