The Avengers Assemble of Frightfest!
This weekend the second digital edition of Frightfest is occurring with a slew of new films. Ed and I will be talking about Relic in these weeks podcast along with some of my other favourites (and now with a brief rant on my problems with Slaxx), but I wanted to do a short post on one of my favourite parts of Frightfest, the Short Film Showcase. For me it's a bit like seeing all the best elements of horror at the moment (the horror Avengers) all in one place.
Acting Like a Film Student - DISCLAIMER
As many of you know, at 38 and with a family I provide for, I am in no position to go back to film school, so I have had to create my own version of film school to perfect my craft as an indie filmmaker. This means dissecting almost everything I watch now from a filmmaking perspective.
Every single short film is amazing in my mind as I know what it takes to get them together (part of my current frustrations with about four shorts on the go at the moment, but only one locked with a shooting schedule).
That being said when LVP launches it's short films in the next coming years (homegrown and collabs) we want to make sure they are the best thing we could make, and the only way we make our product better is by looking at what's out there and seeing what works and what doesn't.
Some you that read this will know how often I spam you with my scripts, sometimes multiple times, for feedback as we want to get as many people to enjoy our films as possible (which is only ever possible by incorporating feedback from other viewers).
Know the above is an awful long disclaimer, but it's a fine line between critique and preference and I fully admit it may feel that way below, but I want to reiterate how awesome I think every short was.
Please also note that the digital format meant that I did not always catch the entirety of the short because of buffering, an unfortunate side effect of the new way of viewing film festivals.
The Shorts (Showcase I - Saturday 24 October @ 11:30 AM)
Council House and Violent
This was a great little comedy horror about the currently horrendous situation for most tenants, exaggerated here when the lead has to agree to ridiculous demands of a satanic cult about her baby (a modern day poorman's Rosemary Baby). It's a great message as it's something I feel the general media glosses over or plays down and (in my view) the film is the perfect way to shine a light on this particularly growing problem for younger people in the UK.
Visually the cinematography uses an interesting mix of black and white and single colour objects against a black and white background (like the girl in red with Schindler's List) to show the protagonist's frustration and outlook.
Really liked the ending credits and song as well - always feel like if you are using a short for a "calling card" then you have to leave on a high note. The film also sets it self up nicely for a full feature or sequel when we get to meet the devil child and see the cute interplay with her mother.
This one is interesting. I originally had copious notes on how the fish eye lens / super wide camera taken mega close up was an awesome choice as the action of the film was such that you only saw people's necks or another nondescript portion of a person in the shot (trying to be positive about a really weird camera angle you don't understand is not always fruitful).
Then when the credits rolled I realised that it was being projected digitally the wrong way and that the film was actually intended to have a full frame look.
So, what can I say about a film a I didn't really see the way it was intended? Well that's the intersting part. Despite the completely offsetting camera work, the story and acting (a more impoverished rural US version of the Babadook) made this a gripping short. There is drug abuse and child abuse all told from the unique perspective of a child who sees the whole thing as a fairy tale.
A great animated short - done in sketch drawings - that exuded style. I was worried it would be style over substance, but the surreal interaction of a woman who gets revenge on any who watch her via surveillance is entertaining as the revenge gets bigger and bigger. It was an enjoyable 4 minutes. Only small qualm was the lack of cohesiveness, but in short film that can happen. Visually the artwork was appealing enough to make up for the jumps in the story.
This is a short film hailing from Cuba and was one of my favourites of the showcase.
Don't be fooled by the medical drama sheen of the intro - it had me fooled too. Following a brief faux TV clip we quickly descend into the squalor of the apartment where a child lives with his father. It's a quick revenge tale on a drunken father who doesn't play with his boy. Not an original story, but well executed both in the real world and the fantasy one in which the boy "saves" his daddy.
Well done and hopefully a further move forward for the horror genre in Cuba.
Hailing from Korea, I am always amazed out how good filmmakers from Korea make sure their films look, whether that's shorts or features. The quality of Korean films I have watched both here in the UK and previously when I lived in Daegu is hard to surpass. The framing, the colour palette chosen and the high resolution of the shots combined with the use of classic camera techniques is effective and is clearly built into the cinema teachings Korean filmmakers study. This was one of the most professional looking shorts, as a result, in my view.
Where I think the short was slightly let down is in format and sub-titles. The idea of legal voluntary euthanasia is a novel one and made for a great set up for the short. Where I think it is slightly let down is the desire to make the process "administrative" which crams a ton of words from the euthanasia office employee into a short period of dialogue deliberately said fast. Although it is meant to be as disorienting as it sounds, with the sub-titles it made it harder to follow.
