I’ve often talked in other reviews about how I’m a huge fan of movies like Creepshow or Dead of Night, and my love of short films is kind of a natural evolution of that. After all, they’re like orphan episodes of the world’s best and worst anthology. The “Small Gauge Trauma 2013” presentation at the Fantasia Film Festival takes over an hour and a half’s worth of shorts from all over the world and screens them in a beautiful theatre setting as an “anthology” minus the wraparound story. The nice thing about this sort of deal is that the people at the festival have impeccable taste, so you always get something good.

So, without further ado, here are my opinions of this year’s entries:

A Moment of Silence at the Grave of Ed Gein
Jörg Buttgereit
2 mins

A rather literal but clever short that gives you exactly what it promises. No more, no less. Is it good? Um… Err… Hmmm…

You know what? Yeah. Yeah, it is. I can’t for the life of me tell you why, but I liked the balls that went behind making this, and the even bigger balls it must have taken to submit it. It’s a couple of minutes well spent.

An amusing note is that, because of projection issues, there were two moments of silence for old Ed. More than he deserves, but not more than this short deserves.

The Trap
Alberto Lopez
4 mins

One of my favorite shorts that played at this year’s Small Gauge Trauma. A man walks along a seemingly endless wall and sees a huge painted sign that says “DON’T LOOK” with an arrow pointing to a hole. The man, obviously, peeks.

Shot in very nice looking black and white, this plays like a live-action Far Side cartoon. It’s got a great atmosphere and tone. You know how reviewers often talk about how things “gel” together to form a perfect whole? Well this is a good example of that. This isn’t a perfect story. It isn’t a perfect idea. It isn’t perfectly made. However, it’s a perfect film, or as perfect as films get.

Cat Sick Blues
Dave Jackson
10 mins

While taking a walk on the beach a young couple sees a man in a cat costume lying on his side, unmoving near the surf. They think he’s hurt at first, maybe drunk. Something’s wrong. Even though he seems to be physically fine, the man keeps behaving like an actual cat, hissing and growling, and stays in character long after it stops being funny. When they decide to just leave him be and walk home, they realize he’s following them…

Cat Sick Blues is exactly the sort of short I think everyone needs to watch. It starts off serious, then it gets ridiculous, then creepy, then back to ridiculous again, then over the top, and then it ends. That, my friends, is how a good short should play out. Oh, sure, I could be a crab apple and bitch about how the tone and atmosphere are all over the goddamn place, but so what? It’s a short. The very reason for its existence is to give you a peek into a fictional world that couldn’t exist as a full length feature. Its purpose is to specifically try some weird new cinematic tricks out and see if they work.

In this case, some of the tricks work well enough that I find the whole thing admirable and worthwhile. In fact, any budding filmmaker out there should watch this because I feel it serves as a good example of how to transform something silly into something serious. True, it veers back into silliness later, but it gets it right the first time. So, during that small window of success, it’s worth taking notes.

So what’s my ultimate take on the whole thing?

It’s good. It’s bad. It’s memorable.

There you go.

Daniel Klein
9 mins

A good short is either its own self-contained story or a peek into a larger story. AB- definitely inhabits the latter category. While driving down a lonely road at night, a couple get into a car wreck. A short time later, when some people come to help, we realize that they may not have come to help, if you get my drift. The fact that the title refers to the rarest blood type should cause further alarm bells to ring.

I liked it, I’ll say that much. It’s very well made and acted. A lot of care and attention went into this, but it doesn’t have the sheer “perk” of the other shorts. I don’t know. I just wasn’t grabbed in the same way. I felt that the story became too obvious too quickly and that once you figure it out there are no further surprises. All that’s left to do is ride out the ending, knowing exactly what’s going to happen the whole time. Sure, it’s a good ride, but one that feels too familiar for its own good.

At the same time, I’m looking at what I just wrote and feeling like I’m being an unfair a*****e. It’s like I just watched a bunch of Twilight Zone episodes, then tried an Outer Limits and am complaining because there’s no twist ending. That isn’t right.

