Australian Horror shorts- Final Girls Berlin Film Festival
The Final Girls Berlin Film Festival is creating a space for females in the horror genre; celebrating their contributions in a way that feels genuinely for women by women. February is ‘Women in Horror Month’ and I have to say I’m feeling the camaraderie this year.
Because I am personally from Australia, I’ve chosen to look at the awesome Australian short film entries from the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival. As usual Australia has shown the world that it takes its horror grim, with a side of scarcely any happy endings. So here are the shorts, in order of their screenings at FGBFF.
LIZ DRIVES, a 2017 short written, directed and produced by Mia’kate Russel– left me to deal with a soul crushing ending and some introspection about prejudice and preconceived notions.
The film follows Liz (Sophia Davey) and her sister Ellie (WOLF CREEK’S Cassandra Magrath) as they drive to the outskirts of town to see their mother. When stopping at a gas station, Ellie is pulled into another car as Liz watches in horror. Fearing the worst, Liz reacts by getting into a high-speed chase with the car and its driver. Only then does Liz see the horrors she’s created.
LIZ DRIVES is an incredibly smart film that knows exactly what it is doing to its audience- an amazing amount of foreboding is used in the beginning. Long shots of the dark deserted road, emphasizing that the girls are in the middle of nowhere remind us of all the other times we have seen this situation end badly. These techniques are there to confuse us and make us feel a certain way which only comes back to bite us.
It was a smart choice to keep most of the action shrouded in darkness- making us get most of our information from Sophia Davey’s expressive face lit only by headlights and the ominous glow of dashboard lights. A lot of action happens for a film that is only 8 minutes long but none of it is mindless. LIZ DRIVES is so expertly fast-paced it makes your heart race. We are panicking along with Liz and frantic for the safety of both sisters; this makes the end reveal feel much more personal and consequently all the more tragic and horrifying.
LIZ DRIVES is an immersive and wild ride.
” An incredibly smart film that knows exactly what it is doing to its audience”
3 1/2 Tombstones out of 5
HIGHWAY, a 2016 short written and directed by Vanessa Gazy also takes place on the road. There just must be something about Australian highways that make them so ripe for horror. Maybe it’s the monotony of it that makes it so isolating, maybe it’s all the missing hitchhikers.
Straight away in the opening sequence I was reminded of David Lynch’s LOST HIGHWAY with a long, winding, yellow-painted road. The comparison doesn’t end there as HIGHWAY is full of mystery and asks you to embrace the weird and wonderful.
Hester (Odessa Young) is hitchhiking along the highway when her radio begins to broadcast a news bulletin- except it is for the next day, and it brings bad news of a storm. Hester gets picked up by a family headed on holiday, in the car Hester once again tunes into the radio station of the future and hears that she and the car members are headed for a grisly end.
When Hester got in the car my brain automatically went to the trope of killer family picking up a hitch hiker- It was a nice surprise to find that they were more in danger from Hester than she was to them. I really enjoyed the character acting in the car, lead by Andrew S. Gilbert (THE LOVED ONES) and Rebecca Smart.
HIGHWAY was filmed in the snowy mountains in New South Wales, Australia. These are beautiful of mountains and valleys keep your attention because you just can’t look away. The film really reminded me of BLACK MIRROR in the way that that it had technology behaving strangely, and felt like an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE with it’s science fiction.
HIGHWAY ended up being a near flawless film.
“A film full of mystery that asks you to embrace the weird and wonderful.”
4 out of 5 Tombstones
Blood sisters is a blood soaked 2017 short film directed and produced by Caitlin Koller and written by Hannah White. Most of the films I watched for this article used subtlety in their horror, BLOOD SISTERS is not one of those
Two friends Steph (Emma Gladwell) and Amanda (Hannah Vanderheide) decide to dabble in the occult while having a girls’ night in. After completing a ritual involving slicing their hands and chanting, it all seems to have been some harmless fun. That is until they become trapped in their apartment and their wounds begin to bleed way more than they are supposed to.
