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.)

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