THE BLOODY MARY FILM FESTIVAL is about to kick off two nights of programming by female (and female-identifying) film directors. Each night of the festival is equally divided between features and a variety of short films (playing as a block starting at 9:30pm). The shorts vary in length and tackle a variety of subjects and genres. Of the nine shorts screening on Day 1, here are three that can’t be missed:
1. A Woman On The Telephone: Carol
Directed by Erica Genereux Smith, A Woman On The Telephone: Carol (pictured above) stars Kayla Lorette as the titular Carol, a receptionist at Infotech Communications Securities. The most striking thing about the short is the set design, which is comprised of only a desk, a filing cabinet, and a backdrop with projected hallucinogenic images. The bare bones set-up and “lost in time” aesthetic lends the short a heightened sense of artificiality that I referred to as “70s/80s infomercial schtick” in my notes.
The short is a one woman show, which puts all of the emphasis on Lorette. She imbues Carol with OCD professionalism, bringing a near manic energy to the proceedings. Carol is an amusing caricature who lives solely for her work – there is no reference to an external life outside of her routine, which involves chipper phone etiquette, struggles with the file cabinet and lunch at her desk.
The cyclical nature of the short, which runs approximately 8.5 minutes, makes it seem as though Carol is lost in a time loop. After an amusing montage of everyday work activities set to jaunty music, however, a hint of menace creeps is introduced when someone begins calling for an unknown (and unseen) woman named Gail. Who is this woman and why doesn’t Carol remember her?
As A Woman On The Telephone: Carol reaches its apex, it’s unclear what hell Carol is stuck in at Infotech Communications Securities. What is more than evident is that Genereux Smith has crafted a smart and surreal commentary on the destructive implications of cyclical nature of office work. This short is perfect for fans of Too Many Cooks.
2. Undress Me
The second longest short screening on Day 1 of the festival is Amelia Moses’ Undress Me, which really did a number on me. This short has a relatively straightforward plot: an unnamed freshman girl at university (Lee Marshall) attends a party, hooks up with a mildly predatory frat boy (Leigh Anderson) and the next day discovers, to her horror and ours, that her body is changing.
There are several reasons to recommend Undress Me. Marshall is a vulnerable lead and her social awkwardness is so relatable that is may make you uncomfortable. At the party she takes her cues from the actions of those she observes in a nearly clinical fashion (I was reminded of Scarlett Johansson’s alien in Under The Skin; it’s almost as though she doesn’t understand how humans work). Moses and editor Mattias Graham effortlessly conveys all of this with framing and editing (see the still above).
Things kick into high gear the morning after when our protagonist makes a startling discovery in the shower. In a scene that clearly evokes Carrie, this scene shifts Undress Me firmly into body horror territory, an unexpectedly visceral and gory turn that I wasn’t prepared for. The results are fantastic and the production team deserves major kudos for some truly gross make-up (and sound) effects.
Fans of early David Cronenberg take note: this is a short for you.
3. The Drop In
One of The Bloody Mary Film Festival’s greatest strengths is the focus on diversity in the programming, particularly in the shorts. Madre Di Dios is a Mexican grindhouse, Henna is a silent experimental film, Love You To Death features a lesbian couple as protagonists and all but one of the shorts feature exclusively women in acting roles.
The Drop In is another favourite. Elegant in its narrative simplicity (a hairstylist is confronted by a client in her shop after hours), I spent the first half of the short trying – and failing – to figure out where things were going. Director Naledi Jackson and cinematographer Jackson Parrell expertly make use of shadows and neon lighting to create a film noir aesthetic as Joelle (Mouna Traoré) finds herself battling verbally – and later physically – with a threatening Grace (Oluniké Adeliyi). Of all of the shorts, this is the least horror-oriented, but it surprised me the most. To say any more would be to spoil it, but The Drop Out is another Day 1 stand-out.
The Bloody Mary Film Festival runs from November 30th – December 1st at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto. For the full line-up and to purchase tickets, check out their website.