Toronto After Dark Film Fest Reviews, Part 1 – Shorts, Sweeties, Aliens and Ghosts

I forgot to do my usual reviews for my friends on fb, so I may as well plonk them all down here. Content! Stellar introduction! Reviews ahoy!

INTERNATIONAL SHORTS

Shiny New World (Netherlands, 9 mins) – Easily the slickest, surest and most stylish of the international shorts. A training video for the good people (and otherworldly denizens) of the cleaning company Shiny New World. Rowdy teenagers summon a demon and get themselves messily killed? Sounds like you need Shiny New World to clean up the mess! Not only is it a fun recruitment/training video but it manages to cheekily sneak a wee plot into it as well. Very fun.

Toc-Toc (France, 4 mins) – Such a weird little number. Knocking on doors in an empty house is one of those things that gets me. This tight little short goes in a truly weird direction with some delightfully bizarre creature effects.

The Tenant (Spain, 10 mins) – I adored the mood in this one. The acting was beautiful, the atmosphere was impeccable, and I am a sucker for horror films that say, very clearly, “This is the premise. Deal with it.” A woman wakes up with an odd pain in her leg that makes her drag her foot. Another woman sees her on the street and tells her, “There’s an old woman on your leg.” THAT IS YOUR LOT, FUCKING DEAL WITH IT. A great little scare.

Henchmen (Singapore, 6 mins) – Two low-ranking henchmen would rather not deal with the obviously overpowered force of nature action hero who is coming to kill their boss and anyone standing in his way. This was my favourite short, easy. It’s a student project and it shows and I do not care. It’s not a terrifically complicated or deep story and I don’t care. It is charming as fuck and very funny.

Mashed Potato Face (USA, 13 mins) – Honestly a big disappointment. The title is great but this short overstayed its welcome. My husband’s take was that it was a riff on giallo films “where you’re being shown a gross thing over and over and thanks, I hate it.” A 50’s-seeming family is getting ready for dinner and then a dude with mashed potatoes smeared on his face comes by and forces them to eat giant mounds of mashed potatoes and uses a potato masher on the dad’s brains and then the wife has to eat them and the daughter eventually kills and becomes the next Mashed Potato Face. If you want 13 minutes of that, it’s there.

Meat (Spain, 6 mins) – Another atmospheric piece from Spain, this one’s major selling point is the one-shot take in the child’s bedroom (I think it was one shot?) as the horror settles in and shit goes down. A mom is alerted to Something Spooky happening in her daughter’s bedroom and goes to investigate. Small child is creepy, atmosphere happens, and the Horror is revealed. While the short holds up as is in a tidy 6 minutes, I feel like the story could have benefited from a touch more context.

Visitors (Japan, 16 mins) – Three teens, concerned about a friend’s noncommunication, go to his house to check on him and then AW SHIT Y’ALL LET THE EVIL GHOSTIES OUT YA DINGUSES. Goopy gory goofy absurdist fun. Also is that a wig on the housebound teen, because it was a truly magnificent anime mop.

Seek (USA, 6 mins) – Two sisters are on a grumpy roadtrip and one needs to use the exceptionally decrepit loo at a pit stop. Please do not use exceptionally decrepit loos at pit stops. Just practice your squats. This one was fine.

Hiama (Aotearoa, 13 mins) – I would say this was the most complete movie of the bunch, truly feeling more like a condensed full-length movie than a short. A Solomon Islands teen gets bullied by the other girls at her school and gets a lil ancestral revenge on their microaggressive asses. Some wonderful performances and a deeply satisfying (and creepy-crawly) ending.

Slurp (France, 3 mins) – Oof. OOF. This short packs a fucking suckerpunch, not least because it’s a scenario that likely happens way more often than you think. Very raw and real. (My husband’s take was that obvs the villain was the villain because “who MICROWAVES cup of noodles instead of pouring hot water into it.”)

