More than two hours of short films is not everyone’s cup of tea, so it was no surprise that the 4.15pm showing of the International Short Film Showcase was somewhat more lightly attended than the rest of the features. But, those who skipped missed some real gems. Short films, like short stories, are qualitatively different from features and allow different types of stories to be told, and the creators showcased in this years shorts program delivered on that promise. None were alike and all were worthy entries, even if some were not to my taste.
Below are some brief thoughts on each short film, in descending order of my enjoyment. I have included trailers where available. More details on each short are available on the Toronto After Dark website.
I’ll give “Manoman” this — is was ambitious and very different. An awkward, besuited man attends a primal scream therapy group and his inner monkey-man literally comes out to play. Together, they wreck havoc on the town. Simon Cartwright’s silent (except for the screaming) puppeteered short was definitely not for me (which is why it is at the bottom of this list), but it was a solid, if divisive, entry all the same.
It was exciting to see a rotoscoped short, but other than that, Morgan Galen King’s “Exordium” left me pretty underwhelmed. Strongly evocative of Heavy Metal, “Exordium” follows two knights battling against the elements and a guardian in search of the secrets of the universe. Technically impressive but pretty derivative. Probably a good short to watch on mushrooms.
Myrna the Monster
I wanted to like Ian Samuels’s short more, but it fell a little flat for me. The creativity and technical chops on display here are pretty remarkable, though. Samuels blends animation, puppeteering and live action segments seamlessly to tell the story of an alien captured by astronauts and now living the life of a struggling actor in Hollywood. Myrna’s inadvertent porn audition was a highlight.
Everything clicks for Benjamin De-Los Santo’s s “Awesome Runaway”, but it was still mostly a middle of the pack film for me. The short is a “single take” (I would have to go back and look more closely, but I’m pretty sure there were subtle edits throughout) action beat ’em up that features a pretty hilarious ending.
At 23 minutes, “Boniato” was by far the longest short of the program and it feels like a screen test for a feature-length film. It tells the story of migrant workers held captive by their situation and malicious creatures. Boniato has strong camerawork, an interesting and provocative story, believable performances and surprisingly effective creature design on what must have been a shoestring budget. It is in the middle of my list mostly because I would have liked to have seen an actual feature made out of this story.
“The Guests” was the first short of the afternoon and it opened the program with a bang. Our main character, Anna, is home along with her newborn baby when guests start unexpectedly arriving… and arriving. Beautifully shot and realized, Shane Danielsen’s short amps up the tension as the party grows louder and more raucous and Anna continues to lose her sense of reality.
The Black Forest
Paul Urkijo’s darkly humorous fantasy tells the story of a knight in shining armor rescuing the virginal maiden from the evil monster in the titular black forest, but with ample helpings of Army of Darkness-style camerawork and story elements. This was a definite crowd-pleaser and while the twist ending was completely telegraphed, it was still a joy to see unfold. Watching the knight flex and pose in slow motion was particularly tickling.
Movies in Space
This was an unexpected delight. Chris Smith’s sci-fi/comedy genre-bender “Movies in Space” was a standout of the shorts program. An astronaut, Travis Shepherd, in the not-too-distant future becomes Earth’s ambassador to an alien race. Along the way, he moves in with an aspiring filmmaker and inadvertently becomes the most famous production mogul in history. But, as with any rise, there is a fall and Travis struggles with space drugs, space sex and space fame. The jokes are densely packed, the comedy both broad and ironic, the effects outstanding and the story compelling both comedically and emotionally.
Holy shit, this movie. I am currently about sixty percent through all of the shorts and features at After Dark, and this is comfortably in the lead as the scariest. Vicious is the story of a woman, Lydia, living alone in a London flat after her sister has died. Her sister was haunted by something, and discovering the front door open upon returning home late at night, Lydia must confront her own anxieties, and possibly something living in a pile of clothes, before she goes to sleep.
The tension was almost unbearable throughout this 12 minute short. As Lydia continues to search her house, I could hear people groan and see them physically tense up in apprehension. When the credits rolled, there was an audible wave of relief through the audience as the harrowing experience ended. My heart was literally pounding afterward. Head and shoulders above the rest of the shorts (and most of the features) in terms of technical competence, storytelling and shear, unnerving terror.