Arrow’s Horror Lockdown Short Film Competition

On 19 June, Arrow Video announced a short horror film competition, to see what budding filmmakers could make in the space of 1 month using whatever limited resources were available to them. Ten finalists were selected from the entrants, all of a high standard, and the results were announced yesterday. I’d forgotten all about this due to my MIFF viewing, so this morning I caught up on nine of the ten films. (Sadly, William Allum’s “Night Feed” wasn’t available to view.) You can find all of the available films below, followed by my reactions. I’ve tried not to give away too much, but there will inevitably be spoilers in what I’ve written.

Insecticide (4:38) by Bryan M. Ferguson

Claustrophobic B&W cinematography, strongly informed by fear of infection – the female protagonist cleans obsessively with bleach and has created a sealed environment within her own home. She reacts with fear to the presence of a stranger outside her home and increases her level of personal protection, including the use of aerosol cans with a lighter to create a flamethrower. The stranger seeps through the gaps in her home like a liquid black infection. Harsh, rapid electronic sonic assaults convey the protagonist’s panic. A strongly realised piece.

The Garden (5:01) by Ian Cottage

More B&W with lots of close-ups of insects. A mother and daughter communicate over zoom due to covid-19 lockdowns. The daughter wants to see her mother in person, and becomes more insistent as her mother increasingly deflects or avoids that aspect of the conversation. Her father is conspicuously absent from both the calls and any of the other scenes filmed in the mother’s house. The final sequence of fast edits moving in on the mother’s head to convery her mental agitation is particularly effective.

The Wedding Ritual (2:18) by Aleksandr Chitrenko

Short and very creepy but packs a punch. A bride tied to tree in forest is suddenly surrounded by multiple sheeted figures. The sheets begin to drop away, leaving nothing in their wake, until tshe is confronted with the unnatural twisted evil-clown grin of her reflection, which steals her face. It’s a disturbingly effective film which can be viewed as depicting a bride’s fear of losing her identity under the mask of performative happiness in her impending marriage.

UnTooned (1:00) by Ken Cohen

Straight-to-camera Youtube confessional style video hosted by cheery normal-looking woman talking about her crush on a cartoon character and her new boyfriend’s willing agreement to have plastic surgery to resemble him (with disturbing results).

A Date with Death (4:06) by Tom Hughes

Accomplished homage to the giallo, recreating the sound and look of the genre impeccably. The female protagonist is dubbed into Italian (with subtitles); her ring tone is adapted from Goblin’s theme for Suspiria; the killer who has invaded her home wears black leather gloves. There are vibrantly coloured close-ups of flowers contrasted with dead flowers strewn on the woman’s dressing table, while her room is lit with red gels. Splitscreen is used well to reveal what the killer is up to in her room while she’s on the phone. The switch to use of stuttering B&W images during her death throes is a strong contrast to the rest of the film and makes it clear the filmmaker has put more thought into their work than simply pastiching a single style.

The Drawing (2:51) by Dominic Grose

Very effective use of minimal resources. A nervous man walks through an echoing house – wooden floorboards, tight shots emphasise the sense of being trapped in an enclosed space, areas which might be more open are blacked out by shadow. The predominantly wooden environment resonates and echoes. A pencil held by an invisible entity is drawing a picture at one end of a table, before the sounds of steps and a moving chair. The drawing shows a sinister hunched shape sitting at the end of the table. Further sounds and drawings escalate the man’s tension until the final shock.

Stagnant (2:45) by Ethan Evans – Winner of the Audience Award

Similarly making use of minimal resources, this film’s techniques are based more on light and dark, with sound playing a more subtle role. An intruder tries to break into a house from the backyard. Scrabbling through the cat door, an attempt to retrieve a dropped torch becomes more tense as we see the white mottled flesh of naked legs inside near the reaching arm. When the intruder touches something unexpected, flashes of faces at windows become flashes of bodies in the backyard in a rapidly escalating finale.

Toys (1:33) by James Cookson – Winner of the Best Short Film Award

A stuffed bear tells its doll companion that the sleeping child sharing their room will inevitably be messed up by their parents, that humans have messed up the world, and that they all need to be killed. I felt the scripting of this section was unoriginal, but the visual methods of conveying the escalation of the bear’s anger are distinctive, and the rapid escalation of the narrative beyond that point, told in a series of imaginatively constructed short scenes, justify the judges’ decision to award this Best Short Film.

Silent & Deadly (3:00) by Billy Hiller

An imaginatively stylised comic mixture of stop motion animation with a live actor. The film makes strong use of rhythmic visual editing to sounds as the chair rocks, the man swipes images across his phone, the clock ticks. When the man leaves the room, his chair becomes fully animated and rails against the indignity of years of being farted on, having food spilled, etc, only for his owner to have the gall to go phone-shopping for new chairs while sitting on him. One final fart is the tipping point for bloody vengeance. The framing sequence for the story shows the influence of The Mighty Boosh but the filmmaker clearly has his own sensibility and a strong set of skills which bode well for future work.

Indie filmmakers Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead (The Endless) were a great choice to judge this competition. They have a distinctive voice as innovative horror/fantasy filmmakers and have used their success to help other new voices in the genre get their own projects made. It seems only appropriate to allow them the last word.

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