“SMALL GAUGE TRAUMA, Fantasia Fest’s annual showcase of cutting-edge horror shorts from around the world, returns with eight slices of dread that will stun you senseless.”
DAWN OF THE DEAF — Directed by Rob Savage
The most remarkable entry in the showcase belongs to Rob Savage. His Dawn of the Deaf showcases the very best of what a short film can do, setting up a simple premise and running wild with it. Dawn of the Deaf follows a group of deaf individuals — a young woman being sexually abused by her father, a couple who are in the midst of a quarrel, a man receiving an award at a ceremony — and takes its time tipping its hand. Savage cuts from one moment to next, giving the effect that we’re casually popping into the lives of these people. Through it all, the filmmaker cleverly relies on sound (or lack thereof) to put us inside the world of these people. There are also several neat visual tricks, such as when two deaf women are having a heated conversation in sign language: Savage’s camera maintains a constant loop around them, orbiting them, and every time the camera line gets out of the actresses’ hands, the subtitles used to translate the sign language grow obscured, cutting us out of the conversation in the process. This is all leading to a horrifying conclusion that’s revealed in the most deliciously devious manner — the camera slowly pulling back from the two women in their heated conversation, revealing something they’re both unaware of due to their deafness. Dawn of the Deaf is a must-see.
THE PUPPET MAN — Directed by Jacqueline Castel
More obsessed with style over substance, Jacqueline Castle’s The Puppet Man drops a group of rowdy friends into the bar from hell and lets the blood fly. The Puppet Man is a touch confusing due to choices in editing, but Castle bathes her short in garish reds and blues that recall Suspiria, and blankets it all with a energetic soundtrack from the one and only John Carpenter (most of the music appears on his Lost Themes albums). Carpenter himself makes a cameo appearance as a cab driver impatiently smoking a cigarette, so keep an eye out for him in all his sedentary glory. A bit more coherent plotting into the story, and into the legend of the titular “Puppet Man”, would’ve benefited this short greatly, but it has enough stylish thrills to hold your attention.
KING RIPPLE — Directed by Luke Jaden
Feeling like an extension of the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life”, Luke Jaden’s King Ripple is the tale of a man who can conjure up whatever he wants from his mind. He’s built himself an entire abandoned city in Detroit, and all he wants is to be left alone in it. Of course, the outside world can’t have that, and people keep trying to sneak their way into King Ripple’s world. This is a great set-up, and Jaden employs some wonderful visual effects to highlight King Ripple’s powers. But King Ripple is more a series of ideas than an actual story, and the film suffers because of it.
MERIDIANS — Directed by Blake Rice
A young woman goes to an acupuncture appointment and gets more than she bargained for in Blake Rice’s subtle, unsettling Meridians. Performance is key here: even before anything unnerving has occurred there’s an unmistakable air of menace at play here, heightened by the performance of Ellen Yuen as the acupuncturist. Even when maintaining a pleasant attitude there’s clearly something amiss, and Yuen nails the slightly skewed mood of the character perfectly. A jarring, unmelodic score by Kurt Bauer underlayers it all, resulting in an brief, atmospheric nightmare of a film.
EVELESS — Directed by Antonio Padovan
Two men toil away in a grungy location, surrounded by scientific equipment. A slow pan-back reveals a twist: one of the men is pregnant. That’s the set-up for Antonio Padovan’s nasty Eveless, set in a world where women have gone extinct. The less known about Eveless the better, but Padovan’s film is suitably unpleasant — you can practically feel the dirt forming under your fingernails as you watch this thing.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF WILLIE BINGHAM — Directed by Matt Richards
A tale that would right at home on Black Mirror, Matt Richards’ The Disappearance of Willie Bingham follows a convicted rapist/murderer and the cruel and unusual punishment he endures as a result. Richards’ film has its tongue firmly in its cheek, creating a darkly comedic freakshow. Kevin Dee, as the eponymous character, balances two sides of Willie Bingham — the creepy convicted killer against the sympathetic capital punishment victim — nicely.
A NEARLY PERFECT BLUE SKY — Directed by Quarxx
Simon is a loner. He has no real friends at his clock-punching job, and his manager clearly has a beef with him. Simon drifts through his life, engaging in cryptic behavior at and around his large, run-down farm. But Simon is not alone: he’s caring for his disabled sister, and he’s also in the process of trying to contact some individuals who are, let’s say, out of this world. Director Quarxx’s A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky has style to spare, and it leads to a truly disturbing conclusion. But there’s too much dead air here — it’s one thing to take your time and build atmosphere, it’s another to feel as if your film is treading water. Handsomely made and overall unsettling, there’s enough to A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky to whet the appetites of genre fans, even if it is a bit empty in the end.
BREAK MY BONES — Directed by Anthony Collamati
The second-best film in the series (after Dawn of the Deaf), Anthony Collamati’s Break My Bones is a gothic delight, full of dread-inducing camera angles coupled with slow-motion and slow-zooms galore. A young girl diagnosed with cancer learns to come to terms with her illness by having conversations with an elderly neighbor…and his hidden-away wife. Break My Bones is a shock to the system — the film is nasty, in the best possible way. “Are you old enough to hate yourself?” the old man asks the young girl at one point, and the question hangs there in the dusty air, weighing down on both the characters and the audience alike. Never overstaying its welcome, Break My Bones builds to a chillingly realized conclusion that seeps into your skin and stays there.