Screamfest 2016: The Shorts Unleashed
Once the screaming stops and the blood has dried, more than fifty short films will have slashed their way across the silver screen at Screamfest 2016; the largest and longest running horror film festival in the United States. The sixteenth edition of the annual horror celebration returned to the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood, CA and blood-crazed audience members were treated to a wide variety of short films. Comedy, drama, romance, mystery, just to name a few genres, were mixed in with the horror to create many tasty concoctions that the most ardent or even most cynical of horror fans will find pleasurable.
One of the greatest challenges a filmmaker will face in this genre, well any genre for that matter, is trying to find a way to take the familiar and give it a fresh spin. Seriously, after thirteen FRIDAY THE 13TH films, yes I'm counting the upcoming one, or seven EXORCIST films, if you count Blatty's LEGION, what more is there to be done? A running theme in this year's collection of shorts is that these filmmakers have found ways to present familiar stories with a fresh coat of paint and we horror fans get to reap the rewards.
Below you will find my reviews of select short films which were screened at Screamfest 2016.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal
Director: Hasan Can Dagli
Starring: Turgay Dogan, Dounia Jauneaud, Tolga Akman, Sait Erol, Yuce Eser, Serdar Aras
Running Time: 15 minutes
Hasan Can Dagli's BLACK RING is certainly a film that plays around with convention and preconceived notions. In the film's opening minutes we see a group of men, who appear to be mercenary types, setting up equipment in an abandoned mansion. What are they getting ready for? Not long after we see a group of disparate individuals arriving and being greeted by one man in particular. Who is this guy and what are these people here for? Intrigued, aren't you?
As the film unfolded many scenarios ran through my mind as I contemplated the events on screen. As a genre fan I certainly thought of all the possible outcomes or at least those that immediately came to mind. However, there was one which I did not think of which was...of course I'm not going to tell you. You have to watch Dagli's film. Discussing any plot details or even alluding to elements to provide context would be a spoiler so I shall refrain from doing so.
Dagli, working from a screenplay he co-wrote with Cem Ozuduru and Turgay Dogan, allows the mystery and tension to build. You may not figure out what's going on at first but as Dagli reveals a new piece of the puzzle the narrative becomes somewhat clearer and once you reach that 'a-ha' moment all I could think is that's rather messed up and disturbing. Dagli and company have created a well paced mystery thriller that may have you looking at things in a different light.
Director: Craig D. Foster
Starring: Aaron Glenane, Adam Dunn, Ainslie Clouston & Arka Das
Running Time: 9 minutes
Boy, there's nothing worse than getting stuck at the office having to work overtime. You're ready to start your weekend, got all your work done and then your boss show's up with more work. It's time and a half, no big deal. Right? With his film OVERTIME, director Craig D. Foster presents a very funny and highly enjoyable look at one man's race against time after he's forced to burn the midnight oil.
Foster's film is best described as a comedy of errors as incidents conspire against him while he tries to get home. Being this is a genre film viewers will undoubtedly have an inkling as to his reasons why but even when they are revealed the enjoyment factor doesn't wane and it actually increases exponentially from that point onward.
The film rests on the able shoulders of Aaron Glenane who plays Ralph. His timing and reactions to the obstacles he faces, especially when considering his current predicament, elicits numerous laughs. Not to be forgotten is the screenplay by Foster and Emma McKenna which builds the laughs and tension as it leads to one truly hilarious conclusion which had me laughing and grinning from ear-to-ear.
Directors: Maazin Kamal & Munis Rashid
Starring: Malika Zafar Mariam Khalif
Running Time: 9 minutes
Maazin Kamal and Munis Rashid's film BOBO is about a little girl and her imaginary friend. The imaginary friend is certainly a plot device that most horror film fans are quite familiar with. The original THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is the first film to come to mind where a young girl had an imaginary pig-friend, named Jodie. Hats off to this directing duo, who also co-wrote the screenplay, for finding a compelling through line for this oft-seen story.
The film truly works thanks to the performances of Malika Zafar and Marian Khalif who portray the mother and daughter, respectively. You truly empathize with the characters especially young Khalif who convincingly shows the fear she has regarding Bobo. It's true we've likely seen our fair share of horror thrillers which have dealt with this subject matter but even being forearmed with this knowledge one may not be prepared for this film's overall arc.
Well directed, written and performed BOBO provides the tension, delivers the jumps when warranted and once it ends may very well leave you with a profound sense of sadness. All accomplished in a span of nine minutes.
Director: Steve Desmond
Starring: Ione Skye, Caitlin Carmichael, Christopher Wiehl, Joey Luthman
Running Time: 14 minutes
Growing up, all Jenn knew about the world is that it's dangerous, it's populated by monsters and the only safe haven is the underground bunker which her family eeks out a meager existence in. Young Jenn, with her birthday fast approaching, wants to see the outside world and prove that she is more than capable of protecting herself and taking out any monster that foolishly crosses her path.
