Brooklyn Horror Film Festival 2019: Short Films – Head Trip

The making of trippy horror films is implied in the nature of the work. These experimental shorts will push against the fringes of short film culture and through their provocative, often uniquely formed personal styles, create startling images, streaks of art that keep our brains alive well after the movie stops. From the work of Brandon Cronenberg to an exceptional piece of samurai puppetry, the Head Trip class of the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival casts a seedy and widely varying lens on several styles of horror.

Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You

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Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You. Dir. Brandon Cronenberg.

Brandon Cronenberg, son of the great David Cronenberg, shows writerly talent with his latest avant-garde short. A woman sits with an implanted chip on her head and describes utterly surreal experiences to a man giving an interview. Gruesome images that would make father proud flash across the screen, highlighting the grotesque nature of her experiences. Her chip allows her to relive the surreal dreams as though they really happened to her and recount them to her psychiatrist. Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You (PSCaDYEaTCtY) is a wild ride that explores the deepest recesses of the dream space. PSCaDYEaTCtY — yes we just wanted to use the acronym — is well worth examining and seeing how body horror runs in the family.

Bad Seed

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Bad Seed. Dir. Guilherme Daniel.

Bad Seed tills its texture from the soil as though it is made of earth stuff itself. The closeups of plowing a field, the muddled insides of a rotten potato, achieves a certain tonality it carries in its horror. Their infertile soil produces a dark seed in their crops that grow with them and haunts over their tenuous relationship, which has become as inert as their crop share. It’s a nice mood piece that achieves a quality tonal effect. Bad Seed is a Portuguese slow-burner that functions neatly as a tone piece.

MJ

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MJ. Dir. Jaime Delaney.

Jaime Delaney has made a millennial nightmare. Mary Jane is of an extremely online generation. It’s how she works. How she plays. How she dates. But she has a darkly sinister side expressed in her unreal outpouring of violence stemming from some social media context. If it is not telling us something about the nature of our digital relationships — the true effect of this short has been lost on this critic — perhaps it functions as a tech nightmare parable. It makes me feel very old.

Lili

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Lili. Dir. Yfke Van Berckelaer.

Less head trip than straightforward messaging, Lili brings a message from the #MeToo era. It’s a one-shot short that shows a compelling actress with only a black background to highlight her performance (extremely Charlie Rose, in at least two ways.) There is not too much else in it. The acting is good, although it’s pretty singularly pointed — a few different readings of the same few lines in progressively more promiscuous tones. The #MeToo theme is that a man is coercing a woman who wants to turn work into sex. The female empowerment aspect is that she gets revenge.

The Video Store Commercial

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The Video Store Commercial. Dir. Cody Kennedy & Tim Rutherford.

Chippy & economical, The Video Store Commercial, as the title might imply, is a short burst experiment clocking around four minutes long. An old fashioned video store that gets by on cult b-movie expertise, is haunted when the owners destroy a legendary VHS tape containing the “cultiest of culty” filmmaking ever conceived. Amusingly, the directing duo has been making variations of this short for the last five years. It shows just how passionate they are about these important old stores and their service to the community. Also, The Video Store Commercial is a total blast of filmmaking that’s as fun for the audience as the folks making the thing. These guys are spiritually our compatriots and we must support their radical work. Props for the summoned VHS monster, creative stuff.

Valerio’s Day Out

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Valerio’s Day Out. Dir. Michael Arcos.

Not quite Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970). The director has gone to the zoo and narrated over the animals they have filmed, creating a narrative of their hypothetically violent day. Cheesy news broadcasts inform us of the animal’s escape. The odd discolorations do a lot of work for what the short does not have, which is a very interesting progression from the core idea it proposes.

The Obliteration of Chickens

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The Obliteration of Chickens. Dir. Izzy Lee.

So, we’ve covered this a few months back and for all intents, this is a rewatch. The Werner Herzog impersonating descent into the madness of chicken wears itself better when we know what to expect of it. In fact, it has further nihilistic depth. It’s such a simple and straight production, you could be excused for underselling it. But this time, its comedy struck, and the kind of memory of just a few months ago returned.

The Haunted Swordsman

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The Haunted Swordsman. Dir. Kevin McTurk.

The Haunted Swordsman is one of the best finds at the festival. It’s an incredibly well-conceived puppet show where a ronin ascends a misty mountain with his trusty talking skull to go explore the presence of dark forces. It’s smartly made and clearly a product of clear devotion and cleanly performed puppetry. Squarely of its own art and the finest example of this sharp-minded collection. A great mystical horror centerpiece that begs for expansion and a continued story. Please make more!

Girl in the Hallway

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Girl in the Hallway. Dir. Valerie Barnhart.

Folksy urban beat-poetry as storytelling, Girl in the Hallway is an escalating horror story about a girl left alone in an apartment. A family lives in a dirty complex that houses a couple kids. The exterior world is too grim. All the kids are going missing. The adults face existential dread as nobody can be rightly trusted. The freeform speech next to expressive drawings evokes a strong sense of storytelling. The exasperated narrator gives his scary account where the real monsters live on the other side of a deadbolt. “[Stories] I could not tell my daughter: why Red Riding Hood gives me nightmares, some girls never make it out of the forest, some stories children should never hear.”

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