SXSW Shorts Reviews, Part 1

SXSW doesn’t just have great feature films; it also has a killer shorts line-up, and I got to check out the Midnight Shorts Program at the festival. Here are five terrific short films to look out for (including one that I hope becomes a feature film in the near future!). There are plenty more shorts to watch at the festival, so stay tuned for Part 2!


Wild Bitch

A still from Wild Bitch. Barb stands behind Melanie, watching her intently as she grimaces with her mouth open. They are walking through a heavily wooded area.

Wild Bitch is a raucous feminist horror story featuring terrific comedic performances from Kate Nash and Rebekka Johnson. Both women co-wrote and co-directed the short, and Nash provided the film’s banger of a theme song. The short follows Barb (Johnson) as she relates a story about a coyote entering her home to local news reporter Melanie (Nash). The public interest story soon turns frightening, however, as Barb leads Melanie into the woods and reveals a disturbing wrinkle to her tale. Addressing the links between environmentalism and feminism, Wild Bitch is a riotous entry into “good for her” cinema and a jolt of adrenaline to horror-comedy fans. 

Tank Fairy

A still from Tank Fairy. The Tank Fairy rides a pink motorbike and wears a shiny blue jumpsuit and high-heeled work boots. She drives past a wall mural depicting mountains.

Joyfully campy, silly, and glitter-soaked, writer-director Erich Rettstadt’s Tank Fairy is the story of a lonely little boy named Jojo (Ryan Lin) who discovers a whole new world when the Tank Fairy (Marian Mesula) arrives to deliver a gas tank to his home. The Tank Fairy is different from all the other delivery workers (called song wa si de): she wears high-heeled boots and immaculate makeup, with style and attitude dripping from her bright-red nails. Jojo’s world opens up when he sees the Tank Fairy, and he discovers a whole new world of dresses, makeup, and voguing. Exuberant and affirming, Tank Fairy is a story about being your authentic self and the importance of being visibly, joyously queer. 

Night Breakers

A still from Night Breakers. People wearing suits made of stringed lights stand in a dark tunnel. They look forward warily.

Night Breakers is one of those shorts that you want to see at feature-length immediately. Written and directed by Gabriel Campoy and Guillem Lafoz, the short follows a group of migrants as they make their way through underground tunnels. They wear strings of bright lights wrapped around themselves, and the viewer soon learns why they fear the dark: dangerous monsters known as Shadows lurk in the darkness, waiting for the migrants’ light suits to go out so that they can feast on them. It doesn’t take long for human nature to interfere with their plan to make it to an illuminated city together; greed and distrust lead one of the migrants to want all the light for themselves. With remarkable sound design, performances, creature design, and cinematography, Night Breakers is a stellar short film and a tense, intriguing horror story that will leave viewers wanting to see much more. 

Horse Brothers

A still from Horse Brothers. A pile of broken phones and tablets lie on a table. A brother's face is reflected in the electronics.

Equal parts The Godfather and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Horse Brothers is a deranged horror-comedy written, directed, and edited by Milos Mitrovic and Fabian Velasco. With striking cinematography by Markus Henkel (can that be a coincidence?), the short follows two brothers (Mitrovic and Guy Maddin) who live on a horse farm and make ends meet by selling old phones and tablets. When one of the brothers starts pocketing profits for himself, the other has to take matters into his own hands and listen to his Italian-speaking horse’s exhortations to fix the problem. Hilariously weird, Horse Brothers is the definition of a midnight short.

Blink

A still from Blink. Mary lies in a hospital bed looking off to the side in terror.

Mary (Yellowjackets’ Sophie Thatcher) wakes up in a hospital bed after an accident. She is paralyzed and can only communicate by blinking. When the nurse (Alicia Coppola) begins questioning her about her fall from a window, she learns it wasn’t an accident at all: something pushed her, and the thing has come back to finish the job. Written by Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg and directed by Cohen, Blink is a terrifyingly claustrophobic horror story. We see most of the action through Mary’s eyes, and we feel just as trapped as she does as she watches the monster go about its work. Thatcher does great work using just her eyes, as we feel every ounce of terror and pain that she does. Tense and heartbreaking, Blink is a horror short that will have you checking your windows at night. 

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