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Sizing Up the Palm Springs International ShortFest: Cruz's Picks

By Cruz Moore

Pigskin

This one-of-a-kind short film revolves around a bulimic cheerleader who is haunted by a deformed and ambiguous entity that she wards off by desperately making herself skinnier any way she can. The film possesses a 21st century sheen with its crisp yet vapid colors whilst also embodying an '80s horror atmosphere with its haunting synthesized score and timeless high school backdrop. Fans of the 2015 innovative classic, It Follows, will be greatly pleased to see another horror film give life to metaphorical fears and teenage insecurities.

The camerawork is especially impressive, the highlights consisting of perfect steadicam slow motion, uncomfortable close-ups of the cheerleader’s starving stomach, and disorienting 360 camera revolution. Out of all the great films I was exposed to this year, Pigskin possessed the most potential in regards to eventually evolving into a full-length feature, which the writer and director, Jake Hammond, and director of photography and co-writer, Nicola Newton, have already expressed an interest in. With their influences consisting of directors John Carpenter and Wes Craven, as well as possessing an obvious talent for creating stories and images that stay in your mind, as good horror should, we can expect great things from these two in the near future.

Greener Grass

A short film that needs to be seen to be truly experienced, Greener Grass can be described as a surreal satire on the utter superficiality of picturesque American soccer families. The story revolves around two moms, Jill and Lisa, making conversation at their children’s soccer game as things take a turn for the strange and even stranger as time goes on. Gratuitous close-ups of the moms making out with their husbands only to pleasantly discover that they were kissing the wrong husband is just a taste of the off-kilter comedy in Greener Grass. We soon find ourselves with eyebrows raised as Jill casually decides to give her newborn baby to Lisa, forgotten swimsuits imply terrible consequences, and a child may or may not turn into a dog, you’ll just have to watch for yourself.

I find Greener Grass to be a dry and dark humored display of the lack of maturity and desire for approval possessed by both young adult parents and 30-40 year old parents of today. Greener Grass expresses this with characters wearing braces on already perfect teeth, the mere suggestion of divorce being enough to convince someone to do so, and the juvenile act of putting a soccer ball under one's dress to appear pregnant, instantly fooling people. “Oh my god, Lisa, you’re pregnant!” Jill expresses to Lisa despite seeing her 10 seconds ago with no pregnancy bump. “I know, I feel so huge!” Lisa exclaims with a newfound self-centered importance. Featuring the hilarious Internet duo, Nick Kocher and Brian McElhaney of Britanick.com, Greener Grass is an unforgettable short film that deserves to be watched again and again.

Night of the Slasher

Though my colleague Crystal Harrell gives rightful praise for The Babysitter Murders, I found another subversive horror film at the ShortFest, Night of the Slasher, to be the better of the two. The film follows a teenage girl, Jenelle, home alone at night as she welcomes in a nerdy classmate, chugs beer, and eventually clashes with a knife-wielding masked killer. Though the story may sound predictable and bare bones, it is exactly why the film works so well. Jenelle possesses a small notepad upon which she has written a grocery list of horror movie sins consisting of dance half-naked, drink beer, do drugs, and have sex. Once she completes all four, all the while not saying a single line of dialogue, she comes face-to-face with the killer who wears a Leonard Nimoy mask, cleverly referencing the William Shatner mask in Halloween

Meanwhile, the showdown is accentuated by a simple yet effective synth score in keeping with the '80s influence. Once the killer makes his escape upon the return of Jenelle’s parents, it is implied that this encounter may be routine for her. Filmed all in one expertly choreographed shot, Night of the Slasher is a check-list representation of core horror movie tropes and portrays it almost like a level in a fighting game, with your enemy easily getting back up for another round despite their injuries. Expertly shot and hilariously dry, Night of the Slasher is not one to miss.

Panic Attack!

A continually flowing hand-drawn representation of the never ending nagging thoughts we all possess, Panic Attack! is an embarrassing reminder of how overblown our imaginations can get when left by themselves. The film starts off with a woman waiting at a stop light and soon the repetitive droning of her own whispering thoughts begin to fill your ears with, “You’re gonna be late.” This stressful reminder eventually spirals down a staircase into an endless cluster of interconnected thoughts of anxiety like, “Did I leave the coffeemaker on? What if I date someone who turns out to have a weird fetish? What if I have a deformed baby? You abandon it. You end up sharing a cell with the Manson girls!” 

Director and writer Eileen O’Meara’s own voice not only supplies these thoughts but also an endless amount of onomatopoeic words to accentuate the constantly changing fluid visuals, all of which become remixed into a catchy credits song. Panic Attack! hits close to home for anyone who has an overactive imagination that leads their mind into a vice of stressful scenarios only to be brought back to the reality that you are simply waiting at a stop light.