This past May, FilmQuest Festival hosted its originally slated 2020 line-up via a hybrid format. Providing both in-person screenings as well as an online viewing experience, many could enjoy the genre happenings from the comfort of their home. So, being the person I am, I decided the first short film block that I should experience while bundled up in bed was the MOTHER’S MILK WILL HAUNT YOUR DREAMS shorts block. With a title like that, why wouldn’t I? The films selected for this short block feature a motherly, otherworldly quality to them that may have you guessing all sorts of things about yourself and – perhaps – even your own parents. Now, without further adieu, let’s get into this.
In Quinn George’s SIGNIFICANT OTHER, a young couple has a disagreement about whether or not they can see a bright red light in their home. Things steadily escalate after the argument concludes itself, and soon it becomes more than either of them bargained for. Those of us who’ve been in relationships will find the type of disagreement we see onscreen relatable. The argument seems inane, at first. But then, both people are swept up in the reality of the situation. Much like the iceberg, they only see its tip. The real horror is just underneath those waves. I would be remiss if I didn’t wax poetic about the usage of that bloodred (as seen in the still above), because it’s such an evocative use of color when juxtapositioned against an all-black background.
Freddy Chavez Olmos‘s DUERMETE NINO is -honestly – just lovely. Explemfiying the mania of sleep deprivation and paranoia surrounding babies, especially with the invention of the baby monitor, gives plenty for Olmos to work with. Knowing how personal of a story this short is, Olmos captures the escalating nature of sleep deprivation as Alma, the mother featured in the film, starts to see and hear things. Perfectly paced out, the tension is heightened with each beat. It all culminates in a stressful climax that features a very effed-up animatronic that will probably reoccur again in my nightmares later down the road. Stay through the credits of this short, where you can see an old school-styled animated advertisement for the baby monitor featured in the film.
Robert Gregson’s SHUT EYE is another short that deals directly with sleep deprivation, but also includes the terror of sleep paralysis. A troubled woman has rented a home to recover from her issues, and – eventually – re-establish her life. However, she cannot sleep. As the short plays out, her sleep deprivation gets worse and she learns that someone has died in the home. This all culminates in her confronting her demons, but they have their own plans for her. I’ll be honest. I had to watch this a couple of times to pick up on what all had been described in the synopsis. This leads me to believe that things may have been directed too subtly, or they might not have been clear in the screenplay. This doesn’t mean that the short is bad. It just means that there might be some confusion for the viewer in grasping the more intricate details peppered in.
Felipe Varga’s MILK TEETH encapsulates the inherent horror found in fairytales of yore. Taking place in an orphanage, young boy Thomas (Aaron Bradshaw) is desperate to find a family to love him. One night, he hears a voice coming from the sink. In exchange for his milkteeth, it will help him attain what his heart desires. In this case, coins to help him buy things to approve his appearance. Things, though, aren’t what they seem and, while the proverbial snot hits the fan, the end result will probably warm your heart. In true fairytale fashion, it ends with a softer note. MILK TEETH captures all the traditional fairytale notes, all down to the lessons revealed towards the end of the short.
If I were to pick a personal favorite from this line-up, it would be Louisa Weichmann’s GASLIGHT. One night, a waitress named Rose is waiting at the bus stop after her shift. While it’s her birthday, things aren’t great. And they don’t get all that much better when a strange man drives up to her. Like, a literal lesson on how to gaslight someone, this dude goes through an entire playbook while Rose isn’t having it. Things steadily escalate from there, but the conclusion will leave you satisfies. Weichmann and DoP Prince Nediyedath create visual artwork once the story shifts outside in the darkness. There are some really cinematic moments that will hit you with their otherworldly quality. But also, I would totally love to see Rose battling monsters as a series or something because her character would make an unconventional, yet relatable heroine for us to embrace.
Scottish writer/director Faye Jackson’s CHANGELING taps into traditional folklore with this short and it works. For those familiar with the tale of the changeling, it focuses on the fear of something being wrong with the baby. And, in the case of the short, the young mother in this should be concerned. In the CHANGELING, a new mother is enthralled and concerned for the changes happening to her child. While she instinctually tries to protect the baby, it’s become clear that the baby is not exactly the target. We get disturbing transformation sequences that will stick to the mind (think a lot of melting bodies, and gradual deconstruction), and more. While the tale of the changeling is familiar, Jackson creates something fresh with their take.
The MOTHER’S MILK WILL HAUNT YOUR DREAMS block ends with the ultra-disturbing HUNGRY JOE, which seems to focus on the age-old argument of nature vs nurture when it comes to parenting. The short focuses on a single mother who struggles to bond with her child, who is born with an insatiable and increasingly inhumane appetite. Along the way, we all see how directors Sam Dawe and Paul Holbrook explore how society frequently punishes and blames mothers for the failure to raise their children, even if it’s not necessarily something that is the fault of the mother. We see this in how the mother onscreen tries to do her best, with the father completely checking out, until all of her options are wasted away. All in all, a very impactful piece.
The shorts featured in the MOTHER’S MILK WILL HAUNT YOUR DREAMS block played at FilmQuest 2020, which took place May 21-29, 2021.
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