Saturday, June 22, 2013

SIFF Shorts: 'Nightmare Mystery Theatre'

Every year, in addition to more than 400 features, the Seattle International Film Festival also presents an extensive series of short. While fests like this may be your only chance to see many of the full-length films, the odds are even worse that you’re going to stumble across most of these smaller offerings. There aren’t a lot of mainstream distribution avenues for short films, they don’t get released into theaters, so if you miss them now, you’re probably shit out of luck. Digging into the darker side of things, the films in the “Nightmare Mystery Theatre” program offer you quick glimpses into the twisted, violent, and horrific.


If movies have taught us nothing, it’s that sex in weird places only leads to bad things. For example, take Caleb Johnson’s new short “Root.” After a steamy night of passion with a man who is not her fiancĂ©, Hannah (Kara Durrett) discovers what she thinks is a sliver down in her nether regions. See, that’s what sex in strange places gets you, vaginal splinters. Ouch. Or is it a splinter? Her attempts to rectify the situation all fail, and grow increasingly desperate with each escalating step.

Watching “Root” you can’t help but be reminded of “Teeth”—they’re different movies to be sure, but there’s a distinct thematic resemblance. Durrett does an admirable job portraying Hannah’s progressively more invasive attempts to extricate this alien invader from her body, but in the end, you can’t help but ask the question, why didn’t she just go to the doctor?

Chris Cullari’s “The Sleepover” is definitely one of the high points in this particular sequence of films. The town of Derry has a secret. They have a slasher. Think a giant, hulking, unkillable menace in a creepy white mask in the vein of Jason Voorhees or Michael Meyers. He’s basically the boogey man, a story to scare kids, only he’s real. Too bad no one told the new kid in town. That’s going to be a problem. “The Sleepover” is original and hilarious, playing with the tropes and traps of the horror genre. Babysitters must pass firearm training to get a license, parents belong to organizations like Mothers Against Serial Killers (MASK), and checking under the bed isn’t a reassuring gesture, it’s a survival measure. At six-minutes long, this is a quick hitter. They get in, make their point, and get out.

Hailing from Belgium, but spoken almost exclusively in Japanese, Toon Aerts’ new short “Perfect Drug,” making its North American debut at SIFF, is somehow more insane than that already sounds. A simple robbery goes awry when one of the crooks drinks a glowing green liquid out of a stolen vial. What follows is all sorts of hallucinatory mayhem—there’s death metal, a brutal crime boss with a fondness for chainsaws, crazy octopus monsters, beheadings, a hotel clerk who keeps keys hidden in his fat rolls, and, most of all, ice cream that just won’t fucking melt. It’s a crazy nonsense blacklight explosion, but entertaining nonsense of the highest order.

In “The Quiet Girl’s Guide to Violence,” Holly (Jennymarie Jemison, also the co-writer), who has been pushed, prodded, and bullied by everyone her whole life, makes a startling pre-New Years resolution. As she says, people shouldn’t be allowed to get away with things. A bit too long, you drag through the middle, the explosions of violence and changes in direction make Rafael Antonio Ruiz’s short well worth taking a look at. There’s a similar look and feel to a Dan Clowes comic going on here, and Holly is definitely that kind of heroine. You might think you’re watching a real life issue of “Eightball.” Ruiz does an admirable job of placing right with Holly, right up in her awkward vengefulness, so that her strangeness and logic are palpable.


As promised by the title, in Martin Rosete’s “Voiceover,” you get a deep, resonant male voice that narrates a trio of harrowing scenarios. The first finds a man, trapped in space, an alien creature loose in his spacesuit and crawling around his junk. Situation two finds a lone soldier in the muddy World War I trenches, attempting to blow up a bridge. And bringing up the rear, a fisherman is being dragged down into the depths by a sinking boat and a rope caught around his ankle. In each set up, you’re informed that the nameless characters has approximately three minutes left to live.

Technically, “Voiceover” is the most accomplished component of this program of shorts, with the most elaborate and accurate costumes, settings, and production values. To be honest, however, I could have done without the actual voiceover, or at least most of it. The three situations are thematically linked, and the narration continually pointing that is heavy-handed, and gets annoying. I’d rather be left to come to my own conclusions instead of simply having them handed to me.


With a title like “Flytopia” you’re already off to a quick start. When a compulsive writer named Jonathan Priestly (Ashley Artus) engages in an all-out war with the bugs infesting his lakefront cabin, it’s a losing battle to be sure. Not only do his efforts, like hundreds of strips of flypaper and pouring boiling water on his enemies, fail at every turn, but his girlfriend (Rebecca Palmer), torments him every chance she gets. She sneaks up behind him and lets out a sharp buzz that makes him leap into the air.

One day the bugs begin communicating with him, spelling out words and sending messages to the harried writer, and the two sides come to an accord. Then shit gets weird. Sex with bugs weird. Seriously. Also a bit too long—I feel like you can say that about many short films—“Flytopia” is by turns bizarre, inventive, and sinister, which all adds up to a lot of fun.

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