Tucked between the groundbreaking documentaries and independent features that always come to the Tribeca Film Festival are a series of short films that defy any sense of normalcy. Branded the ‘genre’ section of Tribeca’s short film menu, these small masterpieces explore humanity in ways that only science-fiction, horror, and fantasy can. I was lucky enough to catch these genre shorts at the festival this year, and I have to say, watching them reminded me why I love genre storytelling so much. Keep reading to see why.
The genre shorts are broken into two submission categories, WTF and Down to Earth. I’m going to break down the reviews the same way, so let’s start off with…
A visually stunning mix of Blade Runner and Blue Velvet, 11:50 is a noir story in technicolor. Director Yiguo Chen captures the tale of a man who accidentally kills a stranger on a dark and rainy evening. When the protagonist decides to go through the victim’s things to see if they’re worth anything, he gets caught in a mystery that defies explanation, logic, perhaps even the rules of time and space. This film was subtle but rich, with all the menace and glow of a flickering neon sign in a Raymond Chandler yarn. For incredible style, a simple but engaging story, and a haunting ending, I’m going to give this short an 8/10.
From the second Snaggletooth opens on a lonely, misty house on a spooky hill, it’s clear who this film’s intended audience is. Director Colin Bishopp has made a film for fans of nostalgic horror, of Vincent Price and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s about a young girl’s appointment with a dentist, under cover of darkness and some very strange circumstances. Snaggletooth leads the audience to find out the truth of what’s going on as it progresses, and ends in a place that Tim Burton fans are sure to adore. My main critique for this short is that, even though the idea is a cool one, the characters in it are somewhat bland. Sadly, they take a back seat to the short’s concept and reveal. Still, for an excellent sense of gothic fun and a hilarious premise, I give this one a 6.5/10.
Filmmaker Aaron Blake brings an art house thriller to the festival with his project His Hands. The short depicts a sexual encounter between two silent characters, with a dark and dangerous outcome. I’m not going to lie, this short didn’t appeal to me. The cinematography was beautiful, but I didn’t understand why I was watching this story unfold. The jumps between scenes had me wondering if I was watching literal events or imagined ones, but not in a good way. Finally, the tense and grim tone of the whole short didn’t build at all, which meant that what could’ve been a shocking ending didn’t quite land that way. Of course, anyone who reads my writing knows I might just not be smart enough to get this film, which is a definite possibility for His Hands. Still, because I finished it feeling that the pieces didn’t come together, I’m going to give this a 4/10.
Shannon Kholi’s brilliant storytelling and suspenseful pacing make Hunting Season one of the most enjoyable watches on this list, and my personal favorite. What begins with the horror trope of a solo nightshift worker stalked by an unknown force turns into something else entirely, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Hunting Season is about Callie, a young gas-station worker in a town gripped by panic. There is a “beast” on the loose, and according to the terrified voice her crackling radio, Callie is in its path. However, both Callie and this film’s audience soon discover that they’re not in the story they think they are, and the twist is as genuinely surprising as it is beautifully presented. For great homages to horror movies past, a memorable ending, and a fantastic performance by Hannah Levien as Callie, I’m giving Hunting Season a 9/10.
Call me simple, but I’m a sucker for single shot scenes. Even without my bias, however, Lance Edmand’s Whiteout is still a minimalistic and effective thriller, and my second favorite short on this list. Like Hunting Season, it reworks a familiar horror premise. This time, it’s that old tale of a couple driving on a dark and solitary road. They encounter an unresponsive man standing strangely still in the middle of their path, and the rest of the film is them deciding what to do. For a film almost entirely set within a car, this movie is smart and suspenseful, with a rewarding end that had me thinking for days. Whiteout is a prime example of what you can do with very little, and for that, it deserves its place at Tribeca. My only (very minor) critique is that the attempts to flesh out the characters and world of this short through dialogue can feel a little ham-fisted. Still, for being a genuinely unnerving thriller that’ll make you not want to ever drive alone, this film earns a solid 8.5/10.