That's the basic set up for Steve Desmond's great post-apocalyptic thriller MONSTERS. The film works as a coming of age drama, a mystery, a family drama and as a genre piece. The performances draw you in and it isn't long before we find ourselves rooting for Jenn to get out of the bunker to not only prove her worth but to show us what's out there. We are ready for her to take her first steps and when she does, no spoiler there, Desmond and co-writer Michael Sherman give us an awesome payoff.
Desmond and Sherman have created a sharp, intelligent and well paced mystery/thriller. The performances by young Carmichael and Ione Skye are convincing. Even when you think you know where it's going it still proves to be quite engaging and it delivers a potent, haunting and memorable third act.
THOSE AMONG US
Director: Justin Paul
Starring: Anna Ross, Gareth Thomas, Kelsey Zukowski, Billy Grandy
Running Time: 10 minutes
Torture porn. It wouldn't be held against you if you felt that the unfolding events in Justin Paul's film THOSE AMONG US were mere torture porn that was glorifying violence against women. For the bulk of the film's running time a man is subjecting a woman, who is unconscious at times, to brutal acts that in most corners of the globe would be deemed torture. There is a purpose to all of this right? Right?
In 2008 a little film called MARTYRS was unleashed on the world and it featured some often times hard-to-watch brutality. Recently in the seventh season premiere of THE WALKING DEAD events transpired that many considered to be excessive and nothing but torture porn. What these two titles share in common is that the violence, as unsettling as they may have been, served a purpose and served the story. The violence in Paul's film, which he also written, serves a purpose. What that may be I shall not say. You will just have to watch the film in its entirety to find out.
Paul gets strong performances from his small cast and really creates an atmosphere that could lead the average viewer down a path that would likely make them assume they are watching a film that is violent for violence's sake. There are times where you must call a spade a spade and then there are times where you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. At times, THOSE AMONG US is both.
THE BABYSITTER MURDERS
Director: Ryan Spindell
Starring: Caitlin Custer, Ben Hethcoat, Allison Gallaher, Mike C. Nelson
Running Time: 21 minutes
In 1978, John Carpenter's horror masterpiece was originally titled THE BABYSITTER MURDERS before it became HALLOWEEN. Now, writer-director Ryan Spindell has appropriated the title and the film he has wrought more than lives up to that cinematic classic and is truly emblematic of the genre.
On a dark stormy night, the babysitter, a young, innocent girl, akin to Laurie Strode, must fight for her life and that of the young child she's watching when a crazed killer enters the house. That simple summary is merely the tip of the iceberg that lies in still, black waters. Despite the fact that he's playing with familiar tropes, Spindell finds original, engrossing and sometimes cool-as-shit ways to breathe some life into what seems to be a dead subgenre.
The film features great performances by Caitlin Custer as the babysitter and Ben Hethcoat as the killer. In addition it features some great stunt work as there are many fight scenes where Custer really gives it to Hethcoat. Custer truly proves to be a final girl to remember. Rydell has crafted a highly entertaining slasher film. Both he and writer-director Shant Hamassian (NIGHT OF THE SLASHER) have given the slasher genre a much needed infusion of creativity and vision. Well done, boys.
Director: Zulma Rouge
Starring: Boris Gillot, Delphine Bronzi
Running Time: 2 mins.
In a matter of minutes, writer-director Zulma Rouge grabs your attention, draws you in, tickles your funny bone and delivers a zinger of a punchline.
As the bard once said 'brevity is the soul of wit' and Rouge has taken that to heart. In broad strokes she tells the story of a fish factory worker's mundane life at work and at home. Anchored by strong, comedic performances by Boris Gillot and Delphine Bronzie the film delivers plenty of amusement from opening frame to closing credits.
UN REFLEXE has the look and feel of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the sensibility of a Tim Burton and the dark humor of Zulma Rogue. It's a winning combination that will likely have you wanting to watch the short another time or two when it ends.
Director: C. A. Wallace
Starring: Karl Davies, Danny Webb
Running Time: 30 mins.
Probably one of the most reviled of deviant behaviors is that of pedophilia. Just the mere thought of it is enough to turn the stomachs of those with strong constitutions. Posing as children these people go online in order to lure unsuspecting kids into their grasp. If you had the means to find and stop a predator within your neighborhood, would you?
This is just what blogger Daniel Greed does. He pretends to be a child to draw out a suspected predator whom he hopes to expose in the process.
