FILMQUEST 2017 - The Shorts


Rating Scale:

***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average

*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal

BLACK RING

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.

Re-posted review from 10/29/16.

MONSTERS

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.

Re-posted review from 10/29/16.

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.

Re-posted review from 10/29/16.

FIRST LIKE

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.

Re-posted review from 10/29/16.

FEEDING TIME

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?

Re-posted review from 10/29/16.

HOME EDUCATION

Director: Andrea Niada

Starring: Jemma Churchill, Kate Reed, Richard Ginn

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.

Re-posted review from 10/29/16.

ALTERNATIVE MATH

Director: David Maddox

Starring: Allyn Carrell, Mykle McCoslin, Bryan Massey, Paul T. Taylor

Running Time: 9 mins.

*****

Other than death and taxes it's a certainty that one can depend on the arts to provide commentary, context and perhaps meaning to the world and times we live in. Whether it be scathing remarks found in music lyrics, enlightening words in a poem or even humor on the big screen artists have always turned to their trade to express their feelings. Co-writers David Maddox and Malcolm Morrison have done just that with their topical short film about a teacher who is being forced to consider alternative truths for the most simplest, finite and proven of answers.

Spearheaded by a great performance from Allyn Carrell, as the educator who takes a stand against the alternatives, this political comedy hits all the right notes as it follows the progression of this alternative fact. Maddox gets strong work from his supporting cast as well. In particular, Paul T. Taylor as the school principal. Taylor really captures the heart and soul of an ass-kissing administrator to a tee.

What director Maddox presents in his film encapsulates the absurdity and unfathomable reality which the whole world finds itself in. It's equally frustrating and hilarious because of its pulled from the headlines story line. Upon viewing it one cannot help but to accept it as fact because that is what we are witnessing and hearing about on a daily basis. However, despite the subject matter, Maddox and Morrison manage to turn this into an incredibly satisfying comedy with a fantastic ending. This is definitely one worth seeking out.

WOLF OF VENGEANCE

Director: Masakatsu Higuchi

Starring: Tsukasa Kadota, Tomoko Hayakawa, Kiyo Matsumoto, Yuta Kanaya, Hideki Sugiguchi, Tomonori Muraoka

Running Time: 4 mins.

****

On the surface it looks like Masakatsu Higuchi's short film WOLF OF VENGEANCE will be nothing more than your standard action set piece; not that there's anything wrong with that. In the film a lone swordsman takes on a room full of sword-wielding villains who look like they just stepped out of a Mike Mignola graphic novel. With flourishes of steel and copious amounts of blood and violence Higuchi certainly delivers what fans would expect from a samurai film especially one seemingly inspired by the likes of Miike and Tarantino. However, it turns out there's more to this tale than meets the eye.

In a rather deft stroke of storytelling, you'll discover that there is a familiar backstory to the drama unfolding on screen and that realization speaks volume once you piece it all together. I must admit I was more focused on the action before I even realized what was going on story wise. I didn't immediately catch on but once the film's credits rolled it all came together. You realize that these brief 4 minutes are obviously part of a bigger picture and thoughts of how the rest of the story will unfold in this new interpretation of an oft-told tale will have you saying that was and would be frickin' cool.

WOLF OF VENGEANCE features solid fight choreography, rich cinematography and assured direction by a filmmaker in his directorial debut.

MOUSE

Director: Logan George, Celine Held

Starring: Vanessa Wasche, Logan George, Charlotte Arnoux

Running Time: 12 mins.

****

Get rich quick schemes seem to be a dime a dozen. We've all seen it before on the news or read about it online. Someone sues a fast food chain because their coffee was too hot. Another sues a restaurant for allegedly serving meat that is not what's advertised. Some are sure to be be frivolous while others prove to be legit. You gotta wonder just who these people are that are filing such claims. Now what if someone has a legitimate claim but whose character is of ill repute. That's the situation that the characters face in directors Logan George and Celine Held's MOUSE.

The situation certainly is intriguing enough but George and Held are not at all interested in their characters' plight. They are more interested in making the audience squirm in their seats as they are left to watch the drama unfold as we see just what lengths two people who know they aren't reliable will go to present the truth...even if they are in the right.