I, Adonis (Netherlands, 15 mins) – I am still a little unsure about this one. It’s about a man who is obsessed with his own physical perfection and rates himself against the other bros at the gym but maybe it is also about being secretly trans? Or growing up treated as a girl and wanting to become a man but maybe the mom was just a giant arse and dressed him as girl but maybe that’s what he desires and I really am not sure? Real body horror shit here though, raw chicken meat makes an appearence.

CANADIAN SHORTS

Morbus (10 mins) – Nothing good ever comes from investigating cars stopped in the middle of the road on a bleak night. Do not put your relationship to the test. Also, cordyceps? It was fine.

Le Reflet (The Reflection) (6 mins) – Tied for favourite of the Canadian shorts, it’s another short that gives you a premise and it’s up to you to FUCKING DEAL. “Don’t leave the house. I’ll come and get you. And don’t look into anything with a reflection.” THERE YOU GO, THAT’S YOUR LOT. Love the creature design and the satisfying yelp of the end.

Maybe You Should Be Careful (9 mins) – Tied for favourite because this was a dysfunctional couple I could just keep watching. Great naturalistic dialogue, great humour. We’re watching a couple whose girlfriend is trying to keep things spicy and her boyfriend won’t stop looking at his goddamn phone and updating her about the mysterious serial killer in their neighbourhood. Oh shit… is SHE the killer?! Dang!

Family (11 mins) – A gay couple is having a pleasant gay road trip until one of them sees a kid and gets sad because babies and then he goes and accidentally runs over a different kid on a bleak night road. DON’T HAVE ARGUMENTS IN THE CAR, FUCK. Then that kid’s parents come and they’re rightfully pissed and tie up the couple and toss them into the back of their flatbed truck and all I could hear was Jack Baker from RE7 yowling, “Welcome to the family, son!” I’m not 100% sure what the endgame was here. Were the guys going to be kept tied up in the basement and mistreated as ‘family’? Was the kid they hit trying to get away from the parents and the guys just done fucked that up? As they say in the publishing world, “This feels like it’s part of a much longer story” (this is what the publishing world calls a ‘rejection’ fyi.)

Kwêskosîw (She Whistles) (12 mins) – A two spirit nêhiyaw woman (I am quoting from the blurb on the TADFF page because I would not have known that) is assaulted and gets revenge and like. YES, I want more Indigenous creators and actors and presence BUT. I want them to be able to tell more stories than just rape and revenge YET. This is a very real, very current, very raw atrocity and it’s good to tell stories where some form is justice is served, however late, and empowerment is good and all that, but. I just don’t care for rape stories. And I would prefer to see Indigenous people in stories where that’s not even a piece of the plot and they can just get caught up in a haunted house or a Ouija board misfiring or whatnot. (Or the Northern Lights embodying some kind of cosmic terror? If that’s not appropriative in some way? It sounds pretty cosmic terror tho.)

Sang Juane (Yellow Blood) (6 mins) – OH COOL ANOTHER RAPE STORY BUT WITH ALIENS. Not my cuppa is all. Also from a writing standpoint not super impressed. The bit with the coworkers at the beginning could have been cut without detriment to the story (is it important that we know our protagonist is boring and her only hobby is, she buys old cars? it is not). I guess it shows that her life is so boring that after puking and pissing yellow she anyways smiles at seeing the alien symbol appear because it means she’s pregnant with alienspawn and therefore her life is no longer boring and consists of office job and buying old cars? I guess? Meh.

The Silent Lay Steady (15 mins) – First of all the title BOTHERS me. Is it quoting a passage? Surely “the silence lay steady” is the preferred nomenclature. The Silent implies there is more than one Silent laying steady. Anyway I am irked. This is another film that vastly overstays its welcome. There feels like some anachronism as well (it takes place in the 1800’s with period set and dress but the people sound current-day, which is jarring) and it seems like there were two stories trying to be told as one and they just did not gel for me. It seemed more like they had access to a period set and costumes and just kind of ad-libbed until they had enough footage to call it a day. We start with a small boy telling his dad “she’s back again” and dad drinks an alcohol and gets his gun and then we see a gal coming to in a hallway and wandering around with a candle while occasionally something thuds and I guess it’s a casket thudding and we do this for awhile. Then she sees a ghostie in the mirror. The ghostie is her? But evil? Then it loops back to the scene with the small boy and the dad drinking and alcohol avec gun. Now that I’m describing it, I’m wondering if the beginning scene was meant to be there at all? It feels kinda like it shouldn’t have been, as it rather gives away that she is the ghostie. Meh again.

