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2021 Festival Review – Thriller shorts

An insight in to this years selection of thriller short films, showing at this years festival 24th September 2021.

Upstairs (Phillip Trow, 2020) 

Upstairs is reminiscent of those awkward family dinners where the mere idea of meeting your spouse’s family sends shivers down your spine, but in the world of Upstairs the unpleasantness is turned up by quite a few notches as we follow the Saint family, comprised of matriarch Shirley (Heather Coombs), and her children Caroline (Yolanda Kettle), Jennifer (Sorcha Groundsell), and James (Luke Newberry). However, their family woes are far from mundane as the arrival of Caroline’s partner Tim (Iain De Caestecker),unravels a damning secret, bearing the true insanity that lies within the Saint’s walls. Upstairs forgoes conventionality as director Phillip Trow opts to present the sheer horror through creating a tense atmospheric tone, highlighted through a daunting environment and well written characters. 

Left Alone in the Snow (Rickey Bird Jr., 2021) 

We follow screenplay writer Lilly (Chelsea Newman), as she retreats to a secluded cabin in the snow, but as strange events begin to occur she must find a way to make it out alive. Being stranded all alone in a snowstorm is eerie enough, but imagine not being able to shake the feeling that your creepy neighbour is taking advantage of your solidarity.  Left Alone in the Snow knows exactly how to play with your fears as filmmaker Rickey Bird Jr. pays homage to classic home invasion/revenge films such as I Spit on Your Grave (Meir Zarchi, 1978) and Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) to create a tense and thrilling winter’s tale. The micro-budget short does an excellent job at creating a gripping buildup that packs a rip roaring punch by the end. 

Parting Frenzy (Ryan Freda, 2021) 

Ryan Freda takes us on a twisted journey of the consequences of betrayal as we watch the breakdown of the relationship between Cate (Nicki Davy) and Lee (Kaya Moore). In true horror form we do not know who to side with or even what to believe as Freda superbly deceives us throughout. Parting Frenzy manages to tackle a traditional narrative in a new and exciting light through using its secluded setting to amplify the threat level, all the whilst generating a character study that is worthy of a feature length film. 

Koreatown Ghost Story (Minsun Park & Teddy Tenenbaum, 2021) 

Koreatown Ghost Story follows Mrs. Moon (played by the iconic Margaret Cho), an eccentric woman who finds herself in the company of Hannah (Lyrica Okano). Their somewhat normal-ish encounter soon takes a turn for the worse as Mrs. Moon hatches a sinister plan to bring her son Edward (Brandon Halvorsen) and Hannah together. The underlying supernatural elements to the film is just one way in which a terrifying atmosphere is conjured as the true terror lies within the twisted story that plays out with complete cinematic eloquence. The true advantage of the film lies within its secrecy, but just know that this epic short is not here to play, instead Koreatown Ghost Story positions itself amongst the absolute best. 

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2021 Festival Review – Burnt Portraits

Leo X. Robertson has a keen eye for the obscure, with his focus dwelling on the oddities of society, particularly seen in his book Unfortunates (2021) which chronicles eight short and sadistic stories. Robertson’s second feature film Burnt Portraits captures his most exciting project to date as we are thrown into a dark and twisted world permeated with disguises, suspicions, and horrid truths.

Burnt Portraits follows a popular singer (Sam Crichton), whose naivety lands him in deep trouble as he finds himself in the company of a slightly unusual artist in his dim studio (also played by Robertson). Once ‘Singer’ awakens he quickly hits it off with the artist, forming an unexpected bond despite their differences. However, it’s not long until Singer’s trustiness sneaks up on him as sinister chaos begins to erupt… 

Throughout the film you are left unchaperoned as the ‘who, what, when, and where’ remains principally anonymous, and although it may be second nature to surrender to conventionality Robertson takes the long way round and makes us work for the answers. As aforementioned, Singer ends up forming a brief kinship with the Artist.

As their mutual knowledge of one another grows we too get comfortable in their presence, meaning that when the film does a 180 it hits us as quite a shock. Although Robertson takes time in unveiling the film’s catalyst the slowburn route is certainly worthwhile. What facilitates Burnt Portraits lingering disentanglement is the stylistic rejection of coloured film in favour of using black and white. Through foregoing the modern tradition of colour imagery the environment becomes stark and casted in dark shadows, ensuring that the film leaves a visual mark upon its viewer. 

Backing Burnt Portraits melancholic undertone is the isolating narrative that jolts a sense of unease throughout the 99 minute run time. The story takes place in one setting (albeit a large setting), an art studio. But despite the presence of the pair it still feels entirely abandoned and neglected. When we are introduced to Singer the room is somewhat lonely and dark, but the Artist soon turns on the lights. Rather than relaxing in the brightness I found the illumination unwelcoming, as if whatever is ‘out there’ can see even easier, an idle trap. But that’s the beauty of Burnt Portraits, besides the detailed character depth and the progression of the intensity, one of the most harrowing moments relies upon the unknowingness of the situation. 

Burnt Portraits is even more noble when you take into account its small crew and budget, even the set itself was offered up by Crichton’s mother who thought that the basement to her art studio set the perfect scene for a horror film (she was definitely right!). The film is a clear labour of love and its independent background is a great entry into indie-horror. 

Whilst Roberston is just one of the many exciting up-and-coming creators in the field, his unique portrayal of harrowing horror is hauntingly impressive, and I for one hope to see more of his horrific visions make it onto the screen

You can check out the world premiere of Burnt Portraits on Friday 24th September 2021 at this years fest, tickets and details here.