One of Another Hole in the Head’s Dark Rainbow short films, At the Edge of Night, advertises itself as “a bisexual death metal ghost story.” Another, Jeff Drives You, is about “a lonely gay man [who] falls in love with an artificially intelligent car.” There are shorts about the transmasculine experience (META), being the gay best friend (Uncanny Valley), and lesbian romance in a patriarchal dystopia (Catfight). Dark Rainbow is unapologetically LGBTQ+-focused, and the stories on display utilize the horror, thriller, and science fiction genres to their fullest potential.
There are nine shorts in this collection, and they’re all worth watching for their own reasons. The aforementioned At the Edge of Night, directed by Brandon Fayette and star Philippe Sung, is a perfect blend of atmosphere, tragedy, revenge, and a killer soundtrack as it follows a metal fan distraught after the events of one horrible night. This short is gorgeous, placing the quiet solitude of the Mojave Desert next to the gritty city nightlife of Los Angeles and allowing us to feel Sung’s character’s joy, grief, rage, and eventually, acceptance of everything he’s lost. For all its violence, Catfight—a sci-fi story where a modern gladiator is forced to fight her trainer-turned-lover to the death—continues to be darkly atmospheric, even as it goes for the viewer’s throat. It’s meant to be a dystopia set in the near future, but the scariest part of this short is how gritty, grounded, and real it feels, like these people are battling for their lives right under our noses, all thanks to the confident direction of Ariel Sinelnikoff.
Elsewhere, Black Pill—written and directed by first-time filmmaker Jessi Gaston—deals with depression, coercion, and body horror, following a character who is instructed by a computer program to take a supplement guaranteed to turn them completely inhuman. Powerful lead performances by Avery Graham-Howard and Madeline Bernhard and some oppressively disgusting practical effects near the end make this one hard to look away from, in a good way.
Things go from grim to whimsical, but no less terrifying, in Sydne Horton’s META, the story of a trans man in the running for prom king who undergoes a strange transformation that he’s sure is going to freak his classmates out. Taking more of a lower-budget dark fantasy angle than the previous shorts, it makes for an entertaining allegory with a fun soundtrack, a game cast, and a relevant theme of feeling like an outcast. The short-but-sweet My Boyfriend the Boogeyman follows with an offbeat comedy about a young man dating the invisible monster under his bed. It may not have the weighty themes of the rest of this block, but it’s a fun passion project by writer, director, and star Nikhail Asnani, with some great lighting and a spooky ending.
Director Aidan Brezonick’s Jeff Drives You continues the offbeat nature of this block, blending comedy, sci-fi, romance, drama, and a bit of horror into a story about a man and a self-driving car who develops feelings for him. The story goes through several twists and turns despite its car-centric setting (ha, turns, roads, get it?), and it manages to make the short-lived romance between Jeff the car and David the human feel surprisingly natural.
Jensen Rule Tierra’s Uncanny Valley, on the other hand, feels unnatural, but this works to its benefit—it’s shot entirely on obvious green screens in an Instagram aspect ratio and plays off its awkward energy and character performances as a young woman’s gay best friend isn’t sure how to handle himself when he’s treated as his own person apart from her. It takes its title to heart in its wonderfully strange acting choices, its predictable yet fun twist, and its underlying sense of existential horror; it may be off-putting for some, but I found it ridiculously entertaining.
Dark Rainbow returns to the inspired darkness implied in its title with the last two shorts on the docket. #Gayboy2020 combines a human story with a surreal, sexual nightmare as the protagonist struggles to move past being haunted by his ex, both metaphorically and literally. It’s driven by colorful lighting and uncomfortable close-ups, and works as a fantastic metaphor for gay codependency—something director Noah Causey openly hopes to do in the film’s description. Things go out with a bang in the paranoid thriller Thorns, directed by Sarah Wisner and Sean Temple, following a lesbian couple who find themselves being stalked at a motel. It’s a five-minute, no-frills, straightforward story that’s easy to follow (and that’s a compliment to its atmosphere) without sacrificing character development, and it ends with an awesome final shot that both literally and figuratively punches the audience in the face, as if to tell them to wake up from the beautiful nightmare they’ve just survived.
After binging the entire Dark Rainbow program in one afternoon, I legitimately can’t think of anything negative to say about any of these short films. AHITH has curated one hell of a shorts block here, spanning the spectrum from comedy to drama, science fiction to abject terror, and everything in between, without ever losing focus on the LGBTQ+ characters at the center of each short’s narrative. Every one of these stories is worth experiencing, and I have high hopes for each of these filmmakers and their contributions to LGBTQ+ genre cinema in the future. For now, I can absolutely recommend everything here for whatever strikes your strange fancy.