This was my first year covering the SXSW Film Festival but I have been to many in the past and something about them that has always appealed to me is the blocks of short-films. SXSW had a great collection of them this year. There were so many more I wasn’t able to catch, but here are some quick-take reviews of the ones I did.
14 Minutes – Narrative Short – Thriller, Crime, Drama
Directed By – John Merizalde
Starring – Theodore Pellerin, Meredith Adelaide, John Y. Li
Synopsis – An anti-social young man who routinely fails at love seeks refuge in an online community, but the subculture does not prove to be a relief as the toxic treatment of others pushes this man to deadly actions.
This was a subtly unnerving film that left me thinking long after watching. The simplicity of the camera work when the film opens on this guy trying to speak to a woman in the library felt very raw. It placed me in the room and more so, connected to the unnerving situation. It was a common scenario that happens every day, humans approaching one another. The awkwardness creates a natural intrigue to see what path the scene will take. The performance from Theodore Pellerin was just what this story needed. He felt like a normal guy and he captured the torment that many people just like him feel when dealing with social awkwardness and anxiety. The few scenes in this short capture a world of thought about the potential drawbacks of the outlets people choose for help.
These places can often be toxic on their own. Sometimes worse that the original issue that may make a person look for help to begin with. This film explores the concept of the online world and the anonymity of it. How that can often result in people feeling they can say things to others through their keyboard they would never have the courage to say in real life. The story explores the concept that often when people seek others like themselves online, that instead of support some can use it to prey on their minds simply to make themselves feel better. I enjoyed how this film engaged the notion that when a person is having problems in real-life that the internet can be a black hole of negativity in disguise as a source for help.
16 Minutes – Narrative Short – Drama, Mystery
Directed By – Jasmin Gordon
Starring – Martin Swabey, Jules Balekdjian, Yahya Boudjelloul, Yanis Richard
Synopsis – A mysterious man driving on the highway in the French countryside runs into a group of young boys. After a couple beers, this man invites the boys out to an unknown location, but can this man be trusted?
This film turned out to be a clever story that planted a seed of information that could bloom into a world of thought-provoking narratives. When the film opens and we meet this man nearly nothing about him is known, but nothing really stands out either. You can assume he is middle-class, and from appearances looks like a common guy. Yet whether he is a harmless citizen or criminal is unknown. When he stumbles across this group of kids an instantly foreboding vibe sweeps over the film and the curiosity and uneasiness begins to build. Waiting to see if this man is simply passing time, or has bad intentions for these kids and it creates a compelling level of suspense.
After a couple beers in a soccer field the group leaves to another location and the tension continues to elevate. As the viewer you can feel something is simply not right and the way this film teases that through the story was very well-crafted. Just as the level of intrigue seems to be at is peak the film ends. You want more, but at the same time you don’t. It was a textbook example of building ambiguity. Long after this movie I was thinking where the story could have gone from the final scene. And when a short-film can grab the viewers attention in such a sincere way, it must be considered a success.
18 Minutes – Narrative Short – Crime, Drama, LGBTQ
Directed By – Maxwell Addae
Starring – Keith Machekanyanga, Malik Cason, Cassandra Blair, Thomas Daniel Smith
Synopsis – A young man attends a ceremony for his infant nephew with a plan to steal the collection money so he can continue to harbor a deep secret from his family.
This was a captivating short that built it’s intrigue with the suspense of the unknown. Then delivered on it with emotional impact as the reasoning behind this character’s actions are made known. It creates a world of thought about the social climate of different countries and the cultural adversities some people must deal with to simply be who they are. I enjoyed how this film framed the story with a curiosity to what this man had intended for the money. As the viewer it creates natural curiosity to imagine what would be so important to do something like that to his family. This made every word and interaction relevant, wanting to hear or see visual clues that would fill in the pieces to the reasoning.
The dialogue was well-written and captured the history between this family with a genuine portrayal of different dynamics. Knowing what the main character is about to do creates riveting uneasiness. And when the final minutes of the story play out and the realization of why this man needed to do what he did hits the heart with a gripping result. It provokes thought as layers of the story the viewer can surmise begin to drop into place building more history. The big-picture of things sets in and it was very well-crafted, and I think this was a short film that delivered constant intrigue and emotion from start-to-finish.
9 Minutes – Narrative Short – Comedy, Horror, Romance
Directed By – Meredith Alloway
Starring – Meredith Alloway, Peter Vack
Synopsis – A woman checks in to a hotel and calls a mysterious man with a massage table to join her but is this a standard in-room massage, or an exploration of a mutual fetish.
This was an eerie but darkly appealing short that built an ominous tone from the unknown. It opens on this woman in a robe marking an X on her shoulder with lipstick so immediately you can sense some is not quite as it seems. Immediately the feeling things will not be as light as the room the scenes enters on swept over me which lured me in. This man shows up and seems slightly uneasy for it being a ‘normal’ masseuse. All of this builds this atmosphere of something dark looming as this meeting seems unusually secretive. The direction from Meredith Alloway frames this subtle tension with precision then unleashes the twist with an artistic violence that will leave you thinking long after the end credits role.
