This summer, the 2018 Palm Springs International ShortFest’s “Thrills & Chills” program provided attendees with an homage to the horror genre, consisting of eight short films enticing those eager to get a glimpse of the darker side of cinema. From France to South Korea, these scary shorts tap into a worldwide culture of fear.
A strong opening for this selection of stories, Acide (Acid) establishes an ongoing theme of survival and terror. The French film follows a father, mother, and son, as they try to find shelter before a storm of acid rain, begins to fall. Man vs. Nature is a common plot point explored for the sake of horror, but to tell a gripping survivalist tale in 18 minutes is no easy feat to accomplish. Especially done with such stylish integrity—having to see a teddy bear slowly disintegrate on the ground as the downpour starts or hearing the cries of a baby trapped in a car with a roof about to cave in. The threat is imminent and out of the characters’ hands as you intensely hope the little family of three manages to pull through at the end, unscathed by the deadly storm brewing overhead. Director Just Philippot brings to life the same sentiment explored in Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”: Mother Nature would prevail without even noticing if mankind were gone.
In this convenient age of Uber Eats and other on-demand transportation services, there’s no telling who you might encounter during a late-night run. Delivery driver Doug gets more than he bargained for when he notices a mysterious message on the food order he is assigned to and stumbles upon a bloody scene after he decides to investigate inside the house of the woman who ordered. Delivery had its world premiere at the Palm Springs International ShortFest and garnered a warm response from the audience, praising the film for its humorous approach to the noir genre and 1980s aesthetic. Producer/screenwriter Alex Vaughan, who also starred in the film as the seemingly unmotivated Doug, took inspiration from the John Carpenter-era of horror while incorporating some visual cues from his recent favorite movies like Drive and The Neon Demon. The short film is straightforward with its premise but effectively employs a fresh take on the midnight mystique of L.A. nightlife so commonly portrayed on movie screens.
Definitely one of the more bizarre entries in the program, Lunch Ladies follows Seretta and LouAnne Burr in their culinary quest to become the personal chefs of their favorite actor, Johnny Depp. In order to pay the airfare to see their idol perform at an L.A. concert, they get jobs as high school lunch ladies where they cook up a gruesome plan to make their meals more appealing to the student body. While attempting to convey a dark humor with its script and performances, Lunch Ladies can sometimes fall flat in its approach at mixing cartoonish cuteness and half-hearted horror. One of the film’s producers, Clarissa Jacobson, expressed her desire to create a film with an animated feel to it at the ShortFest. She certainly succeeded with the springy sound effects and visual gags (like a faceless principal who is only shown from the shoulders down) sprinkled throughout the movie. Nevertheless, Lunch Ladies remains a labor of love catered to Depp fans and those looking for stories centered on quirky female leads ready to dish out some gore.
Hailing from South Korea, Nose Nose Nose Eyes! is a terrifying foray into the dark secrets of family life. A ten-year-old girl has nightmares about her sick father while her mother tells her to ignore the panicked visits from his brother, claiming that he is just after some insurance money. What the daughter comes to find is that the mother may have more to do with her father’s ill condition than she anticipated. Suspenseful, gripping, and cringe-inducing are just some of the adjectives one can use to describe the concluding moments of this film. Don’t let the homey floral patterns and colorful set pieces fool you into underestimating the malevolent intentions of the family’s matriarch. With a teasing strategy of body horror and twisted revelations, Nose Nose Nose Eyes! corrupts the innocent screen of ignorance possessed by its main character as she enters a world of hurt, just as the audience bears witness too.
First dates are nerve-wracking enough with the added pressure of making a good impression and trying to not come off as a total creep. The couple in Director Bill Whirity’s Prey expect nothing more than a normal date to see a rehashed scary movie sequel. Little do they know the real horror will start once they reach the parking garage to get to their car and are pursued by an aggressive driver with sinister intentions. With a scarce runtime of five minutes, the film makes every shot count in the effort of keeping the audience intrigued by the young couple’s attempt at surviving their unknown attacker on foot, and later, behind the wheel. The real payoff of this morbid morsel comes with the reveal of a twist ending that leaves viewers both excited and satisfied—seeing as the film strays away from any expected horror movie cliches.
Acting as a social commentary of cult-like proportions, Dean Puckett’s The Sermon depicts an isolated church community and how one member attempts to right the wrongs of their past transgressions. The real hook of the film is how effectively it presents itself as a quiet folktale without a certain time or place. Drab prairie backdrops and the stark white of country church pews paint the color palette of The Sermon, suggesting that something might be a little off about the people who practice their religious rituals and punish those who go against their beliefs. Of course, those white picket fences are bound to be stained red. Therein also lies the flaw of its design, as the plot becomes just as dull as its setting. Beat by beat, the resolution comes as no surprise to those watching, leaving them with an impression that The Sermon could use a bit more creativity in its premise of sinful salvation.
They say blood is thicker than water, but the family strains in director Timothy Keeling’s Two Puddles could prove otherwise. The short film follows a family of three—a mother, father, and their teenage daughter—as they go on a retreat in the woods. While hiking along a trail, the daughter falls into a hidden puddle that seems to be very deep. She reemerges from a second puddle a few feet away, only after her father dives in the first puddle to find her. She then jumps back into the puddle to rescue her father, and he resurfaces from the opposite puddle a few seconds later. This process keeps repeating and the mother can only stand by and look for someone to help. Keeling described Two Puddles as a symbolic way of representing the hidden grudges the mother possesses about her husband, and only when she learns to let go of them, will she be able to get her family back on solid ground. Lasting only six minutes, Two Puddles is concise with its story and uses a common motif like a puddle of water on the forest floor to capture the depth of a greater idea.
As straightforward as the film’s title, We Summoned a Demon delivers just what audiences want in a good horror comedy: laughs, monstrous gags, and lovable underdogs to root for in the end. The film follows the aftermath of two best friends, Kirk and Carlos, summoning a demon in an abandoned warehouse so it can teach Kirk how to be “cool”. Their plan takes a turn for the worse though when the demon goes after them in a comical hunt. Clad in a hoodie and skinny jeans, this demon is not the most hellish entity to grace movie screens, but that doesn’t matter. He is the dark prince of coolness, looking to carry out his purpose on the two guys hoping to be taught how to pick up girls. Complete with its own 80s-garage-band-esque theme song and a hilarious selection of quotable lines, We Summoned a Demon brings more than what would be expected in a six-minute short about toying with the dark arts.