Contrary to popular belief, short films are a hell of a lot more difficult to succeed in making than features. Filmmakers have to somehow convey narrative, mood and conjure up compelling characters in a much shorter timeframe. It has to be something exceptionally special in order to make a lasting impression on its audience. Within those limitations come some certain advantages; the artist has the opportunity and leeway to experiment with form and expression much more freely. I’ve always been tough on short films but when they work, the results can be spellbinding.
The Night Shift program at the 2012 edition of Canadian Film Centre’s Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto featured 21 horror-themed films from all across the globe. It ran on Saturday June 9th from 11:30pm till…4am! As per usual, it was a mixed bag affair. Here is a list of my top 10 favorites.
1 – BOBBY YEAH: Without a shadow of a doubt, Bobby Yeah was the clear standout in this year’s program. It’s a nightmarish amalgamation of David Lynch and Tim Burton but even saying that is selling Robert Morgan’s stop-motion masterwork short. Our protagonist Bobby is a thief who on this occasion bites off more than he can chew which leads him to face a barrage of garishly frightening characters and obstacles. What makes this film so brilliant is how it unpredictably coaxes a wide range of emotions from its viewer. From its stunning steely synth and bass driven score to its endlessly imaginative visuals, Bobby Yeah is one incredibly visceral cinematic experience. Thus far, the best genre fare I’ve seen all year.
2 – THE UNLIVING: Hugo Lilja’s 28-minute zombie epic is the most audacious short in The Night Shift program. The undead-ridden environment is the backdrop for The Unliving’s central storyline dealing with a developing relationship between two working class citizens (zombies being their line of work). Lilja’s film is not only handsomely crafted but drenched in stunning detail. This post-apocalyptic world is fully realized. While the conclusion comes across as a bit anti-climactic, there is a whole lot to enjoy in this fresh take on a well-worn sub-genre.
3 – UPSTAIRS: This Danish psychological thriller deals with a man’s need to stick with his girlfriend that he clearly distains over a much more terrifying prospect; loneliness. Upstairs uses its 38-minute running time (longest in the program) to good use. Director Jesper Maintz utilizes a deliberately slow pace to build up a sense of genuine isolation. A very effective and understated piece highlighted by top-notch craftsmanship and acting.
4 – CROWN: AG Rojas’ stylish Crown is the type of film that’ll leave you dumbfounded as you’re watching it but somehow worms its way into your subconscious. This atmospheric urban tale finds middle-aged working class men addicted to a new brand of drug you might find in a crack house run by David Cronenberg. Not sure what it all means but Crown had me completely mesmerized.
5 – THROUGH THE WEEPING GLASS: ON THE CONSOLATIONS OF LIFE EVERLASTING (LIMBOS & AFTERBREEZES IN THE MÜTTER MUSEUM): Never mind the long-winded, pretentious title, the Quay Brothers (Street of Crocodiles) latest offering is a captivating short even though it will no doubt polarize audiences. With its unconventional narrative structure and stylized visuals, Through the Weeping Glass is a haunting tour of the medical oddities on display in the Mütter Museum. It’s beautifully narrated by the always brilliant Sir Derek Jacobi. The Quay Brothers offer up their distinct brand of horror show soaked in atmosphere. The unusual and unnerving Through the Weeping Glass somehow crept up on me as it went along.
6 –THE CAPTURED BIRD: When former Editor-In-Chief of Rue Morgue and all-around horror icon Jovanka Vuckovic announced her first foray into filmmaking, expectations shot up pretty quickly. It seems she’s anticipated this. Vuckovic goes for broke in her grand-scale directorial debut, The Captured Bird, a darkly poetic fantasy dealing with an innocent little girl who’s drawn to a mysterious mansion where she encounters the embodiment of evil, in the form of five monsters. The film beautifully conveys the classic good vs. evil archetype. The Captured Bird’s crew is loaded with a high wattage of top drawer talent including DP Karim Hussain (Hobo with a Shotgun), editor Douglas Buck (Cutting Moments), Production Designer Anastasia Masar (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), just to name a few. In particular, the matte paintings by veteran artist Deak Ferrand (The Lord of the Rings) are simply stunning. It’s clear even by browsing through the gorgeous conceptual art that’s out there, Jovanka Vuckovic’s vision is a force to be reckoned with. The Captured Bird possesses a timeless, universal quality that young and older audiences can enjoy. Looking forward to what she has in store for us next.
7 – GHOST: Tobias Gundorff’s impressionistic Ghost tells the story of a young ghost wandering the afterlife in search of her way back home, as well as dealing with the void left in the parent’s present life. This moving short conjures emotions that The Lovely Bones sorely lacked.
8 – BLACK DOLL (PRITA NOIRE): Sofia Carrillo’s latest dark fairy tale (Out of Control aka Fuera de Control) about two sisters imprisoned by their own bond is a step forward for the gifted filmmaker. Black Doll’s lovely blend of puppetry and time-lapse will have you captivated.
9 – CHILDREN OF THE DARK: Children of the Dark is your standard post-apocalyptic thriller in the vein of I Am Legend and The Road. There are no innovative steps being taken here. Despite that, Writer/Director Scott Brian Belyea has put together an affecting, well-made short dealing with two young boys in search of their mother while struggling to stay alive.
10 – ADJUST TRACKING: I’m a sucker for two things; VHS and 80’s sleaze horror. Adjust Tracking is an ode to both of them. A drunken father finds out why it isn’t wise to disturb a teenage genre nut while he’s watching a horror flick. Adjust Tracking plays out predictably but at a brief 5 minutes, the nostalgia of it all made me smirk at the end.