A film festival is always an exciting experience. Every movie feels that much more thrilling as you dive into magic worlds surrounded by fellow fans.
Short film blocks are one of my favorite parts of any festival, as they often introduce me to new filmmakers creating brilliant stories under the greatest of restrictions.
This year, I had the chance to screen the Queer Horror film block for the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival, and I was floored by the incredible talent they’d put together. If you get the chance to see any of these fantastic short films, don’t sleep on it.
When a teenager struggling with their identity finds a cave underneath their bathtub, they are given a chance to try on new skin and explore their true identity.
Directed by Audrey Rosenberg, SKIN reveals its story slowly, taking its time to set up a world that’s familiar to its audience while still appearing totally foreign. Even the dialogue is measured, with pregnant pauses between lines giving the audience time to reflect on every word.
I found myself lulled into an almost meditative state, which set up the magical reveal at the center of the story—a living cave under the protagonist’s house complete with a life-changing gift. By the time Rosenberg’s camera unveils the meaning of this discovery I had chills.
SKIN is a gorgeous, soft, melancholic exploration of queer identity. This is what the horror genre was made for.
Stuck in a nowhere town she desperately wants to escape, Angela (Shara McGlinn) decides to reinvent herself by getting a job at a hip juice bar. But even as she pushes her old life, and best friend, away, she begins to discover there’s something sinister lurking behind the innocent pleasures of those blood orange smoothies.
Pulling off a good horror/comedy is like walking on the edge of a high rise, each step has to be bold without throwing you too far off your center. Director Aliya Haq pulls this balancing act off wonderfully in BLOOD ORANGE. From the bold production design to the daring (and bloody) plot twist, the film knows just how to reach beyond horror tropes to deliver something fresh and entertaining.
While the story of a woman losing track of what’s important in life may be tried and true, it’s the way that Haq presents her story that really sings. This short brings the extra in all the right places. High fashion, high neon, and high snark, this fully realized aesthetic world is as fun as it is threatening.
I don’t know if you could call BLOOD ORANGE a “feel-good film,” but I certainly left smiling.
TEA PARTIES ARE FOR BABIES!
Emily is just a quiet, artistic virgin when she runs into her former classmate, the fabulous Bunny. After convincing Emily to join her on an excursion to a club in the city, the two head out for a wild night that nearly ends perfectly with the two sharing a kiss. Too bad for Emily, Bunny’s friends are waiting in the back.
What sets TEA PARTIES ARE FOR BABIES! apart from other horror shorts is its constant feeling of dread. Even when things seem to be going right for protagonist Emily, the feeling that something terrible is about to happen is never far away. And while this is a horror story, that feeling is something I think we can all relate to. How many times have you found yourself on the brink of getting something that feels too good to be true, only to have your worst suspicions confirmed?
In TEA PARTIES, Emily wants companionship, but she has yet to be able to find it. With Bunny, there is a promise of a life without loneliness. She’s cautiously excited, but even as we watch her join in with the revelry at the club, she can’t quite let go like everyone else. She knows there’s something to lose.
Director Teja LoBreglio paints this unease onto every frame, highlighting the nooks and crannies of Emily’s discomfort even as we hope that everything will work out alright.
DESTRUCTION MAKES THE WORLD BURN BRIGHTER
While the world around them crumbles, a young woman must make extreme sacrifices to save the woman she loves.
With a run time of just five minutes, DESTRUCTION MAKES THE WORLD BURN BRIGHTER delivers a dark and devastating scenario that left me wanting more.
Director Kalen Artinian knows how to use a minimalist’s approach to maximum effect. With no dialogue and few locations, DESTRUCTION brings you a dystopian world where factories cloud the air with pollution, sirens are a constant companion, and just finding food to eat can be a dangerous pursuit.
But for all that, this is really a love story. It’s a tale that asks, “What would you do for the ones you love?” What sets this short film apart is the answer to that question. And what an answer it is.
When two women on a first date are interrupted by a rude dude, it seems like just another (annoying) night at a straight bar. But when Leenie is attacked by the creep in the parking lot, it’s up to Jill to reveal her true power.
From her extensive tenure as a horror writer around the web to her many fantastic horror films, director BJ Colangelo is the real deal. Her passion for the horror genre is apparent in everything she creates, and with LABYRS, she’s done it again.
What I loved about LABYRS is the way Colangelo gets big ideas across with simplicity and grace. This film is equal parts innocent romance (“It’s like someone ripped the pages out of my diary and turned them into a person”) and badass dark superhero origin story.
“I still like you, no matter what you are,” Lennie tells Jill at the end of the film, and that’s the beautiful point Colangelo and crew want you to know. Growing up queer is filled with fears both internal and external. But the things about ourselves that we fear can end up becoming the source of our greatest powers if only we’re brave enough to explore them.
Sam’s entrance into a new friend group gets off to a rocky start when mean girl Blair begins picking on her. But just as things begin to turn around, Sam realizes something inexplicable is happening to her body right in front of their eyes.
I can’t help but admit that LONE WOLF made me a bit jealous. This sort of teen coming-of-age horror is exactly what I needed when I was going through adolescence, but sadly there wasn’t much like this back in the olden times (aka the 90s).
Director January Jones has put together a fabulous short film that will take you back to those awkward times of being just on the cusp of evolution. Every scene nails the strange surreal feeling of teen-ness—the sense that you don’t quite fit into anyone’s puzzle. But what sets this short apart is the introduction of queer identity. It’s hard enough to be a teen, but when your cocoon stage includes feelings for one of your friends, things become all that more complicated.
I loved Jones’ decision to really characterize these changes with practical effects that were both charming and scary. Sam can’t hide who she is no matter how hard she tries, but the truth is, once she lets others see her, maybe she won’t seem so different after all.
Horror has always been a queer genre, and I applaud the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival for putting together such a powerhouse representation of queer horror cinema. I can’t wait to see what each of these filmmakers does next.