I have to admit up front, TISH (Toronto International Spring of Horror) is one of my favourite film festivals to attend! Jonny Lewis and Lari Teras really put their hearts and souls into putting together the best possible line-up of genre cinema you’ve probably never heard of, let alone seen.
Even putting together a top 10 out of the 20+ short films they showcased this year was a challenge.
Still, I decided it was important to take the time to highlight the crazy variety of shorts they put on display. Everything from local micro-budget fair to big scale international stories, to something from a country I had to Google to figure out it was real!
10. False Light
A professor and a group of university students explore an old Newfoundland settlement with a tragic and scandalous past. A past that the spirits dwelling there are anxious to get their revenge for.
This was a fun little Canadian gem, with some great vibes of The Fog. You can tell it was a micro-budget production, as the effects are not exactly stellar. But the cast is very likeable, and Danielle (played by the adorable-but-fierce Erin Mick) gives a classic hero one-liner that cracked me up.
9. Girl Trip
Two best friends on a road trip keep stumbling over touchy subjects, highlighting the difficulties in their relationship. When a much-needed pitstop ends up drawing some unwanted attention, the mayhem begins. Only their attackers quickly learn it’s a bad idea to get in the middle of a catfight.
This short will have a very familiar feel for anyone out there who has sisters, or female friends. The relationship between the leads – Catherine Black and Brooke Lenzi, both also writers, with Catherine directing – is dripping with unresolved issues, and their chemistry on screen is fantastic. When the action starts it will definitely have you cheering and laughing.
8. Devil’s Due
The devil made this film. He made it just for you. And he made it… to gloat?
This was such a wonderful surprise of a short. Single location single actor monologues are not usually the most interesting stuff to put on screen. But director Ryan LaPlante really captures your attention using some subtle camera and editing tricks to place his devil in a nightmarishly blurred, cartoonish version of reality. From there, actor Troy Blundell delivers a hilarious, thought-provoking, and chilling monologue on how the devil didn’t have to lift a finger to get us to do all his bidding for him. This one definitely had me thinking for a while after it was done.
7. Skin Deep
A pastry shop owner tears herself apart to catch the eye of a customer.
It’s so disappointing that this short screened without sound, due to a technical problem. However, I think it’s a testament to the production that it was still remarkable without it. Telling a fully engaging, horrifying, and profound story using only visuals in just 3 minutes is quite an achievement. A wonderfully messy look at the lengths we go to in order to achieve impossible beauty standards. Diana and Ali Chappell combine to make the shop owner’s transformation truly breathtaking.
6. The Collector
A man collects the severed sentient heads of all his girlfriends before their relationships have a chance to get stale. As he gets ready to add his current girlfriend to his collection, he may not be ready for her reaction.
This is a brilliantly absurdist tale about love, memory and relationships. The main character is a man who would rather hold onto the fondest memories of the past, rather than face the difficult truths of making relationships work. And this toxic attitude leads to nothing but misery. The performances are brilliant, the dialogue is both poignant and hilarious, and it contains a musical number you won’t want to miss.
An aspiring actress who is suicidal and a girl trying to survive physical abuse live on a small tropical island struck by a biological weapon. A transformed world awaits them in which only those who are truly alone can survive.
Wow, this film was a journey! There are enough twists and turns over 26 minutes that I really did not see where this was headed before the end. That’s not to say it’s confusing, but you may need to know a bit about Japanese cultural and spiritual beliefs about death and souls for the ending to not feel like it came out of nowhere.
Whether you follow the plot or not, the themes of the film are obvious and the performances are powerful. The two leading women show that loneliness and alienation are what really make us monsters. Finding love and comfort, even in unexpected places, can be the key to moving on from our traumas.
4. Revenge of the Slasher
A take on what happens when a Slasher and a Final Girl go home after their “final battle” at the end of a slasher movie.
Meta-horror and horror-comedy are both much larger and more well-known sub-genres than they were back in the 90’s. It seems like everything that’s to be said about the slasher genre has been said, and then some. So, I’m always surprised when someone comes up with a really fresh take on it.
This film follows a Final Girl who responds to surviving a slasher by wanting to live her life and enjoy all the sex and drugs that she had to avoid in order to survive in the first place. It also follows “Ernie”, the killer, and how he deals with failure after letting some virgin beat him.
I beg you all to see this if you have any love for the classic slashers of the 80’s and 90’s. You won’t see a tighter, more loving satire than this one. The jokes land so well, it had a tired midnight audience howling.
3. Synthetic Love
Synthetic Love, Inc. is a company that specializes in one thing: Bringing back your lost love, by any means necessary.
This short from Ukraine was easily the most beautifully shot film at the festival (including the features). Everything from costumes, to set design, to effects, to drone shots, was done to perfection. It really helps to sell the high-scale nature of the business at the centre of the story. This was obviously a bit of a vanity project for writer/director/star Vasyl Moskalenko. But in the end, I can’t really criticize. There’s a lot here to be vain about!
2. Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre
A horror comedy about one woman’s desperate struggle to survive a pack of men who just want to explain everything to her. Who will survive? And what will be explained to them?
I cannot get enough of the Finnish sense of humour. Dry, dark and pointed, this film drops an anvil on the heads of anyone who ever tried to suggest “mansplaining” isn’t a thing. Let’s be honest, gentlemen. We’ve all done it unintentionally before. We’ve assumed a woman didn’t know something that she’s fully capable of knowing. Stumbling into that mistake a few times was more than enough to break me of that habit real quick. But the men who insist it isn’t a thing, and keep persisting in treating women that way, do really come off as weird obnoxious zombies.
1. The Chicken’s Revenge
While trying to get revenge on the psychopath who thought he killed her, Manon finds herself trapped in a house surrounded by cops. To escape, she has no choice but to work with the guy who knows the “chicken’s curse”.
This was probably the most surprising and amazing short film I’ve ever seen. Filmed on the tiny French island of Reunion (in the Indian Ocean), this is an absolute comedy-horror masterclass. The effects are high quality, the dialogue is brilliant, the violence is way over the top, and the comedy is too absurd to describe without sounding silly. This is apparently the third part in a trilogy of Curse of the Chicken short films (the first two you can find on YouTube). I highly recommend everyone check out the full series. You will laugh until you lay an egg.