The Warm Blood shorts at this year’s Inside Out LGBT Film Festival celebrate weirdos across the spectrum. With a little horror, some splashes of blood, speculative twists, ice coffee swigging gays, and a knitted sweater worthy of Knives Out, there’s something for everyone in these speculative shorts. The Warm Blood shorts don’t veer too far into blood and guts gore, and use the power of genre to confront questions of belonging and fears of acceptance. If anyone knows the power of a monster in the closet, it’s the gays.
The tricks ’n’ treats begin with Connective Tissue (Dir. Oliver Bernsen, USA) a splat ’n’ chuckle caper. This quickly paced dark comedy sees a pit stop gone awry. A medical transport officer (Fernando Martinez) makes a detour to grab a burger during a delivery, but a junkie hustler (Ray Nicholson) and their trans partner (Dee Dee LeDuke) are looking to score. The loot? A severed leg that was en route to a seven-year-old’s surgery. Connective Tissue runs with its madcap energy as the clock ticks towards the girl’s operation. Bernsen keeps the audience guessing as the story adds characters and complications to the caper, while LeDuke and Martinez stand out in the fun ensemble. Look out for a cameo from the Bernsen’s LA Law star father, Corbin.
Warm Blood and Family Matters
Something in the Closet (dir. Nosa Eke, UK) takes the metaphor of hiding in the closet quite literally. The film features troubled teen Madi (Demil Lee Walker) struggle to voice her love for her best friend. The feeling’s mutual and the girls share a moment in the closet. However, as Madi fears bringing shame to her family and faces exclusion from the friends, the closet beckons. Bright evil eyes peer from the darkness and through the shutters. Terrified of what happens when one lets the monster out of the closet, Madi internalises her fear. Although the film doesn’t break any new ground, it demonstrates how the Warm Blood shorts create opportunities for queer and questioning audiences to feel seen.
A stylish sweater nearly steals the show in Family (dir. Mark Pariselli, Canada), which shows how heteronormative families can be murder. Family sees partners Cal (Neil Paterson) and Jamal (Tarick Glancy) confront conventions of family in humorously unexpected ways. A trip to the cornfield revives tensions with Cal worrying that having a child will inspire his family to accept his love for Jamal. However, an unexpected bump on the ride home reveals his dark side. With a stain on his impeccably well-fitting sweater and some Texas Chainsaw-type parents confronting the boys with vicious efforts to preserve their family, chaos ensues. Inside Out regular Pariselli confirms his hand with genre, comedy, and queerness as Family navigates horror tropes to slay heteronormativity. Arguably the most slickly-produced and sharply plotted short, this atmospheric lark finds horror and humour in the familiar.
Black Pill (dir. Jessi Gaston, USA), meanwhile, sharply combines body horror and psychological techno-terror. The film features a suicidal help-line gone haywire as a teenager calls to reconcile their inner fears and desires. Evoking elements of Videodrome and The Matrix, Black Pill sees the conflicted teen choose between reality and fantasy while an avatar goads them on and a surveillance team watches, ignorant to their pain. Black Pill evokes the horror of “othering” that arises when society fails to understand the how identities exists on a spectrum. Gaston creates the speculative atmosphere quite effectively with a bombastic sound design and gross, icky effects. It’s a promising and ambitious film that plays aspects of queerness and genre in unexpected ways.
Black Pill pairs nicely with fellow Inside Out Warm Blood short Cleanse (dir. Magdalene Burger, USA). However, the medium in this short aims to help the tormented figures in search of closure. An energy healer (Samone Murray) uses her magic to draw the demons out of queer couples. One especially toxic relationship proves a daunting challenge, though, and she challenges the silent pain in which partners suffer. A great performance by Samone Murray guides this short that cuts between a drab office setting and an otherworldly chamber. Bruger plays the two worlds off one another effectively and uses the barren fluorescence of the office to accentuate the body horror effects within the world of dark magic. As with Black Pill, the influence of Cronenberg is clear and bound to delight Toronto audiences and genre fans.
Back in the Closet
Two strong performances fuel The Quieting (dir. Ali Liebert, Canada), another Warm Blood short tailor-made for the Toronto crew. Sara Canning plays Maggie, a newly out 33-year-old woman readying for her first true date. A young girl in a prom dress (Julia Sarah Stone) holds her back, though, and questions her desires. Featuring more sequences in a closet and a deft interplay between past/present and reality/fantasy, the Quieting speaks to the lingering effects of internalised shame. Canning and Stone give strong performances as the volume escalates while Maggie and Junior confront the past. Writer/director Ali Liebert draws upon her acting background to let the strengths of the performances shape the puzzle. The Quieting conveys how horrors still exist once the closet doors are open, but eventually become easier to defeat.
Hands of Power (dir. Dara Gellman, Canada) brings a lone experimental work to the series. Perhaps the oddball of Warm Blood shorts, it examines the use of hands in Hollywood. Glove fetishists rejoice!
A fine hand at comedy brings Warm Blood to a strong finish with The Office Is Mine (dir. Michael Varrati, USA). This twisted dark comedy skewers the stereotype of the “office gay” as Zac (Ben Baur) finds his status as the reigning queen of the workplace challenged by a newly-hired gay. The film subversively toys with the role that stereotypes play in queer culture. Zac can’t envision himself as anything but his co-workers’ go-to gal for gossip and boy tips. As the tension mounts and Zac sees his existence threatened The Office Is Mine offers a pointed and twisted take on the consequences that arise when marginalised people create divisions within their own community. The film’s black humour encourages gays to be allies as Zac delivers droll laughs and receives just deserts.