2014 BLOOD IN THE SNOW CANADIAN FILM FESTIVAL: DAY 1

 

 

Doubling as the social media co-ordinator for 2014's The Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival as well as a press attendee, I arrived excitedly in Toronto on the festival's first day fully prepared to have a great time with a stacked weekend of horror flicks, but also fully prepared to be entirely dead by the end of the weekend. Checking out the list of films, I was excited to see that there were several pieces directed by women on the bill, as well as a myriad of other movies that seemed to ensure a balanced palate of the genre.

 

 

Berkshire County (screened with the short film Serpent's Lullaby)

 

The first full-length feature of the weekend seemingly promised to be an eerie home invasion tale that played with the stereotype that babysitters are basically always doomed for a rough night. Directed by Audrey Cummings, Berkshire County follows Kylie (played by Alysa King, who people should be keeping their eye out for), a seventeen-year-old girl who finds herself consumed by high school drama. She was cruelly tricked by Marcus, the quintessential jerk of anyone's teenage life (played by Aaron Chartrand, who puts on a great, infuriating and simultaneously hilarious performance) to do something that she was not comfortable with, and he exploits her choice ruthlessly. Stressed by the harsh words of her peers, she gets out for the evening by taking a babysitting job in the middle of the quiet county of Berkshire, where soon after she is stalked and repeatedly attacked by merciless killers wearing pig masks.

 

Berkshire County is not only laden with clever nods to the horror genre, it is also chock-full of smart symbolism that is subtle enough to not feel clunky or awkward but makes no attempts to be elusive or pretentious. This is also a sinisterly exciting example of a female-centric horror flick that solidifies that girls can play just as hard as the boys, and shatters the damsel-in-distress image.  I know for future reference that any time someone says to me that horror is an exclusively sexist genre; I will be bringing up Berkshire County as one of my main arguments against that.

 

Serpent's Lullaby, the first short to open the weekend, is a vibrant piece that seems to be heavily inspired by art house films of the past. Directed by Patricia Chica, Serpent's Lullaby follows a reclusive woman who has been haunted by the deaths of many throughout her life, and how she comes to terms with the burden that surrounds her. There is a heavy reliance on cinematography (pushing and pulling dramatic camera shots, use of colour, etc) over anything else, which is worthy of kudos, but due the fact that the short errs towards melodrama and remains relatively predictable, it falters overall.

 

Serpent's Lullaby

 

 

BLOOD IN THE SNOW SHORT FILM SHOWCASE

 

Damned Selfie

 

This is a playful short that follows one woman's arrival into Hell and how she got there through her own drastic misstep. Directed by Justin McConnell, Damned Selfie has funny dialogue that is worthy of honest laughter, and its unique spin on a standard premise makes it well worth the watch.

 

 

Insane

 

This short successfully feeds the need for an eerie, atmospheric ghost story in the showcase. Laden with frights and equipped with stunning CGI, it is a beautifully done piece, but due to some clichéd and predictable elements in the story, it does become slightly weaker. Overall, it is a good example of the talent of the crew and director Adam O'Brien, and in spite of its flaws, it is very enjoyable. 

 

The Makeover

 

I was not surprised when I heard through the grapevine that this short directed by Dara Jade Moats was initially intended to be a part of an ABC's of Death feature because it would have fit perfectly. It is only a few minutes long (if that), but it accomplishes so much in that time.  Following one woman's struggle to keep her life pristine when she has a slob for a boyfriend, The Makeover is vibrant, well shot and laugh-out-loud funny. 

 

Woods

 

My favourite short of the weekend, director Jon Hyatt steps in front of the camera as Richter, a man who is not only haunted by the disappearance of his wife, but crippled by it. He spends his days in a cottage surrounded by woods that he knows not to enter, and after an android is sent to him to help with his grief, matters escalate out of his control. Woods is a wonderfully atmospheric film that effectively keeps the audience tense throughout the entire piece. It is also exceptionally well acted by Hyatt and his co-star Amy Marie Wallace, who plays Richter's android. Although it is horror/sci-fi, it is incredibly subtle with a tight narrative that takes the audience for a creepy ride. Jon Hyatt is definitely a name to look out for in the future of horror. 

 

Massacre at Femur Creek

 

Playing with eighties horror tropes and typical camping-trip-gone-wrong scenarios, director Kyle Hytonen's Massacre at Femur Creek definitely accomplishes being an exercise in exploitation. It is ridiculous, poorly acted on purpose and sensational, which is where lovers of this short will derive their arguments for it, but if it was crafted with some semblances of subtlety, this piece could have been much stronger. Wit and inventiveness in narrative can live in harmony with dick jokes and slapstick if done properly, and because Femur Creek errs towards the latter, it weakens the piece. Although this is the case, it is still worthy of multiple laughs and has a unique and enjoyable aesthetic. 

 

Greater Than

 

Following a disgruntled ID forger who falls for an illegal immigrant with peculiar notions on love, Darryl Shaw's Greater Than is greater than the scope of a short film. Although it is definitely a unique and strange premise that it worthy of attention and praise, it feels as though the writer wanted to create a full-length feature, but tried to keep it in a smaller time slot. If it is expanded to full-length, it could take the opportunity to slowly unravel the relationship between the two main characters because it feels rushed in the amount of time given. It could also effectively establish the tone of the film, because there are moments of humour that feel inconsistent to the rest of it, and could be better weaved in with more time. Because of this, Greater Than is fairly inconsistent, too long for a short film, with too much going on to remain subtle or effective. 

 

Malleus Maleficarum

 

This short makes a valiant effort in establishing a narrative about a small town's undying old ways. Although a piece can very easily exist effectively without dialogue, the lack of such greatly hindered the short overall. Paired with acting that is not particularly strong, it is a confusing few minutes that doesn't bring anything new to the table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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