Medium-Sized Horror Bites From BITS 2023
We are thrilled to be reviewing features and shorts for the Blood In The Snow film festival again this year, and offer here our thoughts on the Mournful Mediums, the closing day lineup of short films presented in theatre on Saturday, November 24, 2023. BITS is one of Canada’s largest horror-themed film festivals and is known for supporting small and independent Canadian production teams.
White Noise (2023) Director Tamara Scherbak – run time 16:54
White Noise will be a very difficult watch for anyone living with sound processing disorders. The film perfectly demonstrates both the panic that sound hyper-sensitivity creates, and the total lack of compassion and understanding sufferers are given by medical professionals. Ava (Bahia Watson) is a student who has to wear noise-cancelling headphones to function anywhere in public. Her doctor tells her the only treatment is exposure therapy, which she tries. When that fails, she asks for a referral to an experimental anechoic chamber at an undisclosed university. What follows for her is a full cycle of relief, the realization that her panic will find any noise to react to including her own heartbeat, and a desperate act to find peace.
Director Tamara Scherbak either lives with a sound processing disorder or knows someone who does because this film hits way too close to reality. Invisible illnesses are real, and Scherbak used every subtle trick to immerse any neurotypical viewer in the hell that is Misophonia. Sounds are layered and amplified exactly as sufferers hear them, and Ava’s physical reactions to them are palpable. Thankfully, any sounds of mastication were avoided in the film, but many will be triggered. For those who are not, please share White Noise as a means of educating the population about this debilitating condition.
Solitary (2023) Director Maninder Chana – run time 16:59
Solitary is the horrifically heart-wrenching retelling of Biro Brant’s true experience in Afghanistan in 1994. Jag Dhaliwal plays Tarlock Singh Bant, a Sikh prisoner of war trapped in solitary confinement in a Mujahideen camp after the end of Desert Storm. American soldiers kill everyone in the camp on the day they are set to abandon it, but Bant miraculously survives. He knows from an overheard conversation via walkie that the camp is going to be decimated in one hour, but he’s been shot and can’t get out of his holding cell. He prays feverishly to Guru Nanak and God as he struggles to escape.
Written and directed by Maninder Chana, this film is entirely driven by Dhaliwal’s performance. Chana uses the natural setting of the lightless stone cell and the sounds of American soldiers talking on the outside to perfectly set the scene and educate viewers about the truth behind the American occupation in the Middle East, but Dhaliwal’s emotional performance is so powerful, it’s impossible to look away from the screen. Jag Dhaliwal deserves many awards for his role in this film and an abundant future in the film industry.
Cold (2023) Director Liz Whitmere – run time 20:00
Cold is writer/director Liz Whitmere’s brilliant take on one woman’s experience with turning 40. Alison (Melanie Scrofano) is a neat freak, who on her 40th birthday realizes that she is so cold, she needs to take a sick day. Even with the thermostat cranked and extra sweaters piled on, se’s freezing. When her husband Theo (Sean Baek) comes home for her birthday dinner, he presents her with an underwhelming cupcake and acts like there is something wrong with her. Over the course of the next few days, Alison goes to see her doctor to find out why she’s so cold, and he tells her it’s early menopause and prescribes her antidepressants. When her friends come to visit, they tell her she looks great, and that what she’s experiencing can be fixed with a bottle of moisturizer.
But Alison isn’t okay. Her body is decomposing, her joints failing, and she cannot feel positive emotions. It’s what a lot of us over 40 deal with, and telling us that there is nothing wrong with us just dehumanizes our experiences even more. Whitmere does a fantastic job using subtle cues to invite viewers to walk a day in Alison’s shoes, feeling misunderstood, underdiagnosed, and placated rather than heard. Alison’s slow decomposition was very well done, showing us Alison’s quickly failing self-esteem, the absolute madness that no one around her sees what she’s going through, and the lengths women will go to in order to “act normal”, regardless of the horrors they are living with.
Cold Light (2023) Director Rogelio Rodriguez – run time 17:40
Cold Light begins as a slasher horror and ends as something not often seen in the horror genre. This short follows the story of Lucy (Aria DeMaris), a young woman who has been captured by a crazy old man, bound to a chair with wire, tipped into the back of his pickup truck, and driven to the middle of nowhere. He digs a hole, intending to bury her, but against all odds, she is rescued. Gabe (Kareem Malcolm) was miraculously nearby, “hunting strange creatures”, and shot the good old farmer dead. Lucy seems grateful until the sun comes up.
Rodriguez does a great job building the mystery in this film, dropping hints both within the script and with the use of light and particular background music to make the viewers question what they are watching. Is it a slasher? Is it aliens? You’ll have to watch to the very end to find out! The writing is excellent and well-paced, keeping the viewer engaged and guessing until he’s ready for the big reveal. More viewers than not will be driven to the internet to look up a few things that Cold Light plays at, but does not fully explain. While Rodriguez’s use of light absolutely works to his advantage in the storytelling, there are multiple scenes that are washed out with poorly angled shots that cause light flares to blur the screen for extended periods. Without those flares, Cold Light would be a solid 5 stars.
Get Away (2022) Director Michael Gabriele – run time 15:25
Writers Michael Gabriele and Anthony Jefferson take us on a fun ride into the desert with Get Away (2022). Three young women travel the dusty roads of the American south to spend the weekend at a remote cabin in the hills. Of course, there’s no cell service, and of course, the only entertainment they can find is an old VCR and a single VHS tape: Desert Dwellers III. The tape quickly becomes the focal point of the plot, bending and twisting reality like a funhouse mirror maze. Laurie (Erika Lane Enggren), Nancy (Steph Martinez), and Alice (Lisa Jacqueline Starrett) know they’re in trouble when the film opens with a scene shot in the very cabin they’re staying in. When the landline phone rings, though, things go from “wtf” to “RUN!”. Unfortunately, they can’t. They’re stuck in the movie they’re watching, and there’s no escape.
It’s an interesting premise, but the story is not unique. It’s crafted around the talent of its cast and excellent layering/mirroring skills, however, and delivers a satisfying horror short. The pacing is strong, and there is no frivolous dialogue dragging the scenes out. With tight editing and camera work, Get Away is easily one of the more professional indie shorts in festival line ups this year. What it lacks in uniqueness, it more than makes up for with a solid cast, tight writing, and good old fun.
We watched these short films at Blood In The Snow Film Festival 2023.
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Kate’s love of all things dark began as a child and deepened when she realized what being an adult meant. She was born with a pencil in her hand and loves nothing more than writing horrific stories to tantalize her inner demons. Kate lives in Hamilton, Ontario Canada with her husband and her boys, stirring up trouble wherever she can.