Cabin Fever: isolation horror (Final Girls Berlin) shorts programme Look out!

February 4, 2021
Alix Turner 0
Features

Cabin Fever: isolation horror (Final Girls Berlin) shorts programme

This is the second shorts programme of this year’s Final Girls Berlin Film Festival (here’s the first). I was a little wary that the theme might be a bit too familiar, in this world of lockdowns and paranoia; but none of them touched that nerve, as it happens. It’s remarkable, though, what variety can be found in just five films and one theme.

Nyt Kun Olet Minun (Now That You’re Mine)

(dir Petra Lumioksa, Finland, 2020)

Aava takes her new girlfriend out to her family’s old summer house to meet her sister. What was supposed to be a fun weekend clearing out the house turns into a dark journey of suppressed memories and dangerous relationships when Aava starts remembering what she has preferred to forget. As the past treads out of the fog, tension and jealousy rise between the three young women, and Aava starts to distrust everyone – even herself.

One of the longer shorts, at nearly forty minutes long, but Now That You’re Mine felt like a full-length feature; I’ve certainly seen thrillers with the same degree of plot, character depth, and tension. There are shades of What Keeps You Alive here – not just because of the all-female characters, but also the forest getaway – but this film also had a strong character of its own, partly due to the distinct Finnish sense of place. I wasn’t surprised that it won an award at Rome Independent Film Festival last year, but it certainly was a surprise to discover that Now That You’re Mine was Lumioksa’s MA graduation film. The gradual build-up of suspense, the creative use of the setting, and especially the warmth added to the childhood flashbacks all indicate a director with a future.

Lose It

(dirs. AJ Taylor & Maximilian Clark, USA, 2020)

Trapped in her home, a woman descends into a disorienting panic.

In just a few minutes, Lose It demonstrates perfectly that it’s fine – civilized, even – being on one’s own most of the time; but then just occasionally, it really, really isn’t. There’s no dialogue in this film, but that’s fine, the story and (more importantly) the protagonist’s feelings are made extremely clear. She enjoys her dinner, clears up, and goes to take the rubbish downstairs, but her keys aren’t where (she thought) she put them. At first, that’s not a big deal: she’ll stumble across them. But then as she becomes more desperate in her search, a panic attack takes over and steadily blots out her senses. The acting, the sound design, and the filming of that part of Lose It are perfect, making this short truly scary. If you’re not in control of a fundamental element of life – such as one’s front door – you’re not in control.

A Dinner Party

(dir. Michèle Kaye, Canada, 2020)

In the aftermath of a climate catastrophe, a lonely former environmental activist invites three strange guests over for dinner.

This was an odd little film which I’m sure would have been more satisfying with more context. Perhaps I just found it uncomfortable filling in the gaps because of the themes: denial and possible apocalypse. What happened to make these people so pale, hungry, and self-delusional? Kaye’s website describes this short as “a surreal satirical thriller”, which is certainly true, but I do think the story is crying out for more depth and length. One thing I certainly liked though was the detail in the set, and the close-ups to cutler, and so on when the host was preparing for the meal; reminded me of the opening to An Ideal Host.

Fat Henry

(dir. England Simpson, USA, 2020)

An actress named Jada is desperately seeking acting gigs after a rough stint out of work. Willing to perform in any low budget project, Jada finds herself agreeing to be in a feederism/mukbang film, being shot by a disturbing character who refers to himself as Fat Henry.

From tonight onwards, England Simpson is a name I’m going to remember. She wrote, directed, and starred in this harrowing short film. Her character Jada is already on a downward slope – with drugs, self-harm, and being apart from her child – when she notices an ad about an “experimental short film”. She needs to keep working so makes the call, and knows there’s something off about Fat Henry straight away, but she goes anyway. From there on, it’s a nightmarish tale of low self-worth, fatphobia, misogyny, and suicide: yes, a lot to fit into twenty minutes. The use of a wide range of camera angles and exaggerated sounds is very canny: without knowing anything about Jada’s background, we can see from the start just how her situation feels. And there is no judgment in Fat Henry, except that which Jada applies to herself.

Stucco

(dir. Janina Gavankar, USA, 2020)

While hanging a piece of art in her new home, a woman knocks a hole in the wall, revealing what might be another room. Her mind races and unravels as she wonders what could be on the other side.

I think this must be the short film which has impressed me most so far: it was genius. In less than twenty minutes, we have a domestic drama, a body horror, and a psychological thriller. J (played by the director) has left a difficult situation and moved into a place of her own, and she can’t face the prospect of going anywhere else: this is now her safe space. Then she discovers another space (a room, maybe), and the prospect of it seduces her and scares her. It’s amazing what a fresh start can do for a person. Janina Gavankar has been a TV actor for many years and this is her first title as writer/director.

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