SXSW Short Film Block Review

A perfect mixture of talent and diversity infused with intense dramas and horrifying shorts.

This past week, the SXSW Film Festival has been premiering some of the most incredibly mind-blowing and provocative shorts that I have seen all year. As a hardcore fan of the horror genre, I had the chance to watch some of these short films which ranged from narrative dramas to jump out of your seat horror, each bringing their own unique style and flavor to the table. Whether set in the '80s during the craze of Ted Bundy or at a hospital in Hongjing, there is something for everyone to sink their teeth into. Without further ado, the below showcases the talent and diversity of each of the shorts I was able to catch at the SXSW Film Festival. 

Fry Day

Synopsis: An adolescent girl comes of age against the backdrop of serial killer Ted Bundy’s execution in 1989. 

This was a beautifully crafted narrative set during the evening of the execution of serial killer Ted Bundy. We watch as 16-year-old Lauryn, set to photograph a congregation of people brought together to witness the death of Bundy, learns just how manipulative people can be. It’s an interesting dynamic to see her rise and fall against the backdrop of the impending execution. The feverish obsession by those around her, calling for the death of Bundy, is at an all-time high, as individuals walk around wearing “Fry Bundy” shirts and black and white Bundy masks. Definitely one of the best shorts I’ve seen and one that gives us a glimpse into adulthood amidst the craze of a serial killer.  

DeKalb Elementary

Synopsis: Inspired by a 911 call placed during a school shooting incident in Atlanta, Georgia.

This short was intense. It’s a harrowing look into how someone who suffers from an extreme mental illness could completely snap without the proper medical treatment. I felt a range of emotions starting with fear and ending with sadness as our shooter repeatedly states he doesn’t want to hurt anyone and just wants to go to the hospital. The interaction between the shooter (Bo Mitchess) and the receptionist at the elementary school (Cassandra Rice) is heartbreaking as she tries to calm the shooter down. DeKalb Elementary is one of the most powerful short films I’ve ever seen and one that should be required viewing as a way to understand the effects of an untreated mental illness.  

Do No Harm

Synopsis: 3am. 1980s Hongjing. In an aging private hospital, a single-minded surgeon is forced to break her physician’s oath when violent gangsters storm in to stop a crucial operation. 

As a whole, we need more badass females in film. In Do No Harm, we get to meet one of these women as she kicks ass and takes ALL the names while upholding her physician’s oath. However, during the short, I couldn’t help but wonder why she was refusing to let the man on the operating table die, especially when we find out his backstory. Have no fear, all is revealed when we learn that her reasons surpass that of just the oath she has taken. This short showcases an explosion of bloody deaths and some quality stunts that make the overall viewing experience exciting and fast-paced.  This is another example of a film that I would like to see made into a full feature as there is so much more to the story than what fits into the 12 minute run-time. If given the chance to see this, make sure you do!  

Whiskey Fist

Synopsis: An absurd and vulgar comedy that probes the sensitive social sphincter holding back a much-needed dialogue on the obstacles to empathy between genders. Justin is an intern at a ‘branding’ company, in danger of succumbing to the rampant misogyny of his office culture. But one night a mysterious blonde impregnates him with a bottle of high-end whiskey - magical realism ensues. 

Man, oh man. Whiskey Fist is unlike anything I’ve seen at SXSW and I’m still trying to wrap my head around what unfolded. What I love about this film is that it flips the script of the stereotypical narrative of women being overly emotional and sensitive by having the main character, played by Chase Williams, experience it. As someone who works in a male dominated industry and sees rampant misogyny daily, it was a breath of fresh air to see the tables turned and for the male to experience what so many females deal with on a constant basis. I also appreciated the mysterious blonde who exuded an air of confidence and power as she took down each male she encountered. This is definitely an eccentric short but it does have a powerful message behind it.  

Tickle Monster

Synopsis: Elliot discovers the tickle monster.

I’m a total sucker for anything that resembles a horrifying creature. Throw in a quality jump scare and I’m 100% down. In Tickle Monster both of those elements collide perfectly in a runtime of only 5 minutes. This short, directed and written by Remi Weeks, tells an urban legend of a Tickle Monster and how if you should ever encounter it, you must never, EVER, laugh.  I loved everything about this short and overall it was my favorite one from SXSW since the ending literally made me jump out of my seat. I wish it had been longer because I enjoyed it so much, but hopefully this is a prelude to a possible full feature film in the future. This is the perfect short for those who love a good old fashioned scare and a fresh idea for an urban legend. 

Kisses

Synopsis: Kenny and Ray, two young broish guys, are headed home from school. After one is called out for lying about his level of sexual experience, a unique opportunity presents itself. 

Listen boys, do not lie about your sexual experience. Just don’t. If only what happens to this young boy happened to grown adults who fabricated stories of sexual conquests than us women would have nothing to worry about. Overall, this is a fun short that emphasizes the severity of talking a big game when you have nothing to back that claim up. Also, the short shows a snapshot of the gray area between adolescence and becoming a “man” through sexual curiosities, especially in the form of what one would think would be an inanimate object. This short also infuses some great practical effects and gore which only adds to the overall viewing experience.  

It Began Without Warning

Synopsis: “The time has come,” the Walrus said. And all the little Oysters stood and waited in a row.

Out of all the shorts I watched, this one was probably the most abstract. I’m not entirely sure what was happening, but from what I could gather, someone (or something) is using a form of mind control to possess a horde of children to act in a murderous fashion. This short seems to be a set-up for a much larger story as it indicated that this was just the first chapter. I will admit, I am intrigued, as seeing a slew of children commit acts of carnage is quite fascinating. I’m hoping that this will eventually be made into a full feature film so that we can learn more about the creature (or monster? I’m not really sure what it is) that has such a powerful hold over these kids. I also have to give kudos to the practical effects department though for making such a uniquely disgusting and uncomfortable looking creature.  

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