What’s more exciting than watching a brand new, previously unknown horror short? Watching an entire block of them! I have no idea what I’m walking into with the Small Gauge Trauma Shorts Block from this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. Will there be demons? Monsters? Psychopaths? Clowns? Who knows! Let’s just jump in and see what we get!
Bad Hair (2019)
Insecure and balding Leo (Sten Karpov: Bullets 2018) has closed himself in his apartment to try hair growth liquid for fixing up his looks. As Leo tries to get his bodily changes under control the evening quickly turns into chaos.
The folks over at Fantasia sure weren’t messing around when they picked films for the Small Gauge Trauma Shorts Block. Right off the bat, we get a 14 minute cringefest called Bad Hair, which was directed by first time director Oskar Lehemaa (How To Kiss A Dead Girl 2019). Also called Karv, this dialogueless tale shows what extreme, life-altering choices we humans will go through to be considered attractive. The message behind it reminds me quite a bit of Ryan Swantek’s short, White Willow (read my review here). I’m going to be honest right now… I hid behind my hands when viewing one part of this short. There are some things that I cannot stand to watch, and a big, meaty piece of Bad Hair was drenched in it. The skin FX are beautifully done, although the hair FX were a bit lacking. Don’t let that stop you from watching this one, though. 8/10
Black Cat In A Dark Room (2019)
After years of helping euthanize the terminally ill, a “hospice” worker begins to question the ethics of her job.
Written and directed Leland Montgomery (Like Animals 2017), Black Cat In A Dark Room is about the ethical dilemma of euthanasia… with a twist. When Beverly (Alice Winslow: Glaciers 2018) starts to have doubts about her time spent as an end of life nurse, she can’t help but feel a growing sympathy towards her “patients.” This short offers a slow, emotional build to a tense climax. I love the original storyline. 5/10
The Burden (2019)
A young man brings his girlfriend home to commemorate his grandfather’s death.
Written and directed by Nico Van den Brink, this Small Gauge Trauma Shorts Block tale tells a dark, foreboding story deep in the Dutch countryside. The chemistry between the two leads (Hanna Vann Vliet: Anne Plus 2018, Kay Greidanus: Sevilla 2012) is perfect. Between their onscreen presence and the comfortable dialogue between them, it felt like they had known each other forever. The cinematography is superb, with the melancholy Dutch countryside a gorgeous and inauspicious backdrop to this creepy, simmering tale. I especially love the shot of the girlfriend sweeping her tiny flashlight through the attic as the camera spun around her. Also called Het Juk, The Burden is less about the climax (which was not a surprise), and more about the trip to get there. 7/10
Low Tide (2018)
A boy is excited about heading out to sea on a father-son fishing trip, but his father may have more sinister intentions.
Low Tide is a 14 minute short from filmmaker Ian Hunt Duffy (The Euthanizer 2009). The story of a weathered Irish fisherman (Steve Wall: Vikings TV series) trying to toughen up his son (Luke Lally: All In Good Time 2018) is simple. There’s not much for dialogue or scenery. You get the solemn fishing boat, the dreary beach and the inside of an uninspiring home. Everything is dark and grey and a bit one note. The characters have no standout personality traits, although we are shown that the father has a gruff, sinister side. There’s something that happens that broke my heart, but I won’t spoil it here. Just make sure your guard is up when watching this. 5/10
Lucienne Eats A Car (2018)
With time, Lucienne’s father has sinked into silence. The one who has always preferred his car to his daughter is now overwhelming her by his absence. In hope of finding the love she has never felt, Lucienne decides to eat the beloved car.
I would not call Geordy Couturiau’s debut short, Lucienne Eats A Car (AKA Lucienne Mange Une Auto), a scary story, at least not in the way the average person thinks about horror. The idea that Lucienne (Stéphane Caillard: Marseille 2016) feels so little connection between herself and her father is not a happy one, for sure. But following this awkward 20-something as she runs down the middle of the street, sleeps in parking spaces and literally grinds up and eats her father’s (Jean-Paul Comart: La Balance 1982) beloved Beemer seems more like the tale of an unbalanced young woman than anything one might consider horror. The tale is slow. I found myself constantly checking the clock. Some parts are unexplained (Lucienne starts as a little girl and is suddenly an adult from one scene to the next) while some are repetitive (Lucienne playing with the radio from her father’s car). It seems out of place in this shorts block. 3/10
Richard has an unusual fantasy: he gets sexually aroused by the idea of being devoured by an animal. In a contact ad, he gets to know Max, and, with that encounter, the chance of making his fantasy real. But does he dare?
Next on the Small Gauge Trauma Shorts Block is Maw, also called Muil. This one was written and directed by Jasper Vrancken (Macula 2011) and follows Richard (Matthieu Sys: 13 Commandments TV series) as he tries to fulfill his fantasy of being eaten by an animal. Mouths, jaws and throats are a big part of this short, making the building tension feel claustrophobic and distressing. Once it was clear what Richard wanted, the story streamed effortlessly into a cliffhanger of a climax. I feel all sticky and covered in plaque. 7/10
Oscar’s Bell (2018)
Duncan, his son, Ross, and his dog, Oscar, have gone on their weekly camping trip into the wilderness together. However, when Duncan looks out into the woods, something else looks back.
Written and directed by Chris Cronin (2 A.M. 2015), this short is at the top of this year’s Small Gauge Trauma Shorts Block list. The only dialogue is a voicemail from Duncan’s (Paul Bullion: Peaky Blinders TV series) wife and Ross’ (Rio Walker) mom, begging them to come home. After that, Oscar’s Bell is straight up riveting. The campsite is dark, secluded and exposed, and you can’t help but think of all of the things that could be hiding out there in those woods. Paul Bullion did a fantastic job as the wearied yet protective father, his red eyes twitching with exhaustion as he stood guard outside his son’s tent. The terror of what happens to Oscar’s bell completely overrides everything else. 8/10
A biohazard remediation cleaner finds the integrity of her business threatened after hiring a technician with an insatiable appetite for his work.
There is a lot going on in Ryan Oksenberg’s (Damage Control 2018) 18 minute short. On one hand, there’s Julia (Arielle Hader: Grey’s Anatomy TV series), who’s struggling to balance her crime scene cleaning business with taking care of her nonresponsive mother (Karen Collison: The Comedian 2016). On the other hand, there are people running around who are infected with some kind of virus that makes them want to feed on flesh and blood. They’re not zombies per se, since they have all of their faculties and can mostly hold themselves back from chomping on the first beating heart they see. Together is the only dark comedy in the Small Gauge Trauma Shorts Block, and it was a great wrapup for the previous 8 films. The story is original, gut-twistingly disgusting yet highly entertaining. The acting is great, especially from Clayton Farris (American Horror Story TV series), who made eating bloody flesh look almost – but not quite – appetizing. 8/10
That wraps up our coverage of the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival’s Small Gauge Trauma Shorts Block. It’s always such fun to review the shorts from this fest. As always, keep it tuned to PopHorror for all of your horror news, reviews and interviews!