Toronto After Dark has been a great platform for short films to be showcased. Former Wylie Writes critic Shahbaz Khayambashi believed that the short selections were the festival’s strong suit and are sometimes better than the feature-length films – and I kinda agree with him.
Below are some of the Canadian short films I caught at this year’s festival. Some of these were featured in the Canadian Shorts After Dark presentation (which ran on Saturday, October 22), and others were pre-feature shorts.
Cruise (DIR. Sam Rudykoff)
An incredibly clever and surprisingly tense spin on cold-calling and “collection services”.
Writer/director Sam Rudykoff catches audiences off guard with a relatable situation – you’ve been dialled by an unknown caller informing you that you’ve won “a free cruise”. While this is usually associated with soliciting and spam, Rudykoff tilts the set-up in another direction. Not only positioning that this offer could be real, but it could be tied to dire consequences for the original caller if they’re disconnected too many times.
Cruise withholds information from the audience to make its vagueness freaky, which works. But, it’s the confined environment and its silent judges (a digital counter and a tough brute holding the caller at gunpoint) that add excellent, high-strung stress to this situation. The twisted, funny payoff is the cherry on top.
The Flying Sailor (DIR. Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby)
You can always count on the NFB to make movie goers feel many different emotions in a condensed amount of time, and it’s no different for their beautiful, experimental animated short The Flying Sailor.
Directors Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby use a mixture of mediums to tell a humourous and heartbreaking story about a town that’s obliterated by an explosion and the unassuming sailor who is sent flying, stripped of his clothes and soul, as he swoons in and out of the afterlife. Forbis and Tilby have fun playing with gravity, human anatomy, and existentialism to tell this silent story (Luigi Allemano’s music and sound design is used quite well too), and the filmmakers always have a firm grasp on their short’s emotional core.
The Community (DIR. Milos Mitrovic, Eric Peterson)
The Community looks like a work-in-progress Broken Lizard project and sounds like a sketch that never made it to Netflix’s I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson.
A curious man is led on an impromptu adventure by an enigmatic know-it-all who wishes to share a secret once they reach the end of their journey. The secret is juvenile. But, it’s a funny reveal and the following laughs are gutbusters. A last minute twist resulting in a Stand By Me-esque ending ups the comedic ante.
The Horse Brothers (DIR. Fabian Velasco, Milos Mitrovic)
Writer/director Milos Mitrovic returns but, this time, in a much stranger element. And to be honest, I preferred his off-the-wall work in The Community over the ultra bizarre frequency he’s working on in The Horse Brothers.
The story is muddled, but the nuts and bolts of it boils down to a competitive relationship between two brothers. The actors have good chemistry, but the script relies on deliberate weirdness to garner reactions and laughs. Apart from a visual gag involving the titular horse shooting someone point-blank (and hearing the enjoyment of Keyhole filmmaker Guy Maddin providing the voice of Anton the horse), The Horse Brothers feels like it wants to show off its own eccentricities for its own pleasure.
Nude (DIR. Olivier Labonté Lemoyne)
Another short that I had a hard time connecting with was Olivier Labonté Lemoyne’s Nude. However, I came around on it because of its main achievement.
Nude starts out comedically, with a horny couple wanting to have sex in their car in an attempt to be more wild with their intimacy. They find a spot, secluded in the woods, and they feel like they’re home free. But after some peculiar sightings, the mood is off and the lark may be something more dangerous than expected.
What I truly admire about Nude is how it finds an intersection between horror, humour, and eroticism. It’s a shot in the dark for most filmmakers to find this sweet spot, but Lemoyne hardly breaks a sweat nesting their short in this very specific groove. But although the filmmaker’s stylistic choices are attractive to the eye, the tricks ultimately cloud the viewer’s perception of this otherwise wholesome story.
The Trunk (DIR. Travis Laidlaw)
Now, here’s a great example of using the short film model to create a “proof of concept” that would be later used to make a full-length movie of the same story. I’m not sure if that was the intention of writer/director Travis Laidlaw, but he could certainly pivot his career into that direction after making The Trunk.
The Trunk is fairly straightforward for a horror short: the film features two characters (a father and daughter) who find a mysterious trunk in the woods, the daughter’s curiousity allows the narrative to uncover the secret behind the trunk, which leads to some shocking results. The performances are good, the make-up effects are outstanding and surprisingly graphic, and Ladilaw creates some decent scares and an eerie atmosphere.
Fingers crossed Laidlaw takes my advice. I’ll be anticipating the longer version of this story.
For more information on the festival, visit the official Toronto After Dark website.
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