So, instead, I’ll say this: It works. I may not have liked it as much as the others, but I can’t say anything bad with a clear conscience. I think this is a decent entry and I’m sure a second viewing will make me appreciate it more. So, there.

Francisco Sonic Kim
10 mins

The best way to describe this is as a sunlit version of a David Lynch industrial landscape, but just because there are no shadows doesn’t mean there is no darkness. Awake is about a family whose young son just had some sort of brain operation. The boy is ill, perhaps mentally. He can’t sleep. He talks to himself. He has odd moments where he can’t control his actions. He seems to be two people. His parents are at their wits end dealing with him, they’re also a little afraid of him. They seem to know a lot more than we do about what’s wrong with him.

The short is a long slow creep-out, and I admire that. It doesn’t always work, there’s a scene with a dog where the edits aren’t quite right and the scene loses power, but it mostly works, and that’s all you can ask of a film.

The Box
Dadomani Studio
3 mins

Probably one of the most insane things I have ever seen. The short’s main characters are two boxes that can metamorphose into dogs, or maybe they’re dogs that have been created from boxes. I can’t tell you. The two dogboxes (Doxes? Bogs?) watch television, and cower in terror as the scenes from whatever show is playing come alive around them. It’s all done in really good looking stop motion and it’s a wild nutty ride. It’s very short, but very good and fun.

This kind of reminded me of an old Amazing Stories episode called “Family Dog.” Not that this copies from that episode, or even resembles it, but it’s got that same sort of sense of humor and pacing. So if you’ve ever seen “Family Dog” and sort of miss that manic insanity, now you know what to look for.

Julian Yuri Rodriguez
9 mins

What surprised me the most about this short was the fact the filmmakers are like eighteen or nineteen, yet they managed to organize and film large crowd scenes that look amazing. Most young filmmakers have a hard time with singular actors. These guys controlled dozens of screaming people into a coherent whole. If you’re not film savvy, let me assure you that this isn’t something easy.

You’ll notice by now, I haven’t mentioned what the film is about. Yeah, about that…

Well, let me put it this way: It’s about genuine no holes-barred fighting. No, that wasn’t a typo.

So what we have is a very well done setup in a crowded fighting arena, and then a pretty well-choreographed fight, ending in um… err… well, I’ll let you all discover it for yourselves.

In summary, it’s well done, a lot of fun, a bit crazy and nutty, will make you wince a little, and it works. It’s a great f****d-up scene from a movie that doesn’t yet exist.

H.F. Crum
11 mins

Hrmm… I liked it and I didn’t.

I understand that crime in Juarez has spiraled completely out of control and I understand that this short serves as a way to speak to people outside of the country and educate them about what’s happening since the local police and the government are next to useless. It’s a cry for help to the whole world. I understand. Hell, I had no idea it had gotten this bad and it certainly opened my eyes to what’s going on.

So don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. I wholeheartedly agree with the message behind this short. It isn’t that. It’s that I don’t like the idea of putting strong political or social messages in art, period. The problem is twofold, the message dilutes the art and the art dilutes the message.

Don’t believe me? Watch “Billy Jack” and tell me how well that movie has aged. Also, this isn’t me picking and choosing sides. I don’t care if it’s Upton Sinclair or Ayn Rand, I just don’t like it when a message overwhelms the story. Catcher in the Rye isn’t a great book because it sits there lecturing us not to be a bunch of phonies, Catcher in the Rye is a great book because it’s about someone not wanting to be a phony. See the difference? Not to mention that if the message is strident enough, it feels as if someone is lecturing you while wagging their finger the whole time. It’s not pleasant. It feels like those shitty PSAs they run on television to warn people not to walk on train tracks or to drive safely. It’s obnoxious, and every scene feels like a Molotov cocktail in the face.

That said, I liked the mood of it. I liked the style. I liked the acting. I liked the setting. I liked the premise. What I didn’t like was the political message lurking behind it all. At the same time, I can’t say the artistic side of this short is lacking. It’s not. I like it, a lot. This is why I’m so torn here. Perhaps I can make an exception? Perhaps I can admit that my rule isn’t all-encompassing and that I may be wholly wrong about everything. If so, then my apologies to the filmmakers of this film and to everyone else with a message that a dumbass like me thinks is ruining their fun time at the movies, I meant no offense.

