One thing that differentiates Toronto After Dark from a lot of other horror festivals is their affinity and respect for short films. In an age of streaming and general new media, short films are the future of genre cinema and it is always important to give them a venue, since most of them will never see the inside of a cinema.
Every year, the international program is a must-see, even though the theatres are often sadly emptier than they deserve, as these shorts tend to include some of the best works at the festival. This year, Toronto After Dark finally took the leap and added a second shorts program; one dedicated to somewhat longer Canadian shorts. The Canadian selections tend to be a bit weaker, but they still manage a handful of worthwhile efforts. This year’s shorts selection was one of the less memorable ones, but there was still plenty to recommend.
This year was heavily dominated by the “YouTube horror film”, a pseudo-genre that is defined by its under-ten-minutes runtime, its use of quickly building tension and the punchline, the moment that the monster predictably jumps out at the camera – a genre which will inevitably eventually end up on YouTube as a consumable product. But, even a predictable genre can produce gold. While the “YouTube horror” became tedious about halfway through the festival, the best example of it came very late with Cayley Hanson’s Don’t Turn Around, a tale of technophobia that succeeds because of its YouTube horror aesthetics. Other similar films which managed to “wow” include The Blue Door by Paul Taylor and the complete subversion of the very aesthetic in Quang Ngo-Trong’s Instagram short, Windmill Man.
Other standout shorts at this year’s festival include the creepiness of Heath Michaels’ The World Over, Marisa Crespo and Moises Romera’s 9 Steps and Santiago Menghini’s Milk, the brilliant animation in Sylvie Trouve and Dayle Hayward’s Bone Mother, Lewis Leon’s L’homme et la Poisson and Michael Enzbrunner’s Death Van, and the complete and utter nonsense of Roney’s Glitter’s Wild Women and Sam KJ’s PVP.
That was actually the main issue with the shorts at this year’s festival. Toronto After Dark was always so much braver with their shorts collection, which includes screening experimental shorts and short-form documentaries (which this year’s festival had none of). The platform was also deeply lacking in weirdness, giving way to a more traditional style of horror instead of delving into absurdities, or trippy animation, or anything else related to off-the-wall creative craziness.
Hopefully next year’s TAD will see a return to what made these shorts programs necessary viewing.
For more information on the festival, visit the official Toronto After Dark website.
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