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On the web, filmmakers from around the world are releasing short films to express themselves and to garner a wide audience. Each month, we're going to present 10 of the best short films that you can watch online immediately. Below are our picks for April 2014 (click the title of a film to watch on YouTube or Vimeo).
1. 7:35de la Mañana
Who made it? Nacho Vigalondo
What is it? A charming romantic musical that will put a smile on your face
How long is it? 7 minutes and 44 seconds
2. Zombinladen - The Axis of Evil Dead
Who made it? Clément Deneux
What is it? A fake exploitation trailer that would make Quentin Tarantino proud
How long is it? 4 minutes and 16 seconds
Who made it? Marc Roussel
What is it? A surreal story about a man who tries to prevent the murder of a young woman living in his house... 30 years in the past
How long is it? 19 minutes and 24 seconds
4. Asience: Hairy Tale
Who made it? Kazuto Nakazawa
What is it? The best shampoo commercial you'll ever watch.
How long is it? 1 minute
Who made it? Michael Kefeyalew
What is it? A film about a young boy who witnesses a horrific sight
How long is it? 6 minutes and 37 seconds
Who made it? Julia Haltof
What is it? A poetic, esoteric story about solitude
How long is it? 12 minutes and 25 seconds
Who made it? Riley Hooper
What is it? A documentary about Flo Fox, a blind photographer in New York City
How long is it? 9 minutes and 44 seconds
8. Set No Path
Who made it? Brooks Reynolds
What is it? A beautifully shot film about friendship
How long is it? 17 minutes and 10 seconds
9. The Last Three Minutes
Who made it? Po Chan
What is it? A day in the life of a dying man
How long is it? 5 minutes and 18 seconds.
10. Photograph of Jesus
Who made it? Laurie Hill
What is it? A strong look inside Getty's Hulton Archive
How long is it? 6 minutes and 49 seconds
The ABCs of Death, an anthology of 26 short films about people being killed in spectacularly gruesome, farcical, and universally disgusting ways, is scary in a way its makers may not have anticipated: it shows how deeply uninspired and visionless horror-movie filmmaking has become.
Ever since the genre stopped caring about bottling the sensation of fear in favor of shock and gore, it’s gotten away from true horror, a format that works best when deeply invested in the psychology of fear. Movies like the Saw franchise and its various torture-porn imitators have become less and less interested in messing with their audience’s brains than moving the goalpost of the grotesque ever further, an objective that ensures obsolescence. There are only so many severed limbs and plucked eyeballs you can see before you’re irrevocably desensitized. What haven’t we seen that could still shock us? The list of possibilities grows smaller and smaller. Tom Six actually managed to horrify us in a whole new way with The Human Centipede, but even that nightmare concept became commercialized, sequelized, and stale.
Twenty-seven directors, all supposedly luminaries in the horror movie world, were brought in to film two-to-four minute segments for The ABCs of Death, in an attempt to show the diversity the genre still posseses. Sadly, rather than expand the parameters of horror, these twenty-seven filmmakers mostly converge on the same tropes. There are three conditions for each short: they must begin and end on an image of red (guaranteeing that at least half of the shorts begin and end with a shot of blood), there must be one death, and they must correspond to a letter of the alphabet — meaning we get titles like “F is for Fart,” “L is for Libido,” and “W is for WTF.” That ensures the audience will experience acute B for Boredom on account of L for Laziness.
Anyone who’s made short films can tell you that cinematic storytelling in under 10 minutes tends toward heightened emotions, with narrative twists that seek to compress a feature’s worth of sensation into a tiny window. Add a requisite horror element and you get a succession of Jack in the Box effects. “D is for Dogfight” is transgressive, I suppose, in its depiction of a man graphically biting a dog, but it's diminished because, in the end, that short is entirely about how transgressive it is. And most of these films are just wafer-thin hooks for startling images. The opening salvo of a segment, “A is for Apocalypse,” about a wife taking care of her bedridden husband who reaches a drastic decision regarding his care, should play like a more gruesome version of Michael Haneke’s Amour. Instead it is robbed of any resonance because director Nacho Vigolondo provides no context to the couple's relationship.