Now, onto the second section of genre shorts at Tribeca, ironically dubbed…
DOWN TO EARTH
I get a little weary of post-apocalyptic storytelling sometimes. It’s no fault of the genre, I just get depressed by the worlds it depicts (yes, I know that it’s supposed to be depressing). So you can imagine how delighted I was by Bunker Burger, the short I thought was the funniest of the pack. Adam Yorke’s delightfully dark story of a therapist being interviewed for a place in a survival bunker brings all the situational humor of The Office into a post-nuclear war world. Honestly, I would watch an entire TV show from this world. It was human and emotional, but lost none of the sharp, witty social commentary that clearly went into its creation. For subverting my expectations in a hilarious way, I give this short an 8.5/10.
Jesse Mittelstadt’s emotional, ethereal ride through time is the kind of film that leaves you thinking. It begins with an asteroid heading toward earth, but not to destroy it. No, this asteroid effects the earth’s gravitational field, thus shifting the perception of time for many of its citizens. The short follows a man whose life is skipping between decades. With some fascinating futuristic graphics and an honest, touching performance by its lead Riley Egan, this movie tells an interesting tale of Weird Science while at the same time reminding the viewer of an all-too-real fact: life flies by. For a great concept, solid acting and some understated but engrossing graphics, I’m going to give this film a 7.5/10.
Speaking of interesting graphics, Sophia Banks’s Unregistered is probably one of the most visually impressive things in Tribeca’s short film menu. The movie dazzles with striking imagery of a far-off future, as seamless as any major motion picture. However, I found the story to be lacking. The concept of a futuristic society where everyone is part of a federal information database is interesting, but it’s unclear how that affects the two main characters, a young and devoted couple. That said, folks watching this movie without too much focus on narrative detail will absolutely love it. Its vision of the future is sharp, unique, and fantastically animated. For its visual successes but storytelling faults, I think this film earns a 6/10.
Storm, directed by Will Kendrick, is not as thematically compelling as some of the other shirts on this list. However, what it lacks in narrative it more than makes up for in pure cinematic fun. Storm tells a kind of lonely-hearts story, set in a future where a government program chooses with whom you’ll spend the rest of your life. The story begins as one helpless romantic, trapped by his inhibitory to find a match, accidentally drops his partner-finding machine into a bathtub with him. What follows is a trippy, beautiful, and genuinely hilarious journey through the electric works of the pairing machine (and did I mention he’s naked the whole time?). I’ll be honest when I say I didn’t always know what was going on in this short, but dammit, I adored it anyway. For a story that’s a little lacking but a series of scenes that are as whimsical as they are heartfelt, I’d give this short a 7.5/10.
We all love a good science fiction epic, the kind of universe-building, hero’s-journey stories that build franchises and fan fiction. But every once in a while, there comes along something that’s, well, simpler. Zero is a small story set within a big world; an intimate character portrait with the background of high fantasy. It’s the tale of a young girl who must survive in a world where all electricity has been cut off. After losing her father, her only family, she must make it on her own as provider, protector, and . With an incredible performance by lead Bella Ramsey and Game of Thrones’s Nigel O’Neill combined with their own moving script, the Brothers Lynch deliver to Tribeca a perfect example of what genre filmmaking can be. That is, a deeply real story told with fantastic elements. I’m going to give this one a 9.5/10.
From a purely objective standpoint, I think it’s clear that The Shipment is the best genre short at Tribeca. It’s not my personal favorite, admittedly, but in terms of visual effects, acting, and story, Bobby Bala’s intergalactic working class tale stands above the rest. Like Zero, The Shipment is a personal tale in a fantasy world. It’s the story of a struggling father who works on an interplanetary spaceship, one that delivers cargo from world to world. In order to provide for his daughter, this story’s hero must make tough, morally repulsive choices in the service of his employers. This isn’t a story of a chosen one fulfilling his destiny in the face of some evil empire, it’s an all-too-real story of a working-class family man in an unfair world. For its breathtaking special effects, a heart-wrenching story and some solid performances by its two leads, The Shipment deserves a 10/10.
We’ve got more coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival right here at NOFS, so be sure to keep an eye out. Did you see any of the genre shorts, or any other entry to the festival this year? If not, which ones do you want to see? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. And for all your horror movie news, reviews, and interviews, keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.