The Final Girls Berlin Film Festival returned for its second year, running from 9-11 June 2017, and was again victorious in its offering of female-oriented horror films, ranging from the acclaimed anthology XX (2017) to explorations of obsession in In My Skin (2017). The festival boasts some impressive shorts, showcasing themes like revenge, parental issues, and, my personal favorite, body horror. In fact, we were able to take a peek at some of the films in the lineup for this year’s Body Horror short block. Grab some popcorn – and chicken wings if you’re really brave – and snuggle up with some of these excellent short features.
Paint the Town Red (directed by Ariel Hansen & Christopher Graham, Canada, 2017)
Paint the Town Red packs a great cautionary tale into its five-minute runtime. Friends Andie (Allison Klause) and Josephine (Ariel Hansen, who also co-directed) score tickets to a new club. Sounds innocent enough, except the club seems a little odd… and the other revellers seem a bit eager to get a piece of the fresh meat…
The nice part about this short is that it’s not boring in the least. Some short films leave you waiting for a lurking punch around the corner, which can make an audience member antsy. Hansen and her co-director, Christopher Graham, employ three aspects to keep us moving right along: a gorgeous setting, normal faces, and a steady soundtrack. The film’s club scenes are balanced by two characters to which we can relate: Andie and Josephine are eager for something fun, and they happen to look like a lot of us. Had they been portrayed by aching model types too cool for the screen, we wouldn’t connect with them as much, but they look and react like us – it’s far easier to place ourselves in their shoes. The synthesizer soundtrack employed by the directors – Black Magique’s “Fashion Kills” and “Red Curtain (Instrumental)” – adds to the hypnotic tone of seduction, whether it’s by a new experience or the lull of a predator before the final swoop. The result: the audience is engaged and a bit shaken.
The beauty of this piece of body horror is the notion of an ordinary situation suddenly turning into something which literally threatens to rip you apart limb from limb. Hansen and Graham directed a short that understands the core mechanics of successful horror: take a normal situation, give it a twist, then add both psychological reeling and blood. One could easily argue that this film is a metaphor for dating or the loss of control due to date-rape drugs. I say it fulfils the aim of body horror: it makes you question the normal world while fearing for your bodily well-being.
Fish Out of Water (directed by Kirsten Carthew, Canada, 2015)
Oh, Canada. It’s not bad enough that you make me want to come visit, what with your Disney Prince prime minister, awesome national pastime of hockey, and promises of poutine. Now you have to provide thoughtful body horror think pieces too? I think you’re trying to lure me in, Canada. You are trying to lure me in.
Speaking of lures, that’s one of the main plot points here. A woman (Mira Hall) wanders a frozen, barren wasteland of an environment, ice-fishing with hockey sticks rigged with bells. During her routine of ice fishing, she encounters a child (Ella Bertelsen), who might be a bit more than she can chew.
Carthew does something incredible with Fish Out of Water: she makes us think it won’t be body horror at first. We’re so lost in the mounds of snow, the struggle for survival, and the isolation of our nameless protagonist that we’re not thinking about what could jump out – it’s bleak, and in a sense, soothing. Composer Mike White’s score enhances this feeling, so much that when we’re hit with the body horror itself, we’re left entranced rather than recoiling. It’s like staring at the lure of an anglerfish in the dark depths: we’re so entranced that we don’t realize we’re about to be devoured.
In an instant, Carthew’s short film goes from a comment on the very real issue of a desolate environment filled with doom to one of evolution and biological fitness for survival. For someone who thrives on film analysis, this short film makes me want to write an entire article deconstructing it. Fish Out of Water is definitely worth the nine minutes for its style and themes. I hope someone throws money at Carthew because I want her to tell more stories.
Innsmouth (directed by Izzy Lee, United States, 2015)
I’ll be honest, this is not the first Izzy Lee film I’ve seen. However, Lee’s 2015 effort Innsmouth is consistent with the other works I’ve viewed: Lee knows how to establish tone and dialogue with style, often with a focus on the female experience. She remains an enjoyable treasure.
Innsmouth is a special piece of Lovecraftian lore, which means it’s equal parts fish and body horror. Beginning with a murder – and featuring a cameo by director Lee – the plot unfolds as Detective Olmstead (Diana Porter) travels to the titular town to unravel a bizarre murder case. There, she encounters Alice Marsh (Tristan Risk), who may hold the key to the mystery.
The body horror in Innsmouth is far more overt than the other offerings in this category for the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival, but it’s nonetheless searing and powerful. Lee packs a lot into ten minutes of film: there’s Lovecraft, lesbianism, and a sense of professional duty. Her body horror goes straight for loss of control in the face of a supernatural, seductive force. It combines the natural with the unnatural in a manner that’s simultaneously creative and terror-inducing. Lee’s got a great knack for viewing the uncomfortable and not flinching. It’s a bit of a staring contest: whoever looks away first loses. Give Innsmouth a try to see if you can beat it.
I Want You Inside Me (directed by Alice Shindelar, United States, 2016)
The tagline of Alice Shindelar’s I Want You Inside Me is “a tale of all-consuming desire.” Shindelar isn’t whistling “Dixie” when it comes to her short film’s tagline, in relationship to its themes.
Shy young C.J. (Abigail Wahl) meets and seemingly has a one-night stand with a man. It’s a classic scene we’ve witnessed before: young girl gets humped and dumped in short order. However, C.J. keeps getting phone calls from her paramour. Weird phone calls.
I Want You Inside Me comes from a script by Alex Cannon, who crafts the familiar tale of sex and fickle relationships in a fashion that’s relatable and probably a bit too real for anyone who’s ever dated a jerk. However, Cannon and Shindelar work together to create a growing sense of unease, which is nothing to sniff at – we know that something’s not quite right, and the payoff is pretty satisfying for those of us who enjoy both commentary and the visuals. Without spoiling anything, I want to praise the efforts of Adam Teninbaum and Adam Bailey, who performed the visual and special effects, respectively. Their work allowed a pretty common theme – expression of female sexual enjoyment – to take on a new facet. Definitely worth checking out.
Until next year, Final Girls Berlin Film Festival. Can’t wait to see what you have in store. For more information, please visit www.finalgirlsberlin.neocities.org.