Thursday, February 22, 2018
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Shorts Program NYFF: Genre Stories

At NYFF, the series calls Genre Stories contains a plethora of short films, from sci-fis to horror, and made from a diversity of backgrounds.

NYFF 55 Centerpiece: WONDERSTRUCK

In addition to seeing a variety of films at 2017 NYFF, I was able to check out this series of shorts, aptly called Genre Stories. And they were quite enjoyable overall, ranging from horror to thrillers to science fiction, and remarkably from all around the world as well. In this feature, I will do a brief synopsis and reaction for each one, six in all.

Creswick (Natalie Erika James)

Creswick – courtesy of NYFF

This first film, an Australian production, is based around a girl and her father, who works as a carpenter. Together, the two live together in a seemingly isolated house (a recipe for disaster for horror films already). Yet, Creswick was refreshing in the way it didn’t simply have objects and things jumping at you, but instead something usually lurking right outside your field of vision. A shadow seems to hover in the corner of a dark bedroom, or, in the film’s most effective sequence, a tall mysterious figure slowly approaches from the other end of a tree-lined path.

The overall tone to the short is one of suffocation, as in some moments the sound reverts to that feeling you get when you’re underwater and listening to the world up above you. It was a interesting technical aspect, also lending itself to the ghostly atmosphere in a significant way, in that this short seems to be a way of dealing with the loss of a loved one. The clear absence of a mother, and the father who works aimlessly long hours carpentering, seem to suggest that she died fairly recently. And the creepy goings-on are a way of dealing with that loss in a symbolic and metaphorical way.

Though consistently spine-tingling, including one particularly chilling sequence taking place within a woodshed at night, the short also ends rather abruptly. As a result, I could actually see this working as a full-length feature, which would stretch its enticing concept even further. Overall, this was a great way to start the series.

The Last Light (Angelita Mendoza)

This film, a Mexican production, begins in an aerial shot. Looking down, we can see a woman placing a small body in a fireplace, and then lighting it on fire. From there, she goes missing in the wilderness, while her concerned family looks for her. This then leads to the woman’s young cousin taking on a search for her, leading to an unexpected encounter in a nearby uninhabited house.

The Last Light was a bit of a letdown after the inspired Creswick. Though starting off with a chilling image, the remainder of the short doesn’t quite achieve the same result, meandering from a short exchange of a family to a little girl who goes out looking for her cousin, and finally proceeding to a very predictable conclusion. The film itself is also quite grainy, and though clearly going for a docu-style feel, made it instead feel more artificial as opposed to the desired genuine look. The otherworldly music used is sometimes effective when used at a minimum, but its high volume can be distracting.

By the conclusion of this short, it’s hard to gauge just what exactly is its purpose. This is one I would actually like to revisit as a result, as perhaps the mystery behind it benefits from multiple viewings. As it is, though, this is likely my least favorite of the series.

Birthday (Alberto Viavattene)

Birthday – courtesy of NYFF

This short, an Italian production, was one of the more vividly memorable of the bunch. Taking place in an asylum, it concerns a woman who works at the hospital, and who one day tries to mess with one of its older patients, to disastrous results. The film, though silly in concept, is genuinely inspired in execution.

Mostly dialogue-less throughout its length, Birthday relies solely upon camera techniques to tell its story. An example is the frequent use of swiveling camera shots, including at one point in which there seems to be a continuous shot as the camera pans from side to side, yet the images that are panned to on either side contain the same two people, but engaging in different activities.

Due to its inventiveness, the short really feels lucid in nature, like the haunting images that someone who is themselves going mad would see and feel. It seems to target the idea of craziness by association, in that by being around people who have lost their mind, you may slowly lose yours as well. By its conclusion, it does feel a bit too tidied up, but this is still one of the more fun shorts of the series.

Program (Gabriel de Urioste)

Onto one of the more sci-fi themed shorts. Program, a US production, at first seemed rather out-of-place. It centers in on a couple, who are currently in the midst of an argument, when suddenly the world around them starts to glitch in an almost digitized manner. Soon, though, we see what is actually occurring, which I won’t get into for spoiler reasons (though you can probably guess it already).

