The short films featured at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival are always worth a watch. The selections hardly miss, and audiences are usually given a wide collection of different types of horror told from diverse perspectives. The shorts I did catch at this year’s film festival were consistent with the past, but also included some all-timer scares and laughs.
Butterscotch (USA | DIR. Alexander Deeds)
No hyperboles here: Alexander Deeds’ Butterscotch is one of the scariest movies I have ever seen. I have a feeling I’m not alone, considering the film won Best International Short at this year’s festival.
A pastel-coloured retirement home is the place of dread in this quietly unsettling horror. A young twerp (Reid Mcconville) focuses on a seemingly disconnected old man (Chad Sommer), and proceeds to pester him – including stealing and eating his last hard candy. The kid quickly figures out how aware the old man is, and what exactly he’s capable of.
The locked-off camerawork gives an unsettling vibe to Deeds’ short, giving the audience no chances to look away when the antagonizing switches between the characters. Deeds also has an amazing sense of timing as he adds on key jump scares to advance the tension. He also knows how to use his actors and exploit their natural talents. Mcconville is perfect as a pest and Sommer is responsible for a hefty share of the scares because of how he’s able to manipulate his eyes; but also because of how Deeds applies this bodily trick within the context of the ultimate staring contest.
CRUSHXD (USA | DIR. Abraham El-Makawy, Alex Futtersak)
CRUSHXD is a really cool blending of experimental animation and psychedelic music.
Using a Bandcamp-released EP titled “Crushxd” from the Brooklyn-based band Crumb, El-Makawy and Futtersak spin a supernatural story about the reconstruction of a turtle after the reptile is obliterated by a vehicle. The filmmakers use wild visuals to hint at an afterlife and to manifest unidentified heroes from beyond.
CRUSHXD shouldn’t be brushed off as “just a music video”, but rather be acknowledged as a sublime example of mixed media artistry.
Forgotten Lake (Canada | DIR. Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy)
Forgotten Lake is a big ticket short – what else do you expect from the outrageous filmmaking collective Astron-6?
Circling back to satirical homages, Forgotten Lake is a hilarious horror-comedy that spoofs summertime camp slashers. However, the horror sub-genre is used as a backdrop while the filmmakers indulge in absurd humour and over-the-top kills (similar to Astron-6’s equally brilliant BioCop short). Manborg filmmaker Steven Kostanski, who has proven to be an excellent special effects makeup artist with the filmmaking collective, continues to show off his knack for creating a shockingly gruesome villain.
The short starts with a campfire story and spins out of control from there, using a pace that’s similar to movie trailers or commercials. One starts to wonder if the editing style is on purpose. Will it play towards a final, gut-busting surprise? Why don’t you see for yourself!
Pool Party (Canada | DIR. Ellie Stewart)
Pool Party is a tame fantasy-horror, but it’s still a very interesting albeit featherlight take on adolescence.
Glen Dela-Cruz plays a wallflower who, despite being invited to a sleepover, has a hard time fitting in with her peers. But after an evening of teasing from a specific bully (Jack Rasmussen), Pool Party’s meek lead has no problem plotting her revenge.
The young cast is charismatic and their attitudes are cute, which also feels like nods towards good casting and Ellie Stewart’s nurturing direction. The quality of Stewart’s screenplay, however, doesn’t quite match. The viewer is able to invest in the anticipation building towards an inevitable blowup, but the final reveal (which really taps into its horror element) feels hasty and underdeveloped. I don’t necessarily want to see a feature-length version of this story, but a few extra minutes on this 7-minute short would’ve given Stewart more time to explore our lead’s hidden identity.
For more information on the festival, visit the official Toronto After Dark website.
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