Vanessa Wasche and Logan George are quite convincing as the couple at the center of this comedy/drama. It's well paced, written and escalates with every passing minute. Simultaneously thought-provoking and stomach churning this MOUSE is actually a welcome intruder.

THE TINWIFE

Director: Travis Neufeld

Starring: Anna Mazurik, Anna Seibel, Michael Neuert, Nathan Pylypuk

Running Time: 27 mins.

****

Human or robot? Would you know the difference? Can you say for sure? How would you know if you were human or a robot? Again, can you say for sure? These are the questions at the center of Travis Neufeld's compelling science-fiction drama THE TINWIFE.

Neufeld flips the script and puts his futuristic tale in the technicolor future of the 1950s. The anachronistic setting gives the film a vintage sci-fi B-movie vibe despite being made in the 21st century. You'll likely recognize themes which were explored in the dark bleak future of BLADE RUNNER are just as relevant in the bright and cheerful future of the 1950s.

Anna Mazurik is great as Wendy, the woman at the center of all the drama. In an unexpected series of events she is informed that she isn't human but is in fact an android. Mazurik gives an affecting performance as she comes to grip with her new reality while never once revealing what she truly is. Anna Seibel is also just as good as Juliet, an actual android. Or is she?

Neufeld explores familiar themes and presents them in a memorable and engaging way. He does raise some intriguing questions about artificial intelligence and doesn't provide any easy answers. The film does take some unexpected twists and turns which lead to an unexpected and haunting conclusion. Like all good science fiction, THE TINWIFE presents

thought-provoking ideas which aren't that far off from being science fact.

DEATH METAL

Director: Chris McInroy

Starring: Kirk C. Johnson, Michael Dalmon, Will Elliott, Sam Eidson

Running Time: 5 mins.

****

It seems like at every genre film festival there's always that one short film that just makes you laugh your ass off, cringe at the gratuitous violence and sometimes scream "WTF!" Well, Chris McInroy's DEATH METAL delivers the laughs and the violence in this highly entertaining ode to shredding.

Kirk C. Johnson stars as a down on his luck busker who just wants to shred. One fateful day his father, played by Michael Dalmon, hands down a guitar which will allow its player to riff like nothing on heaven and earth...except perhaps in hell. The guitar comes with a warning, which our hero thankfully ignores, and as result mayhem ensues in one hilarious moment after another.

This fast and furious film features great practical effects, funny and oddly relatable moments and an infectious energy that is highly entertaining and memorable. Be warned, this is bloody as hell but pretty damn funny as well.

GODDAMMIT

Director: Ryan Moser

Starring: Davison Locksley, Tommy Cramer, Rebeka Pinon Cassidy

Running Time: 8 mins.

****

We've all been on long road trips. In fact, I'm sure many of us had to make that long drive through a seemingly endless landscape like a desert or through fields as far as the eye can see. What do you talk about? Random facts? The results of a ball game? Play a round of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?" There always seems to be that one subject that comes up that just enraptures everyone in the car and just makes you think. Seriously, imagine a road trip with Neil deGrasse Tyson and you could very well have GODDAMMIT.

Three travelers on a long road trip, played by Davison Locksley, Tommy Cramer and Rebeka PInon Cassidy, make remarks about the glaring sun and set off an existential journey through the universe. Cecil, played by Locksley, goes off on a lengthy monologue about the creation of the universe and our place in the grand scheme of things. Sounds like it could be boring for sure but that's where writer-director Moser and his co-writer Keaton S. Ziem come in. As Cecil speaks the unfolding cosmos is visible through the car's windows. Striking imagery provides some compelling and though-provoking moments of contemplation as Locksley narrates the universe like Tyson and Sagan have before him.

Moser takes the simplest yet deceptively complex of narratives and turns it into a compelling visual feast that could have easily backfired but doesn't. The ingenuity displayed to get the shots in this short is just one thing to admire about it. GODDAMMIT does a solid job of opening one's mind to the vastness of the cosmos just outside your car's windshield.