The predictability of this short does get in the way, though, of its enjoyment. Once something started to go out of whack, I almost immediately knew what it was. Yet, there is some great stuff here as well, including a rather touching montage of the girl and guy that are arguing at the beginning, showing a quietly moving passing of time and the nostalgia of old memories.

This short reminded me of a Black Mirror episode, and, much like the first short I had seen, I could see it begin expanded into a longer feature. Although perhaps a certain film coming out next year has already beaten them to it.

Hombre (Juan Pablo Arias Muñoz)

Hombre, a Chilean production, is easily the scariest in addition to perhaps my favorite of the Genre Stories series. Though at first simply about a boy and his father backpacking in the remote wilderness, it soon starts to expand into the supernatural.

As opposed to diving right into the scary stuff, though, Hombre spends much of its first few minutes examining the relationship between its two central characters, in which the son, who is reluctant to shoot an animal in the woods, is often called out for his behavior and is emasculated by his father.

Then, soon after this, the son is asked to go retrieve firewood from the woods at night, and that’s when Hombre really starts to let loose. I won’t reveal what he finds in the woods, but it is of a cringe-level creepy, and that’s from someone who typically doesn’t get scared much from horror films. Soon after this encounter, the strained relationship with the father at the beginning comes to the forefront, leading to a horrifying conclusion.

Hombre is a film I admire not only for its scares, but because it has a lot to say about the even scarier idea of society-induced masculinity, focusing on the dynamics between a father and his son. I always appreciate it when a horror film, especially a short with limited time, takes an effort to expand on more universal themes. Honestly, I couldn’t recommend it enough.

Drip Drop (Jonna Nilsson)

Drip Drop – courtesy of NYFF

From Sweden, this is a very short but mostly fun sci-fi/horror. It concerns a woman who appears to live alone in a high-end, remote house on a lake. Hearing on the news that people have gone missing recently, we are immediately put on alert, knowing this will come into play throughout the course of the film.

The repetitious dripping noises create a feeling of tension in Drip Drop, and the noises soon escalate until a manifestation of a monster appears, forcing the woman to run for her life. The remainder of this short is simply her trying to get away from the quickly-forming monsters around her.

Story-wise, this is nothing new. The film also doesn’t seem to have much to say about either what these monsters represent or much background for our central protagonist, therefore not feeling like there is much at stake. Special effects-wise, though, the monsters, which are menacing eel-like creatures, are impressively drawn. But it’s not really enough to make Drip Drop stand out amongst the rest.

Hitchhiker (Damien Power)

From Australia, Hitchhiker is an interesting twist on a classic horror story. As can be derived from its title, this short focuses on a hitchhiker, and on a pickup along a dark stretch of road at night. Yet, unexpectedly, it isn’t the hitchhiker that seems to be the one with ulterior motives.

What occurs immediately following this, though, is what makes Hitchhiker even more clever. Soon, the film starts to focus on another strange encounter farther down the road, in which we spot an additional menacing figure, though this time in a far less subtle way. So, the film then does what I can’t say I have seen in another short of this kind: it brings the two killers face-to-face. And though not at first aware of each other’s motives, it makes for a rather twisted and fun dramatic irony.

Hitchhiker does get tiresome after about the third turn-around, but its twist still helps it to work all the more. It’s tense, making you question which of these psychotic murderers you should root for, allowing for some black comedy to seep through and poke fun at its overall concept. Above all, any film in which a serial killer blasts a Debussy nocturne right after a murder is a film worth remembering.

NYFF Genre Shorts: Conclusion

So that concludes my run-down of the NYFF Genre Shorts series. Coming from all around the world, and touching on many different subjects and themes, it was a great series overall. It is my hope that we can see more from these directors in the future, as every short here showed all-around ripe potential and filmmaking talent.

What are some of your favorite genre shorts?

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David is a film aficionado from Colchester, Connecticut. He enjoys writing, reading, analyzing, and of course, watching movies. His favorite genres are westerns, crime dramas, horror, and sci-fis. He also enjoys binge-watching TV shows on Netflix.

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