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Arrow Video FrightFest 2020: Day 1 – Death by shorts

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The forthcoming Slaxx features killer jeans strangling folk, but the first night of the first day of Arrow Video FrightFest 2020 featured death by a different kind of leg-coverings: SHORTS.

This year’s FF is billed as the “Digital Edition”. Due to the pandemic still raging and keeping everyone apart, obvs a “normal” FrightFest was completely out of the question so the genius brain trust behind the world’s leading horror and genre film festival decided to adapt the shindig for the “new normal” and crafted us a five-day feast of fear that we could all enjoy from the relative safety of our own homes.

Check out all of our FrightFest coverage

I am so glad Greg, Paul, Ian, and Alan decided to tailor the festival to the situation instead of just cancelling all together. It’s in no way the same, but it’s something, and gosh with things the way they are “something” is better than the nothing of being stuck in the house weighing up whether it’s worth the risk to go and see Tenet or not.

The beauty part is –  if you like the sound of FrightFest and are just hearing about it – no worries! – unlike usual years when stuff sells out in seconds, tickets and passes are still available here and there are horrid heaps of histrionics inducing hits to check out every single day until next Monday. So go get involved.

Anyhoo, Hi! I’m Alan and I will be Live for Films’ brave adventurer into the demonic delights of daily death and destruction for the next five days and IF I SURVIVE jumping on here to let you know what sights I witnessed and what I thought. If you want an early sniff or just like your hot takes a little fresher and more instantaneous, I will also be tweeting reactions over on the Live for Films twitter: @Live_for_Films.

Thursday of FF is a toe-dipper evening – a warm-up to get us all nice and stretched and ready for all the film’s so the options were a quiz put on by Evolution of Horror (but I’m not touching Zoom again after watching Host!) and Sky Sharks which does sound mental but was not available to those with press passes so we opted to double bill both of the Short Film Showcases – 90 minutes carefully curated selections of the best new short films from the UK and around the world, with six countries representing three continents.

That is all more than enough pre-ing and ambling so let’s crack on with Short Film Showcase One. First up was the European premiere of Bark. A Canadian black and white short, directed by Ryan Irving, Bark is a micro slasher film told from the point of view of a tree overlooking the action. The tree provides hilarious commentary to the proceedings as an axe murderer attempts to chop up a couple of underwear-clad victims, trying to help, trying to not get a taste of the axe himself and trying to get assistance from Colin the techno bush at the bottom of the hill.

The anthropomorphisation of the tree is brilliantly done by Irving’s slick and hysterical script and careful use of shots that have us rooting for our new best tree friend, while the wacky twists and new characters keep us on our toes and loving every minute.

A Bit of Fun

A Bit of Fun is a world premiere and I’m going to stop mentioning this because – spoilers – I’ve just looked ahead and TWIST they are all premieres. Yeah, A Bit of Fun… Directed by Florence Kosky, ABOF sees a group of housemates attempting a seance to hopefully chat with and dissuade the spook who has been disrupting their house share.

With excellent 90s styling throughout – I would love to know how they managed to dig those Republica posters out of my parent’s loft without my mum noticing – and a likeable but believably argumentative ensemble cast, ABOF suckers you in with laughs at the expense of the crappy seance being done with birthday cake candles before delivering an extremely cleverly done absolutely brutal twist.

Breakfast suffered a little being placed next as the end of ABOF leads you to automatically make an assumption about a large plot reveal that turns out to be true. This spoils nothing though due to Rebecca Smee’s frankly incredible performance as a mum just coming round after an accident and discovering there have been some big changes. Directors Paul Beattie and Melanie Rios have crafted a short with great editing and sound design, as well as hideous makeup effects that will put you off your toast.

The next short, Flesh Control, has a loveable hand-made Gondry-by-way-of-Blue-Peter energy and is about a pair of cockroach exterminators eradicating any trace of humanity from an abandoned flat. The concept, cockroach costumes and final reveal are all very good – especially those fab cockroach costumes – but one joke is flogged to death, there are pacing issues and the dialogue is a bit lost in the sound mix.

Director Teresa Decher’s Subject 3 is a bit of a special one. A prescient apocalyptic tale featuring mask-wearing, a killer disease, fools losing faith in real medicine and a failed attempt at herd immunity (jeez, buy a lottery ticket Psychic Teresa), we follow a student who gets mixed up with a professor with a plan for a cure as she returns home to a desert town to reunite with an old lover. 

Brilliant make-up effects and performances and a gripping story that is just about to KICK OFF before stopping, someone needs to throw twenty million dollars at Descher immediately because Subject 3 is screaming out to be an awesome feature that would kick flipping ass.

