FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: CREEPY SHORTS DOUBLE FEATURE

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This post covers two programs of nine shorts each, Things That Go Bump in the East  and Small Gauge Trauma, so technically it’s an octodecuple feature—a word so fine that our spell-checker does not even recognize it. Without further ado, here are nine pairs of shorts for you to try on.

“Things That Go Bump in the East” program

Chewing Gum (dir. by Mihir Fadnavis; 18 min.)—Getting in the spirit of this horror short, my cat Goose  appeared at the door to my left. After some minutes of creepy video, I looked left again, and Goose had materialized in the same position, six feet closer. That’s the kind of unsettling occurrence you’ll find here. Classic black and white visuals, killer foley, and minimal dialogue. Of the eighteen-minute run-time, seventeen are perfect. Dark subway, dark roads, and an eldritch entity in black demanding chewing gum from the adulterous protagonist had me riveted. But when the monster took her (?) dues, it was more “uhh…” than “AGGH!!!”

Carnivorous Bean Sprout (dir. by Seo Sae-rom; 5 min.)—An animated PSA-by-way-of-advertisement, Carnivous‘ greatest strength is the no-nonsense newsy narrator discussing the thrilling, new, titular phenomenon. Looking rather similar to sperm with chompy heads, these aquatic sprouts are a hit tourist attraction: people gather in boats, are rowed over to nest, and then handlers rustle the beans, which jump up and bite you. This craze extends to a new variety of monkeys (which rise from the water and scratch you) and elephants (which extend their noses to throttle the happy spectator). Strange things, people are.

Juan-Diablo-Pablo (dir. by Ralph Pineda, Dyan Sagenes; 15 min.)—I nearly dismissed this out of hand when I realized it wasn’t done with puppets. (How this notion got in my head, I am uncertain.) However, J-D-P does something very impressive by traveling seamlessly from confusing, to mundane, to humorous, to wrenching. All available clues suggest that “Juan Diablo” is Death, and he happens happens to be living in a ratty, newspaper strewn apartment, receiving corpses from a pair of disfigured opera archetypes. His young neighbor Pablo introduces himself with a note hucked through a hole in Juan’s wall, and their wordless encounters at Death’s door have an amusing and wholesome tonality, incongruously achieving Hallmark Card levels of “adorable.” The tone shift at the end is sudden, but not misplaced, poetically bringing attention to the tragedy befalling the Philippines from rampant crime and extra-judicial murders on the part of the police.

Huh (dir. by Kim Tae-woo; 12 min.)—Huh was a Korean mask-maker of legend, and this is a cartoon tribute to his art. Kim Tae-woo mixes curvy animation of chalk-looking drawings with the occasional hip-hop number to bring the ancient carver to life. A mountain spirit drops some beats as he instructs Huh on how to overcome the tide of spiritual possession plaguing the villagers. I expected this to be cute, and it was; but I was not expecting to heave a sigh of relief when the errant spirits barely made it back into the moon.

Koreatown Ghost Story (dir. by Minsun Park, Teddy Tenenbaum; 15 min.)—I wondered what Margaret Cho was up to. It was quite a pleasant surprise to see her show up in this little horror comedy. Hannah, a young painter who works by day at a hardware store, visits the venerable Mrs. Moon to inquire about the contents of a puzzle box and is quickly whisked to a massage table and poked with needles. After some remarks about Hannah marrying Moon’s dead son, the matriarch mystic disappears and a spirit corpse boy pursues the girl around the house. Another cute Korean story, also with a focus on masks and the Autumn festival (gotta do me some research now). I laughed, I jumped, and I reconsidered the possibilities of acupuncture.

Night Bus (dir. by Joe Hsieh; 20 min.)—Great art design, but unfortunately the amateur animation style does this little tale of wronged spouses, wronged passengers, and wrong monkeys no favors. The jarring sequences all unfolded with squicky violence undone by the “Happy Tree Friends” excess and awkwardly arranged narrative reveals.

Seen It (dir. by Adithi Krishnadas; 12 min.)—Gather ’round the fire and learn of the horrible eenampechi, the hovering and easily confused arukola, the mystical thendan, and others in this animated cryptocatalogue of wonders. This wry little black and white squiggle ‘toon is based on some of the innumerable supernatural anecdotes of P. N. K. Panicker, a tall-tale teller of some renown. Its easy-going style makes this the only “kid friendly” pick from Things That Go Bump. The raconteur’s advisements come to life before your eyes, and though to a layman it may seem this joker is just making up these beasts as he goes along, I am certain this short borders on documentary. I swear.

Incarnation (dir. by Noboru Suzuki; 12 min.)—”Actually, I’m a vampire.” Is the sweet little old lady making that declaration a grandmother with dementia? A con-artist faking a bad knee? Or a vampire with a taste for Bloody Maries? She claims to have been bitten in the fifteenth century by some hottie named “Sebastian” (‘twould seem Sebastian the Vampire mistook her, an 83-year-old, for the sweet young thing next to her; Sebastian had quite a lot to drink that night). Incarnation is a glorious wrap-up to Things, inducing chills and chuckles in the minimalist setting of a bar-room booth.

“Small Gauge Trauma” program

Aria (dir. by Christopher Poole; 13 min.)—Technology and home monitoring go hand-in-hand for the paranoid residents of the world of… Today! After installing an “Aria” security system, a young couple enjoy the convenience of the door camera, word-activated lights, and things that go bump in the night. Perhaps less-so that last one. The husband obsesses over notices from “Aria”, and suspects she’s much more HAL than J.A.R.V.I.S. Aria is a well-assembled, slickly made techno-horror (a cool musical genre, but I don’t mean that way) that ambles along easily enough before dramatically bursting with an odd-but-not-satisfying climax of throat-flashlight goons in polo shirts.

