2018 Film Essays

Blood in the Snow Film Festival 2018: A Showcase for Shorts

Now in its seventh year, Toronto’s Blood in the Snow Film Festival prides itself on being a launching pad for Canada’s top new genre films. This year’s BITS included not only featured an eclectic mix of industry panels, it also boasted several unique showcases for short genre films. The Bloody Bits Showcase was a collection of 10 shorts, all varying in subject matter and style, but each equally interesting in its own way.

Although #Selfie is marked by low-budget production values and a straightforward concept, it manages to be intriguing in much the same way as 2013’s Lights Out: it capitalizes on primal fears. A young woman is taking selfies after brushing her teeth and notices something behind her in the photos. The trouble is she doesn’t notice until it’s too late. #Selfie doesn’t rely on a backstory or mythology, and that’s what makes it so effective at generating a spooky atmosphere.

Frostbite, which was created, directed and produced by a group of native children for a class project, underscores the idea that ingenuity and talent can be found anywhere. In this film, frostbite becomes anthropomorphized in the form of a furry puppet who looks something like the smaller offspring of Bumble from the Rankin/Bass Rudolph Christmas specials. While this might seem more cute than creepy on paper, voyeuristic camera shots of children walking through the snow-covered landscape indicate that these kids have a knack for not only creating a tension-filled mise-en-scène, but also understand how to build suspense through editing.

The term “genre” doesn’t always refer to horror, and that’s what Greater Good makes clear. It also shows how dystopian science fiction doesn’t always need to rely on elaborate set pieces or expensive special effects. A pregnant woman named Madeline Knight is shown making a scrapbook, including photos of herself and her husband as well as ultrasound images of her unborn child. She is interrupted by a representative from the Department of Future Crime accompanied by a young woman who appears to be a prisoner. It seems that in the future, Madeline’s daughter will grow up to commit a mass murder, but the incident can be avoided if the pregnancy is terminated. Madeline’s decision is made even more difficult by the fact that the prisoner is her daughter Ashleigh. Although the acting and dialogue feels a bit stiff at times, the concept is one that’s relevant to current discussions around genetic testing.

Santa’s Helper is another example of how the word “genre” can be flexible. A grumpy elf has been tasked with putting lumps of coal in the stockings of the kids who’ve been bad, but the tables turn when one of the kids drugs him, ties him to a chair and demands that he stick around to explain to her mother that he’s the one who broke the ceramic Santa statue. Good dialogue and casting ensure that this film’s attempt at black humor lands perfectly.

The Suburbanight is probably the least effective of all the films in the showcase. A woman named Aria is continually harassed by her neighbor Todd for not mowing her lawn. Aria takes her frustration out on her young son Stewart by insisting that he won’t be able to watch TV until he feeds their guinea pigs and finishes his homework. As Stewart keeps asking about dinner, Aria becomes more exasperated. As it turns out, Stewart is a vampire. In order to get revenge upon Todd for bothering them, Aria lets Stewart kill Todd for his dinner. The film’s admittedly interesting concept would work better if the audience were allowed to feel any sympathy for the characters. Instead, they just come across as cruel and annoying.

Sometimes a short film isn’t long enough to explore a fascinating idea, and that’s the case with Hunting Season. A recovering alcoholic named Cassie works late nights in a gas station convenience store while the rest of the town ventures out to collect a $10,000 reward for killing a bear that has allegedly slaughtered townspeople. While it’s clear that Cassie is seen as somewhat of a pariah in the town, the eventual reveal that the murderous bear is actually a unicorn feels jarring. The camera work and acting is excellent, but there just isn’t quite enough time to develop the characters in a way that makes the transition from drama to metaphorical fantasy work as well as it could.

Quiet Room Bears starts off strong, but eventually becomes a bit of a narrative mess when it tries to over explain things. Simon is painting his daughter’s room while his family is out of town and discovers a stuffed teddy bear that seems out of place. Soon, he starts having disturbing visions and hearing malevolent voices; they seem to be coming from the bear. He begins to lose his grip on reality and is transported to a mental asylum where he begins to cut off parts of his own body in order to make a kind of human/teddy bear hybrid. The special effects are outstanding and incredibly grisly, but the film would work better if viewers were left wondering what was real and what was delusion.

A more successful execution is found in That’s Not Me. Like #Selfie, it taps into primal fears. A woman named Katie has fallen asleep on the sofa and wakes up to a knock at the front door. It turns out to be her friend Amber who seems troubled and asks to be let in because she’s lost her phone. Katie’s cell phone then rings, and when she notices it’s Amber calling, she is confused. To make things worse, the Amber on the phone begs Katie not to let in the other Amber and urges her to leave the house as soon as possible. The hoary concept of a “dream within a dream” feels fresh here thanks to atmospheric lighting and music as well as realistic acting. That’s Not Me allows the audience to buy into the concept without needing to know why these doppelgangers exist in the first place.

Supine is exquisitely crafted on all levels. Taking place in the scenic French countryside, the 25-minute film follows Sylvie, a taxidermist who lives an isolated life. She seems content to carry on conversations with her inanimate animal companions, but things rapidly change when she encounters Oz, an American hitchhiker suffering from a terminal illness. Instead of turning Sylvie into the victim, the film flips the script and makes Sylvie into the predator. Where a longer movie might have delved too far into the “crazy woman” stereotype, Supine allows just enough time for ambiguity and, eventually, sympathy.

He Likes It Rough is the standout film in this shorts showcase, one in which the acting, camerawork, framing, production design, dialogue and editing coalesce into something genuinely thrilling to witness. The film offers its backstory through cleverly plotted visuals which helps the audience fully invest in the narrative as it unfolds. A woman comes home from a night out and cries as she sinks to the floor. When a bloody cut on her lip comes into view, it becomes apparent that’s she’s been assaulted, and the title is then construed as darkly ironic. The visual effects are well-executed which helps the film transition seamlessly and believably from a drama into a supernatural revenge thriller. He Likes It Rough successfully exploits the current witchcraft zeitgeist in a way that feels timely.

While not every film in this BITS shorts showcase completely hits its mark, each has something to offer. It’s refreshing to see this array of talent on display from Canadian creators. Toronto genre fans would do well to check out what Blood in the Snow brings to the cinematic table.

Leslie Hatton (@popshifter) is a Fannibal, an animal lover, a music maven and a horror movie junkie. She created and managed Popshifter from 2007 – 2017, and also contributes to Biff Bam Pop, Diabolique Magazine, Everything Is Scary, Modern Horrors, Rue Morgue and more.