Next Exit **/**** (UK, 14 mins., d. Benjamin Goodger) A light bit of nothing, Next Exit is a little Ludditism along the lines of that one episode of the American "The Office" where Michael Scott follows the bad instructions of his GPS directly into a lake. The performances are good, the direction is fairly pedestrian, and the story, about a girl who accepts a ride home from a pub one night, has a couple of decent twists but is ultimately more mildly clever than disturbing or compelling. In its short time, it does manage to cover the bases in terms of going out of cell-phone range and the suggestion of a cyclical ending, but it fails mostly in terms of generating much in the way of horror or comedy. Mostly, I had trouble with the idea that anyone would think a hotel--or a hospital, or anything--is located in the middle of the woods.
The Guest */**** (US, 5 mins., d. Jovanka Vukovic) Jordan Gray speaks to a deep, disembodied voice, offering anything in exchange for more of something. The voice assures him that there's nothing left to give. Then there are images and suggestions that Jordan Gray's character, Kurt Barlowe, has done some awful things. Then there is pretension. Because Vukovic was once the editor of RUE MORGUE and is an expert in horror stuff, it's fair to wonder if her Kurt Barlowe is an homage to Stephen King's arch vampire "Kurt Barlow" from 'Salem's Lot. That's all I got.
Only So Much You Can Do ***/**** (US, 3 mins., d. Kyle Dunleavy) A music video for the titular Archie Powell & the Exports tune, Only So Much You Can Do takes a lo-fi, VHS approach to Funny Games in what the director referred to as a "Choose Your Own Adventure" concept. (Will the nostalgia never stop?) Pleasantly retro in its application, it acts a lot like one of those shitty musical interludes they used to graft into old "Scooby-Doo" cartoons, but in a good way. It looks like the band is having fun, the tune's catchy, and if it isn't much more than what it is, it's good at what it is.
Cold Turkey */**** (Iceland, 24 mins., d.Fannar Thor Arnarsson) Adam (Brynjar Hlodversson) is a cannibal and, in an overlong piece's pretty-good first minute or so, he admits that his hunger is such that he will have cleaned out his town in a few months, meaning he needs to quit...cold turkey. A calendar is introduced, we go day-by-day, discovering that Adam's system rejects anything that isn't long pork. This results in a few uncomfortable body-horror effects where Adam loses hair, fingernails, skin--all good practical effects, all betrayed by the fact that as the days go on, Adam seems to be none the worse for wear. So it's all in Adam's head? I did wonder for a good, long while whether this wasn't leading to some American Psycho rug-pull, but, alas, during a student conference with a teacher that goes bad (why is Adam still going to school, I wonder--why is he living by himself? Is it college?), it's revealed that Amarsson's playing it straight. A shame the continuity issues and lack of grounding and context leave it as less mysterious than sloppy-feeling. It looks good, at least.
The Event **1/2/**** (US, 4 mins., d. Julia Pott) A lovely, simple animation of a poem by Tom Chivers that is a little bit about the end of an affair and mostly about the end of the world. The images are spare and effective for it. I like a line about dragging a foot that evokes Anne Sexton.
One Careful Owner ½*/**** (UK, 14 mins., d. Mike Tack) A shitty-looking film with a weak script and questionable, unmodulated performances, One Careful Owner follows the drama between used-car salesman Terry (Clive Ashenden) and used-car buyer Chris (Richard Nock). What begins as an uncomfortable fiscal interaction becomes a nasty bit of torture porn that fails to resonate for any number of reasons. Consider that without characters drawn as sympathetic in any way, it's difficult to much care what they do to one another. In a post-screening Q&A, the director, in addition to mentioning Hitchcock a couple of times (which wins him no fans, I promise you), suggested that having the torturer involve his son was a nod to moral ambiguity--and then he went on to talk about what cunts used-car salesmen are. Also consider that the twist is neither clever nor surprising, meaning that if the film were hanging its hat on its cleverness, it's failed there as well. The gore effects are fine, though extreme enough that their excess actually becomes kind of funny. A first effort from something of a braggart, Tack's next project is apparently a redux of North by Northwest, proving mainly that there are worse things than used-car salesmen in the world.
Grasshopper! **/**** (US, 15 mins., ds. Ryan Roy & Michael Usry) Notable mainly for finding a role for my Child's Play 2 teen-crush Christine Elise, Grasshopper! is a celebration of suburban paranoia as unhinged Alan (Jason Thompson) claims he's seen a giant grasshopper kill a little girl and proceeds to run around like a kook, arming himself and warning the neighbourhood. It's like a cul-de-sac Miracle Mile, sort of, but without much depth built up around one of three possible endings: that Alan kills a person he claims is a grasshopper; that Alan himself is killed by concerned suburban cops, who quickly realize the error of their ways when they see a giant grasshopper; or that Alan kills a giant grasshopper. It quickly becomes apparent which way things will go. What the film has going for it are excellent performances by Thompson and by Elise as a concerned neighbour trying to talk Alan off the proverbial ledge. It also earns points for knowing that there's really only a short's worth of story here. At that, it's maybe not short enough.
The Root of the Problem ****/**** (US, 14 mins., d. Ryan Spindell) The best thing I saw at a well-curated festival, Ryan Spindell's The Root of the Problem is elegant, tight, beautifully- shot and directed, and written with a real sense of both humour and suspense. It boasts across-the-board great performances, starting with Alison Gallaher as Mary, the nervous patient of schlub dentist Dr. Clayton (Ptolemy Slocum) and his hygienist Su (Brea Grant); each actor is absolutely committed, and each is deserving of greater exposure. Mary is there to have her wisdom teeth pulled, and to console her, Su gasses her up and Dr. Clayton tells an origin story of tooth fairies that has something more to do with Guillermo del Toro's conception of them in Hellboy II than with the dollar-bearing pixies of domestic lore. It plays on our fear of dentists, and it also preys on our fear of pointless medical procedures. Most of all, it scratches that itch for a good, old-fashioned scary movie complete with beautiful women in peril, monsters, and needles. I wanted to watch it again as soon as it was over. Truth be told, I'm a little desperate to revisit it just for that moment where Nurse Su bends down to pick something up and Mary sees...a zipper. Fuck. Yes.
The El Chupugcabra ***/**** (US, 16 mins., d. Aaron Koontz) The jokiness starts with the title and segues right into a Silence of the Lambs gag; and The El Chupugcabra veers eternally on the edge of being overwritten, but ultimately pulls through thanks to Jeremy King's droll line delivery and a few lines that land just from the sheer onslaught of them. I liked, in particular, "Mexican magic sucks," which is something I'd very much like to integrate into my daily rotation. Kudos, too, for digging up a Spanish-language version of Tony Basil's "Mickey" to play over a fun bloodletting sequence that I was frankly not expecting at all, given the silliness of the first half. I enjoyed references, purposeful or not, to Mimic and even that episode of the '80s "Twilight Zone" called "The Shadowman," and appreciated, once all the dust settled, the film's essential uncompromising nature. It's an unusual flick, centered as it is mainly on the running gag of how ridiculous an animal a pug is. But it has verve, and that's enough.