2017 Palm Springs International ShortFest: Cruz's Picks
By Cruz Moore
Death Metal (Directed by Chris McInroy)
Death Metal is the story of an aspiring heavy metal guitarist who decides to test his skills at a park on sunny afternoons for tips, but fails to impress anyone. His father then bequeaths him a literal axe with dark powers capable of incredible music and even more incredible carnage that left me crying from laughter. Kirk Johnson adds a hilarious sympathy to the mayhem by portraying the desperate rocker who, despite having the signature long black hair and dark get-up, is vulnerable to getting his ass kicked and being shocked by his own immaculate, violent performance. With its over-the-top practical gore and childishly innocent dialogue (“Satan is cool!”), Death Metal is incredibly simple yet insanely delightful.
Great Choice (Directed by Robin Comisar)
My most sought after short film as soon as I saw a preview of it, Great Choice plays out as a seemingly quaint Red Lobster commercial from the '90s riddled with VHS screen tearing and tracking. As the commercial repeats itself, the cheery family restaurant dissolves into an inescapable nightmare that is both hilarious and haunting. The director, Robin Comisar, modeled it after an actual Red Lobster commercial seen here. Seeing it in its true form gives me flashbacks to the horror in Comisar’s film, complete with actual VHS degradation that was achieved by running his footage through a DV cam and VCR. If you’re a fan of '90s nostalgia being warped beyond comprehension in the vein of Casper Kelly’s “Too Many Cooks” or Adult Swim’s “Off the Air,” keep a lookout for this unique gem of a film. And remember, “kids get shrimp too…”
Summer Camp Island (Directed by Julia Pott)
Summer Camp Island is a cartoon about 14-year-old Oscar attending a summer camp where everything seems possible yet nothing is what it seems. The innocent strangeness of this film left my face cramped from laughter because of how much fantastical nonsense it possesses. Pool noodles roll around with happy faces, marshmallows sing in harmony then scream in terror when you eat them, and ice cream sandwiches have slumber parties with pizza slices. It makes no sense in the best way possible. Cartoon Network fans will be happy to know that this is essentially a pilot that will be made into a series in 2018, and I hope it will continue to possess its incredibly strange charm.
Next Time (Directed by Adriano Giannini)
Next Time offers us a window into the story of a primordial female in the early days of mankind who discovers fire and its potential as both a tool and a weapon. Next Time is the most realistic portrayal of prehistoric man and the discovery of fire I have ever seen in film. More so than any other movie or educational program, this film allows us to watch their species interact with brutal behavior and powerful emotion with no narration or dialogue. The makeup and prosthetics, which, according to the director, took six hours to apply every day for four days, enhance the realism far beyond what any digital effect could attempt. Even the contacts on their eyes made me feel as if I was staring into a prehistoric character with no actor behind them. If Adriano Giannini is given the resources to make a feature film with this kind of dedication to realism for an age we hardly see in movies, audiences can expect an incredible work of cinema.
The Escape (Directed by Paul Franklin)
Not only does the festival possess short films with stories that are wrapped up succinctly, but there are several that clearly demonstrate the potential to become feature length films and what we see is merely the opening scene to an incredible story. For me, I found this potential in Paul Franklin’s directorial debut, The Escape. It follows a desperate man named Mr. Lambert who is offered the chance to free his mind from our plane of existence into a world of his choice. What follows is a look into his daily life with his wife and children and yet there’s an ever-present feeling of dread amidst the gloom beauty of the United Kingdom. I hope this film becomes accessible online someday, because all I can say is that the revelations in the story offered me a glimpse into a world I have only seen in my most dreadful of dreams.
Paul Franklin, who co-founded the VFX company Double Negative, has frequently collaborated with Christopher Nolan and won Academy Awards for his work on Inception and Interstellar. Nolan’s sophisticated action-thrillers are known for their powerful music, grey-blue color schemes, and reality bending concepts. The Escape shares a rightful spot within such a cinematic landscape. An unreliable narrator, a foreboding grey aesthetic in contemporary Europe, and imaginative concepts that alter perception make The Escape a film that is just yearning for a feature length expansion. Hell, I’d settle for a pilot for a modern day Twilight Zone (unless you count the UK’s Black Mirror). I fully believe and hope that The Escape is the concept film to get producers to fund Franklin’s vision and hopefully turn this story into the next intelligently written sci-fi thriller.