From Red Lobster to friendly Satanists the Overlook Film Festival shorts package had a little bit of everything!
Whenever I attend a film festival I always want to make sure I check out some of the short films playing. They’re usually offered in blocks of 5-10 films, depending on length, and typically provide you with a good variety. They’re sort of like anthologies — if you don’t like the current story it’s ok because it won’t last that long and you’ll be onto the next one before you know it.
The Overlook Film Festival — Oregon’s newest horror fest named after the famous hotel in The Shining where the fest takes place — offered up two packages of short films. Unfortunately I was only able to attend one of the blocks, but fortunately, it was a wonderful block. Let’s take a look at those shorts, shall we?
Dir. Robin Comisar
Great Choice begins like someone just popped an old VHS tape into the VCR. The screen is a perfect square of blue with the little play logo up in the corner indicating the tape is about to begin. When the tape plays you see what looks to be something that somebody recorded from TV years because it starts with an old commercial. The commercial is for Red Lobster and it’s advertising some new shrimp special. You’ve seen this type of commercial before in the late 80’s and early 90’s when they seemed to be on all the time. When the commercial ends it repeats. And repeats and repeats and repeats and repeats until finally the lady portraying the main customer in the commercial begins to realize that maybe she’s trapped in a commercial. She decides to skip her line sending the whole Red Lobster universe into whack and now she must do whatever she can to escape.
I cannot tell you how much I loved Great Choice but I can tell you that it was easily the most enjoyable thing I saw at the Overlook Film Festival and I could honestly just watch it on repeat all day, every day, which is convenient because it repeats. It was a Tim & Eric bit with a heavy dose of gore. It nailed the aesthetic of those old Red Lobster commercials perfectly. And as a nice unexpected bonus, it ended with a bit of a twist!
I do not know where or when Great Choice is playing next, but if you happen to see it on any festival bill you have to check it out. In the meantime, you can check out Comisar’s equally enjoyable short, Mom Died.
I Want You Inside Me
Dir. Alice Shindelar
I only encountered one issue of technical difficulties at the Overlook Film Festival, which for a new fest is actually quite good, but unfortunately, it was during Alice Shindelar’s I Want You Inside Me. The film played for about 5 minutes before it was determined that the audio wasn’t working properly. You could hear sounds and music, but no dialogue, even though you could see characters speaking. The interesting thing is that I actually just thought it was a creative choice not to have dialogue until they stopped the film and told us there was an issue. They re-booted the film and gave it another go, but unfortunately, it was more of the same. They ended up having to move the short to the end of the block and it played fine, but it’s worth mentioning that I saw the beginning few minutes twice without dialogue before it worked correctly.
When the film started up the third time I learned that the dialogue was actually pretty important. I Want You Inside Me is the story about a high school girl, CJ (Abigail Wahl) who goes off to have sex with her boyfriend in the woods. After the enjoyable romp, she passes out. When she awakes she is shocked and disappointed to discover that her boyfriend evidently got up and left, leaving her all alone.
Rightfully upset about the situation CJ goes to pay a visit to her friend Joy (Kiley Juckel). Joy helps CJ get all dolled up and encourages her to go to a house party and hook up with someone to get back at her boyfriend. Once at the party, CJ seems a bit shy and timid at first but eventually sneaks upstairs with a guy. This is about the time we realize that maybe CJ’s boyfriend didn’t leave of his own accord.
Short films can be tricky to review because there are short. You can only give away so much info without giving the whole thing away. With regards to I Want You Inside Me I can’t give you any more info without ruining the film. What I can tell you is that what happens in that bedroom between CJ and this new guy made the entire audience in attendance gasp and then break out in laughter. I Want You Inside is a well-made short with a shocking and satisfyingly funny ending. And I’m happy to report that the first two failed screening attempts did not take away from my enjoyment the third time.
When Susurrus Stirs
Dir. Anthony Cousins
Anthony Cousins’ When Susurrus Stirs is a fun, gross, disgusting slice of body horror. While out jogging one day a man has a bug fly into his mouth. Later that day when he tries to remove the bug from the back of his throat he discovers that it’s some sort of parasite that is beginning to bond with his body. The parasite begins to grow within the man’s body and from there he transforms the man’s body into a hideous creature while convincing the man that he actually wants to be this hideous creature.
