The international shorts on offer at this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival are among the strongest of the entire lineup. From a bizarre reunion with a lost family member to a futuristic Thai cyberpunk dystopia, these films comprise a dark, unconventional, and undeniably memorable experience. Here are our thoughts on the International Shorts Showcase.
- Fuk’n Nuts
- The Heritage
- The Old Young Crow
- Original Skin
- Toad Boy
- Wayward Gods
Apotemnofilia is a Spanish body horror short, written and directed by Jano Pita. It is opening night, the theater is crowded and Clara, the leading actress, refuses to leave her dressing room. Something inside her is keeping her from leaving, something she will have to face.
A viscerally brutal depiction of body dysmorphia, Apotemnofilia has an incredibly strong fixation on, surprisingly, apotemnofilia (now referred to as body integrity identity disorder). Our main protagonist’s sudden descent into this real mental condition delivers some magnificently graphic depictions of body horror and self-mutilation, fully displaying this gory imagery for all to discern. Additionally, these gory visuals are all attained through impressive practical effects, exhibiting a disturbingly high level of production value throughout the short.
Butterscotch is an American horror short, written and directed by Alexander Deeds. A young Bully bites off more than he can chew when he bullies the wrong Old Man in a nursing home.
Unique and effective, Butterscotch offers a refreshing example of style over substance. Containing zero dialog, all aspects of the short’s basic narrative are concisely relayed to the audience through proficient environmental storytelling. The short’s horror aspect is both unexpected and potent, delivering an amazingly uncomfortable experience at times. Being effectuated with CGI, the effects feature amazing detail and successfully produce a disconcerting uncanny valley effect.
Crushxd is an American stop-motion animation short, directed by Abraham El-Makawy and Alex Futtersak. The short acts as a music video to the latest song released by the Brooklyn-based rock group Crumb.
Mostly known for creating prog and psychedelic rock, the short is a sufficient visual representation of the band’s trippy audio. Whilst having little narrative, the Visuals still convey a contemporary tale that, whilst not matching the audio track, is still an ample accompaniment of bizarre and mind-bending imagery that’s sure to ensnare the attention of those watching.
Fuk’n Nuts is a 2023 American surrealist horror comedy short film, written and directed by Sam Fox. Sandy is a melancholy teenager who lives at home with her abnormal parents. She has finally met the boy of her dreams, the kind and sincere Dan Deakins. Unfortunately, Dan has fallen for Sandy too, and he wants to get close to her, he wants to meet her family. The problem is Sandy’s parents are strange and they’ve frightened off every boy, friend, and schoolmate that Sandy has ever brought home. In order to stave off the heartbreak of losing the boy she loves, Sandy makes the difficult decision to break it off with Dan… but disaster strikes when he shows up at her house unannounced to declare his love.
Check out our full review of Fuk’n Nuts here.
The Heritage is a British body horror short, written and directed by Andrew Rutter with additional writing from Chris Butler. A man makes a gargantuan discovery when meeting his biological father for the first time.
Sickening, engrossing, and darkly comedic, The Heritage is a tour-de-force of awkward social encounters, revolting gross-out elements, and insulting cups of tea. With an astonishing performance from Bruce Jones (Les Battersby off Corrie for my fellow Brits), his repulsive presentation is only a slight resemblance to his degenerate personality and is the short’s driving force. The effects, whilst obviously made on a budget, are still stomach-churning, to say the least, possibly being too much for those unprepared for what they’re about to witness.
Nap is a Spanish horror short, directed by Javier Chavanel. Four people are about to undergo a dangerous experiment. The rules are simple: sleep if you want to live.
Enigmatic from start to finish, Nap certainly holds its cards close to its chest—never truly revealing the grand scheme of its design. Why their experiments are being held and what they could accomplish is somewhat dangled in front of the audience just out of grasp, forever keeping them in the same sense of ignorance as the protagonists. Suffering from Insomnia myself (I didn’t write this and 3 a.m. and you can’t prove anything), the concept of being forced to sleep under threat of suffering “the immediate consequences” is rather terrifying. As one of the test subjects, Pantzer, experiences this inability to sleep, the visuals provide an unsettlingly accurate depiction of this experience that is uncanny, to say the least.
The Old Young Crow
The Old Young Crow is a supernatural short, written and directed by Liam Lopinto. Mehrdad, now an elderly man, reflects on his time in Tokyo as a boy after his mother’s passing. He recalls an encounter with an elderly woman named Chiyo at a graveyard near his school. Through his childhood sketchbook, he recounts the tale of her mysterious disappearance as his childhood memories come to life.
Created with a blend of live-action footage and hand-drawn animation, The Old Young Crow is a beautiful blending of the two mediums. Whilst the story’s focus is on the supernatural, an incredibly somber tone is implemented over a horror-focused narrative—providing a bittersweet conclusion to this captivating, deep tale of isolation and loss.
Original Skin is a British sci-fi short, written by Eve Hedderwick Turner and directed by Mdhamiri Á Nkemi. In an alternate reality where having sex entails switching bodies with the other person, a young woman challenges the taboo of swapping in her enclosed, religious community.
Featuring some insanely trippy visuals and an intense use of sound, Original Skin offers up an untraditional approach to sexuality and challenging societal norms. With an amazing performance from both Sorcha Groundsell and Olive Grey, the short creates an intriguing alternate reality where the consequences of sexual activities are easily discernable rather than an aspect of our private lives. However, the story is hardly self-explanatory, with any audience member unaware of the narrative’s overall plot may be left slightly befuddled by the lack of solidified fact.
Toad boy is an American horror short, written and directed by Phillip J. Mclaughlin with additional writing from Hillary Rust. Todd is different and the other kids at school have noticed. After a run-in with several bullies, Todd stops showing up for classes and his Principal grows concerned. The administrator calls on Todd’s sister to facilitate an intervention with the troubled boy but quickly learns the help Todd needs may require a sacrifice he’s unwilling to make.
Centering around one of the most relatable aspects of young life, bullying, Toad Boy certainly explores the dangers of this worldwide epidemic as well as the imperishable bonds of family. While these aspects are blown far beyond any of the point of relatability, their general themes still manage to hit home empathetically. Whilst the story’s twist is unexpected, featuring some impressive effects, the short hardly acknowledges the sibling’s end goal in their abhorrent creation—leaving an air of ambiguity over the short as a whole.
Wayward Gods is a Thai CGI sci-fi short, written and directed by Nate Pantumsinchai. In a Futuristic Cyberpunk Thailand, a lone warrior must battle both his own karma and the forces of evil, without using violence.
A congenial blend of Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within (2001), Tokyo Ghostwire, and Cyberpunk 2077, Wayward Gods certainly sets up a great deal of intrigue for such a short runtime. Neglecting any spoken dialog, the short’s main plot remains shrouded in mystery—relying on its incredibly slick visuals to do the majority of the heavy lifting. However, being promised that this is only episode one, I am inquisitive to see how Nate continues this story and how fleshed out it will become.
We watched these short films at Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2023
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Hey there, I’m Jim and I’m located in London, UK. I am a Writer and Managing Director here at Grimoire of Horror. A lifelong love of horror and writing has led me down this rabbit hole, allowing me to meet many amazing people and experience some truly original artwork. I specialise in world cinema, manga/graphic novels, and video games but will sometime traverse into the unknown in search of adventure.