One of my favourite things about the Blood in the Snow festival is the way it celebrates short format filmmaking, presenting a short before every feature and hosting the annual BITS Short Film Showcase, which screens 7 original works back-to-back. In the end there were 15 different short film selections this year ranging from 3 minutes to 30 in length, and despite the fact that there could only be one winner of the Bloodies award for Best Short (taken home by Darryl Shaw‘s body-horror love story Greater Than), there were plenty of other excellent pieces on display this year. Here are my 5 favourites:
Serpent’s Lullaby (dir. Patricia Chica)
This mysterious and captivating short was the very first thing to grace the screen on the opening night, and what a way to start. All things considered, this may be my personal favourite short of the festival – a gorgeously photographed story about a grieving widowed mother who holds a terrifying secret. Living in solitude among numerous pet snakes, she leaves the house one afternoon only to be reminded once again of the loss of her infant child, which leads her to make a heartbreaking decision that will change everything. Expertly directed, and with a tragic twist and poetic ending, this film also contains an excellent leading performance by actress Jenimay Walker and some very impressive special make-up effects.
Woods (dir. Jon Hyatt)
A highly original sci-fi/horror story with some truly innovative ideas on display, Woods is a well thought-out mystery about a wealthy man named Richter (Hyatt) in the future who has fallen into a depression following the disappearance of his wife. Living like a recluse in a cottage on the border of the woods, Richter is sent a female android (Amy Marie Wallace) with the hopes that it will help him cope with his loss, but can she save him from what lies within the woods? This short is bolstered by a pair of great performances by Hyatt and Wallace, who each take on both terrifying and sympathetic positions at varying points, and demonstrate convincing and unexpected shifts in character that keep the viewer guessing until the end. As a fun fact, I was surprised to learn that director Jon Hyatt had to jump into the lead role last-minute due to his lead actor coming down with shingles the day before shooting.
Uncommon Enemies (dir. Alex Hatz)
This WWII vampire story proved to be quite a bit of fun, making the most of a rather simple concept thanks to some great tongue-in-cheek humour and solid special effects work. Taking place in a barn in war torn France, the film’s central conflict begins with a standoff between a hard-assed US sergeant (Michael Cram) and a Nazi soldier (James Gangl), while a beautiful and mysteriously fearless woman (Melanie Scrofano) remains caught in the middle. Things quickly shift gears when the men realize the true nature of their female counterpart, joining together against a common enemy with the power to destroy them both. Director Alex Hatz finds a perfect balance between action, horror and comedy here, using one or two recurring gags to break the tension at key moment, and delivering a satisfying conclusion that earned a few big laughs from the audience.
The Table (dir. Izabel Grondin)
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this film to be on my list when I initially saw it, due to it’s extreme and somewhat controversial subject matter which made it rather difficult to watch. But the truth is, I was so genuinely surprised by the ending and what it signifies about my perception as a viewer, that it has come to resonate in a far more profound way. A man and woman participate in domination games in their home, while a young man arrives under the pretence of a potential job offer from the man. Very little is what it seems however, and the young man will be faced with a life-altering decision before he leaves the house. Directed by controversial Québécois filmmaker Izabel Grondin, La Table is a challenging film that addresses questions of female sexuality in a way that is uncommon in the public sphere of mainstream cinema. And while it is sure to alienate some viewers for this very reason, it remains an extremely strong effort with a profound message at its core, and is spearheaded by fearless performance from lead actress Isabelle Giroux.
Greater Than (dir. Darryl Shaw)
This 30-minute film by director Darryl Shaw was the last to screen in the festival’s Short Film Showcase, and remains a well-deserved winner of the Best Short award due to its ambitious concept and emotionally complex story, which borders on the absurd yet remains both challenging and stylish right up to the explosive finale. This neo-noir body horror story centres around a fake ID forger named Ben (Adam Buller) who begins to fall for his most recent client, an emotionally troubled illegal immigrant named Lucy (Dana Tartau). Strong feelings develop very quickly between the two, and after a seemingly nice gesture backfires, Ben comes to understand Lucy’s perception of love as being integrally connected to sacrifice, leading him down a self-destructive path that will forever change him both physically and emotionally. Shaw succeeds in pulling off a potentially ridiculous-sounding concept without ever losing his audience for a second, building off of each story beat and taking full advantage of a pair of strong lead performances to craft this twisted and macabre love story. The film’s gruesome subject matter sits in contrast to an emerging sense of personal enlightenment within the characters, reminding us of the beautiful and destructive power that love can have over our bodies and our minds.