Short Films. A tricky piece of cinema to pull off. If you read my review of Tales of Halloween from a couple days ago, you know how I feel about a bunch of shorts shown together. A shorts program hinges on not it’s greatest film but it’s weakest. Thankfully, this past Saturday featured a great bunch of shorts from around the world at the Shorts After Dark international showcase.

As horror is the most popular of genres at this festival, there were of course a few scary shorts on the bill. Vicious, directed by Oliver Park from the UK, was very much a traditional, creepy little film about a woman who believes she is being haunted by her deceased sister when she comes home to find her door unlocked. There’s a great deal of jump scares in this one and the lighting and pacing are very much your old school thriller. The performance by Rachel Winters really sells the paralyzing fear needed to make this film as scary as it needs to be. It’s what you’d expect from a short like this but done so well that it reminds you why classic horror is so good.

On the flip side we have Boniato, directed by the team of Andres Meza-Valdes, Diego Meza-Valdes and Eric Mainade of Mexico. When a young illegal migrant worker decides she needs to leave her job for something better, her boss delivers her to a mysterious creature that’s dead set on not letting her go. She’s doomed to a fate worse than death if not for the help of a mysterious stranger with a transistor radio and a score to settle. The film has amazing production values and the work of the entire cast elevates a story that could’ve been seen as goofy if not for their committed performances. It was the longest short of the program at 23 minutes but it didn’t feel that long. Things get intense at the 5 minute mark and the pace doesn’t slow down until the credits.

Boniato

Boniato

But horror wasn’t the only dish served up that day as we also got a great mix of sci-fi and comedy with Movies in Space, directed by U.S. filmmaker Chris Smith. Chris also stars as Travis Sheppard, a man who is sent to the alien planet of CORPLOX as Earth’s ambassador but through a series of odd events finds himself becoming that world’s biggest movie producer. A great send up on the Hollywood lifestyle, Travis gets caught up in the fame and heads down a path of self destruction. A very funny look at the entertainment industry, the alien race itself is also quite funny as Jack De Sena plays the entire CORPLOX population, giving the extra dig on studio bigwigs who see the movie-going public as all the same person.

Another film that has a few laughs (although not until the end) is Awesome Runaway by Benjamin De-Los Santos (New Caledonia). A man who is being held against his will breaks free and launches into a daring escape after he’s injected with a strange chemical. The man meets incredible odds and must face down a number of obstacles, including a large number of henchmen, in his quest for freedom. The bulk of the short is shot in one take and feels like you’re following a character in an open-world video game. Why’s the man being interrogated by these guys? What chemical did they inject him with? How is able to fight on? There’s no real definitive answer until the end and even then, some questions are still left unanswered. But who cares? It’s a fast, action-packed fight fest with more than a few cool shots. It’s a 7 minute film that takes advantage of every second.

Now all those films were great but there was one that stood above the rest: Exordium by American director Morgan King. Exordium is a rotoscope animation fantasy film about a group of warriors waging battle against immortals in hopes of finding the secrets of the universe. The film begins near the end of the story, as the warriors have lost many in battle. There are only 3 soldiers left to face the one gatekeeper standing in their way from gaining their objective. It’s a brutal final confrontation that might not have the ending one would expect….or it might. Either way, this film is powerful and the second last scene is an acid trip. I got super excited watching this short and I usually don’t like fantasy tales. It was hands down my favourite of the bunch. Check out the trailer below.

If you get the chance to check any of these shorts out, I strongly suggest you do as they were the gems of the program.

If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!