For a filmmaker to hear that their feature film would be better off as a short, that’s tough. If they were to hear their short should be turned into a feature, now that’s a compliment. I think that’s what the short film showcases at festivals advertise: do we want to see more of this? It’s rare for a short to seem bloated, so it has the advantage of not seeming self-indulgent. At the same time, the filmmakers need to create a fully realized story that speaks for itself and does not rely on a punchline or payoff without the form and content to back it up.
There are 9 shorts that premiereed Toronto After Dark’s “Shorts After Dark”, and a couple indeed leave us antsy for more. Some, don’t work at all. Others are passable, but only in their brevity. And many of them surround domestic relationships.
Let’s start with the 4 U.S. selections…
Everything and Everything and Everything (dir. Alberto Roldán) takes from the Perry Index of Aesop’s Fables by adapting the “goose that lay the golden egg”, his famous parable on human greed. It’s mostly a great-looking jumble, the only beacon of recognition being Upstream Color director Shane Carruth, who’s the lead here.
Invaders (dir. Jason Kupfer) tries to have fun with The Strangers/You’re Next formula of house invasion movies by making two dorks the unfit members of the masked murderers club. The short, the briefest of the bunch, ends on a punchline that relies heavily on pratfalls and a lot of fake blood, but the laugh factor is slight. Instead of a gasp of astonishment, you’ll slip out a sigh without that desired tickle in your throat.
Strange Thing (dir. Alrik Bursell) is about a couple who take their curiosity a wee too far when they discover a mysterious door behind a cabinet in their living room. Featuring a villain that might remind viewers of the Smoke Monster from LOST, Strange Thing is sort of a then-this-happened-then-that-happened work – not terribly suspenseful either – but it’s watchable and an okay attack on human curiosity.
Redaction (dir. Tim Sanger) is a bit of science-fiction stuck in concept. Akin to Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”(the inspiration for Total Recall), it’s about one woman (Jaimi Paige) who fights a system that erases the minds of the traumatized. It’s one of the not-facetious shorts in this selection, but too muted in tone, and jarringly structured, to really engage this viewer.
Trauma is better explored in…
He Took Off His Skin For Me(dir. Ben Aston, UK), which thoughtfully looks at the sacrifices we make for those we love. I wondered: was this a metaphor for men who get vasectomies for their wives? Just a thought. Aston bravely tries to find normalcy in this completely abnormal situation, painting a very clear picture of how these two coexist as a married couple given the husband’s…situation. The movie boasts something the other shorts lack: sensitivity.
Liquid (dir. Kaichi Sato, Japan) is also about the measures people take for the ones they love. Unfortunately, this movie is delivered in the body-horror genre (one of my least favourite of genres) and therefore the movie isn’t committed to interpersonal relationships or humanity, but about grossing out the audience and unfairly pushing them to their brink. Even at 12 minutes, Liquid should’ve dissolved faster. At least it’s way shorter than Maps to the Stars.
Dynamic Venus is this Japanese director’s second movie at the festival; it proves to be a more enjoyable effort. Mainly for its audaciousness. It’s a skittishly strung together and barely coherent bit of animated superheroism, but it has a subversive streak that at least makes it interesting. It also daringly shows the consequences of domestic abuse in a Godzilla-like climax, where the hero treats its villain with the mercy of her brutish husband. It shows how cruelty is not only inflicted, it spreads.
Happy B-day(dir. Holger Frick, Germany) could draw comparisons to Nash Edgerton’s Bear being similarly about a couple that take a practical joke too far. There’s a key bit of irony thrown in the midst of Happy B-day that didn’t have me on the floor, but didn’t have me out the door either. I’ll award a Kit-Kat though to anyone who can explain the motivation behind its bizarre opening shot.
Lastly, bring on Swordfights(dir. Nasos Gatzoulis, Greece), a movie that has the sense of humour of a Cretan. It’s about two rivalling professional “Deflowerers’’–basically someone who is hired to take away a person’s virginity – and the phallic competition that transpires to decide who owns what territory of the town. Remember that recent Greek film Alps, which was about people hired to replicate a deceased person to help family members cope with the grieving process? The Greeks have a thing about associating the macabre with private business. My advice? For now, stick to Costa-Gavras. (Parker Mott)