Getting the chance to review the short films of the Etheria Film Festival earlier this year has been one of my favorite opportunities to date...
...So when I heard Etheria got picked up to do an Amazon Prime show with the same premise—giving women filmmakers from all over the chance to tell stories they want their way—I knew it would be just as unmissable as the film festival that started it. Season 2 has arrived, and with it the opportunity for me to return to this rich story space of women being unapologetically themselves in all their forms.
Episode 1: “Sweet Little Unforgettable Thing”
Being a woman in a world that sets seemingly insurmountable standards when it comes to how we should be often seems like an unwinnable game, especially in our teenage years when all we want is to connect with people and to be liked even as the lines that divide and box us in are being drawn. Writer/director Chloe Okuno’s “Sweet Little Unforgettable Thing” shows us a stark example of this ultimately tragic game playing out. On one hand, we have Maddy (Molly McIntyre), the “weird” girl, plain on the outside and desperate to be looked at with something other than scorn and dismissal on the inside. On the other, Jolee (Kasia Pilewicz), the “hot” girl every guy lusts after who, just as desperate for connection on her inside, goes off with anyone who shows interest. Between the two there stands a man ready and willing to pass judgment. A man out to execute anyone who is less than a “nice girl” like Maddy. A man who sees a young woman exploring her sexuality and deems her unworthy of life. When Maddy decides to reinvent herself into something more appealing, she finds both a little bit of freedom and much more danger than she’s ever faced.
This short is Etheria putting its best foot forward for season 2, an examination of the truth that sometimes—especially when at your most vulnerable—survival depends less on getting the rest of the world to notice and more on fighting like a woman. There’s a lot to connect with here in a story that paints both sides of a worst-case scenario and blends them into something poignant and unforgettable.
Episode 2: “Sheila Scorned”
Where the previous episode examines a woman’s sexuality through the lens of a weakness, writer/director Mara Tasker’s story of an exotic dancer out for vengeance imagines it as a source of power. Though exactly who or what scorned Sheila is never fully explained, it doesn’t particularly matter. Sheila Johnson (Laine Rettmer) knows her strengths and how and when to use them, knows what she wants, and won’t take shit from anyone along the way. With a visual aesthetic calling back to Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror Grindhouse feature, it sets the tone for every revenge tale that follows while also setting itself apart. Each short in this season is unique, and Sheila just might hold the spot for baddest bitch in town.
Episode 3: “Gödel, Incomplete”
A love story spanning centuries, writer/director Martha Goddard’s tale of young physicist Serita (Elizabeth Debicki) who stumbles into time travel while working on a particle collider and travels back to meet and fall in love with Kurt Gödel (Matt Zeremes), one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, is somewhat unexpectedly sharp. The return effects of her traveling are unpleasant at first, and only increase in intensity the more frequently she returns to the past and to her lover. Meanwhile, they work together while she’s there to develop a theory for time travel to present and explain to the scientific community. After all, if a moment can be revisited, does it ever truly pass? Goddard’s short not only honors a great mind from the past, but also asks us all how far we would go if the possibilities were open to us. If time were traversable, what would we give to revisit moments we wished could be frozen? It’s a beautiful and subtly heartbreaking story of connection across time and space that will linger on in the back of your head almost without your realizing.
Episode 4: “Shevenge”
Anyone who knows me knows there are few things I love more on this earth than women getting revenge on people who treat them poorly, especially when the revenge is tied to a terrible relationship. I hold revenge fantasies to be uniquely safe spaces for women to imagine themselves a way into freedom and justice they may not otherwise get in the real world. So, “Shevenge”, directed by Amber Benson and written by David Greenman, Megan Lee Joy, Jessica Shent, and Sabrina Sherif, the story of a group of girlfriends at a sleepover imagining their vengeance on the men in their lives who either take advantage of them or are, perhaps, too much, was a welcome offering. Each woman takes a turn imagining the way they would wreak their unique brand of revenge on their ungrateful boyfriends, from outright confrontation and a battle of the band to burning them at the stake. Each fantasy is uniquely and vividly shot, and each woman’s idea is unique to her situation. It’s a fun, fresh way of approaching the subgenre, and even engages with the merits of revenge vs empowerment. While we may not need revenge to achieve empowerment, there’s just something cathartic in the idea, isn’t there?
Episode 5: “Zone 2”
Okay, so. Here’s the thing. I hold the Etheria Film Festival to be one of the most near perfect collection of shorts I have ever had the privilege of seeing and reviewing. But somewhere in the middle of it I began to wonder at the one branch of representation I wasn’t really seeing: disability. It is by no means required that disabled people be included in every scenario—we don’t need to monopolize the board—but I figured with something as diverse as what I was seeing, it might be incorporated. And it was, kind of; a disabled side character is present in “Offbeat”. Still I hoped for a story where we might be the main focus. Lo and behold, the Etheria gods heard and “Zone 2” was brought to this season of the show. David (Connor Linnerooth) and his mother are trapped underground in what we are led to believe is some kind of post-apocalyptic scenario where the mother must go out for supplies covered from head to toe and bearing a gas mask. Sounds…uncomfortably familiar in present circumstances, eh? David, meanwhile, is left behind in the shelter to do his exercises and wait for her return. He can’t leave it the same way she does—via rope ladder that she brings with her when she leaves—because he’s paralyzed. He uses a wheelchair and, as far as I can gather, also might be well on the road to blindness. But. He’s also fiercely independent. He gets in and out of his chair with no help, and his mother doesn’t offer any. He’s also plotting his own way out. He hasn’t seen the sun in who knows how long, and he just wants to go outside again, so he’s formulating a plan in secret to get himself out there. Not much is what it seems in “Zone 2” and there’s a twist in there that left me staring open-mouthed in shock, but one thing’s for sure: independent apocalypse-scenario disabled survivors is exactly what I needed.
