The second part of the annual Frightfest Short Film Showcase featured a very high standard of short form horror. There’s much to admire in a film that succinctly introduces its characters, the source of their anxieties, have them stalked and terrorised and resolve the situation in under twenty minutes. The programmers attempted to represent a diversity of approaches including various international releases. The result was a highly entertaining and frequently provocative programme of short films.
Catcalls (dir. Kate Dolan)
A predatory man flashes two women before returning to his suburban existence, only to find he’s been pursued by something terrifying and vicious. Catcalls is a tastefully subdued but playfully violent thriller that turns the cruel game of the slasher against it’s typical perpetrator. It’s creative and very enjoyable.
Madder Isle (dir. Laura Spark)
A woman is dropped off on a strange island where nun-like figures prepare her for a bizarre ritual involving a dark thing living at the heart of the island. Madder Isle is a gorgeously animated stop-motion film that has a very distinct visual style reminiscent of 70’s children’s films like Dougal And the Blue Cat. It’s a captivating Lovecraftian nightmare in Plasticine and yarn.
Wrong Number (dir. Tiago Teixeira)
A woman has a nightmare about receiving terrible news in the middle of the night. She then experiences further torment over the next two nights until she realises the full implications of the dream. Wrong Number is a deeply moody study of anxiety and trepidation. There’s fabulous use of lighting and sound to really invoke dread. It benefits from a hugely relatable performance by Elle Woodruff Bryant.
There are No Dividends (dir. Joe haughey)
A desperate man attempts to recruit a young engineer to work on his new invention. However as his professional artifice begins to disintegrate he takes bigger and bigger chances with potentially fatal results. More a dark comedy than a horror film, the film is a creepy satire of the succeed at all costs business mindset. It’s a much needed pinprick to the pomposity and potentially dangerous narrow-mindedness of the Del Boy archetype. Toby Williams gives an inspired and magnetic performance as the con man.
Be Uncertain (dir. Jack Carrivick)
In an alternate present a man finds himself manipulated by unseen forces, forced to relive the same troubling night over and over. Recalling the mind bending loops of Christopher Smith’s Triangle, Be Uncertain is certainly a tense and emotionally fraught film, but it’s hard to say what the intention is. It’s implied this takes place in a world where the British Empire has continued to exist, but it’s unclear how this pertains to the story or the spirit of the piece. I’m not sure what is meant by having the central character repeatedly attacking and replacing himself. But the film is atmospheric and effectively creepy.
The Blue Door (dir. Paul Taylor)
A palliative carer silently sets about her tasks at a catatonic woman’s house. But after discovering a strange occult marking tattooed on her patient’s wrist, she starts seeing strange things throughout the small house, including a menacing blue door. This expertly understated thriller is driven by a powerfully downbeat visual style and a stirling performance from Gemma Whelan.
Marta (dir. Lucia Forner)
A young woman with murderous aspirations kidnaps a young man. Marta is a two-hander between captive and captor. It hopes to reverse the traditional gender roles of such encounters. The film is driven by it’s lively and entertaining dialogue, but has a stark visual style as well. It’s a tense film but one with a strong sense of humour.
Reprisal (dir. Mike Malajalian)
A restless night sees a young woman pursued by a ghost from her past. She is menaced by the memory of her long lost husband. It’s a film about profound loss. The hollow ache of actress Lisa Debs’ grief and her powerful physical performance recalls the melancholy of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. Malajalian uses the conventions of a haunted house story to explore the individual suffering still experienced by many as a result of the Lebanese Civil War.
Salt (dir. Rob Savage)
A mother must retrieve her daughter’s medicine, whilst pursued by demons who only have one weakness; they cannot cross a line of salt. Salt is under two minutes long and yet achieves an impressive amount of story telling. It’s a slick production and a very fun premise. Alice Lowe makes for a compelling heroine and the monster design is superbly unsettling. If short horror films are exercises in stripped out thrills, then Salt is an exceptional example.
Fire in Cardboard City (dir. Phil Bough)
In a city made entirely of cardboard, a fire breaks out. The fire fighting team race to save their city, but even the water in Cardboard City is made of cardboard. It’s a very fun premise that delivers laughs and even thrills.