10-33 (10 mins) – Fuck’s sake. I just wanted to overhear the two gals at the start gossiping away the entire time. Instead we get a rather harrowing claustrophobic short about a gal trapped in a bathroom stall with a a gun-toting incel outside the door. I find it real hard to believe this was not based on an actual 911 call. It was scary, yes, and tense and stressful, and like Kwêskosîw it hits way too close to home and it is not fun escapist entertainment.

[“Yet you enjoyed Slurp. Curious! I am very intelligent.” Slurp was incredibly short and gave you just enough time to go “…oh shit… OHHHH FUCK” with its clever cinematography. It made its point and then ended. Kwêskosîw made you watch the assault and then after the revenge gave you another reason to feel sick. 10-33 spent at least 80% of the time making you listen to pieceofshit trauma-wanking and I have no desire to “listen to both sides”. If Art is making people feel feels, Kwêskosîw and 10-33 are Art. But so is Slurp, and it is my preference.]

Crawl Space (7 mins) – OH-KAY so after a rather dismal run we get a fun creature feature and I liked it. A dude is doing some welding and then OH SHIT SPIDER PUPPET ATTACK! A stunning victory! And then, AW DANG, TROMBONE NOISE! It was a good capper, even if my husband got Het Up in the first few seconds because of improper tool usage. Or something. (“He was grinding a rod? Or doing the equivalent of banging two hammers together? Basically they gave the actor a couple tools and told him to do something to make sparks.” His memory is certifiably bad, but anyway. I didn’t care. Spider puppets!)

FEATURE LENGTH PRESENTATIONS

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (Kazakhstan) – From Kazakhstan?! I do not know what to expect! I am excited!

It was a fun ride! A hen-pecked husband gets a couple friends together for a fishing trip as a break from his very pregnant, very expecting wife, and then our sweet boys witness a big ol’ murder and boy is this fishing trip no longer relaxing! There is a mysterious murdery man out for vengeance after his dog is run over because the car swerved when hit by a bottle full of piss!

Don’t piss in cars, either!

(Are cars a form of haunted house? I do not drive so have never considered making a car the setting for a horror story. Somebody write a haunted car story for me.)

It’s a romp! And it’s funny! Man, sure wish I had more to complain about, ’cause that gets words on paper! But no! It’s just a good fun ride! With violence! Watch it!

Alien on Stage (UK) – Husband voted this as Scariest Movie because he has social anxiety and found this movie the most stressful. It’s excellent! A couple can-do film makers learn about Alien being presented on stage by an amateur theatrical company composed of bus drivers and decide it’s the bee’s knees, get them funded to perform in a swank theatre in London, and film the process! It’s super fun! My god I would have loved to see it live! Ever wanted to Do A Thing even if you weren’t very good at it? Do it anyway! Sometimes you get the exact right dang audience! Definitely a movie I would share with friends whenever it’s more widely available!

Post Mortem (Hungary) – I really liked this one. Possibly favourite? Alien on Stage might also have been favourite, but feels like cheating since it was a documentary. Post Mortem I would say was the one true horror movie in this year’s line-up.

[SIDE NOTE: While I would absolutely love TADFF to do both online and in person screenings, I figure this was prolly the only year online streaming would be a thing. I’m guessing that a lot of more straight-horror-type movies would have been shy about releasing their babies online during October, the spookiest month of the year and the month most likely to get them better earnings in physical theatres, so maybe that’s why this year felt a bit light on the horror? There was plenty of dark comedy, which seems entirely reasonable. But not as much what I would in my personal feels call horror. End side note.]

