Panic Fest is back! Last year Hal and I covered some of the extraordinary films to come from the fest like Malibu Horror Story and Dawning. While I am extremely excited at the list of features this year, I was just as impressed with the list of shorts. There are some shorts I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about, some great ones I have seen at other fests, and some fresh names I’m excited to dig into. The first block of short films runs the gambit with everything from medical vampirism, sentient ground meat, and bottomless trunks found in the woods.
Written/Directed by Zachary Eglinton
What would you do if you woke up one day and found yourself mysteriously repulsed by garlic? Well, you’d assume you were a vampire. For two friends, this becomes far too real. If your friend asked you to stake them, saving them from eternal blood-craving life, would you? What is impressive about this three-minute short is how efficiently it tells its story, and the exaggeratedly serious manner the two friends handle the situation. The joke stays just long enough and ends when it needs to, there is a restraint to Eglinton’s script.
Written/Directed by Jen Handorf
As horror fans we know that nothing can really go well with a story, the person we initially meet is going to be put in some sort of peril. It’s a given. Wolf Whistle takes the trope of the damsel in distress and adds a fun twist to it. I’ll admit, Handorf had me going, but I was thinking it was going to end how a typical story of this ilk would. I was happily surprised with the direction Handorf went with this short. Emma Louise Webb (Alice) handles this performance really well, donning a red hooded sweatshirt on her nighttime run. Everything is set up to tell us a familiar parable, and the misdirection is almost cynically brilliant.
Moonlight Sonata, with Scissors
Written/Directed by Chris Ethridge
Two friends with a strained relationship, Zee (Hailey Startwout) and Corey (Troy Halverson), find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. One night Corey shows up at Zee’s house with the body of a parole officer in the back of his pickup truck. When the situation seemingly turns into Groundhog Day, Zee attempts to change the events from the night before, with scissors.
Scissors was a delight in all aspects. Startwout and Halverson really nail their performances. They excel at telling the story of their relationships with their mannerisms and micro-expressions, telling us what we need to know without saying it. It’s important to find actors like these two for shorts, with the limited amount of time you have it’s necessary to find ways to convey stories and relationships.
The stinger here played kind of played out how I thought it was going to, about halfway through, but that didn’t take anything away from it. With two incredibly strong performances it didn’t matter what the ending was, it was a treat enough just to watch them. Also, I absolutely love the title.
That’s Our Time
Written by Alex Backes and Josh Callahan, Directed by Alex Backes
Imagine being able to seemingly predict the future, or at least the end of people’s futures. That’s Our Time is quite a unique story, wrapped up in a character study of a social outcast Danny (Marque Richardson). This short tackles a few subjects, mental health being a large one. There’s this really nihilistic line, “How can you connect with someone whose time is running out while they’re singing Tupac?” In the context of this short that line makes sense, out of context it’s a deeply sad and depressing truth. We all have a set amount of time here, and if you know the inevitable is coming how can you cope with that? Don’t let my depressing devolution dissuade you from the wonderful film aspects of it. Richardson does an excellent job as Danny and really embodies the character with all of its flaws. The short itself is great even if it left me feeling a bit empty emotionally, but cautiously optimistic.
Story by Ray Raghavan and Nick Purrier, Written by Nick Purrier, and Directed by Ray Raghavan
An immigrant family races through the woods trying to reconnect with each other, all while being chased by border patrol. After the child, Maria (Maria Quisaira Frazer), finds a blue goopy orb in a cave, they realize there might be something more sinister than the border patrol after them. Chock full of social commentary, AlieNation is a heartwarming story about a family trying to find life in a new home. Frazer’s acting is spot on, and for a child actor, she is fantastic. A lot of the success of this short goes to creature designer Gabi Fustolo. There’s so much story behind the creation of the creature, it tells a story that doesn’t need to be stated. I appreciate the sentiment behind this short, and I think it will connect with audiences as a whole.
Written by Izzy Lee and Steve Johanson, Directed by Izzy Lee
Xavier: Renegade Angel by way of a talking meat puppet, Meat Friend is a gut-bustingly gross time. I can’t remember a time I’ve laughed this hard at something. Billie (Marnie McKendry) microwaves a heaping mound of raw beef, which transforms into everyone’s favorite reject Muppet Meat Friend. Meat Friend gives Billie, and us, lessons on crime, or more importantly how to get away with them. Meat Friend just feels wrong, in all the right ways. Join Meat Friend for lessons on how to make prison shanks or how to become a loan shark! Meat Friend has a lesson for everyone.
Written, Directed, and Produced by Travis Laidlaw
How many times do we need to say it, don’t open a trunk you find in the middle of nowhere that’s covered in chains! Sheesh! If someone abandons a trunk and locks it up tight, maybe there’s a reason. Unfortunately for a father and his daughter, they will find out their quick moneymaking scheme is about to turn deadly. The Trunk feels fresh for a creature feature. It’s placing in the lineup for the first block of shorts really elevates it, as it is complemented by the next film on the lineup. The true shining star of The Trunk is SFX makeup artist Rhonda Causon, who creates one of the gnarliest practical effects I have ever seen.
Written/Directed by Krsy Fox
Having a child actor carry emotional weight in a film is a tough thing to do, especially when you have a child as young as Lulu (Elle Riot Fox). There is an awareness in her performance I don’t think I have ever seen from a child actor before, it might be because Elle Riot Fox shares the same last name with writer/director/lead Krsy Fox, so they might be related. The connection between Lulu and Jo (Krsy Fox) is beyond genuine and adorable. Elle handles the scares like a badass. If your child ever tells you, “You should be afraid too,” you need to pack up and leave that house immediately. Also having Spider One play your titular villain just adds so much more to this. Truly frightening, HIMS made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up long after the credits rolled.