My guess is this short was made simply to show off the talented makeup effects this crew is capable of and I’m totally ok with that because they did awesome work. Almost all effects in the film are practical and they look wonderful. The transformation of our main character is truly gnarly with plenty of pulsating and dripping. You can see the influence of something like The Fly which is always welcomed. When Susurrus Stirs is the perfect short film for a horror film festival.
Dir. Teemu Niukkanen
Maybe the funniest short I saw was Finland’s Fucking Bunnies from writer/director Teemu Niukkanen. Rami (Jouko Puolanto) is an average middle-aged Finnish man – or at least what I imagine an average middle-aged Finnish man to be like – living a pretty average life with his wife in a nice high-rise condo. One day he has new neighbors move in, which isn’t all that weird until he meets Maki (Janne Reinikainen). Maki’s face is covered in Kiss-like face paint and he explains right off the bat that he’s a Satanist, but for him, it’s less about Satan worship and more about the weird sex cult aspect that comes with it.
Despite his unique lifestyle, Maki is a really nice guy. He constantly goes out of his way to say hi to Rami, even inviting him and his wife over to their housewarming party. Rami doesn’t quite take to Maki, however. He just cannot stand him because he’s a Satanist and as such he must be a bad person. Rami isn’t really mean to Maki, but he isn’t nice to him either. Maki isn’t deterred and continues to be extremely nice and eventually, he wins Rami over and the two develop a friendship.
Fucking Bunnies is a nice bit of social commentary on how we shouldn’t judge those different than us because we probably have more in common than what we see on the surface. And it also happens to be really, really, really funny. I’ll sign up to watch a tale of Satanic-panic doused in metal with a touch of social commentary and topped off with an extra helping of laughs every time out.
Dir. Jerónimo Rocha
Arcana is a 2015 short film out of Portugal from director Jerónimo Rocha. Is this short a woman is locked in a dungeon or sorts and it appears as if she may be possessed or possibly she’s a demon-woman hybrid. Whatever she is she clearly doesn’t want to be there and has been plotting her escape for some time. After feeding time she begins performing a ritual in an effort to put that escape plan into action.
This is one of the two shorts I saw that I wasn’t really all that thrilled about it. It looks great, offering up top-notch production values but beyond that, there isn’t a whole lot. We have a woman, who may or not be possessed, that has been locked up and wants to escape, so she escapes. The end. Maybe I was just missing something, but I didn’t find a whole lot to take away from Arcana.
Dir. Remi Weekes
Director Remi Weekes got the biggest scare not only from the shorts but possibly from the whole festival with his brilliant little entry Tickle Monster. Elliot (Percelle Ascott) is hanging out in his bedroom with his girlfriend Natalie (Rhianne Barreto) when she discovers that he’s ticklish but hates being tickled. She decides to mess with him and tell him the story about the tickle monster. Eventually, things get a little too real.
Right from the start, it’s fairly easy to know where Tickle Monster is going to end up. What makes it so impressive is the route Weekes takes in getting you from point A to point B. He somehow manages to give you laughs throughout while creating thick tension and suspense and then delivering a scare so big it resulted in the entire audience I viewed it with screaming out loud. That’s impressive.
A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky
A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky is a short out of France that I really wanted to get into and love, but it just didn’t quite work out. The story is about a brother who spends his entire life taking care of his disabled sister after she blows half her face off during a horrific incident involving a gun from their childhood. In between taking care of his sister, he prepares for the arrival of some sort of otherworldly being.
With a runtime of 35 minutes, this short film suffers from feeling too long, which is never a great thing. The flashback sequence of the accident from their childhood is quite intense and shocking and the film has some strong emotional moments but it doesn’t all come together. It just feels like there’s something missing. I can’t tell if a short idea was stretched to create a longer short or a longer idea had key moments removed because the filmmaker only had the means to make a short.
A Perfectly Blue Sky is well made. It looks great and has some really strong effects work, but ultimately it feels like it’s lacking something. I’d be interested in seeing a shorter or longer version because I think taking it in either direction would allow for a tighter, more complete story. As currently constructed it sort of feels stuck in the middle.