Like Sweetie, I had no idea what to expect from a Hungarian film, much less one with ghosts. As with The Tenant and Le Reflet, this one gives you a premise – here there be ghosts – and expects you to DEAL. WITH. IT. There have always been ghosts and everyone knows there have always been ghosts, but now ghosts are horrifically murdering people and that’s just not on, is it?

What is up with these ghosts? I don’t really know! They seem pretty pissed, though! Tomás, who has had a near-death experience during World War I and now makes his living taking portraits of the recently deceased as keepsakes for the living, does not seem sure, either! But by gosh he is willing to risk his life because a young gal asks him to and she is the same young gal he saw in near death and it’s a little weird? It’s a little weird! I am unsure about this relationship! I think they’re both a little unsure! (It’s not romantic. Not like kissy mwah-mwah romantic. But maybe like a romantic platonic view of soul mate romantic?)

So these ghosts are pissed because they don’t seem able to move on from their current limbo to wherever after. My viewpoint is that they are fussy baby children throwing tantrums because they are TRYING to get the living to understand and the living ARE. NOT. GETTING. IT. And so they throw fussy hissy baby tantrums, except since they’re ghosts that means people get tossed about like plastic bags in the wind and smeared messily along the ground. It sucks! Tomás is going around with his camera (do no get Husband started on the mechanics of this camera, okay fine so that style of camera uses glass plates and it’s a very long and exact process and Tomás is treating it like a dang Polaroid but I. Don’t. Care! GHOSTS ARE A THING and I am willing to suspend my disbelief for ghosts just being a fact of life and if this tintype camera ((I do not know if it’s a tintype, see: I. Don’t. Care!)) wants to function like a magic Polaroid that needs to develop photos in a proper darkroom, more power to it sez I) and capturing photos of spookums shadow ghosts amongst the living and there’s corpses flailing and flopping and all sorts of yikes. Small Gal is game for staying up late with complicated arrays of bells/pans/jangly dingle dangles and a floor fluffed with flour to catch ghosts being ghosty in the act. That’s cool! The lady renting a room to Tomás gets an eyeful of his hinder as he washes up with a basin of probably real chilly water. Fine! I’m down for some gratuitous male butt!

[SIDE NOTE: Because of my mild face blindness, I kept thinking Tomás (played by Viktor Klem) looked kind of like Ewan McGregor, who has featured in many a TADFF movie, until I looked it up and it turns out I was thinking of Ethan Hawke (who has actually featured in many a TADFF movie), which is a similar spelling to Ewan if you mush the letters together. I was very proud of myself for watching Squid Game and recognising Wi Ha-Joon from Romance is a Bonus Book ((and also the horror movie Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum)). There is not a point to this. It is a Side Note.]

Anyway Tomás has to go get himself almost dead again so’s he can guide the fussy baby grumpy souls to the next world, and the young gal brings him back again and they decide to team up as a ghost-resting duo. The movie ends with them on a wooded hill overlooking another town that’s clearly got a ghost problem and them going, basically, “Hell to the yeah.” (Husband: “No! That is such a bad idea! You had to ALMOST DIE! That’s not a great way to live!” I, of course, am for it. For them anyway.)

Thus ends the first chunk of reviews. No wonder I did this one at a time the previous years. My eyeballs are not pleased. Seven more features to go, updated… I dunno, tomorrow? Friday? Whatevs.

(edit: aw beans I shoulda put a link to TADFF somewhere, so here: Toronto After Dark Film Festival.)

Problem Solved, For Now

Having spent 2 hours updating the Read My Stuff?! lists, all I can say is… I have written (and sold) more weird Western than I realised. Also, looks like a bunch of my stories have disappeared into the publishing ether, so I guess it’s time to-

write more new things? hahahahaha silly child, no, it is time to SELL SOME REPRINTS WOOOOOO GET READY FOR THAT REPRINT SUBMISSION GRIND BABY WOOP WOOP WOOP

Oughtn’t Be Shocking, And Yet

I guess it’s good practice to go through all the links of places to find my stories and make sure the links actually go where they ought. Hum. Well. That will be next week’s project. Since this site has been around for oh god since 2016 it makes sense that some things change. Future Laura’s problem.

