In part one of our SXSW Short Films roundups, we bring you five of our favorites from the fest; discover tomorrow’s shining stars today.
2022 was a big year for horror. Nope was the highest-grossing horror film in the United States and Canada in 2022, with revenue of over 123 million U.S. dollars. Right behind it, raking in 106 million, was Parker Finn’s Smile, a feature film adaptation of Finn’s short Laura Hasn’t Slept.
First premiering at SXSW and taking home the Special Jury Recognition Prize for the festival’s Midnight Short category in 2020, Laura Hasn’t Slept caught the attention of Paramount at its premiere screening and became the genesis of the feature film that dominated the box office.
One of the most buzzed-about films from this year’s SXSW also happens to be one of the most hotly anticipated horror films of 2023, Evil Dead Rise. But did you know that the multimillion-dollar Evil Dead franchise originated as a 32-minute short film from Sam Raimi called Within the Woods, in which Bruce Campell played the possessed killer instead of the hero?
Made for just $1,600, the strength of that short helped Raimi raise the funding to turn his vision into a feature film that would become an enduring classic and launch one of the most beloved horror franchises ever.
So, in case you had any doubt whether short films were worth your time, know that many of your favorite features — like Saw, The Babadook, and Trick ‘r Treat — began life as a short. And most of the most celebrated genre filmmakers of past and present first showcased their talents in short-form cinema.
Those who regularly seek out exciting new short horror content remain steps ahead of everyone else, discovering the latest and greatest genre talent before anyone else. If you want that to be you, read on for some of the must-see highlights out of this year’s dazzling SXSW Short Film Showcase.
1. Every House is Haunted (Bryce McGuire)
A young couple is house hunting. Their realtor casually mentions that the house comes with ghosts. But not to worry; these are friendly ghosts, and the previous residents barely even noticed them. While the man is surprisingly chill about this little revelation, his wife, Maya, is understandably a little freaked out. But he convinces her it’s nothing to worry about, assuring her that everyone died of natural causes, so it’s not like there’s any unresolved business or nasty negative energy to worry about.
We then get to know a bit more about Maya, a former dancer who is lost and alone after losing the baby and no longer having an identity of her own. When her husband goes away on a business trip, Maya meets one of the ghosts, a seven-year-old boy who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his sleep the night before his birthday. Rather than being afraid, Maya welcomes the company and begins playing and bonding with the boy. He then introduces her to the other ghosts in the house, which only she can see. For the first time in a long time, Maya feels special.
The ending packs a punch, which asks the audience to consider what it truly means to be haunted.
Written and directed by Bryce McGuire, Every House is Haunted is based on a short story also written by McGuire. It’s currently being developed into a feature film. McGuire’s previous short, Night Swim, is also being developed into a feature with producers Atomic Monster and Blumhouse, set to be released by Universal Pictures early next year. Needless to say, this is one up-and-coming filmmaker you’ll want to keep your eye on.
2. We Forgot About the Zombies (Chris McInroy)
A brief but wickedly funny and clever horror comedy, We Forgot About the Zomies finds two men escaping a horde of zombies and taking shelter in a barn. Unfortunately, one has been bitten and is running out of time.
Looking around, they realize they are surrounded by vials, having stumbled upon what looks to be a makeshift laboratory. Each vial is labeled with the first letter “C” and the last letter “E” — but every other letter is obfuscated. Surely, they think, that label must stand for CURE. What else would it be in the middle of a zombie apocalypse?
What follows is a strange and hilarious chain of events as the men realize there are far stranger and even more disturbing things to fear than zombies. And the ending, which brings everything back full circle, is an absolute chef’s kiss.
It’s silly and light-hearted fun, but it’s an absolute delight.
Writer/Director Chris McInroy is becoming quite a sought-after talent in the world of indie horror. He specializes in horror comedies. His previous shorts Bad Guy #2, Death Metal, We Summoned a Demon, and the Fangoria Chainsaw Award-nominated Guts (which we covered here) have been festival favorites. He also shot a segment for the wildly popular horror anthology Scare Package.