However, the filmmakers here who successfully answer the question “What can still scare us?” locate that answer where great artists before them did: in real-world fears. Eli Roth’s Hostel movies stand as credible horror unlike the Saw flicks because they tap a uniquely insular (and uniquely American) fear of the rest of the world beyond the United States. In The ABCs of Death Hobo with a Shotgun auteur Jason Eisener does just that in “Y is for Youngbuck,” which translates a very real fear of childhood sexual abuse into cathartic revenge.
Similarly Simon Rumley’s “Pressure” taps a mother’s uncertainty about how to provide for her children, and shows just how far she is willing to go to support them. Lee Hardcastle’s “T is for Toilet” finds horror in what used to be an old standby in the heyday of Polanski: plumbing, and its function of keeping us blissfully unaware of where excrement goes. Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers), possibly the most original American horror maestro of the last decade, dives deep into the realm of body horror with “M is for Miscarriage,” as do Amer masterminds Bruno Forzani and Héléne Cattet with the ode to David Cronenberg “O is for Orgasm.”
These shorts are the ones that actually get inside our heads. If our brains are our biggest erogenous zone, so is it also the nexus of our fears. Not our stomachs, nor our adrenal glands. That’s why you need story to fuel and contextualize the greatest scares. Without story giving context to sex, you’ve got YouPorn. Without story giving context to horror, you’ve got much of The ABCs of Death.
What did you think of the film? Let Christian Blauvelt know on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Drafthouse Films]
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A piece of news has been dropped into the movie blogosphere of late regarding Dreamworks and the remake of a film of which you’ve probably never heard. Though, to be fair, it is rare that any foreign film would find a wide audience in the states prior to the release of its American remake so it’s usually easy to remain in the dark about it. The sad thing is that often times the foreign original is far superior to its American counterpart and yet gets less than a faction of the remake’s publicity. The good news in this case is that the original not only found DVD distribution stateside thanks to Magnolia Pictures, but is also available on Netflix.
Three years ago, a film by a freshman Spanish director played at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX that blew away every audience that bore witness to its greatness. The director was Nacho Vigalondo and the film was Timecrimes (Los Cronocrimenes). The basic storyline involves a middle-aged couple idling away an ordinary day at their brand new country home. While in his backyard, the husband spies something very strange in the woods behind his home that then entices him to investigate. It’s there that a mysterious bandage-faced maniac stabs him in the arm with a pair of scissors. This random act of violence turns out to be the least of the problems Hector will face as he struggles to survive the world’s worst day.
Timecrimes excels on a few very different levels. As a piece of technical filmmaking, it’s exceptional. The performances are not only masterful and interesting to watch, but there is something so incredibly genuine about every single character. Recapturing this quality in the remake is going to make casting quite the endeavor. The twisty, suspenseful plot has already garnered comparisons to Hitchcock, but I also see a bit of Hitch in the way it’s photographed. The cinematography is simple, but also playful in a fashion that mimics the trademark of the master of suspense.
I also love how effectively Timecrimes works as a Sci-Fi film. It is, in fact, a movie about time travel so it isn’t hard to classify within the genre. But what I love about the Sci-Fi elements of the film is how elegantly they are woven into an otherwise character-driven drama. Our hero isn’t striving to travel back to Victorian London or venture forth into the ominous future, his sole motivation is to comprehend, survive, and then improve the events of the last few hours of his life. It basically does what every great Sci-Fi film should do, it offers an as yet unavailable technological advancement to propel the plot and yet, while it would be easy to pick apart the paradoxes inherent, the time travel is used as a metaphor for regret and the underlying desire everyone shares to be able to correct their mistakes.
Finally, Timecrimes is a triumph of low budget filmmaking. It was produced for an amount that most Hollywood films spend on their craft services and yet still manages to outshine a truckload of blockbusters. It’s always a treat to see a movie wherein fascinating story and passionate filmmaking supersedes superficial marketing gimmicks masquerading as style. All the more impressive is when Sci-Fi film succeeds on so meager a budget, but Timecrimes proves its worth in both realms simultaneously. Just because we don’t see extended computer-generated sequences of exactly how the time machine works doesn’t mean we don’t believe it works. Either that or, again, we don’t care because Hector’s quest is so enthralling.
I would highly, highly recommend seeing Nacho Vigalondo’s original Spanish film Timecrimes before the Dreamworks remake hits. If my words have not instilled in you enough confidence to go out and purchase the Magnolia Pictures DVD release, then at least do yourself the favor of acquiring a rental via Netflix.