One of the pleasures of a film festival that you don’t often come across elsewhere is the presentation of short films on the big screen. The tenth Grimmfest showed three shorts on its preview night, as well as major selections on both the Friday and Saturday, and a couple more scattered throughout the weekend.
Here’s my rundown and snapshot review of the lot:
UK, English, 2018, 26 mins. Dir Guy Soulsby
Jack and Ella travel alone, taking the path less trodden. They are hiding, on the run, but from what and why? It’s a game of cat and mouse, the hunter chases the hunted.
God’s Kingdom comes with a very tense atmosphere, reinforced by the moody soundtrack… For a little while, I’m baffled but gripped, wondering what on Earth is going on. And then: smacked around the face with absolutely remarkable special effects.
This short film feels like a proof of concept for something much larger, perhaps because of the disjointed scenes, or perhaps because of the somewhat famous faces amongst the cast (such as Alistair Petrie and Mark Wingett). The sound is cinematic throughout, and the ending reminded me of A Dark Song. Overall, it blew me away… despite an unusual emphasis on shoes and boots!
I hope – probably in vain – that there will be a longer film to come. In the meantime, I’m pleased to find there is another (shorter) short of Guy Soulsby’s available to watch on Amazon Prime.(3.5 / 5)
UK, English, 2018, 30 mins. Dir Helen Lyons-Curran
Desperate to do right by his children, a debt-ridden taxi driver has just one night left to deliver on a lucrative, yet sinister promise.
Mark Vanhendrijk plays a weary taxi driver in Ends Meat; he has an extra, unusual commission to help pay the bills, and struggles to know who to trust… but at least he’s nearly finished the contract.
The acting is above average in this short film, but the writing is strikingly good. It makes for a neat urban legend story, which the believable set-up and familiar locations really help with.
Remember: you’re always best off getting in a taxi you’ve booked yourself.(3.5 / 5)
UK, English, 2018, 10 mins. Dir Pete Tomkies
Martha needs the toilet fixed in her hotel bathroom but there’s one problem: her plumber may be a vampire.
This is a very entertaining little piece, which paints an affectionate portrait of a horror lover with a big imagination. How do you know whether the urban legends you hear about are actually “horror or hokum”? One young lady finds out the hard way in Once Bitten…
Martha is played lovingly by Lauren Ashley Carter; and the strangely suave plumber (possible vampire) is played by Garth Maunders, who I saw a few months ago in Elliott Maguire’s The Ferryman.
The sound is rather average quality, and the production as a whole fairly cheap, but the ending was a surprise, and Once Bitten was a welcome light relief after the last couple.(2.5 / 5)
Sweden, Swedish with English subtitles, 2018, 11 mins. Dir Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund
Moa is vacationing in an isolated cabin on a small island. One day an old metal box turns up in her fishing net. And whatever she does, she cannot seem to get rid of it…
Now, this was great: Mystery Box comes from the same writer/director partnership as Wither, though more abstract and much better quality. It is a gripping little film, aided by Samir El Alaoui’s atmospheric synth score; and by Lisa Henni’s acting. She is clearly anxious – reasonably so – and her portrayal of the key character fits the story beautifully.
I’m surprised to find I have the same feeling about this short as I did about Vranken’s Muil: it is stylish and visceral, and I hope to watch it again, and recommend it to others.(4 / 5)
USA, English, 2017, 7 mins. Dir Matt K. Turner
A pilot crash-lands on an alien planet where she faces an unexpected enemy – herself!
Beautifully shot in a desert (with extra moons!), Rflktr is a story in one scene and a few sentences, about an impossible situation, and about experiences and choices that shape a person. Breeda Wool’s (Mr. Mercedes) portrayal of her dual role is emotional and tough, and I can’t help but sympathise with what she feels (both versions of her).
An apparent auteur, Turner is credited as writer, director, producer and composer; and the synth soundtrack is haunting, and very well matched to the film as a whole. To be honest, the score alone is worth an award and may be better than the film as a whole.(3.5 / 5)
USA, English, 2017, 10 mins. Dir Al Lougher
A grieving mother latches on to a magical surrogate for her lost child. But small miracles come with big consequences…
I really loved Al’s earlier pieces, So Dark and So Pretty (hopefully destined to become a series), so the bar was set high for The Dollmaker. This is the first short film of the season to focus on grief, which seems to be a theme of so many horror films; and even though it’s not difficult to see where the story is going, it hurts to watch the plot unfold.
The score is slightly oversentimental, but the writing and acting are so well done – precise and careful – that I really only noticed after the film was done. Overall, The Dollmaker is a well-constructed piece, both in terms of the script and the production; the content is almost like an old Twilight Zone episode, though the presentation distinctly contemporary.(4 / 5)
USA, English, 2017, 18 mins. Dir Maria Alice Arida
Isabelle, a lonely gallery owner, meets a dangerously seductive performance artist and discovers they have more in common than expected.
Wow! I’ve not found horror to be this erotic since I first read Clive Barker, half my life ago. For the first half of Instinct, I found myself thinking “is this horror?” and drooling at the same time; but then, things fell into place and my mouth dried up.
