One of the first horror blocks at this year’s FilmQuest Festival was the ‘Quick Frights’ block. This particular film block category focuses on horror films that are designed to be fast-paced and help get any horror fan, both serious and casual, a quick fix of horror. Although these films all tackled that quick fix, each film provided different ways of tackling the idea of fast-paced while also providing diverse production designs and storylines, thus providing a diverse array of ‘Quick Frights’. With that said, let’s get into what films were featured in this horror short block.
In AUSENTE, a young woman is walking alone through an obviously rural, lonely part of South America. There is foliage surrounding all sides of her and all one can hear is an almost unbearable silence as the woman walks by herself on this road. To keep herself from feeling less alone, she starts humming a tune. Unfortunately, someone or something starts humming it back. It soon becomes apparent that something is amiss and soon we watch as an all too familiar occurrence plays out on screen, but with a more monstrous twist. Although inspired by the thousands of people who have disappeared in Columbia since the ’50s, the tale that plays out in director Juan Felipe’s short is a fairly familiar one from a gendered perspective. AUSENTE reminds us of the dangers of being alone, especially as an unaccompanied woman. The use of call and response between the woman and whatever is hunting her down helped to heighten the tension in a naturally eerie way. However, it was a particularly human barrier that the woman runs headlong into that ultimately served to remind us how humanity and the monsters we cannot see can both come together to harm us. Neither is blameless.
Troy DeWinne’s short BOY’S CLUB focuses on a deteriorating sex addict who still very much has a problem even after the world has pretty much ended. However, hope arises (as do other things) when he spots a sex doll outside of his underground apocalypse bunker. His desperation to acquire the doll no matter what the cost spurs him to run outside. The catch? He cannot make any sounds. Sounds attract whatever it is that the source of whatever post-apocalyptic shenanigans have taken root in this world DeWinne has created. And, while the tone is mostly hilarious and the scenario of the sex addict doing whatever he can to find love in a doll, there is horror in the situation. He is willing to risk life and extended limb, even if it means battling horrific she-beast things. Like the short THE DESECRATED, I’d very much love to see how this world can be expanded in either a feature or more shorts because I think there is definitely so much more to explore.
To say that this short has multiple layers would be an understatement. It is literally a worst-case scenario of IKEA instructions gone wrong which, let’s face it when does following IKEA instructions ever go right? However, EVSTRONGER also dissects how easily it is to get people to follow instructions and make them remain complaint. This dissection occurs when the couple Marta and David try to assemble a piece of furniture that their parents have sent them. However, the instructions tell them what they should do to their partner instead. To further emphasize the cycle of capitalism that the general populace resides in, the cycle starts anew after one of the partners follows the instructions to the letter. While EVSTRONGER is one of the shorter shorts, there’s a lot to bite into in the short time it takes up.
FEVER explores the strangeness of the mind when exposed to disease, with fever dreams conjuring up Shadow Men that may or not be visible to the eye unless sick. Director, producer, and writer Brian K. Rosenthal brings his childhood nightmare fuel to life in this film as we are led to question whether or not what the girl protagonist is imagining is real or if it’s a figment of the hallucinations that high fevers can bring. One thing of note is how simplistically perfect the monster design is for the Shadow Man. While all you generally see are long outstretched fingers like branches on a tree, it is still enough to not only toy with the senses but to also make our hair stand on edge and question ourselves the next time we see shadows move. To read more about our thoughts on FEVER, check out Megan’s in-depth review of the short here.
One of the lighter selections in this short film block, GUT FEELING delivers on the ridiculous humor element. The humor offsets what is really a nightmarish scenario. Two failed scientists are about to flip on a machine that hasn’t been tested. Not only has it not been tested but, once it is turned on, it can never be shut off again. Actors Unkle Funkle and Jimmy Leslie play off of each other hilariously and director/writer Nesto aids in the humor with bits like the picture of Leslie’s character’s son (who is very much all grown up). The humor all comes crashing down once the two scientists turn on the machine and we watch as they both painfully die (and the world along with it). Perhaps, those two should have listened to their GUT FEELING. I’ll see myself out.
Another one of the lighter shorts featured in this short film block, LOBISOME was one of the shorts that were unexpectedly hilarious. This horror short very much was entrenched in both the action and comedy genres as well, with the stakes being high from the get-go. Jorge and Iván are meeting clients in the bathroom of an airport. From the audience’s perspective, it looks like they just have a briefcase. However, when the briefcase is opened, a curse is bestowed on whoever ends up opening it. It is through the clients and their discovery that one of the men has opened it that chaos ensues. As the man (who I shall refrain from naming to keep some things a mystery) transforms into the terrifying LOBISOME wolf-man creature, we watch as the clients reap the consequences of seeking out this briefcase. While this happens, quick shots back to the poor trapped person just trying to go to the bathroom while this is going on help to counteract against the violent actions happening in the scene. With high-stakes, an epic transformation, and a satisfying cheeky ending, this short definitely stood out.