Jeff Drives You was a firm favourite of my living room. The story of a man with a free trial to take an AI driven uber to a wedding, it plays out like a short tight Black Mirror episode with a very, very good ending and some rather unexpected coupling…

Ouzo and Blackcurrant

We’d seen some weird and creepy and disturbing stuff so far, but no scares or jumps. That is until Ouzo and Blackcurrant rolled in. A homegrown affair, it tells the tale of a pair of old school friends meeting up in an abandoned farm in the countryside to reminisce about old times and swig the titular beverage from a plastic two-liter bottle. But past actions have consequences and with a smart use of tech and some beautiful photography Nat Luurtsema conjures up two massive scares that sent us scurrying to the kitchen to make some nerves steadying tea before…

Tarrare. A true oddity in the best and most appreciative way, this is a one image and series of on-screen text piece with a tongue-twisting Dr. Seuss from hell story over the top by Brian Gillespie. Truly unlike anything else and also truly chilling. Nice one, Brian.

Guest

Finn Callan is behind Guest and in a short intro wearing a plague doctor mask explained via subtitles that it is based on a recurring nightmare. There is certainly no arguing with that as his short is full of unsettling imagery and features a Momo-esque “villain” that is very willies inducing and that its unfortunate “victim” will do literally anything to avoid seeing or hearing. Bleach and a paring knife are involved. Highly original and unrelentingly creepy, I think we should start a whip round for Finn to talk to someone about his dreams.

 

SHOWCASE TWO NOW, yeah, take a minute we’re halfway, but I’ll pick up the pace, promise, was somehow even better and featured:

Werewolf

Werewolf. Straight off the bat, we adored this one. Extremely funny throughout with some cracking performances and twistys but also featuring a hopefully star making turn from Will Seaward as ‘Kenneth the Narrator’ in the story of an after-dinner game getting weird and out of hand. Chocka with quotable lines – “You can’t stop halfway through!” “It’s not fucking Jumanji!” – and all dungeon mastered by the side-splittingly theatrical stylings of Seaward, Werewolf is worth the price of admission alone.

The Motorist is mindfucking folk horror at it’s most disturbing and hallucinogenic as a man is trapped and sealed inside his car by a baying mob of cultists. Skin-crawling and gorgeous-looking (that statue will stay with me for a while), director Ciaran Lyons is a genius.

Bella the loose-tongued dog steals the show in Love Bite, a post-zombie apocalypse two-hander that pits a pair of characters against each other in a battle of sexes and politics as brains hungry zombies surround the clapped-out truck they are hiding in. Like a mini The Battery, director Charles de Lauzirika’s Love Bite shows the terrifying lengths one man will go to to be right.

The Gift is an animation from Laura-Beth Cowley that is taboo-busting and eye-opening. With a very cool visual style, Cowley’s film focuses on witchcraft and menstruation and is fantastic. While one-named director Kiggs’ Wash is shot sumptuously and features a matching pair of creepy performances as one mother washes her kid’s ‘Mr. Rabbit’ toy in a Norwegian short about the most intense laundry day ever.

Fuel

Hermione Sylvester’s three-act piece Fuel exhibits perfect timing, exceptional production value and a classy feeling throughout as an actor learns to harness and use the anger she feels due to stalking and harassment to deliver the performance of a lifetime. Just amazing stuff.

Polvotron 500 is a futuristic cyber-punky tale of a man who enters a holographic peep show to just get some uninterrupted sleep but ends up falling for the virtual dancer instead. Grim and grimy, Silvia Conesa’s short again ends just as things are set up for an incredible full-length feature and I hope this perfect proof-of-concept can make that happen as we are desperate to see it as soon as possible.

Keith is a perfect short film. Snappy to the point of not a frame being wasted on anything redundant to the story. This is a drum-tight tale of a little girl making friends with the monster under her bed with an absolutely stonking twist that will leave you grinning.

Death Walks on Nitrate is a mini Giallo shot on Super 8 film in shades of magenta and blue that looks flawless as it delivers a horrific story about a young impossibly cool but uncaring photographer getting her comeuppance. With shades of Ring and Drag Me To Hell, director Kevin Fermini has really captured something special.

Afterlife Bureau

Last up was Afterlife Bureau, which just may be my favourite short of the whole shebang. A civil servant in the titular department has places to be but an awkward last client of the day in Dimiter Dimiroff’s a bit Burton take on bureaucracy with a wonderful score and concept that plays out like if Jeanne-Pierre Jeunet directed an episode of The Good Place.

Wowsers, that was A LOT of shorts – don’t expect this every day – especially as tomorrow there are just the two feature films. There are four on, but you can only choose two – you know what we’ll talk about this tomorrow when we cast eyes over: There’s No Such Thing as Vampires and Triggered. Lates.

Both Short Film Showcases are available to watch at any point from now until Monday right here.

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