Directed, written and largely performed by women, Instinct is about art, connections and – above all – risk. It is beautiful and really deserves to be seen on the big screen. The two main cast, Christine Kellogg-Darrin and Jordan Monaghan, are spellbinding, with truly tangible chemistry. The tension in this precisely paced film is so tight that the background score is almost redundant, but it mirrors the mood of the piece perfectly.
I would give this short full marks except that I’m tantalised: I wish this short was a little longer.(4.5 / 5)
A Death Story Called Girl
USA, English, 2018, 13 mins. Dir Nathalia Bas-Tzion Beahan
Enjoy a day in the life of death…
A virtually unknown writer/director and an equally unknown actor – both female – yet A Death Story Called Girl is striking, to say the least.
Apparently, it is the first in a trilogy of films in which she explores ultra-violence and isolation from the female gaze; and I would be very interested to see the three all together when they are fully released. This little film follows a young woman (Livvy Bennett) observing the closure of a number of lives; we see her smile when she has taken part in it herself at the end.
A Death Story Called Girl uses sound and music in ways I’d not come across before, which add to a sense that everything is experienced from within the young woman’s mind. Equally, the camera, which just occasionally slows down with her (such as when she is carrying drinks) serves to bring the viewer closer still: we hear, feel and see along with her… actually, I’m more impressed with this short now that I’m thinking it through.(3.5 / 5)
We Summoned A Demon
USA, English, 2018, 6 mins. Dir Chris McInroy
They just wanted to be cool. Instead, they got a demon.
Kirk C. Johnson and Carlos Larotta play two friends who kind of overdo a spell in a story which demonstrates the old adage of “be careful what you wish for”.
There’s not a lot to say about We Summoned A Demon: in these six minutes the boys do indeed summon a demon; though not entirely intentionally. The acting is spot on (though probably not demanding), the sound is atmospheric and the dialogue entertaining, rather than funny as such. The special effects are where this short delivers, though; close up, especially: make-up and gore are surprising and effective. Not so effective is the wider scale production such as lighting and set; and – for me, at least – the humour.(2.5 / 5)
UK, English, 2017, 19 mins. Dir Simon Ross
Maurice’s party is in full swing when a routine search brings the police to his front door. Unfazed by this interruption the party continues, but it isn’t long before Maurice is keen to say goodbye to all his guests except Sally. Romance is in the air… but all is not as it seems.
Maurice (Rob Witcomb) is hosting a dinner party, though he clearly doesn’t have the usual social graces for such a role. No-one seems to mind too much, though; they play along… but the viewer has to wonder why. Witcomb is perfectly cast for this role; I wonder if it was written with him in mind?
The plot takes a turn or two of course, and to start off with the change is a little confusing; but as soon as I grasped what I was seeing… I was on the edge of my seat right to the end. Indeed the gradual development of the dark, tense atmosphere brought me right back to Rope; Dead Cool is a modern Hitchcockian film noir that fits tidily into its short duration.
The only thing that jarred with me somewhat was the music: the pace of the score fitted nicely, but I kept wondering why The Nutcracker suite was chosen, and that distracted somewhat. That said, Dead Cool was terrific overall: I’m going to look out for more by Ross, and recommend this film to anyone else who has the chance to see it.(4 / 5)
USA, English, 2018, 9 mins. Dir Ruben Pallan
A girl wakes up in an empty pool at an abandoned house, unable to remember the night before. As her memories come back to her she realises a dark truth.
Afterparty (or Lost in the Woods, as it is titled on IMDb) opens with a sharply shot view of a frozen pool, where Rachel (Gillian Rose) wakes up. We follow her gradually piecing together her recollections of a bad trip with friends at an abandoned house, with jolts of light and colour in the way parties and memories can behave. The memories are believable and combined with the quality acting, that makes the character very believable.
I gasped as the events were revealed: the clues were not laid out with spades, though I feel like I should have got it – or at least some of it – before Rachel did. Afterparty was beautifully shot, carefully paced… and I really, really hope the director and writers go on to make something longer.(4 / 5)
UK, English, 2018, 11 mins. Dir Sian Harries
Having dreamed of the perfect wedding, Laney wakes up with the world’s most unwelcome wedding guest in her bed – NeckFace. Will she still go through with it? After all, they have spent £950 on taffeta chair ties and £200 on her mother’s hat alone…
The worst wedding on the big screen since [REC] 3. NeckFace is a fable about wedding jitters and the Hell that is family expectations. It’s creepy, cringey, beautifully acted and thoroughly British.
Laney is played by Isy Suttie, who I don’t think I’ve seen since her endearing Dobby in Peep Show. This is a similar role, though clearly more jaded… I sympathise with what she goes through, but I must say very little of it made me laugh. It’s a nicely made little film, but I’m sorry, not for me.(2.5 / 5)
Spain, Spanish with English subtitles, 2017, 15 mins. Dir Lucía Forner
Marta’s dream profession is to be a serial killer, and she wants Carlos to be her first victim.
Marta is a succinct and engaging little drama about a wannabe serial killer (Thaïs Blume) and her first victim (Daniel Pérez Prada). It is very well written and acted: at no time can you tell for sure what the outcome is likely to be. But at the same time – and all within less than fifteen minutes – the viewer gets to know and like both characters (and I’d very happily watch both actors again).