C.A. Wallace's film is a thriller full of twists and turns and palpable danger. It would be an injustice to the film to discuss anything beyond the brief description above. The film features a great performance by Karl Davies as blogger Daniel Greed. You truly get a sense of his blind ambition, his sense of duty as an investigative journalist and his fear when things don't go as planned.
Overall NSFW is a great short film that could easily be expanded into a feature length film. Well made across the board it proves to be a suspenseful and sometimes humorous ride that'll have viewers glued to their seats. There really isn't much more that can be said so just go see it.
Director: Roxanne Bordeaux
Starring: Jacque Bevon, Larry Rew
Running Time: 14 mins.
Imagine if you will having to live through a daily routine that is pretty much the same day in and day out. Now imagine those days being held captive and your only contact is the person keeping you there. For young Lily it would appear that this is his lot in life.
The events in Roxanne Bordeaux's directorial debut pretty much unfold bereft of dialogue. It is the performances and images that drive the story. Early on it isn't hard to empathize with Lily as you wonder what is going on in this villa and for how long. You really do get the sense that this has been the routine for many years and from the moment the film begins Bordeaux adds another layer to the tale with each new day. We begin to get the sense that Lily may be going through the motions but he has other things in mind.
Bordeaux lets the drama gradually unfold and allows the viewer to sort out what is going on based on the acting of Jacque Bevon and Larry Rew. It's a testament to her abilities as a filmmaker that the visual narrative is never confusing or complex nor does she lose the viewer when the story begins to take some unexpected twists and turns. Bordeaux makes an auspicious directorial debut with her film OEDIPUS.
NO CALLER I.D.
Director: Guy Pigden
Starring: Jocelyn Christian, Harley Neville, Guy Pigden
Running Time: 9 mins.
Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes to unnerve an audience. Director Guy Pigden starts his new film NO CALLER I.D. in an innocuous fashion and it slowly unfolds rather mundanely; that is until the moment things start getting sinister.
The film stars Jocelyn Christian as Heather who is home alone with her rather antsy pooch. Her night progresses from a mere inconvenience to downright deadly and from that point on Pigden really ratchets up the tension as it builds to its conclusion.
NO CALLER I.D. is another film where you don't want to talk too much about the plot or set up. Just don't let the short running time fool you as the film packs almost as much suspense as its feature length counterparts and in some respects even more so. Short, sweet and goes right for the jugular. Sometimes that really is all you need to get the job done.
Director: Alexander Ronnberg
Starring: Hedda Stiernstedt
Running Time: 4 mins.
Alexander Ronnberg's FIRST LIKE goes by almost as quickly as it takes for your latest selfie to post on your Instagram or Facebook. There's no denying that we are all slaves of social media and crave the instant gratification of receiving that first like from our online friends. Ronnberg takes a part of life that we likely take for granted and added a wrinkle that makes something as simple as posting a photo a matter of life or death.
The setup is quite simple and the gravity of it is well performed by Hedda Stiernstedt. While the concept may not be original, I'm pretty sure I've seen this in other films, Ronnberg does a fine job of giving us the familiar and making it suspenseful and fun to watch.
FIRST LIKE is short and sweet. In it's brief running time it entertains, provides some jumps and may very well change the way you take pics and how you respond to said pictures online. That certainly is one way to leave a lasting impression.
CREATURES OF WHITECHAPEL
Director: Jonathan Martin
Starring: Carlee Baker, Barrett Ogden, Rick Macy, Jillian Joy, Tori Halloran, Crystal Udy Reeve Boyd
Running Time: 26 mins.
KING KONG vs GODZILLA. FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN. DRACULA vs FRANKENSTEIN. Throughout the annals of cinematic history, crossover films have entertained audiences and in the age of the 'shared cinematic universe' they are still just as relevant and entertaining. Director Jonathan Martin and screenwriter Rebecca Martin, his sister, have created a winning mashup of two iconic horror legends, Frankenstein and Jack the Ripper.
The Martins give an entertaining and engrossing spin to Mary Shelley's work of fiction and the facts of the legendary serial killer of the late 19th century. In what I believe is a cinematic first, Igor, Dr. Frankenstein's assistant, is a woman. The events of Shelley's novel now take place in London 1888, the time of Jack the Ripper. Watching how these two stories intertwine is just part of the reason why this film is so much damn fun.
Carlee Baker gives a quirky, engrossing and layered performance as Igor. There's much more to her than a "yes, master" here and there. Igor is a very complex character and is easily the best part of the film. The film has a great ensemble, features some colorful photography and is well written and directed. CREATURES OF WHITECHAPEL is an original and offbeat take on a pair of familiar tales that will leave you clamoring for the inevitable sequel.
Director: Jake Hammond
Starring: Isadora Leiva, Pablo Gonzalez, Isabella Groff, Julie Moss, Luke Evans
Running Time: 13 mins.
