Throughout my years of attending the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, I have come to learn a few truisms: 1) if a film is a world premiere, steer clear, 2) the international shorts program usually contains some of the best work at the festival, and 3) the Canadian shorts usually contain a handful of brilliant selections surrounded by others that are…less so. Being unable to speak to the first (as of now), I am glad to announce that the second truism has likely proven itself true once again, while the third rule is almost close to reaching parity.
The international program is not as strong this year as it usually is, but it still manages to deliver. This year’s selection includes a new Uruguayan take on the zombie mythos (injected with plenty of pathos) in The Plague, which is horrific in an entirely different way, a classic horror narrative in Your Date is Here with just the right amount of campy appeal, and a twisted take on the discreet charms of the bourgeoisie in Taste. Australian Creswick and Norwegian Voyager may not have as much narrative appeal, but they make up for it by being absolutely gorgeous. The rest of the shorts in this program have their issues, but there is only one outright clunker in the bunch – the American short Say Nothing. Say Nothing manages to do, well, just that with its brainless pastiche and bad visual effects. At least it’s quick.
There are more clunkers in the Canadian program, but, shockingly, the Canadian program showcases the best short playing at the festival. In this current postmodern age, far too many people confuse references with storytelling and that is responsible for why so many of the bad Canadian shorts failed. Making a movie just to reference Arnold Schwarzenegger (Schwartzy), giallo (Masks) or chain e-mails (FWD) will not guarantee a good short if you have nothing else to say (having nothing to say is also why A Dark Bedtime failed). This is why the politics of films like NIL: No Blood for Coffee and The Drop In or the cool paranoia of No Wave or even the excess of Breaker were so refreshing.
As usual, the real hero in this Canadian program is Winnipeg, which is where the creators of two of the most interesting works hail from: Missing Toes is a cool little readymade experiment, but the MVP of the festival is homer_a, the companion piece to the TIFF-selected short, homer_b. If you saw homer_b, you may think you know what to expect, and you will get it for the first several minutes, but homer_a ultimately takes such a twisted, disturbing detour into the uncanny that you will find yourself wondering if you are indeed still watching a movie. homer_b is set to play before My Friend Dahmer, a headliner that I’m looking forward to, but this short may well be the better reason to show up.
Selected shorts will screen at the festival’s Shorts After Dark showcase on Saturday, October 14 at 3:00 pm.
Click here for the list of Canadian shorts screening with feature films.
For more information on the festival, visit the official Toronto After Dark website.
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