The sets and camera work are unfussy, though clear and evidently well thought through, just as Marta herself has thought everything through. This is a believable story, and we might as well be flies on the wall watching Marta pop her killer cherry.
The only thing which lets Marta down is the atmosphere: it’s a very enjoyable (and at times amusing) little film, but she herself would be disappointed to know that it is not exciting.(3.5 / 5)
The Dark Room AKA Le Chambre Noire
France, French with English subtitles, 2017, 20 mins. Dir Morgane Segaert
France, 1910. As her mother suffers with a mysterious illness, young Cassandre feels a growing presence in her home … What shadow hides in the silence of the dark room?
La Chambre Noire is a beautiful period piece about a mother and daughter relationship in the shadow of the mother’s worsening illness. The mother, Marie (Julia Leblanc-Lacoste) puts on a civilised front amongst both friends and staff, but her daughter Cassandre (Lisa Segaert) sees what lies beneath. Interestingly, though, Cassandre interprets the malady as a dark figure with long, sharp fingers.
There is a wonderful affection in the relationship between the two characters; rare, I think in period films. The set and costume design are exquisite; even the “monstre” was very fittingly presented. The brief appearance of the father was unexplained; and I liked that, interpreting it as he was the one who first brought the (apparently contagious) illness.
Segaert has not written or directed much, but I truly hope this film leads to recognition and more.(4.5 / 5)
Canada, English, 2018, 11 mins. Dir Jennifer Nicole Stang
Lindsey is forced to babysit her sister Becky one night. But she falls asleep and wakes up to find her sister gone. Someone has taken Becky and could be after her as well…
The Whistler is a nasty little film, as I think it is intended to be. It blends together a couple of reliable horror themes – babysitter and folklore – to a very creepy effect. The babysitter, in this case, is Lindsey (Karis Cameron), older sister to Rebecca (Baya Ipatowicz), who asks for a bedtime story. The story is a little like The Pied Piper of Hamelin and reminds Lindsey of tales from local history about virgins led to their deaths en masse…
The Whistler looks great, especially in the outdoor locations of British Colombia; and the cast and extras all play their parts beautifully. The sound isn’t great, though: some of the music and effects are too loud, whereas talking is too quiet. And several aspects of the plot are left unexplained and a little confusing. But despite all that, it really is a creepy little film, and I’d love to see more by Stang.(3 / 5)
The Old Woman Who Hid Her Fear Under the Stairs
UK, English, 2017, 16 mins. Dir Faye Jackson
An old woman finds a way to remove her fear and she stashes it in a tin under the stairs. But when she notices a stranger watching her house, the fear under the stairs becomes harder to ignore.
I could watch The Old Woman Who Hid Her Fear Under the Stairs every week: it is so encouraging and the main character (Sara Kestelman) so human and relatable. She views a video advertisement by a guru (Alice Offley) who talks her through a technique to beat her everyday anxieties and you can truly feel how relieved she feels when it works.
The film benefits from the terrific use of colour and light in the internal set which compounds the woman’s aloneness. But best of all is the use of music and movement, showing – along with her change of dress – how lighter the woman feels after her fear has been addressed. I loved the final message especially: once you have defeated your fear you can face anything.(4.5 / 5)
Australia, English, 2018, 6 mins. Dir Ren Thackham
On a mysterious dirt road in the harsh yet beautiful Australian outback, Ned Williams, a beast with a dark side, is trying to escape authority and Constable Rose, a true blue honest bloke, is trying to get out of the desert without being shot, run over… or eaten.
Round Trip is a fabulous and funny thriller about just two people: cop (Danny Bolt) and crook (Lee Priest) on their way to nowhere. Scripted like an Australian Timecrimes (and just as tightly), you can either see it as an allegory of lives in a never-ending cycle or just a fun piece of film.
The two actors fit their roles beautifully, but this film would not be what it is without the stark desert landscape. The film is stylishly shot, making great use of the sky and sunlight as part of the scenery.
But primarily, Round Trip is witty philosophy: “We’re all lost in our own way, aren’t we, mate?”(3.5 / 5)
USA, English, 2018, 7 mins. Dir Alex Noyer
Alexis, a sound engineer, helps the aspiring musician, Josh, win the drum machine of his dreams in a competition in a mall. But her reasons for doing so are far darker than he could ever imagine…
Conductor is a joyful film about music as a tool for creating something more… or am I overthinking it?
And yes, it’s horror! You would not guess from that fabulous smile (and she has moves to match), but Conductor is shocking. When the violence arrives, it is explicit and extreme; indeed so over-the-top that the context makes it funny. But the delivery is so surprising that the film as a whole is clever.
“Death by midi” says my musician hubby; “you can set anything to controls.” Besides, we’ve had plenty of horror films involving heavy metal… about time some more contemporary music had a shot! Noyer clearly has affection for the equipment on show too, and it was no surprise to find he had produced a documentary about Roland drum machines.
A film to show musicians, if ever they need reminding of their power.(4.5 / 5)