First of all, BLOOD SISTERS has found a way to use the trope of séances which unleash evil in a completely unique and frankly refreshing way. I can’t think of a more ingenious use of fake blood; the idea of uncontrollably bleeding would be absolutely terrifying body-horror if it wasn’t played for laughs.
Just because BLOOD SISTERS is a black comedy doesn’t mean it lets up on the horror. The gore in this film stands out as being realistic enough that I was physically wincing. There is a particularly horrible use of curling iron that firmly cements this film as not for the squeamish.
It’s worth mentioning that although the comedy comes from these women being completely unprepared to deal with the supernatural and physical horror they find themselves in; never are they portrayed as airheads. This surely comes from having a female director and writer who know how to make characters realistic and respectful. I really appreciate this, especially when horror comedies usually objectify women a lot.
This slice of gory slapstick was a cautionary tale about meddling with witchcraft that ended just as hilariously as it began.
” I can’t think of a more ingenious use of fake blood”
5 out of 5 Tombstones
CRESWICK is a 2017 short film directed, produced and written by Natalie Erika James. Set in a haunted house, this short could have been riddled with cheap jump scares; I’m glad CRESWICK didn’t go that route, instead opting for a sinisterly creepy vibe and genuine horror.
While cleaning out her childhood home, Sam (Dana Miltins) begins to remember the fears she had in the home as a child. When her terrified father Colin (Chris Orchard) admits that things move on their own and that the dog won’t go in the house, both father and daughter are faced with the fact that there is a malevolent presence living with them.
CRESWICK however, is not a film about barging in with priests and paranormal investigators, it’s a film about silently suffering and living in fear on a daily basis. Great performances from both actors, you really felt a genuine father-daughter relationship between Sam and Colin. Chris orchard was heart breaking as an old man reaching to his daughter to save him.
Use of props in this film is something that stands out, obviously props are part of every film but here they really stood out as a driving force of creeps rather than fading into the surrounds. CRESWICK made chairs scary, I never thought would be scared of chairs. The sculptures by Isabel Avendano-Hazbun in this film could have furnished the house of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, they absolutely got under your skin. The film ended with an absolutely bone-chilling use of a puppet I don’t know can ever be rivaled.
When this short film ended I shook off the chill I had developed- despite it being summer here in Australia. If you want to see a haunting done right, seek out CRESWICK.
“If you want to see a haunting done right, seek out CRESWICK “
4 1/2 out of 5 Tombstones
HOBBY SHOP is another 2017 short film and is directed by Stephanie Liquorish and Isabel Stanfield, with Stephanie liquorish also writing. I spoke earlier of puppets, they return again as creepy marionettes are involved in this tale of curiosity killed the cat.
After getting up to no good, young girl Sophia (Milly Walton) hides out in an old shop full of creepy antique dolls and other dusty, old toys. After meeting the kindly proprietor of the shop (Hugh Parker), Sophia cannot help nosing around and soon she discovers a third person in the basement and the shop owner’s gruesome obsession with puppetry.
Hobby shop was a succinct little tale that packs a punch. Similar in concept to HOUSE OF WAX, this story isn’t completely original but it’s the way it is executed which held my attention, reeling me in with intense bursts of action and an atmosphere of dread. It really was a well written film and never have the words “I’m trying to help you” turned my stomach more.
HOBBY SHOP is a film which sets up the horror and lets your mind come up with the brutal and gory ways things turn out. It gives us just the right amount f information to let the dark recesses of our minds take over. This was really a great use of this technique as it elevated the film to one which says with you as opposed to one which just shocks and then leaves your mind. The ending is really quite great in the nastiness of the horror it alluded to.
HOBBY SHOP proves my theory that Australian horror films, especially recent ones, don’t shy away from being harsh and unforgiving.
“Intense bursts of action and an atmosphere of dread “
3 1/2 out of 5 Tombstones