There’s nothing scarier in this modern world than losing several hours of your life to a TV show that doesn’t turn out to be very good – those precious minutes are binge-watching gold that could be better spent on a better box set, or even (whisper it) a movie. Short films, then, can be a god-send for those wary of taking on the commitment of something big – a bite-sized burst of creativity and entertainment in the time it takes to make a cup of tea.
When it comes to horror, short films are at their best: in the right hands, even a few seconds can turn into an agonising stretch of suspense, or a briefly glimpsed image can have your heart working overtime. For Halloween, we’ve selected six excellent, surprising and scarily good short films to give you your genre fix without taking over your evening – kicking off with two of the most nerve-shredding minutes you’ll experience this year.
Director Rob Savage does it again with his latest effort, which condenses all the thrills, terror and imagination of a big budget feature into less than two minutes. Like his short Dawn of the Deaf (see below), he and co-writer Jed Shepherd have come up with a blisteringly simply premise and they go to town with it, wasting no time in playing with every logical extension and subversion. The concept is right there in the title: salt is the one thing that keeps a woman and her daughter safe from monsters. The creatures are unexplained, but we know all we need to: they don’t like sodium chloride, they want to kill you, and they’re absolutely terrifying.
Savage’s editing is astonishingly tight, as he whips us from one side of the room to another, the camera rotating with the rushed energy it takes Alice Lowe’s heroine to slam a door shut and keep the proverbial wolf at bay (the cinematography and lighting throughout is the stuff iconic horrors are made of). Lowe is wonderful, turning in a performance that’s almost completely silent, but conveys oodles of emotion, panic and smarts; as the cruelty of the natural elements conspire against her survival, we’re on her side after only a few seconds in her company. By the time the end credits roll, you’ll be sure of three things: 1. Rob Savage is one of the most exciting experimenters in British genre cinema today. 2. Someone needs to back Salt as a feature film right now. 3. It feels good to breathe again.
Dawn of the Deaf
“I don’t care who sees us. I’m not ashamed to be with you.” That’s Nat (Haey Bishop) talking to Imogen (Radina Drandova) in London’s Waterloo underpass in the short film Dawn of the Deaf. If it weren’t for that title, you could be watching a romantic drama about two young women struggling to balance their feelings for each other with their concerns about how the rest of the world perceives them. The same is true of every single person and situation that unfolds in this 12-minute gem – a horror that manages to overcome any genre cliches to focus on humans that feel all too real.
Depth is the clear priority for all involved, something thats apparent from the opening title, which tells us we have one hour until “The Pulse”. Straight away, we know that an event is coming, a sonic cataclysm that, as inferred by the title, will render the population zombiefied – except for the ones who can’t actually hear it. The result is a character-driven horror that makes the nastiness of what follows all the more effective; the more fleshed-out characters are, the more horrifying the flesh-eating is.
This three-minute heart-stopper, which won Best Short at Bilbao Fantasy Film Festival in 2014, is another deviously simple idea milked for every last drop of tension. We follow a young woman as she turns the light out in her apartment – only for the darkness to reveal a figure she can’t see when the lights are on. It’s a marvellous set piece that digs right into our primal fear of the unknown and toys with it on and off for 120 seconds, manipulating the basic jolt of a match-cut to brilliantly creepy effect. You’ll soon be cowering under the duvet and keeping the lights on all night.
“It’s no use if the brick at the bottom wants to be the brick at the top.” That’s the ultimatum delivered by William (Blake Ritson) in Bricks. Of course, that’s exactly what what he would say, because he’s the brick at the top of the social wall: a stockbroker who hires a builder, Clive (Jason Flemyng), to help with the renovation of his wine cellar.
The pair are chalk and cheese, and both chalk and cheese know it: their dialogue, co-written by Neville Pierce and Jamie Russell, is full of spiky barbs and digs at each other’s relative standing; one taking pot-shots from below, the other delivering hammer blows from above. And that clash in classes sets their whole interaction off at an ominous angle, the manor-born toff talking wine and travel, the blue-collar worker teaching the other how to cement bricks together. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, a story that sees a nobleman exact revenge, Bricks is a scathingly political update to a dark, nasty tale, one that reminds us how walls between people are built, and why they should be torn down.
Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke became an Internet sensation when this short first was released back in 2013, thanks to its condensed, concise storytelling – more visual than verbal, but no less emotional or powerful. This Halloween is a better time than ever to revisit it, as the story has since been turned into a feature film for Netflix, also called Cargo and starring Martin Freeman. Here, as with the full-length outing, we follow a man trying to protect his daughter in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, and the suspense of that endeavour in this near-silent wasteland is matched only by his heartfelt dedication to the cause. Fantastically performed, evocatively shot and economically told, this taught, moving short is a proper classic.
The Tell-Tale Heart
Rediscovered in 2017, after it was found in a Scottish attic, this long-lost take on Edgar Allen Poe’s classic horror story is a gorgeously old-fashioned affair. Rather than dramatise the tale of a man who finds himself haunted by his conscience following an unspeakable act, director JB Williams boils the whole thing down to the prose in the book, getting Stanley Baker (The Guns of Navarone) to read it out for the camera. And Baker relishes the chance to do so, delivering a monologue to camera with wit, humour, darkness and charisma. His voice is musical to listen to, jarringly superbly with the eerie, awful things he’s talking about. The result is a bedtime tale that’s strictly for adults, and will have you hooked for 20 minutes. What a lucky find this 16mm footage was.
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