London Short Film Festival: Midnight Movies
A selection of bite-sized horrors served up as is LSFF tradition: at (just about!) midnight. Expect hints of Under the Skin sprinkled with Stranger Things, zombies, vigilante social justice shapeshifters, witches and scientific experiments gone awry – all any horror lover needs
The Midnight Movies collection will be screening from 11:30pm on Friday 18th January and you can book your tickets right here
“A young woman’s secret rocks an isolated church community in this disturbing folk horror tale”
A quiet, atmospheric piece about religious fundamentalism and its punitive relationship with homosexuality feels like a contemplative slow burn until all of a sudden it isn’t. It’s beautifully shot, with a sort of pastoral calm that belies the horrific actions perpetrated by the eerie cult contained within. Repression and revenge are the order of the day in The Sermon, and there’s a sense of catharsis as the events play out, as twisted and violent as they may be. This more than many of the other films could probably sustain a feature-length running time, but as it stands The Sermon feels perfectly paced and narratively satisfying.
“A demonic presence closes in on a mother and her sick daughter and their only protection is a ring of salt.”
Salt, directed by Rob Savage, is the ultimate example of economical storytelling. Clocking in at just over two minutes, it nevertheless creates a narrative that is tense, action-packed, and compelling. In Salt, a mother fights to get her sick child out of the house to receive medical attention without breaking any of the salt barriers that protect them from a malevolent spirit. The good news is that if you find yourself holding breath for the entire time out of sheer terror, with such a short running time you’ll more than likely be OK.
All You Can Carry
“A young boy and his parents race against dawn to escape home as the reality beyond their scavenged life finally catches up with them.”
What’s immediately striking about All You Can Carry is the impressive amount of world building it accomplishes in just a few minutes. As we meet the father and son in their isolated farmhouse, a nightmare world is established – through the Spartan conditions they live in, the anxiety surrounding the mother’s absence to gather supplies, and the abject terror when she returns, hysterical, having sustained a mysterious wound on her arm. The urgency in which they prepare to flee develops very real stakes, even before we know what the actual threat is. But despite its virtues, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that is all a bit old hat, that we’ve seen this story play out many times before. The film still holds up, but this prevents it from reaching truly great heights.
“A young woman’s illness takes a disturbing turn.”
In Retch, a young woman stands by helplessly as her friend experiences a truly grotesque illness. As it stands, Retch serves as an opportunity to showcase incredible makeup and special effects, as the character’s gruesome transformation is the star of the show. The actress in question puts in an excellent physical performance that blends beautifully with the effects being used. Unfortunately, beyond the transformation, there isn’t a whole lot there, leaving Retch a wonderful calling card for its effects work but somewhat lacking as a complete film.
“Two scientists toss logic, reason, and the scientific method to the wind in favor of a “gut feeling” that their seemingly dangerous experiment will work.”
It’s a shame, really, because Gut Feeling seems to be inches away from working. Surrounding two eccentric scientists as they risk apocalyptic disaster in their latest experiments, there’s a silly sense of humor at play throughout the proceedings. But ultimately, the humor is a bit too broad, the actors are a touch inexperienced, and the story isn’t coherent enough to support even the film’s short length.
Who’s That at the Back of the Bus?
“Alone, on the top deck of the night bus, old lady Joyce is haunted by an unlikely apparition.”
What a ride! This surprising little film (one of the shorter in this block of films) blends legitimate suspense with an absurdist sense of humor in a way that immediately works. An elderly woman boards a bus late at night, only to see a mysterious figure in the windshield reflection. But when she looks back, nothing’s there. Very spooky indeed, and there’s a tension that ramps up beautifully throughout the film as the figure seems to get closer and closer every time she glances back. Wait until the end though – I guarantee you won’t see it coming!
And the Baby Screamed
“A father struggles to put a baby to sleep.”
This is a horror film that all parents should relate to. A father on baby duty attempts to sleep through the night, only to be repeatedly awoken by his baby’s cries. No matter what he does, this kid is determined to scream it out. So in a final act of exhaustion and desperation, he turns the baby monitor off. BAD MOVE NEVER TURN THE BABY MONITOR OFF. Nothing much of note happens for the majority of And the Baby Screamed, but the ending makes up for it – the final image is seared on my brain.
“The trap is set, the horror awaits… all you have to do is click!”
So I sort of feel like I’ve been trolled, and this entire short film is in itself clickbait. In the film, there’s a young man who makes a living by recording his day to day life and occasionally using misleading headlines to get people to click on his videos. But business isn’t exactly booming, and he finds himself feeling surprisingly vulnerable when his prospects become bleak. The lead performance in Clickbait is perhaps the best thing it has going for it – he’s charming, but is also clearly aware of how pathetic some of his content is. The film attempts to make a commentary on the nature of internet celebrities, but its choice to get clever with the ending instead of giving it some real pathos undercuts the message a bit. Still, credit for trying.
“Mary Jane is desperately trying to make real connections in a world dominated by social media.”
As though we all needed another reason to be wary of hookup apps. MJ tells the story of a slightly off young woman turned serial killer who uses Tinder as an opportunity to find convenient murder victims who will literally come to her. The action in the film is appropriate gruesome, and it ramps up effectively as she works herself into a killing frenzy. But while this is all inarguably clever and well-done, there’s a lack of attachment to any of the characters that prevents it from making much of an impression on audiences.
“A 90-second horror odyssey about a haircut.”
Toxic Haircut is brash, bold, and brief. As a man finds an advertisement for free haircuts, he ends up getting more than he bargained for. What I appreciate most about this film is its innovative sense of style. It feels bright and almost like a piece of pop art but is unrelentingly gruesome. (The whole “getting your ear lowered” expression is taken rather literally here.) It’s just a little snippet of a film but I look forward to seeing what director Bryan M. Ferguson will do in the future, having developed in such a short amount of time a clear, distinct visual style.
“Chan suffers from horrific nightmares involving the woman in the apartment next door, a Japanese office lady.”
Honestly, I’m not quite sure I got this one. There is a disturbing image where one of the women is lying on a couch sleeping, only for another to appear crouching above her. This will undoubtedly haunt my dreams. There is also a tremendous amount of food imagery, with characters eating in almost every scene, usually with closeups of their mouths in an incredibly off-putting way. If there was deeper subtext to all of this (and I’m sure there was), I found it fairly inaccessible and had trouble connecting to the material.
Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre
“One woman’s desperate struggle to survive a horde of men with frail egos, who just want to explain everything to her.”
After a woman crashes into a tree because her idiot husband decides to tickle her WHILE SHE’S DRIVING, she finds herself surrounded by a bunch of condescending menfolk who have such fragile male egos that the mere mention of feminism turns them into rage monsters. It’s a clever concept and there are genuinely funny moments, but it’s questionable in its execution. It feels more like a Saturday Night Live sketch that should last maybe three minutes rather than a fifteen-minute short film – there’s really just one joke here and it can only be told in so many ways.