Entering the primary segment of our Brooklyn coverage – Home Invasion is our wildest, most creatively energized block of shorts yet. The title is a double entendre – showcasing some work about home invasions, that old chestnut, but also putting a great spotlight on native talent from New York. And what a homecoming this event is. There is so much creativity in this pack of shorts, it’s worth having a festival over.
Deja Vu floats in the same negative space as a surreal dream. It captures the feeling of deja vu quite well, that ethereal strangeness, the specific quirks, and recollections. The main difference here is that Lydia’s having predictive deja vu, which seems like something else. She’s prescient and flexes her accurate memory on a coworker. She’s already dreamt of a dark reality for him and it’s as though it comes true because she speaks it. Cleanly shot and imbued with pure purple hues, Deja Vu is an otherworldly and lovely looking story that gets its subject just right.
Deeply satisfying art. Those three words stuck in my head during LVRS, a cacophonic nightmare of puzzling images. Emily Bennet is creating significant outsider art, and it’s happening right now. Truly beautiful shots center around rooms with walls that play as surrealist video feeds, sometimes, not always matching the shadowing and conditions of the room itself. Men appear before a woman, all wearing mirror-faces, forcing her to face herself, quite literally, in her uncomfortable relationships with men. Full of symbolism and potent metaphor, LVRS is an astounding experiment. We cringe and feel deeply as our actors’ body parts and pulled off with pliers, piece by piece, and the general wellbeing of the image deteriorates. The strongest response I’ve had to anything this festival and one of the best short films of the year – absolutely adore LVRS.
If you’ve lived in an old apartment long enough, you have already had your prerequisite creepy laundry room experience. It comes packaged in with the closet-sized room. When a young woman goes to put in her laundry, the circuits break and she’s driven into paralyzing fear by a stalking figure that appears and threatens her ability to complete her chores. It’s a small burner of a short film, effectively using a slight setting and premise to unfold a mini-horror story. A good lesson. Next time, she is sure to go with Mr. Clean detergent.
Bakemono is so impressive a short as to hope it reaches a broader audience. Co-directors Sumire Takamatsu & Jorge Lucas have crafted a lovely family horror. A family sits around a table eating wonderfully photographed Japanese food (always watch the cooking and sense for framing food, for the best idea of their humanity.) During the traditional Setsubun celebration, Japanese families would throw out beans to ward off the evil Bakemono. Their daughter does not agree with the beans being cold outside and instead leaves a trail of food leading the creature to her! Through excellent composition and timing, Bakemono is a winning short. As cleverly devised as it is executed, likely to be a fan favorite while it makes the rounds at festivals.
Politically charged and ready to upturn tables and conversations, Brain Jail is not a subtle film. It has big ideas in a short runtime. An impressive fast exploration of identity and conspiracy politics, it is the festival’s most functional thriller. It does not exactly make way into horror but is acutely within the continuum between genre ideas. Sharp performances highlight a fun stranger on a train with a deadly secret plotline. I watched it twice, both out of genuine enjoyment and amusement and to understand the nuances of its messaging. Quite an experience!
The Muffin Man
“What do you have, a sweet tooth for death?” The Muffin Man is a shouty short film as a trailer for a movie that doesn’t come. It pushes for an absurdist horror-comedy sensibility. Every character is in hysterics, hooting and hollering about how we must stop the Muffin Man. Folks are biting into lovely looking muffins that spout fountains of blood. Before blending a man to a pulp, the bad baker menaces, “I never did mix well with others.” Funny little short that serves as a kind of bumper between material.
Let Me Play
Anytime a child invokes Jesus in a horror short, it’s bad news all around. It has historically never turned out well, not once. So, when young Grace prays to Jesus and finds a creepy boy in her closet to her counteract her brother’s bullying, we can safely say it will not go well for him. As every sibling must know, whoever controls the tv, controls the relationship. It’s time to let the girls play the videogames. Grace’s brother is about to find that out the hard way.
The Taxidermist plays as a bloody, traumatic, maternal trip to the local animal-stuffer. It’s about a woman carrying a baby. Extremely clever cuts imply the fears and anxiety that must surround childbirth – everything that could go wrong matching the obscene joy of the one thing that must go right! It captures the feeling of the shop, which feels filled with its own terrors, as a woman tries to bring life into a world where death stares her down from every wall. It’s a lovely short – props to director Natalie Johnson for nailing the feeling of the thing.
Millennial workers are very concerned with their coworker Ed. He takes long breaks and doesn’t stop to gossip aimlessly about anyone in the office. He’s always doing his work, a very concerning fellow. Terrified by his work ethic, they scramble when stuck working late hours, attempting not to deter him from his monstrous dedication to the job. A surprise awaits them at the end: Ed is Dead! A very funny minimal short that shows talent, able to evoke tension through normalcy and comedy through its off-kilter approach.
In a Groundhog Day (1993) spun horror story web, a woman relives a few moments over and over. This critic is always down for that. Regretfully, we only get a couple cycles to deal with here but they are utilized to maximum effect. The woman learns quickly the first time, she must go and take care of an aggressive stranger in an RV. It’s shot with ethereal affection, neatly she wakes up in the brush outside the RV to birds chirping and the general pleasantries of nature. She lights up some Lucky Strikes, which have not been so unlucky since Mad Men (2007-2015), and braves her time-trapped contest with life and death. Wonderful little short-end experiment on a burgeoning horror mini-genre.
Everyone is looking into alternative medicines these days. A nice woman schedules for a different kind of massage. Her masseuse certainly works outside the box. Their tension is very good on-screen and Deep Tissue is largely an act of building and sustaining a feeling. It comes out as a successful experiment in building the scene and then paying it off. The massage gets grisly and nasty, sure, but all the joy in Deep Tissue is the sexually-charged back-and-forth before the massage.
Director Carlen May-Mann shows great promise with The Rat. It’s Halloween, 1984, and also the season of coming-of-age for our actress. She’s coming of age but also to the realization she might be with the wrong guy. He is immature about sex and does not seem to fully value her agency or complete self. This well-directed short is a proof-of-concept for a feature called Strawberry Summer, which is currently shooting. If this is any indication, we have a sharp and boldly conceived psychological horror in the wings.