Last night’s Horror Showcase at the Newport Beach Film Festival kicked off with a presentation of seven short films in a “dark celebration of the things that frighten us most.” Though none of these shorts were particularly frightening, and some of them could only very loosely be described as horror, watching them was certainly a celebration of excellent filmmaking. Check out what we loved and didn’t love about the horror short collection — cutely titled Nightmare on Short Street — below:
Dead Hearts (Dir. Stephen W. Martin)
“A young mortician gives his heart away to find true love in a whimsical and gothic bedtime story filled with love, loss, taxidermy, Kung Fu, and biker werewolves.”
Max: Martin’s self-professed inspiration from children’s literature and Tim Burton-esque qualities shines through brilliantly in the short that kicked off the night. While the least horrific of the bunch, this Pushing Daisies-like tale did a brilliant job of building up character, style, and themes in an incredibly short of amount of time. Epic and heart-felt, it was by far the most character focused.
Christine: The cheerful radio voice narrator in Dead Hearts was a great choice that lent the short a bedtime story feel that was equal parts adorable and morbid — but that’s about all I got out of it.
The Pond (Dir. Jeroen Dumoulein)
“Kris, a young girl in the early 1900’s, tries to unravel the mystery of a dark pond behind her parents’ house.”
Max: While the set dressing and costumes were great, nothing in this short elevated it beyond a relatively average, mildy horrific story. The set up, events, and even the twist ending were all things we’ve seen in movies past; despite that, the acting was good and the overall product was well-executed.
Christine: Other than Aftermath (more gushing on this one to come later), The Pond had the best horror atmosphere and some of the best visuals out of them all. The underwater sequence where we discover the horrible truth about the pond was hauntingly beautiful.
Meridians (Dir. Blake Rice)
“An acupuncturist forms a primal bond with her female patient after years of treatment.”
Max: This one was good. The acting was excellent and the tension was built up in a superb, “What the hell is going on?” sort of way. However, unlike the superior shorts of the evening, Meridians didn’t attempt to create characters the audience cared about by the end of the film, which brought down the whole product. In the end, the short wasn’t really about anything more than one hell of a thrilling twist.
Christine: I wasn’t a huge fan of Meridians, mainly because I saw where it was going the second it started and it felt too derivative to be enjoyable. I did appreciate the fact that the acupuncture shots looked very real, and was pleased to find out in the Q&A portion of the showing that it was real and that the actress had to sit there with the needles on her for double-digit hours. Gotta give props for that.
Aftermath (Dir. Jeremy Robbins)
“Two brothers try to survive a predatory ice age. Scouring through abandoned homes to find a place to call their own, they face fellow nomads with the same goal.”
Max: The dedication by the cast and crew really showed in this one. The chills and thrills are all, well, pardon the pun, chilling and thrilling. Aftermath tied with Dead Hearts for my favorite short of the showcase, but it did so by going the exact opposite direction of the latter. Sparse and pessimistic, the dystopian coming of age story created well-rounded characters you wanted so dearly to succeed, that when they ultimately fail, you are left completely heartbroken.
Christine: Aftermath was my personal favorite short of the night. Its 19-minute run time was used to the fullest, effortlessly weaving together the world building, character development, and the brothers’ strained relationship to create a deeply moving story even with minimal dialogue. As previously mentioned, the dark atmosphere of Aftermath‘s somewhat apocalyptic snowscape was brilliantly done.
Sequence (Dir. Carles Torrens)
“A man wakes up one morning to realize the entire world has dreamed about him the night before.”
Max: By far the most zany and balls-to-the-wall of the bunch (and that’s including the English-narrated zombie fairy tale that was Dead Hearts) Sequence feels like the love child of Quentin Tarantino and Stephen King. Full of dark humor and an relatively well-executed character arc, it accomplishes what Meridians tried and failed to do, by providing someone to root for and a mind-bending narrative.
Christine: What would you do if you woke up one day and were inexplicably the most hated person in the entire world? Sequence takes second place in my heart due to its crazy plot that had me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what was going on. The short’s “hero” was definitely someone you could root for, and the twist ending had me equal parts laughing and cringing.
The Bridge Partner (Dir. Gabriel Olson)
“A timid housewife is jolted into a fight for her survival by her new partner at a weekly bridge game, when she thinks she hears a threat.”
Max: My least favorite short by far, The Bridge Partner featured a nonsensical story with a villain that had pointless motivation. The message at its core was something the audience has seen a million times before, and better executed. I find it ironic that the short with the least appealing story was also the one with the most veteran actors.
Christine: I kinda liked this one, actually, though I’ll agree that it was a rehash of an overdone theme — the hunted learning to become the hunter — and very predictable. An adaptation of a short story by fantasy author Peter S. Beagle, The Bridge Partner perhaps went a bit over the top with its overly meek heroine and mustachio-twirling villain (if Sharon Lawrence’s character had a mustachio, I mean) but the ending monologue had merit.
Invaders (Dir. Jason Kupfer)
“A pair of home invaders consider their potential character choices just prior to their planned invasion.”
Max: Short and humorous, but ultimately hollow, Invaders set out to accomplish little more than a few laughs and ultimately succeeded. I think the credits were longer than the actual movie with this one, which seems to fit perfectly with the vibe this one set out to mimic. Oddly enough, this one seems to be the more simplistic kindred spirit of Sequence.
Christine: Man, this packed a funny punch. Invaders was the final film and the shortest one out of the bunch, which threw me off a little bit because I’d already gotten used to the 15+ minute long shorts. I filled my gore quota for the night with this one alone, which says it all, really.