The biggest strength of Toronto After Dark is, and always has been, the importance given to short films. Shorts are given their own programs, but they also play before features. Due to genre cinema’s specific limitations, shorts are both useful as a way to make a name for oneself and as a storytelling medium. As such, it’s important to look at what is happening in that world. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of this year’s crop of shorts.
The Best Shorts of the Fest
Every year, Toronto After Dark finds a way to surprise the audience with a slightly more experimental work. Furnace of the Birds’ unusual metallic CGI birds living their lives fills that role this year with its beautiful strangeness.
Mia’kate Russell’s Maggie May might have been the most disturbing film at this year’s festival. Focusing on a woman who accidentally impales herself on her way to feed her babies, this genuine study of apathy will get under your skin.
How would one go about describing Jason Gunasz’s Place? A family moves into their new house to find a dead electrician. The film is not a murder mystery or domestic drama. In fact, the dead man is never mentioned again. Place is exceedingly absurd and was one of the best works at the fest.
The Haunted Swordsman sounds almost like a game of Mad Libs: an animated puppet short which follows a samurai as he goes through various trials to get what he wants. If you are into samurai movies, this is for you. If you’re not, therein lies the real appeal: this film is beautiful and creepy!
Ever had someone come to your door to sell you something, and you dreaded the interaction? Perhaps you were worried they would come in and never leave? Well, there’s a horror short for that: Joanna Tsanis’ Imagine a World.
Sleepovers, ghost stories, vengeful spirits out for revenge: just another day in the lives of four teenage girls in the terrific short Best Friends Forever.
Zombies and Indians tells a zombie story by way of a vision. The short is not flawless, but it’s easily forgivable due to an incredible dance that starts the film.
The Worst Shorts of the Fest
Bar Fight, Kakatshat, Plainsong, Schism
Every year, there are a handful of Toronto After Dark films that obviously exist as calling cards or advertisements. They don’t really offer anything new, but they can be used to show the prowess of the filmmakers in certain areas. In less egregious cases, they are used to show off practical visual effects work (Eyes Open) or sound design work (Eilid and Damh). Other times, they are obviously meant to show that the filmmaker is a “total package”, such as in Down the Rabbit Hole and Peel. One case whose very purpose is baffling, however, is Ocimokw!!, a film whose use as a calling card would yield no results.
Speaking of advertisements, I felt that Far Horizon and Dark Before Dawn: Convoy were trying to pitch shows. But considering the results seen on screen, I wouldn’t want to see a single contextless episode of either web series.
While Your Last Day on Earth is not necessarily bad, the screenplay definitely needs to be called out. Not because of the content, but because of the painful amount of expository dialogue. If you need your character to explain the plot of your story, maybe you should consider another storytelling medium.
For more information on the festival, visit the official Toronto After Dark website.
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