[Review] The 2020 Etheria Film Festival is a Diverse Collection of Shorts from Talented Women that Will Scare & Warm You
Short films are some of the riskiest efforts to pull off, I think, which is why they’re such a great showcase of a filmmaker’s abilities...
...If they can effectively grab and keep you in a bite size time constraint, imagine what they could do with more expanded freedoms. I’ve always been fascinated with short films of all genres, and the Etheria Film Festival 2020 delivered in spades. Nine shorts of all lengths from across the world, and all directed by women. What’s not to love? There can never be enough women and minority-led media for me, so showcases that spotlight them are near and dear to my heart. Women’s horrors and anxieties are always best captured when they get to be behind the camera, and Etheria’s selections are a fantastic explanation of why. From the worst sleepover ever to truly awful sex, vengeance, and loneliness, women the world over peel back the safe sheen of common life experiences and let the dark tendrils of anxiety shine through.
“Waffle”, directed by Carlyn Hudson and written by Katie Marovich and Kerry Barker, tells a uniquely sinister sleepover tale. Kerry (Kerry Barker) finds herself a little in over her head while at an increasingly awkward sleepover with Katie (Katie Marovich), heiress to a vast waffle fortune. I didn’t expect a short with a breakfast-themed title to take such a sharp knife to social dynamics, but it does the weird work beautifully. No one expects sleepovers to be hotbeds for social evaluation, but they always are, especially with someone like Katie at the helm of them. One wrong move and there may be no saving you from the results.
“Maggie May”, Australian writer/director Mia’kate Russell’s truly stomach-turning offering about the weaponization of complacency in traumatic situations proves once more that Australian horror is not to be ignored. Maggie May (Lulu McClatchy), who found her mother dead and did nothing, does nothing at all to help ease the burden while her sister Sam (Katrina Mathers) tries to get their mother’s affairs in order after the funeral. Following a freak accident, Sam learns just how deep into her own mind Maggie May is willing to get to avoid confrontation of any kind. It’ll have you squirming in your seat and wondering just how dangerous it might really be to do nothing in the face of uncertainty.
“Basic Witch”, written by Lauren Cannon and directed by Yoko Okumura, is one of my personal favorites. Self-described as a “short comedy about consent”, it takes a seriously relatable subject and sweetens it into something a little more palatable to consume, but all the more lingering for it. What does “bad sex” really mean? What do you do if words don’t work enough to describe your feelings to your partner? If you could take down the patriarchy one latte at a time by letting them experience something through your eyes, would you do it?
“Conversion Therapist”, written and directed by Bears Rebecca Fonte, tells the story of a pansexual, polyamorous trio out for revenge against an Evangelical conversion therapist with secrets of his own. If that doesn’t make you want to sign on for the experience, I don’t know what will. A twist to the standard vengeance tale, this longest offering, at 20 minutes, reminds us all that giving women space to tell their own stories with no limits can yield some beautifully gruesome results. Disturbing as much for the trauma explored as for the gore that comes with justice, it’s sure to leave its mark.
“Offbeat”, written by Chiara Aerts, directed by Myrte Ouwerkerk, and hailing from the Netherlands, is perhaps the most truly diverse and upbeat of the shorts. A young drummer aspiring to leave his dystopian surroundings behind in favor of cleaner air and fame, must pass a series of tests in order to be accepted under the elite Dome. The cast of characters would argue that truly everyone gets a shot at the good life, with everyone from your standard 20-somethings to an older woman, a transwoman, and a disabled man undergoing the tests. Examining both social strives for elite success and the importance of remaining true to your full self, “Offbeat” is here to remind us never to sacrifice the things we love.
“The Final Girl Returns”, written and directed by Alexandria Perez, is my undisputed champion of the entire festival. I can’t say enough about it, but in the interest of mystery, I won’t say much. A brilliant little batter of Final Girl-meets-Driver trope mixed in with a terrifying Groundhog Day scenario, Perez proves she knows how to tell a fresh story with elements from a formula we all know and love cast in new light. With equally brilliant storytelling and cinematography, “The Final Girl Returns” answers the age-old question, “what happens when the movie ends?”
“LIVE”, written and directed by Taryn O’Neill takes us to a future where AI monitors all and perception is everything. Live vlogging to live seems to be the name of the game here, and the further past your limits you go the better off you are. When her views start to dip and she needs to find a way to survive, one woman who streams herself in fight club competitions realizes she can’t keep it up forever. But when the views are all you have, how far can you push your moral boundaries before you cave? “LIVE” is a fascinating look at the lives-on-display culture and the ways it can beat us down.
“Man in the Corner”, written by Daniel Ross Noble and Kelli Breslin and directed by Kelli Breslin, is the shortest film on offer, but also one of the most smoothly unsettling. When a dream hookup gets interrupted, a young man realizes the terms of his engagement aren’t what he thought they were. I’m still not altogether sure what happens in this one, but I know it is one disturbing look into the dangers of hooking up with a stranger.
“Ava in the End”, written by Addison Heimann and directed by Ursula Ellis, brings the futuristic afterlife of cloud upload front and center. A young woman dies after tripping over her dog and, while waiting to be uploaded to a new body, begins to think about the life she aspires to live. A look at loneliness through the unlikely lens of a self-important 25-year-old in digital purgatory, this was a surprisingly bittersweet story of how much we truly value life and other people, even in the end.
While I have my favorites, Etheria Film Fest’s collection has a little something dark for everyone. Diverse in story, cast, and genre, this is a group of storytellers not to be missed putting their talents on full display. Whether you’re looking to be disturbed, warmed, or puzzled, these women have you covered.
Catch the Etheria Film Fest lineup now streaming on Shudder through July 20th!
By Katelyn Nelson
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