Oh Whoops Here’s Some More

Turns out Tales to Terrify had uploaded the audio for another of my stories last month and I am just… not good at noticing things! Shocking! Enjoy When You Love Someone as narrated by Dan Gurzynski, won’t you? Thank you.

Also I am spending part of today recipe testing (which my brain insists on referring to as ‘stress testing’) for a fun promo project for A Quiet Afternoon 2. Last week I attempted to make scaled-down anzac cookies because I had bought various strains of honey and wanted to see if the different flavours would come through in baking (answer: like maybe a tiny wee bit, but not enough to make a habit out of it) and did you know that 4 tablespoons do not a cup make? They were not so much ‘cookies’ as ‘grim mockeries of cookies’, but they did make decent granola. Today’s attempts will be carrot halwa and spice cake (also featuring carrots). Thoughts and prayers appreciated.

(Laura, why are you, the one who once famously greeted her boyfriend with a bowl of sad cookie batter and said “I CANNOT DEAL WITH THIS” and made him not only patch up the cookie batter but also bake the cookies because you had rejected cookie in all its forms by that point, the one who eagerly volunteered to lead the recipe charge? That is a Very Good Question!)

Yes, Now You Can Read Everything

Everything is live and ready for your consumption: A Quiet Afternoon 2 is live on Payhip, Unburied is available at a variety of places, and now Issue 40 of The Colored Lens is ready for consumption here. (And bonus: Looks like my story ((starring an enby protagonist who uses limericks as magic spells)) is first on the docket, so you can even read it for free as the sample chapter!)

That is all the news I have, I am tapped dry. Besides still living in a pandemic, it’s just been a rough few months (I am personally okay, but the state of the world/my particular city is pretty shit) so it’s been difficult to get motivated to work on new projects. That being said, I’m currently picking away at another Sterling Acton (werewolf cowboy/reluctant hero) story involving a carnival, so. There’s that.

…WOW WHAT A DOWNER THIS UPDATE IS 😀

Stuff Continues Apace

CAN YOU READ MORE THINGS YET? No.

WILL YOU BE ABLE TO READ MORE THINGS SOON? Yes.

UNBURIED: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction is available for pre-order NOW NOW NOW and Officially Launches June 1 2021, with some of that sweet money going towards Rainbow Railroad. The reviews coming in are pretty positive (an especially flattering one for my story at Beauty in Ruins). I’ve crowed before in a previous post about how happy I was to see my story “Open Up and Let Me In” finally find a home, but here’s a fun bit of lore: the marriage in the story had originally been written as hetero. As the years went on and rejections kept coming, I sometimes toyed with the idea of making the main characters lesbians instead, simply because it might make it stand out a bit more in the slush piles, but I never went through with it because, well… that would mean killing a lesbian. With all the violence against queer people in the world, did I really want to kill a lesbian?

So I submitted the hetero “Open Up” to another of AM Ink’s calls and it got rejected. But! A little while later, the editor (Rebecca Rowland) emailed me to ask if the story was still available, because if the main character could change to a woman, it would be a perfect fit for an upcoming anthology specifically geared towards queer horror.

Moral of the story, make all your characters gay.

Speaking of how happy I am to see a story finally find a home, one of my beloved Weird Westerns has finally found a home! “Open Up” had been the previous champion, coming in at 30 submissions, but “The Last Limerick Out Of Dirt Rut” rises to the challenge with 32 submissions! Not only that, but “Limerick” racked those up in only 3 years! Good job, Limerick! You have been putting in the work! “Limerick” was accepted by The Colored Lens, making it my second sale to them. The first was in 2012 (though “Leavings and Remains” was published in the 2013 Winter edition, which still exists and you can find it through my Free To Read! page). Out of the three stories I’ve sent The Colored Lens, two have been accepted, which means 1) 2 out of 3 is a pretty good acceptance rate 2) I should submit there more often.

