Each year queer horror gets the spotlight treatment in the ‘Slayed’ shorts program at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, which this year was part of the Nightstream Festival.
Directors Sarah Wisner and Sean Temple‘s film is the shortest entry of this year’s program and it’s arguably the one that I would most like to see expanded into a feature. The six minute short follows bickering girlfriends Gwen (Syndi Perry) and Jade (Kathleen Burke) who find themselves stalked by a man (Tyler Buckingham) during a stay at a neon-lit motel.
The short has a great visual aesthetic: it’s got a grainy look that gives it an exploitation feel, which is a nice complement to the bright pink lighting of the parking lot and the neon purple of the bathroom.
Narratively, this is pretty straightforward and at six minutes, you can only do so much character development, but the last shot – as the women flip the script on their attacker – is a great moment to end on.
Going Steady (2019)
Brydie O’Connor‘s eight minute short is a playful retro pastiche about a 1950s housewife (Megan Elaine Carter) in Kansas who fantasizes about murdering her boyfriend/husband and dressing him up in make-up and women’s clothes for a day out.
This is a very cute short that has a surprisingly transgressive message. The limited dialogue is mostly delivered by the man, who proposes they get married, prompting the woman to pour Clorox into his cocktail. She then take his corpse out for a lovely day, including trips to the movies, the diner and the park.
Going Steady is a pretty clear indictment about the limited opportunities for women to express their sexuality in certain times and parts of the country. I really liked how the messaging is open-ended about what the woman is actually looking for in a romantic relationship, and it’s all wrapped in a vibrant, candy coloured package.
Don’t Text Back! (2020)
The honour of funniest entry in the ‘Slayed’ program goes to Canadians Mariel Sharp and Kaye Adelaide for Don’t Text Back! Although the humour may not work for everyone, I found this short about a haunted locket and online dating etiquette filled with amusing, very funny banter.
Kelly (Danielle Lapointe) visits Jaren (Nancy Webb) for a crystal reading to help her remove a cursed locket. It turns out the jewellery strangles Kelly if she doesn’t respond to the demanding texts of a terrible dude in a timely fashion. The short is shot entirely in Jaren’s light, ethereal Montreal apartment, but the sight gags and the dialogue help to compensate for the limited production budget.
The two women are well-drawn – Kelly is uptight and aggrieved, while Jaren is bossy and opinionated – which makes for a great contrast. Webb, in particular, has great delivery: from the bit where she swaps a small crystal for a massive “Guy problems” crystal, to the list of shitty men they’re dealing with, to her barbed observation that Kelly isn’t vegan, Webb is delivering a performance worthy of Annie Murphy’s Alexis in Schitt’s Creek.
I Love Your Guts (2020)
The second longest entry in this year’s ‘Slayed’ series is David Janove‘s short, but it breezes by thanks to the chemistry of its two leads Danielle Kay and Allie McCarthy.
What begins as a quiet night at Woody’s Burger between best friends Jacqui (Kay) and Kristina (McCarthy) turns into a violent encounter when a drunk guy (Scott Shilstone) forces his way into the restaurant. There’s a fascinating disconnect between how unassuming the guy is and what he ultimately does. Janove gets a lot of mileage out of the shift back and forth between comedy and horror (for context: someone in brutally stabbed…but it’s in an unorthodox place that immediately renders it hilarious).
At the heart of the short is the fun and flirty relationship between the girls, who have great chemistry. In keeping with teen queer narratives, Kristina wants more from their friendship than Jacqui knows, but hats off to Janove for addressing the unrequited crush, while leaving it open-ended in a satisfying and true to life way.
I Love Your Guts is funny, silly, shocking and heartwarming, which is quite a feat for a 16 minute short.
Jeff Drives You (2019)
Aidan Brezonick‘s short is the longest short of the bunch and it’s also my favourite. The length certainly certainly contributes to its success since Brezonick has the flexibility to let scenes and moments play out, but, more significantly, it is the short that has the greatest narrative constraints, but the story, characters, and pacing never suffers as a result.
David (Addison Heimann) is en route to his friend’s wedding and opts for a Beta test driver-less car to take him on the long journey. The car may be self-driving, but it has a customizable personality: Jeff (voiced by Tanner Rittenhouse), who is visually represented by a screen in the dashboard whose various moods are reflected in a colourful lava lamp-like configuration.
Over the course of the half day drive, David and Jeff form an unconventional bond. It begins when David asks Jeff to change his Australian accent because it reminds him of his ex. They then connect over a mutual love of Pixar’s UP and discuss their relationship goals, among other remarkably personal topics. It’s basically one long first date that leads to some rather unexpected places.
What’s remarkable about the short is that, aside from the final scene, it features a single actor and a single, tightly enclosed location (the car). Brezonick finds creative ways to open up the space and Heimann and Rittenhouse have great (vocal) chemistry (My notes repeatedly comment on the surprisingly believable vibe of their relationship).
While the final humourous stinger didn’t entirely work for me, overall Jeff Drives You is a fun, threatening and occasionally sexy queer short that surprised and delighted me.
‘Slayed’ played as part of the 2020 Nightstream Festival.