Sizing Up the Palm Springs International ShortFest: Crystal's Picks
By Crystal Harrell
With more than 328 films hailing from 54 different countries, the 22nd annual Palm Springs International ShortFest has enough cinematic variety to satisfy its attendees by any far stretch of the imagination. Whether you favor inspirational stories of triumphant perseverance or the knee-shaking suspense of a slasher horror, the ShortFest prides itself on celebrating the diverse art of film with the public. I was beyond thrilled to attend the festival this year on behalf of Palm Springs Comic Con, and, in doing so, discovering a variety of wonderful short movies. Although it is almost impossible to view every single film, I’ve compiled a list that touches upon some of the most unique, memorable, and captivating selections I watched. Now grab a seat and let the show begin.
The Babysitter Murders
The Palm Springs ShortFest boasts an impressive inventory of horror films this year. It comes as even more of a pleasure that a number of selections ebb away from the conventions of the genre and into more meta territory—such is the case with The Babysitter Murders. Influences of Wes Craven and John Carpenter (Halloween was, after all, originally given this same title) are lovingly stamped across the film in a timeless tribute to its predecessors. The movie follows the age-old story of a babysitter alone in a house while a supposed killer is on the rampage. The ending, however, is a fresh take on the tried and true narrative that gives The Babysitter Murders a cleverly composed identity all its own.
Director Ryan Spindell’s eye for polished cinematography juxtaposed by the grainy, pockmarked footage of an ‘80s B movie is an exquisite union of the past and future of this horror trope. While the meat of the plot is still strongly formulaic and there are a few pieces of the puzzle that don’t quite merge together as nicely in the surprise ending, The Babysitter Murders is an engaging cinematic endeavor that is as sharply resounding and bold as a terrified scream in the night. Spindell has plans to make The Babysitter Murders part of a full-length feature, comprised of four separate segments called The Mortuary Collection.
If The Babysitter Murders was a love letter to Carpenter and Craven, then Nasty is an homage to the visceral era of Cronenberg. The film utilizes the sickly saturated hues and distorted images of a film strip uncovered from the bottom of the ocean, never meant to see the light of day. The plot chronicles 12-year-old Doug as he and his mother attempt to locate his missing father, with the only clue regarding his whereabouts being a collection of creepy exploitation VHS tapes. Nasty is an atmospheric film that sucks you into the low resolution world of a vintage video cassette, unraveling the natural horrors that lurk behind the static of your TV set.
Director Prano Bailey-Bond has also admired the work of David Lynch from a young age, describing himself as being brought up "on a diet of Twin Peaks in the depths of a strange Welsh community." The inspiration certainly shows in the form of subdued blue splotches of color and the tonal mist of a reality blurred during some of the most pivotal scenes in Nasty. The cast delivers a powerful performance as far as the emotional depth of the plot goes, especially Madeleine Hutchins who plays Doug's mother.
Director Joe Garrity's film, Twinsburg, plays very much like a fledgling Wes Anderson feature, complete with a rustic quirkiness and colorful symmetry in its cinematography. The movie follows twin brothers Jerry and Paul as they embark on an annual gathering of twins across the country. Jerry longs to preserve his twin identity with his brother, but Paul does not share the same sentiments. This comedic exploration of the bonds we form through brotherhood is an innovative character study punctuated by the onscreen chemistry shared by real-life brothers Joe and Phil Garrity.
According to Joe Garrity, Twinsburg's audience appeal stems from the themes of self-identity and longing to break free of routine. The film establishes these ideas through interactions between offbeat characters and the fun-loving montages of the twin brothers undergoing quality bonding time at the largest gathering of twins in the world. Twinsburg is a charmer that connotes the feeling of carefree summer days and the lush bravado of expressing individuality in a world that seems to be made for two.
Wally's Will is a story of riches, betrayal, death, and a poor butler called Doofus. Truly a hilarious dark comedy, the film is gifted with an amazing leading lady and a premise that is so convoluted but ultimately reaches a satisfying resolution. Wally's Will centers on the unfortunate circumstances of aristocrat Mary Elizabeth von Frederick (or Wally) and how she must fend off conniving employees, pesky law enforcement, and her own loved ones from obtaining her fortune.
The film's star, Linda Gray, fully embodies the role of Wally with an air of genuine pompousness and utter disregard towards the ensemble of other resentful characters. She is a shining star and a memorable character that you neither root for nor despise, which makes the movie's appeal all the more interesting. Wally's Will is a humorous account of eclectic characters and unusual circumstances that you'll be glad you witnessed.