It was moody, and darkly comical. I thought the various tones complemented one another with appealing capability. I enjoyed the performances as well. Alloway did a great job of creating a natural awkwardness early on that sold me on the uneasiness of the meeting. Then at the end, her demeanor was both comical and oddly chilling and she captured it with an unassuming delivery that worked perfectly. The musical score was also nicely woven to heighten the emotional response to the imagery routinely. Something it managed to do in an unconventional way that I think was very clever and only added to the appeal of a very capable film.
11 Minutes – Narrative Short – Drama
Directed By – Julian Turner
Starring – Maria Dizzia, Azikiwea Green
Synopsis – A middle-aged teacher named Genevieve meets with a drug dealer through a mutual friend and they are surprised to see a connection through their personalities which leads them to a walk as they share their similar interests.
Simplicity and creativity were the strong suits of this film. The chance meeting of a middle-aged female teacher with a younger male drug dealer, who go on to find they have much in common was interesting in concept alone. The dialogue carries it from there. I enjoyed the direction as the camera position created a fly-on-the-wall vibe. This was perfect for giving the entire film a raw, intimate mood to it as the conversations between these two characters flow with authenticity. It drops in information about the characters, while at the same time building substance to their actual personality types which enabled me to invest in them through the curiosity of the unknown and a constant trickle of insight.
The performances were excellent. Neither tried too hard to land emotional layers. They progressed through the dialogue with a smooth flow which resulted in a nice timing between them. I thought they did a great job of capturing that uneasy chemistry early on, that continued to grow stronger throughout the film. I think this chemistry between them was the priority of the movie and it landed with genuine intrigue. I was compelled to see where the night was inevitably going to take their connection. And when it closes out its final line, I was still thinking about the layers of these characters which is a complement to the writing.
Little Grey Bubbles
14 Minutes – Narrative Short – Drama
Directed By – Charles Wahl
Starring – Kaelen Ohm, Josh MacDonald, Francine Deschepper
Synopsis – When an older family man passes away a much younger woman, he was longtime friends with online but never met, shows up to the funeral after getting a final text from him saying he had something very important to tell her.
This was a very emotionally moving film that was able to build the history of a chance friendship with sincerity in only fourteen-minutes. The performances were excellent, and it made the scenarios feel authentic. It helped build that connection to the emotional layers the story was laying out as the depth of their relationship is explored. It was intriguing to see this woman reflect on the relationship she had with this man after stepping inside of his home for the first time. Seeing a side of him he didn’t know. I thought it was heartwarming to see this friendship that many would naturally assume was sexual actually be built on purity.
The dialogue was timely with no wasted lines. It was continually moving forward and with this mysterious text message in the backdrop it created a higher lever of fascination as to what the meaning of it was. You can connect to the character through that single aspect and understand her need to have resolution. Then, with a well-crafted and touching closing scene it comes full-circle and provides the answer we are waiting for and when it does it will bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your face all at once.
The Video Store Commercial
4 Minutes – Narrative Short – Comedy, Fantasy, Horror
Directed By – Cody Kennedy, Tim Rutherford
Starring – Kevin Martin
Synopsis – When a video store owner hires a crew to shoot a commercial for his place, a cursed VHS tape is broken putting all of their lives and more so, the commercial in danger.
I had a great time with this film as a person who loves horror blended with quirky comedic punch. That is what this one delivered. It was vibrant with pure eccentric charm and showed a subtle homage to the old days of horror, and even more the days of the classic video-store. A mysterious tape is broken, and all hell breaks loose in the over-the-top ways you would want it to. From a monster made of VHS tape ribbon, to wildly inflated performances, it’s unpredictable and crazy with a dated tone that lured me into the horrific fun even more.
The camerawork was another major positive in creating a fun retro vibe to the visuals. It was clever to change the aspect ratio and overlay texturing when characters were looking into the camera. This was a nice touch to create a second dimension to the one the viewer is watching. It was a subtle but effective technique that made this film visually appealing in a way that complemented the subject matter perfectly. This film was only four-minutes, but with constant energy and charisma from start-to-finish it’s certainly a complete ride.
How to Be Alone
13 Minutes – Narrative Short – Horror, Thriller
Directed By – Kate Terry
Starring – Maika Monroe, Joe Keery, Ryan McFadden, Evan Miller
Synopsis – A woman finds that her darkest fears manifest themselves when her husband goes to work, and she is left all one in the house.
This was a dark, demented, and comical story that was carried by its twisted creativity, and the charismatic performance of Maika Monroe. I thought the writing was sharp and very witty, with the delivery through narration being a great choice. The voice-over work was timed perfectly with Monroe’s performance to tell the story like it needed. It was effective in creating curiosity as to what demented elements would manifest themselves from her mind next.
The clever, yet edgy sense-of-humor fit perfectly into the narrative as well and it made the dark comical undertones hit with the intended sinister amusement. The musical score was also nicely selected to elevate the overall edgy attitude of the story as well as infuse the film with a constant energy. This story was able to portray a dark and haunted mind but in a visual way with solid practical-effects that I enjoyed. Making this a short-film that plants a seed of grim curiosity, gives you a strong dose of it to set the tone, then leaves you imaging much more on your own.