Films found in the body horror subgenre typically involve characters who go through some sort of horrific physical transformation. Films like Cronenberg's THE FLY, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE TRILOGY or Kevin Smith's TUSK are just some examples of the genre. What these films have in common are science and experimentation. Jake Hammond's film PIGSKIN is a body horror film that is grounded in reality, is very real, very sobering and quite horrific.
Hammond's film follows the life of Laurie Vernon, a teenager who, despite appearances, is coping with bulimia, low self-esteem and low self-body image. Isadora Leiva makes a memorable acting debut as she effectively portrays the angst, confusion and terror she is going through.
Discussing what transpires during the film would do it an injustice so I shall go no further into the plot. Hammond and Vernon have made an effective horror film about a real horrific disorder which may sadden you, may shake you, may turn your stomach but will in the end stay with you long after it's over.
Director: Matt Mercer
Starring: Graham Skipper, Stacy Snyder, and Najarra Townsend
Running Time: 13 mins.
Matt Mercer's FEEDING TIME isn't just another horror movie that puts a babysitter in mortal peril. While it does involve a babysitter and yes she is in mortal peril but what sets this one apart from other similar films of this ilk is...I can't tell you that!
Mercer puts a fun and quirky spin on this familiar conceit that is often times the go-to for the horror genre. The film takes the viewer through the motions and then unveils some welcome twists and turns that build to a satisfying conclusion. The film stars Stacy Snyder as the prototypical babysitter who fatefully decides to cover a job for a friend. Snyder has some winning moments peppered throughout but I of course will not divulge what and where. Graham Skipper and Najarra Townsend provide some short yet peculiar comic relief.
Mercer's film is an amusing '80s throwback film which embraces the genres that were so well received, and in some cases well regarded, way back when. It delivers the laughs, the chills, the nostalgia and the excitement that one found in select films or even anthology TV shows from that decade. Who's hungry?
LITTLE BOY BLUE
Director: Nathan Keene
Starring: Nina Louise, Jessica King, Harry Peek
Running Time: 30 mins.
During the opening credits of Nathan Keene's film LITTLE BOY BLUE we learn about how medical mishaps have led to accidental castrations. We are then introduced to a young girl named Eva who has been displaying odd behavior. Her parents do what they can to help her through her difficulties. Naturally, for viewers, questions will arise as to why she's behaving the way she does. Eva pretty much spends all her time on her parents farm and one day she ventures beyond the property and meets a boy her age who is shackled and imprisoned in a neighbor's old barn.
You likely won't be prepared for where this film goes after that fateful meeting between Eva and the little boy. One moment you'll be smiling and the next slack jawed by the events unfolding before your eyes. Keene will take you for a ride and his actors will draw you in as you are steered through the many unexpected twists and turns which lie ahead. Considering what she is called upon to do, young Nina Louise gives a very natural and convincing performance as Eva. You can see the wheels turning behind Eva's eyes as she makes some very adult choices.
Keene's film may involve children but it is very much a fable for adults. It features striking cinematography, natural performances, solid direction and shocking moments that may be burned into your retinas for a time. You'll cry, you'll cringe, you'll laugh, you'll cheer and in the end you won't forget LITTLE BOY BLUE.
Director: Andrea Niada
Starring: Andrea Niada
Running Time: 24 mins.
Regardless of which part of the world you come from there's no denying the importance of making sure children receive a quality education. People pay big money to make sure their kids receive the best schooling money can buy. Of course, there are people who feel that their kids would achieve better and learn more if educated at home. Andrea Niada's latest film HOME EDUCATION takes a rather unexpected and compelling look at the institution of home schooling.
In this film, Niada clearly likes to play with expectations. Within the first few minutes he shows us a lot to process. A mother and daughter appear to be at a poem reading. We then discover that the young girl is reading the poem to her father who is lying still on the bed before them. However, as she continues to recite her words we notice something isn't right. The man is dead. From that moment on you are left to wonder just where is this film going. Undoubtedly numerous scenarios will run through your mind and chances are you may not come to the conclusion that Niada has written.
Once again I've intentionally avoided revealing any spoilers. The fun of this film not only comes from seeing where it's going but also the performances of young Kate Reed, as Rachel, and Jemma Churchill, as her mom, Carol. The film does deal with home education but you'll have to see the film to see how everything ties together. I rather enjoyed the film and while the ending didn't go where I thought it would it ultimately proved satisfying. Niada has written and directed a funny yet gloomy examination of home education and all its trappings. It's well paced with some memorable moments, twists and turns and the occasional chuckle or two. HOME EDUCATION doesn't skewer the institution but certainly might make you want to examine the lesson plan.