THE MAN WHO CAUGHT A MERMAID

Director: Kaitlin Tinker

Starring: Roy Barker

Running Time: 16 mins.

****

Make no mistake, Kaitlin Tinker's directorial debut is not run-of-the-mill Disney fare. Sure, thematically it may be a dark and twisted tale about some poor unfortunate souls but ultimately it minds the depths of some deeper, sobering and very human issues.

In the film we meet a fisherman who seems to be on an epic quest to catch the one that got away. The title pretty much gives it away but it certainly doesn't unfold as you'd expect. The title makes it sound like this will be some sort of whimsical "fish out of water" fantasy. That would be a resounding "nope."

Tinker co-wrote the film with Jean-Philippe Lopez and together they've created an engrossing story that is at time humorous and at times shocking and unexpected. The film features outstanding practical make-up effects and will likely change your perception of what a mermaid is suppose to look like. Here's a hint, it's not Daryl Hannah. Tinker makes a very assured directorial debut with this entertaining and engaging genre bender of a short that may very well leave audiences gasping at the end.

CARVED

Director: Mary C. Russell

Starring: Marissa Crisafulli, Angelica Chitwood, Chia Chen, Kate Nichols, Christopher Karbo, Paris Dylan

Running Time: 12 mins.

***1/2

In her directorial debut Mary C. Russell delivers an entertaining cocktail of genre staples that should appeal to the most discerning of genre film fans. CARVED adds another scenario to the "what's the worst that could happen on a Vegas road trip?" In the film four friends, two of them are sisters, are on their way to Vegas when they are in a seemingly tragic accident involving someone who is not what they seem. During the film's opening you get a sense of where this might be going but it likely won't unfold the way you'd expect once the accident occurs.

It would be easy to rattle off the films that Russell may have found inspiration from or pays homage to but doing so would unleash a torrent of spoilers. It's best if you just go in fresh, know as little about the plot and enjoy the ride. Considering certain plot elements Russell shows an amazing amount of restraint as it could have easily become excessively salacious and gratuitous. However, she allows things to get just twisted enough to illicit the appropriate laughs and gasps.

Marissa Crisafulli and Angelica Chitwood are great as the two sisters. When called upon they go balls to the wall in some physical, and at times awkward, set pieces. Chitwood delivers the most layered performance of the two and she does so convincingly. Clearly Russell's goal is to entertain and she does so successfully with gallows humor, bloody violence and some sly social subtext.

THE FACELESS MAN

Director: Jeremy Foley

Starring: William O'Leary, Rima Rajan, Norma Maldonado, Heather Long, Hoyt Richards, Michael King, Nate Moore, Austin James Rodriguez

Running Time: 13 mins.

***1/2

At some point in our lives we all had that day where we simply don't want to get up to face the world. We just want to stay curled up under the covers hiding from the harsh light of reality or, gasp, grown-upping. When we first meet Tom he is doing just that. He's staying in bed while his girlfriend gets ready for work and encourages him to get up. When Tom finally does get up he makes a stunning discovery. His face is gone. It has now been replaced by a mirror. Now all he wants to do is hide but he has no choice but to venture out into the world as 'The Faceless Man.'

To reveal how The Faceless Man, well, faces the world outside his front door would be a disservice to the film and its story. Some interesting and insightful developments do occur as Tom must come to terms with his new identity. Will Tom ever become Tom again? What is the purpose of the mirror? What does it mean? Well, you'll just have to seek out those answers yourself and see the film.

Now, while the film's narrative is engaging enough viewers may be caught up in figuring out how they accomplished all of the practical, in-camera effects work with the mirror. It's quite simple really and required meticulous planning by the director, cinematographer and actor. Sometimes the best visual effects are the ones you don't realize aren't.

THE FACELESS MAN is an original and entertaining fable about a man who must literally save face, his own. It has a certain whimsical charm to it and features some great voice over work by William O'Leary. His vocal reactions to the situations he finds himself in are quite amusing. They say it's not nice to stare but in the case of Foley's film feel free to stare all you like. You might see something there you've never seen before.

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