3. Endless Sea (Sam Shainberg)
This important and moving short about the failures of the US healthcare system follows Carol, an elderly woman on Medicare in New York City.
On Valentine’s Day, while attempting to fulfill her prescription at her local pharmacy, she is informed that her critical, life-saving medication has gone up in cost by 120 percent. She is now expected to pay a $350 copay for one bottle. A retiree barely making ends meet, she cannot afford the steep cost of her medicine, but going without is not an option. It’s literally a matter of life and death, a point she stresses to everyone she begs for help — from her pharmacist to her doctor to the Medicare office.
Everywhere she turns, she gets the same answer: There’s nothing anyone can or will do to help.
Carol desperately does everything she can to scrape the money she needs to stay alive. Her desperation is palpable and heartbreaking, and Brenda Cullerton is extraordinary as a woman out of options and discarded by the system and even her own family.
It’s a stunning and devastating film that will rip your heart out as Carol is finally forced to choose between a terrible choice and an unthinkable one. In the end, she really has no choice at all.
A must-see short about real-world horrors.
4. Eyestring (Javier DeVitt)
A woman named Veronica (played by Alena Chinaut, who co-wrote the film with director Javier Devitt) seeks counseling from an expensive but impersonal telehealth company called Mind’s Eye. As she explains to her mental health concierge, she suffers from loneliness and OCD. After receiving some enigmatic advice and having her call abruptly ended, she notices a string hanging out of her eye. She tries to cut it, but it only grows back.
Desperate for answers, she calls back to speak to her concierge, hoping they can clarify their previous advice and help her deal with this developing nightmare. But she is told that concierges are chosen at random, and they refuse to tell her who it was she last spoke to. No amount of pleading or emphasis on her dire mental state has any effect.
When she runs out of money, she’s cut off from any support and left to face her personal horrors alone.
A potent examination of mental illness and the lack of available resources wrapped in an unsettling Cronenberg-esque body horror, Eyestring masterfully exploits a common fear — losing bodily autonomy — to reveal the terror, panic, and isolation of depression and mental illness.
It’s a compelling allegory for the pervasive and destructive thoughts that can so quickly consume us, the crippling fear that you don’t have control over your own mind, and the pain of not being able to get help. In the end, the solutions often feel more damaging than the problem.
5. Dead Enders (Fidel Ruiz-Healy, Tyler Walker)
In a petroleum and frack shack in small-town Texas, something unholy is unearthed when they accidentally drill too deep.
Down the street from ground zero of an apocalyptic scenario, a disaffected young gas station clerk is outside smoking when the ground tremors underneath them like an earthquake. Her manager, Walt, calls her in to clean up the mess caused by items falling off the shelf and spilling. He then chastises her for remaining stuck at this crappy, dead-end job and not wanting more out of life. She assures him she’s perfectly content doing the bare minimum, taking smoke breaks, and enjoying a free case of beer at the end of her shifts. She doesn’t need or want anything more out of life.
As the two bicker with each other and two of the most inept cops on planet Earth, they remain blissfully unaware that a horde of giant, parasitic alien bugs reigns terror upon the sleepy little town.
When Walt heads to the basement to get high, he discovers a giant hole emitting a green glow and is attacked by one of the bugs, attaching itself to his face in an undeniable nod to the mother of all alien horror films.
When Maya is attacked, she faces two choices: do nothing and give in to the ultimate mind control or fight back and take charge of her life. Ultimately, she realizes there might be more to life than being a slave to the grind.
Directed by Fidel Ruiz-Healy and Tyler Walker, who co-wrote the film with Jordan Michael Blake and Conor Murphy, Dead Enders is endearing and witty, with great visual style, stellar practical effects, a likable cast, and an intelligent script that perfectly embodies the horror of a soul-sucking job.
The Angry Princess