Concept was awesome though and I think it would make an incredibly interesting feature film somewhat reminiscent of Abre Los Ojos / Vanilla Sky.
This film hailed from artists that are part of Brooklyn's new artistic renaissance. Brooklyn is my family home (mother from Bay Ridge and father from Bedford-Stuyvesant) but I know very little about the new artists who have moved into places like Williamsburg. My family in the area have said that it has made a quite dramatic change to the landscape, something I think that was the message behind the recent comedy American Picklei which dealt with the old/new contrast in Brooklyn specifically.
The short itself definitely had a unique aesthetic, reminding me of some of the imagery used in Alan Moore's short films that formed Show Pieces, especially the way those film create a seemingly realistic surreal world that is still isolated from the larger outside world (a sub-culture). It screened a few years back and had the same unique realistic but slightly grotesque look.
This short borrows more from Lovecraft than Moore though as the story progresses. All together I though it had great elements - a dual soul story that was interesting / a wonderfully grotesque scene at the restaurant / a professional look and grade, but the sum of the parts was not as good as any one of the elements. I think maybe this is because individual elements each needed a bit more polish (which happens sometimes).
As such, I thought this one was a little confused and would have benefited from some tightening in the script and better decision on the art direction (Lovecraft, Brooklyn, something else, but make a choice). The dual soul concept was interesting but maybe best left for a feature film given the exposition it requires to get the audience onboard.
She Lives Alone
This was a great little short with a story in the flavour of St. Maude and with the same washed-out folklore visual look that has come into prominence in the films being shown this weekend - clearly influenced by the successes of The Witch and Midsommar.
This short had my favourite scare / scene with the walking "mother" moving around the graveyard just out of focus from the protagonist. The moment of the disproportioned "mother" was reminiscent of that great caterpillar-like movement and disproportioned visuals of the May Queen at the end of Midsommar which I found mesmerising and so lifelike.
The key difference from the above scene and the scene in the short was that the movement in the short is always done out of focus (shallow focus is all the rage these days).
We do this sometimes on our own films when the monster doesn't look quite right so that the audience only has to see it briefly, but you have to be careful to make sure the monster actually appears in the film. Here though I would have bit the bullet as the "monster" looked really cool and definitely caught the viewers eye every time it was on screen.
Overall a really enjoyable short though and actually hoping this gets expanded into a full film (given my obsessions with folk horror at the moment).
The title for this really threw me off as its deaf protagonist getting recent on her father who abused her and made her deaf, but really pulled me in once I understood what was going on.
Concept of a deaf person getting revenge in the way she does (your eardrums will hurt) is the highlight of this short. What was even more pleasing is how tight the camera work and script are. There is very little fat in this short (no unnecessary exposition or fits of whimsy - I am just as guilty in my own scripts though), so that was my favourite part about it.
Unlike some of the others, this story fits perfectly for a short (where a feature may be a bit thin on content if the concept was expanded). The post-credits coda in the interpreter's office is the only bit that I am not sure was necessary, but releives some of the tension from the earlier scene and answers an important question (covers over it's plot holes), leaving the possibility open for an expanded story if desired.
A music video for the band Catypus, made by a Frightfest alumni. I didn't really enjoy the song, but totally dug the visuals that went with it. Animated feature and slightly surreal, so it fit perfectly to music. Makes me want to do music videos...
I have no real background in producing animation (something we are looking to remedy soon at LVP) but the amount of control you get over the shots, characters, etc. as you are drawing them puts this high on my list of considerations for an indie short or feature given the more variable nature of shooting real actors (has to cut down costs somewhere).
So want to do another music video now!!! 😜
A great VFX concept short and beautifully shot. The short showed a Mime being made fun of and then trapping that individual in the imaginary glass casing we always associated with mimes. I think things like this are perfect for short films and work as the "calling card" as it showcases what your are capable with but
does not burn a story better suited for a feature film.
The key is showing how the other individual gets trapped (which is all VFX from I can see) but the contrast with the naturally creepy mime face makes this a very easy watch.
Short, coherent and fun - those are the best types.
Lots of good ones from around the world and no real duds or head scratchers (that one about the talking insects in the Digital Edition in August really threw me for a loop - watched all 20 minutes of it and still didn't understand what it was trying to do other than get me to watch it for 20 minutes...)
We at LVP are, of course, dead jealous we do not have anything at Frightfest this time. I am sitting on a pile of takes that need to be edited for Prisoner 817 but am only taking baby steps so far as I learn the joys of editing a full production of shots for the first time ("baby steps, Bob, baby steps").
Well done to everyone who submitted a short and extra kudos to those who were selected for the above showcase. It was a great look at what is out there at the moment and on what may be coming on the horizon.
by Jason Cherot - 25 October 2020