The Etheria Film Festival is back on Shudder this year with another collection of 9 short films in the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genre, all directed by women. Much like last year, there’s a great variety of films ranging from fun and lighthearted, to dramatically inspiring, to downright disturbing. So we decided to watch all 9 and give sort of a mini-review of each film.
The Fourth Wall
Written and Directed by Kelsey Bollig
Actors are infamous for being a bit dramatic, after all it’s the very tool of their craft. This French horror short deals with a stage actor played by Lizzie Brocheré (whom US audiences will recognize as “Grace” from American Horror Story: Asylum), who is becoming increasingly unhinged.
She worries that she’s wasting her time and will soon run out of relevance; all while her co-stars are busy having sex in the dressing room, or not even knowing the language that the play is in. It’s extremely relatable to anyone who’s ever felt like their coworkers were idiots and all the responsibility fell on them.
It’s all the more impressive, considering writer/director Kelsey Bollig didn’t speak the language either, and had recently been in a terrible car accident before shooting. Using her own feelings of anxiety and outsider syndrome, she gave us a character we can all relate to.
And while we may not turn to outright murder, most people would be lying if they said the thought of it didn’t make them feel good, even if for a second…
Written and Directed by Anna Chazelle
Anna Chazelle not only writes and directs, but stars in this minimalist post-apocalyptic story. We see her as Sloane, a survivor of some unknown disaster as she treks across the vast stretch of open land. She seems to be following a narrow path, all while strangers call out to her in an attempt to get her to stray from said path.
There’s not much in terms of dialogue, and the plot is admittedly barebones, but what this short film really gets across is its mood and feeling. Sloane knows that she needs to stay on her narrow path, but each temptation gets harder to resist.
In addition to being beautifully shot, it’s just weird and creepy. And it’s the not knowing that makes it all the more unsettling. This is the kind of short film that could easily be adapted into a feature length film, but doing so could potentially ruin its beautiful simplicity.
You Will Never Be Back
Written and Directed by Mónica Mateo
Thanks to movies like The Shining, hotels are now just creepy in general. This short film continues the trend by featuring a woman in a hotel hallway going through some strange portal into what can only be described as an alternate universe.
There she is haunted by what appears to be a clone of herself, only this one is dirty, tattered, and weathered. This doppelganger speaks the haunting words, “you will never be back”. Where this film really shines is its lead performance by Ximena Vera, who has to essentially carry the whole thing, even when acting opposite herself.
We also have to mention the incredible production and art design of the hotel itself. It looks both ordinary enough that it could pass for a real hotel, but just creepy enough to give you nightmares. It’s an overall trippy and weird experience that will probably confuse you, but that’s very much the point!
Written and Directed by Katy Erin
Named for the iconic “Bootstrap Paradox” this short film deals with such a time travel dilemma in both a funny and dark manner. Ellie (Katy Erin) manages to travel back in time from a post-apocalyptic future to warn her girlfriend Naomi (Gabriela Ortega) about the impending doom, but also to warn her not to break up.
It has a great dark sense of humor that touches about a lot of the clichés and issues once time travel enters a conversation. But what’s most impressive is that the entire thing was shot on a phone and its total budget didn’t exceed $100.
Written and Directed by Ciana Rey Walker
Set on the night of April 4, 1968 (the same night of the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.), this drama/thriller deals with a local chapter of the Black Panthers and how they struggle with the ethics and morality of honoring King’s legacy with nonviolence versus using violence to get more immediate results.
Heavily influenced by the protests and riots that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Misfits clearly has a point it wants to get across, and draws parallels between the present and the past. However, given its under 20 minute runtime, it struggles to really explore all of its ideas thoroughly and with nuance.
It has great intentions but ultimately boils everything down to a very simple conclusion, which again probably has a lot to do with its limited runtime. Expanded out into a feature length movie, it would have the time to better develop its characters and fully get into its themes.
Written and Directed by Myra Aquino
The ultimate mystery of life is what happens when we die, and this fantasy/comedy short film reveals that it’s just as boring and bureaucratic as life is. A man who spent his life as a police officer, now spends his eternity, unable to go to either heaven or hell, as he processes the newly deceased and where they will go.
However, when his son arrive far too early for his age, he’s forced to confront all of his baggage he’s been avoiding. It’s a fun concept, that’s definitely been done before, but there’s a lot of charm and heart to this one.
Granted, it raises a lot of questions about the afterlife and the whole process (like how does the afterlife how a fire alarm), but the overall point is to tell an enjoyable story, which it does.
Directed by Silva Conesa, Written by Silvia Conesa and Pablo Rivas
In a future where overcrowding is everywhere and sex holograms are a popular form of entertainment, one man uses the booths simply to get some sleep in solitude, while never actually activating the very expensive hologram.
However, after he accidentally orders the hologram, he winds up bonding with it on a more emotional level, realizing that despite being a hologram, it’s capable of thoughts, feelings, and even making jokes.
The story itself is only set about 40-odd years in our future, and it’s scary, not because of the artificial intelligence, but rather the combination of too many people and loneliness. These two issues seem like they’d be mutually exclusive, but as we become more connected over the internet, the less connected we feel in person.
It really makes you think of how future generations will cope with the fact that social media is so old to them that their grandparents used it.
Directed Aislinn Clarke, Written by Jack Tarling
Clocking in at only about 2 ½ minutes, this horror short wastes absolutely no time. What seems like just an ordinary visit to the optometrist becomes something terrifying, as the doctor “scans” her eyes to see if they’re worthy of something sinister.
She gets quick glimpses of horrifying images, including two monsters that can only be described as cyclopes. In the same vein as the original short film that inspired Lights Out, Eye Exam exists as the scariest scene in what could be a larger horror film. It’s quick, but incredibly effective.
Who Goes There
Directed by Astrid Thorvaldsen, Written by William Gillies
Set in the Montana frontier in 1880, this Western/Horror deals with a plague (which is all the more relevant now), which it turns out may have a supernatural origin. Given that the main characters are sisters who settled from Europe, there’s real sense of isolation, that sets in even more as the horror begins.
In addition to being beautifully shot with sweeping landscapes of the frontier, the location also provides a sense of eeriness. The film isn’t outright scary, rather it gradually unsettles you.
Which film was your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
And don’t forget to vote for your favorite in the Audience Award! The winner will be announced on August 1, 2021
The Etheria Film Festival is streaming exclusively on Shudder until July 25, 2021
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