I had the opportunity to watch a number of the shorts that will be screening at Fantastic Fest over the next week. Fantastic Fest doesn't hold shorts-only screenings; instead, short films are shown before most features. I tend to prefer it that way. Pairing shorts with features gives the impression of a bonus for your money, a little extra treat. Plus, I don't like watching too many shorts back-to-back -- I want to give individual short films the space and time they deserve.

I couldn't watch and review every single short (or feature, for that matter) playing at the festival this year -- there are too many and I haven't yet figured out how to clone myself for film festivals. For competition purposes, the short films at Fantastic Fest are grouped into three categories: animation, horror, and "fantastic shorts," which includes sf/fantasy/thrillers or anything else not covered in the other two categories. I tried to sample a few shorts from each category.

Ange (Angel)

Ange is a creepy live-action short from Belgium about a young man who repairs and restores dolls. He attends a circus sideshow one day and becomes taken with the "fallen angel" -- a young woman with spinal deficiencies who is perpetually locked in a metal brace. The filmmakers take advantage of the fact that dolls, especially in quantity, are automatically spooky, and builds upon that in a suspenseful way. You can watch a trailer, which I found through our friends at Twitch. Screens before The Beautiful Beast.

The Bird, the Mouse, and the Sausage

This odd little tale seemed like an original story to me, but it's in fact faithful to its source, one of Grimm's fairy tales. A child narrates the story of the partnership among a bird, a mouse and a sausage (the sausage has spindly arms and legs), and what happens when one member becomes dissatisfied with his lot. The animation style is stop-motion and reminded me a little of the style seen in Blood Tea and Red String, which played Fantastic Fest in 2006. I particularly liked the rendering of the sausage and of a large dog that makes a brief appearance. Screens before Exte: Hair Extensions.

Everything Will Be OK


The latest film from animator Don Hertzfeldt is as surreal and fascinating as the animator's previous short films. This short focuses on one character's descent from "normal" life into ... something else. Hertzfeldt's characters are glorified stick figures, but occasional bursts of color and richer animation styles appear briefly. The characters and events are isolated in small windows of activity, surrounded by darkness. While this isn't as visually spectacular as Hertzfeldt's The Meaning of Life, which I caught at SXSW in 2005, and it seems long (for an animated short) at 17 minutes, it is still worth seeing. When I stopped trying to overthink the film, stopped waiting for the ending, and let the images just wash over me, I enjoyed the film. Screens before The Rug Cop.

The Faeries of Blackheath Woods

This is a "short short" -- only about four minutes long, but plenty of time to set up some great atmosphere. A little girl on a picnic runs away to the woods to hunt for fairies, and gets more than she bargained for. The supernatural creatures in this live-action short from the UK are designed in a simple and natural way that is most effective. You don't mess around with the fairy folk, kids. Screens before Death Note.

An Introduction to Lucid Dream Exploration

Most of the animation in this film is styled to look like it is being created on an Etch-a-Sketch, very quickly, in front of our eyes. In fact, after reading about the film, I learned the art was actually created on an Etch-a-Sketch, which is amazing. I didn't wholly understand the film -- obviously the main character is caught in a lucid dream experience, where you are aware that you're dreaming and try to control the dream. However, it's only four minutes long, so focus on the visuals and don't worry about interpretation. You can watch a clip here. Screens before Retribution.

Maquina

A young woman is assaulted and subjected to a mysterious implant. But once she learns more about what's happening to her body, her attitude changes. The goriest parts of this primarily live-action film are portrayed in an almost cutesy 1930s style of animation, but it's still not for the squeamish (although I liked it and I'm squeamish, so go figure). I'm wondering how many guys will be able to stay in the theater after the scene with the carrot. The lack of dialogue, and of any music until about halfway through the film, only adds to the suspense and ultimate horror. Screens before Uncle's Paradise.

The Tale of How

A story is told within this short film (pictured at top), but I never quite understood it -- the lyrics in the narrating song seemed more like nonsense to me. Plus, I was far too involved with the visuals to pay enough attention to the sound. The Tale of How looks like an elaborate children's picture book, the kind that you later get in trouble for giving your niece because the strange images gave her bad dreams. It's only four minutes long, so you don't have time to wonder about the plot much. Currently available on YouTube, if you're not attending the festival. Screens before Moebius Redux: A Life in Pictures.

Keep an eye out for a second installment of Fantastic Fest shorts reviews, which should be appearing in the next couple of days.