Ben Robins with the best short films from the BFI London Film Festival…
This year’s LFF was another seriously star-studded affair, with talks of Oscars and hefty awards-season releases sewn into almost every single conversation around. But some of the best talent on show this year actually ended up coming from the festival’s smallest showcase – its shorts.
Everyone starts somewhere, and for most of these filmmakers, the attached shorts are huge stepping stones towards all sorts of eventual acclaim. So remember these names in the coming years, because aside from generating some of the most fascinating and entertaining content of this year’s festival circuit, they’re also, without a shadow of a doubt, destined for even more greatness.
Real Gods Require Blood (dir. Moin Hussain)
Easily one of the most talked-about shorts of the fest (and rightfully so) was Moin Hussain’s beautifully grim kitchen-sink horror, which premiered even earlier this year at Cannes Critics’ Week, and has left nothing but a trail of critical adoration in its wake. Set on a troubled housing estate in Manchester in the early 90s, it’s a perfectly tuned real-world slant on genre, mixing in some seriously dark visions of hell, making for a truly remarkable piece of work.
Wave (dir. Benjamin Cleary & TJ O’Grady Peyton)
Another memorable hit with a decent budget behind it, Wave boasts two incredible accolades: a genius voice-over-powered docu-drama-ish concept (lead by the sultry tones of Jarvis Cocker no less), and arguably the greatest use of David Bowie’s timelessly epic ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide’ ever committed to film. The story of a coma patient locked out of the real-world by his inability to speak in anything but a totally unrecognisable language, it’s beautifully played out by co-director TJ O’Grady Peyton, and features some of the coolest direction of the year, hands down.
Smear (dir. Kate Herron)
One we’ve already given major props to in the past, Kate Herron’s ludicrously silly smear-test monster movie just gets more and more sensational with every watch. Cleverly scripted and totally unapologetic, it’s the very definition of a fun short, whilst still being steeped in all sorts of deeper ideas. And all in the space of a meagre 5 minutes. Pure genius.
Great Choice (dir. Robin Comisar)
The same can be said of the equally batshit Great Choice, a bizarre mash-up of sinister laughs and playful editing, that traps Fargo’s Carrie Coon int the middle of an old Red Lobster commercial. Destined to repeat the same tired marketing spiel over and over, she very quickly tries to find a way out, and first-timer Robin Comisar’s scripting just gets even weirder from there.
Fry Up (dir. Charlotte Regan)
A much more grounded effort now from recent BAFTA-nominee Charlotte Regan (her previous short Standby might be one of the loveliest things I’ve ever seen), Fry Up is the incredibly sobering portrait of a London family’s last day together. As touching as it is dark, it’s a terrifically authentic bit of British filmmaking with a lot to say in a very small amount of time.
The Night I Dance With Death (dir. Vincent Gibaud)
Even more economical with its time though is Vincent Gibaud’s seriously psychedelic French animation, about an anxious party-goer’s first experience with drugs. Hypnotic, colourful, erotic and terrifying, all in equal measure, The Night I Dance With Death is about as visually entrancing as they come.
The Comeback Kid (dir. Ian Robertson)
What might prove to be the best central concept of the fest though, comes from Ian Robertson’s tremendously sideways The Comeback Kid, a tale of reincarnation that challenges all sorts of masculine expectations. I won’t spoil the main twist, but Robertson certainly takes things in some decidedly far-out directions, and with plenty of cringe-inducing turns, this one’s certainly something of a philosophy-ridden head-scratcher for the ages.
Shogun (dir. Emily McDonald)
Documentary shorts are usually a little harder to get invested in, but Emily McDonald’s no-frills exploration of the Scottish grime scene is razor sharp in all the right places. Both simple in its presentation and achingly hopeful in its subject, it boils everything down to the two biggest mainstays of mood and personality, doing more with 6 minutes than most manage in 90.
Slap Happy (dir. Madeline Sims-Fewer & Dusty Mancinelli)
Speaking of moody drama, this screwed-up Canadian “romance” full-on thrives on it, charting one of the most ultra-explosive, borderline abusive relationships we’ve seen on-screen in quite some time. Donating half its run-time to a spittingly violent argument, and the other half to the sexiest of sex scenes imaginable, it’s like a little less touched-up Blue Valentine, with a much more twisted sense of humour.
Turbo Killer (dir. Seth Ickerman)
A huge-scale, 80s-style music video of a love letter to the grindhouse scene, Turbo Killer might well be the most visually awesome of the bunch. And boasting an electronically-fuelled score from Hot Line Miami 2 maestro Carpenter Brut, it’s about as transportive as short form cinema can get, using everything from miniature models to DIY special effects to create a totally unique landscape. Seth Ickerman proves himself a world-building legend here, with just 4 minutes of pure neon-soaked heaven.
Ben Robins / @BMLRobins