Episode 6: “Carved”
How do you stop a force that can’t be killed? A force that, rather than dying, simply possesses the body of the person who killed its previous host? What if you were the next one to be possessed? Writer/director Mary C. Russell presents a tale, written with Stephen Czerwinski, that poses just these questions. A Satanic spirit goes body-hopping while on a violent spree when it encounters a group of women on a road trip to Las Vegas. If this short is anything it is a display of women’s ability to articulate and display violence on screen, whether it be purposeful or relatively senseless. There isn’t much to this story, just a Satanic spirit bopping around different bodies and reveling in some bloodshed. While that does make it the season’s weakest entry in terms of content, it doesn’t make it any less fun to watch.
Episode 7: “Cowboy Kill Club”
I love a good anthology that brings in content from all across the globe, and Etheria has proven itself to be one of the most diverse anthology offerings around. “Cowboy Kill Club”, written and directed by Gabrielle Lim and Jessica Parsons, is the story of a group of Bangkok’s red-light district dancers, out for revenge after the death of their friend. They soon discover a little more than they bargained for when they uncover what the madame of their workplace has truly been using the basement for—experimentation to make her girls more docile for her customers, “like dolls made flesh”. A gruesome yet somewhat cathartic experience, this offering is the first to really dip its toes into gross-out body horror, but it won’t be the last. Disturbing less for the experimentation than for the lengths people will go for docile partners who will accept anything being done to them, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy everyone in this one getting what’s coming to them, even if the lingering effects spell disaster.
Episode 8: “Witches”
Amid all these relatively serious stories, it’s nice to remember the healing power of a humor break, and “Witches”, written by Katie Dodson and directed by Michelle Steffes, fills that need beautifully. The out-and-out ridiculously fun tale of a group of witches struggling to successfully brew a potion and cast a curse because one of them is distracted by thoughts of her new Puritan lover spins as hilariously out of control as you might imagine and feels a little like a peek behind the curtain of a day in the life of the Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus. Easily one of my favorite offerings of the season, you can tell everyone involved had a ton of fun bringing this story to life, blooper reel and all.
Episode 9: “El Gigante”
I’ve been hearing about this short from Gigi Saul Guerrero for months and, I don’t know what I expected, but I know it didn’t disappoint. Written by Shane McKenzie and directed by Guerrero, this short is actually an adaptation of McKenzie’s novel, Muerte Con Carne. Both works tell a gruesome tale of struggle, violence, and mysterious disappearance on the Mexico/US border. Easily the most graphic and difficult to stomach episode of this season, “El Gigante” is one part struggle for survival en route to the safety of the United States, one part stomach-turning critique of our cannibalistic and animalistic consumption of violence within the frame of a sports arena, and all gross. I love Gigi Saul Guerrero and her dedication to telling the stories she wants in the way she wants to tell them, forcing you to look at the uncomfortable side of things we may otherwise prefer not to consider.
Episode 10: “Suddenly One Night”
Living alone is, as a woman, a kind of double-edged sword. On the one hand, few things are more freeing than having an entire space all to yourself. On the other, well…mysterious neighbors might come knocking on your door begging to be let in and refusing to go away, then you’re faced with the choice of either taking them at their word and letting them in or calling the cops and staying locked inside with a barrier between you and this mysterious person. In writer/director Arantxa Echevarría’s tale of one woman’s solo Christmas dinner interrupted, Maria (Alicia Rubio) chooses to let the stranger in. What follows is a tense showdown when she begins to realize not everything her upstairs neighbor says can be trusted. The neighbor, credited as “Joven” (Javier Godino) exudes remarkable amounts of Norman Bates energy, at once overwhelmingly sinister and, just maybe, genuinely afraid for his life. Without a doubt this episode brings one of my most prevalent fears to life in an incredibly tense and sharp 21-minute span and is an evocative closer for a series of stories about women taking the helm to express and exorcise their anxieties.
Etheria and everyone behind it has proven themselves for a third time with this collection of stories from filmmakers from all across the globe. I have some favorites I’m glad I’ll get to revisit now that it’s become an anthology show and some that will stick with me in the same way festival entries “Basic Witch” and “The Final Girl Returns” did earlier this year, but once more there’s a little something for everyone.
Etheria is an unmissable series, and season 2 is now available on Amazon Prime from the Horror Collective.
By Katelyn Nelson
Enjoy Katelyn's writing? Leave her a tip here through Ko-fi!