Thumb (dir. by Alexandra Pechman; 10 min.)—Perhaps this shouldn’t have tickled me—this film being a story about extreme performance art and familial heartache—but it did. An artist’s daughter sifts through her Mother’s possessions, including the kit Mother used in her breakout performance, “Thumb” (also the name of the daughter, we discover). A Lover appears, of the Mother, but once, regrettably, of the daughter. The pristine white walls and untidily arranged crates mimic a photo-negative “black box” theater. The acting is heightened, the exact kind of performance that makes sense on a stage, not on film. The dramatic reveals are dropped with a quiet flippancy and the final narrative *pop* feels like a gentle ribbing to the elbows, saying “Pretty cool, huh?” Despite it, and despite myself, I thought it was.

The Tenant (dir. by Lucas Paulino, Ángel Torres; 10 min.)—This Spanish short film spins a tale worthy of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” including the requisite children’s horror punch line. Waking to the sound of construction work going on outside her apartment, a lady finds herself suffering from a strange limp. She thinks she just slept on her leg funny, but while walking to work, the numbness doesn’t leave. A kind-hearted stranger witnesses her state, and upon approaching the limping lady, the good Samaritan informs her that there’s an “old woman on your leg,” and that she must complete a ritual by 9 o’clock that evening or else the leg-woman will stay forever. Tick tick tick tick.

The Darkness (dir. by Jorge Sistos Moreno; 13 min.)—Another folktale brought into the modern day, The Darkness begins with a series of beautiful shots of dawn over a lakeside. Lady’s shoes and a handbag lie in a heap by the water’s edge, and a woman emerges under the gentle observation of a rather blue-eyed horse. Her walk reveals she was violated, and when she returns to her school to encounter the wrongdoer, his lack of remorse seals his doom. He was probably doomed anyway. The woman goes back to her lake, walking into its embrace before the sun sets.

Habitat (dir. by Jaime Del Álamo Calachi; 11 min.)—Swallowing over 11,000 cockroaches? Eesh. This detail becomes important later on, but Brenda’s bug-munching record is secondary to the atmosphere and message of Habitat. “Unnamed protagonist guy” is a chain-smoker and chain-clicker; he is the former to help him relax between bouts of the latter. 100,000,000 million clicks is a lot, but he’s almost there. He can taste it, even through the sweet tobacco of his cigarettes (2,999 clicks per pack). He has his eye on the ultimate prize: beach front living, far away from his drab, florescent-lit apartment. There’s some Black Mirror here, but also a little bit of Robert Bierman. And the clicking. That seems very popular on smart-phones these days.

Tropaion (dir. by Kjersti Helen Rasmussen; 11 min.)—Habitat began with a definition. So dose this one. Big pole in the ground to commemorate victory over foes, and honor some god. Young woman, smashed phone, electro-creepy sound cue and… In fact, much of Tropaion‘s menace is provided solely by the soundtrack and sound effects. Which, even if a little heavy-handed, is perhaps for the best, since there are no subtitles. Gang of survivalists, boy carried in arms. Sequences of Nordic imagery and my mind got to wandering: you know it’s post-apocalyptic if all the characters are either overdressed, swaddled in five layers of coats and sweaters, or underdressed, rocking rags like all get out.

Laika (dir. by Adam Fair; 9 min.)—What’s that, Lassie? Trouble in the International Space Station? Did I say “Lassie”? I meant Laika. The beloved space canine has survived, and seems none-too-happy about what its masters did to it. I shall say no more.

The Relic (dir. by J.M. Logan; 14 min.)—What The Relic lacks in nuance, it makes up for in viscous eldritch horror, of the unspeakable kind, naturally.  It sets its tone nicely, taking place in a mid-century-modern shack somewhere on Mount Everest. A gaggle of “shouldn’t have taken it” twenty-somethings took it, unfortunately, and pay the price with grisly transformations and creepy face contortions. I would like Mr Logan to finish this movie. This otherwise quality Lovecraftian-B-movie is it travels down a path I’ve been seeing too often lately in short films (including Laika, above ): after a member of the team transforms into a rather Pinwheel-looking nasty, the camera leaves the cabin and pans up to a green streak in the sky. That should be cue for opening credits, not end ones. Where is this story going, is what I would really like to know.

The Last Marriage (dir. by Johan Tappert, Gustav Egerstedt; 16 min.)—Marriages gone sour hit me hard , but I know “things happen.” Marie and her husband Janne are stuck in a rut. They don’t get out much. Their sex life has fizzled. And it doesn’t help that they’ve got a problem child. But as bad as things are, you can tell they’re good together, especially when watching them fend off a zombies in their isolated Swedish home. In the vein of Shaun of the Dead, Tappert and Egerstedt take a couple’s melodrama and throw in a bunch of zombies, and by so doing reveal that pressures outside of the home are rarely to blame for communication breakdown. Be frank with your lover, and always understanding.

You’re Dead Helen (dir. by Michiel Blanchart; 24 min.)—Small gauge trauma? More like “major head trauma.” Don’t worry, I haven’t given away the ending to this Franco-Belgian rom/com. Maxime (a guy) has an ex. They never stopped dating, she’s just ex-living. Bursting with cute charm that never veers too far into treacle, You’re Dead Helen is a perfect short film for a perfect short date, with romance enough that you’ll only need its 24 minutes to warm up your sweetie.

 

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