I’m going to be honest. I completely forgot that there are people out there who are obsessed with murders and collecting all things murder-related so, upon seeing the short film MURDERABILIAC, I was definitely disturbed by how eerily cheerful the supporting actress Syndey Skidmore about her love of murder things, but that actually helped convey how seemingly normal these collectors can come across. Anyone can be fascinated by murder (just look at Bill Hader). The acting direction from Richard Karpala helped to balance out the humor that was used to offset the increasing eeriness as the film progressed. And, the decision to end MURDERABILIAC the way that they did I thought was really clever and helped subvert expectations of how a scenario like this would have ended.
Nominated for Best Micro Short, PUZZLE is a lesson in quick horror and great tension building from director Vincenzo Aiello. We watch a woman who is ready for a night in after taking a shower, but it’s not long until she discovers a puzzle piece. She notices that the image on the piece looks familiar and soon finds another one. Her curiosity intrigued, she is led on a chase within the realm of her tiny apartment by something or someone who is clearly taunting her with each newly discovered piece. It isn’t until the final piece is laid down and the PUZZLE is completed that the audience gets its payoff. For a micro short, it was super satisfying to feel the tension naturally build in a quick, realistic fashion. And I have to commend Aiello and actress Marie Wyler for working in sync to create such a great final product.
In Anthony DeNiro’s SIPHON, we are introduced to Gena, a schoolteacher who is living with regret over a hit and run she committed. A month or so after the hit and run, she is kidnapped in the school parking lot by the father of the victim. This man turns out to be an unhinged mad scientist type who plans on using Gena’s stem cells to heal his child. What I really loved about SIPHON was how neither of the adults was blameless for their actions. While Stephen (Scott Mack) was in the wrong for kidnapping Gena (Tori Hendry), she not only committed a hit and run but also had no problem trying to trick a child into freeing her and leaving the same child (who was the victim of the hit and run too) for dead. Having such unlikeable characters was a great plus for the story and helped it stand out.
In SNAGGLETOOTH, we get to see a young girl named Mary-Alice who goes in for a seemingly simple dental procedure. However, the world that has been created by director Colin Bishopp is disarming and full of layers that are meant to be unpeeled. At first glance, you think that the dentist was a man completely wrapped up in the archaic handling of children. I mean, we see the girl strapped down in leather, with her head held in place. It isn’t until we finally see the extent of her SNAGGLETOOTH that our questions are answered. And, we also find out what it truly means for this girl to get a puppy. I’m not going to spoil it because it ruins the surprise.
In director John Gray’s THE DESECRATED, we are introduced to Sabrina Shelby (played by Stacey Farber), a young mortuary assistant who is literally just trying to do her job in logging in the body of Angela Bates (Marcia Moran). However, strange things start to happen within the span of minutes. It seems like the body is moving and, slowly but surely, something sinister makes its presence known to Sabrina, ultimately leading to an ambiguous ending that prompts many questions from this curious viewer. While this short has a great tension-filled build-up that leaves us wondering what the fate of Sabrina is, I wondered whether or not the overall short itself felt more like an episode opening scene rather than a one-off film. Or perhaps this is me projecting into the short because I wanted to see where things would lead. I’d be curious to see how the supernatural influences in THE DESECRATED could be explored in a feature. There definitely seems like there is room in the story for expansion.
In THE FRIEND, we know something is amiss 30 seconds into the short. There’s something inside Ellie’s house and strange things are rapidly starting to happen after she’s put her daughter into bed. While the plot itself of THE FRIEND is definitely not anything new to the horror genre, watching how the tension intensifies through an endless pan shot by director Fabien Montagner and helps us take in the changes in the house is really the selling point of the film. Little details that we would have naturally missed in a regular horror film are caught in the pan shot and, as the audience watches and waits for Ellie to figure out what’s going on, we know that this won’t be ending well. How else can it end when we’ve watched all the pieces come together while she’s frantically looking for her daughter?
If you ever want to get quickly frustrated with a victim in a horror movie, THE HIDEBEHIND is for you. Shot in the San Bernandino Forest, creator Parker Finn has crafted a film that plays upon the folklore of the film’s namesake. Shooting in daytime would have made it difficult to hide the devilishly playful (and arguably sadistic) creature in this film but, due to really clever shooting and editing work, the hide and seek game played between THE HIDEBEHIND and the soon-to-be victim in this film is played up to great tension-filled effect. It is when we finally reach the short film’s climactic reveal of the creature’s intent that the audience really gets sucked into the flight of the victim as he tries to run for his life.
FilmQuest Festival will return next year starting September 4th and concluding on September 12, 2020.
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