Vienna Waits For You
Domink Hartl
26 mins

This is the longest short that played during Small Gauge Trauma, and also my least favorite of all the shorts. For one thing this seems to have been done with a large-ish budget, which goes against the very spirit of what a short is. For another, it’s way, way, wayyyyyy too long. Oh man does it feel long.

You’d think the story of a sentient apartment that captures tenants the same way a spider captures flies would work better than this, yet I found myself resisting its quirks and charms. It felt too deliberate. Its whimsy and pathos are too forced.

It’s not interminable, I’ll give it that. And I’ll also totally give it the fact that it’s well done. This isn’t something cobbled together over a weekend by amateurs. Yet… goddamn it… there’s a kind of spark or soul missing. It starts off good, and the main actress elicits a lot of empathy, but by the halfway mark you’re just begging this to be over because the film is hammering you over the head with itself. Imagine going to a strip club where you see the most magnificent pair of breasts you’ve ever seen, and then having the stripper smack you in the face with them about four or five hundred times. Magnificent or not, you’ll have tit-triggered PTSD by the end of the night and go all Clockwork Orange at the sight of a nipple.

So? Did I like it?

Yeahno… Noyeah… Sortakinda… I didn’t hate it, that much I know, and there is certainly much worse out there. It is the worst here, but considering the competition and the fact my tastes are not perfect this may mean nothing. After all, the last car in the race during the Indy 500 is not slow, is it?

Day of the Spectre
Chris Peters
9 mins

A woman who has lost her husband and child is visited one night by a presence that explains to her how to bring them back, at a cost. Director Chris Peters is an artist, first and foremost, and he does these amazing paintings. So his short has a very spooky look and a strange atmosphere to it, as if a Theremin is always playing just out of earshot. The acting’s a bit wonky, as is Peter’s isn’t quite sure how to work his actors, but that’s fine. By no means is it a deal breaker. It’s got a lot of soul to it, which is what I look for in a film. It “perks” out from the screen, like a living and breathing thing. That’s what you want.

So if you get a chance, by all means check this out, and while I’ve got your attention you can also check out his webpage. It’s quite worth a visit.

A Certain Kind of Monster
Mike Moring
22 mins

The story begins, like a lot of horror stories do, with a massive torrential rainstorm on a lonely stretch of road and a man driving through it in his car. Somewhere along the way, the man sees a hitchhiking girl. Not feeling right at just abandoning her to the night, he decides to pick her up. Since he’s a bit lonely, and she needs a place to sleep, he offers her the use of his couch for the night. She agrees, perhaps because she’s lonely too. They talk and share a bit about each other. Things eventually heat up a bit, and… well, it’s a short so this is about as much as I can say without saying too much.

At twenty-two minutes, it’s bit long for a short. However, it doesn’t feel it, so that’s okay. One thing of note is that the director has said this is basically the epilogue for a full length feature that he had envisioned, and that there’s some sort of indiestarter or kickgogo thing going on.

Normally, I’d be a bit wary being told this. It’s like having someone in a green van offer you candy and wine while you’re walking home from school. However, I liked …Monster. There’s a weight to the proceedings, it’s done with some style, it feels professional, and the story and dialogue work. Again, like I’ve said many times before when talking about independent films, the actors need to be more naturalistic and the director has to learn how to handle them better. That said, it’s not that bad. I’ve certainly seen much worse. The ending was certainly a bit wilder, actually a LOT wilder, than I expected and many kudos to the actors for their bravery. Most wouldn’t have had the balls that they did, and this sort of dedication should be applauded.

I especially liked the fact that – despite the ending – this is a drama with horror overtones, and not horror with dramatic pauses. Far too often movies feel the need to try and scare or disturb us, to the point where they forget about the story and characters. …Monster doesn’t do this, and I liked that, a lot. It’s not perfect, and everyone involved need to hone their skills a bit, but I see a lot of promise here. There’s a lot of raw talent on display and if there’s to be another episode from this story, then I look forward to seeing it.

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