Last bit of news: A Quiet Afternoon 2‘s production is ticking along nicely and because my brain is a sieve I don’t remember when its release date is BUT it is in fact ticking away nicely! The first AQA had, what, 13 stories? AQA2 has twenty-seven. That is so many stories. That is an aspirational number of stories. We absolutely should not have that many again. Enjoy it while it lasts. EDIT: hahahah so right after I published this post, Victoria goes and puts up the pre-order link for AQA2, here it is, please appreciate the pretty cover she worked so hard on, Official Release day July 1 2021.

WITH OUR POWERS COMBINED

At some point (last year? Two years ago?) my friend Victoria Feistner suggested writing snowballs together – exchanging emails where one of us would start a story, write a paragraph or so, and send to the other person to add another paragraph or so. It was a low-stakes way to keep us writing and keep us interested in writing. (My major flaw as a writer is that once I know what my story’s ending is going to be, I get bored and stop writing. After all, I already know how it ends. The surprise is gone.)

Victoria and I do not write the same way at all. She/they loves worldbuilding and just sitting that stool down and milking the worldbuilding cow for all it is worth. I, however, just want my characters to talk-talk-talk the whole way through. She/they loves science fiction and time-travel and digging into ancient civilizations; I… do not.

AND YET.

And yet we snowballed a story and she/they polished it up and sent it out and through the magic of ‘huh’ sold SIDE HUSTLE to Typehouse Literary Magazine and it contains every instance of the word ‘poot’ and all of its verbings.

When Victoria showed me the finished story, I could not remember who had written what. (I am assured that every pooting was mine, or at least I was the originator of the primal poot.) Which, considering how different our writing styles are, is pretty darn cool.

…I feel like I should be espousing a moral at this point but all I’ve got is ‘write however you want to write and let the editor sort it out but if you disagree with the editor that is totally fine and also see if you can sneak a poot in there, because it may go unchallenged and that will be very satisfying.’

poot.

Well Checka Checka Me Out

Just signed a contract for my story, “We Was Here,” with Welkin, a new magazine of fantastic literature. I hope that cover art is indeed going to be that spyglass dude on a mountain, because I do love me some classy black and white art. “We Was Here” is similar to “Love Finds a Way” in that they’re both kind of sexual but not in any way that encourages sex.

(The joke Derrick tells is one I heard from a Romanian friend many, many years ago and when I repeated it back to her recently she was HORRIFIED.)

“We Was Here” took 23 rejections (plus a withdrawal due to non-updates), so it does feel a very fitting title. We was here, and now we been seen.

OH ALSO Grace&Victory are open once again to quiet, cosy, NON-MURDERY speculative fiction submissions until December 31 2020. Full details in the link, but the pertinent details are: 500-5000 words, $0.01CAD/word (capped at $30 or 3000 words, so keep that in mind when you’re spinning your yarn), and DON’T DO A MURDER IN YOUR STORIES, GEEZ. Also don’t bring babies or the joy of motherhood into it, I simply do not give a shit (and as I am one of the slush goblins, my shits are worth something). We are looking for low stakes, reasonable resolutions, talking as a way of solving problems, and a sense of quiet satisfaction at the end of the story. It can be sad and give you feels, but seriously. Don’t do a murder. (Or be racist, sexist, ableist, sizeist, etc.) We would LOVE more science fiction.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Woo Makin’ It Official

With the contract signed, I can now say that LOVE FINDS A WAY has found its home with Perpetual Motion Machine’s Dark Moon Digest, huzzah! It’s a tale of carnival workers and genetic manipulation with vaguely giallo undertones. It’s also got very fun dialogue and is overall a jolly good romp. Consider LOVE FINDS A WAY, won’t you? Thank you.