From surreal social media addictions to political body horror, here are our favorite shorts from SXSW’s 2020 Midnight film block.
There’s really nothing like a midnight movie.
While the tradition of late-night TV screenings of off-beat films—complete with a colorful host— seemed to have waned in a world of endless cable programming and online streaming, in the past couple of years, the practice has taken on new life. Thanks to streaming services like Shudder, and legends like Joe Bob Briggs, the concept of the midnight movie is back in the social consciousness and healthier than ever before.
But even before this resurgence, the practice of late-night thrills has been alive and well at film festivals like SXSW.
It would be fair to say that 2020 has been an interesting year, and with the increasing severity of COVID-19 here in the states, the wise folks at SXSW made the tough decision to cancel this year’s festival after the city of Austin banned large gatherings.
Now, the 2020 SXSW short films have found a new home online where they can be enjoyed digitally by anyone! In partnership with Oscilloscope and with support from SXSW, Mailchimp Presents has brought more than 70 shorts from this year’s lineup to their streaming platform.
We had a chance to check out the Midnight film block, and it was a fantastically wild ride. Here are just a few of our favorite flicks best viewed after the clock strikes twelve.
Double Tap — Eros Vlahos
When a teen trapped in the endless scroll of her Instagram feed decides not to “like” a chain letter-like meme, she unwittingly opens herself up to a visit from a monster hungry for more than just attention.
One of the standout shorts from the line up, Double Tap, gave me a little bit of everything I didn’t know I needed, from laughter to fear and all the in-betweens. From the very first moment, writer/director Eros Vlahos nails the unconscious rhythm of someone deep in the social media time suck. Our hero (played perfectly by Olive Gray), is lying on her bed, flipping through Instagram posts, looking at each for a fraction of a second, liking them, and moving on. It’s a common site, but what really brings the point home is the perfectly executed production of the moment.
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While the film is filled with tongue-in-cheek nods to modern internet culture, the story isn’t without an important message. Just why do we spend so much time staring, glossy eyed, into the abyss?
Double Tap is a must watch that takes our obsession with social media to its delightfully fanciful conclusion.
Hand in Hand — Ennio Ruschetti
When two politicians meet on stage to shake hands things take a turn for the extreme. Even when everything seems lost, could there be hope waiting in the wings?
A political press conference takes a turn toward body horror in this short film by Ennio Ruchetti.
I adored this short film’s simple yet effective story about how easy it is for a political system to grow into something monstrous. Without a single line of dialogue, the situation, stakes, and goals of everyone on screen are brought to life thanks to a fantastic ensemble cast and pitch perfect cinematography from Rafael Kistler.
I stepped away from this film with a smile on my face and a pain in my gut. Because this short reminds us that while we can laugh at the pride of politicians, we must still fear the system’s ability to mutate no matter the circumstances.
Heat — Thessa Meijer
A young woman gets more than she bargained for when she decides to purchase ice cream on a sweltering summer’s day. Turns out the day isn’t the only thing raising temperatures in this frosty confectioner’s shop.
While the premise for Thessa Meijer’s Heat is simple, the execution is anything but. From the dreamy background music (Ella van der Woude) to the stellar production design (Floor Knaapen), this short film will leave you with a shiver up your spine even as you fan away your flushing cheeks.
What really stands out is this film’s commitment to ambiguity. The interpretations for what happens to this poor young lady are almost endless, but no matter what you think happened, the enthralling vibes coming off Daniël Kolf’s ice cream vendor will stick with you like brain freeze on a hot day.
Regret — Santiago Menghini
When a man’s father dies while he is out of town, the son finds himself haunted by more than just memories. Can he escape the fearsome phantasms of his past to survive the night?
People throw around the term “nightmarish” when talking about horror films, but in the case of Regret, the Grand Jury Prize winner at SXSW 2020, it’s deserved. Everything about this quiet film is eerie, from the pacing and dialogue to the uncanny visuals.
The best way to capture an audience’s imagination in short film is to keep your story focused, and writer/director Santiago Menghini does just that, letting the tension build by keeping the design understated and the story clear. Menghihi purposely gives us little to consider so that our eyes stay glued exactly where they should, and when your eyes finally fall on the story’s chilling central antagonist, you won’t be able to look away.
Danny’s Girl — Emily Wilson
A man and a woman decide to meet in-person after a long digital romance. But Danny’s first-time jitters give way to abject terror when he discovers a stomach-turning secret about the woman he thought he knew.
If you want an idea of what it’s like to watch Danny’s Girl, simply follow this recipe. Take one part Eraserhead, two parts You’ve Got Mail, and a just a touch of Gerald’s Game. Bake at 800 degrees for six hours, spray with a fire extinguisher, and garnish with a touch of kink.
While that recipe won’t quite live up to writer/director Emily Wilson’s singular short film, it should give you a taste of what’s in store. Nearly every moment in this tale will give you something just a little off from your expectations, and that includes the ending.
When I watch horror, it’s always with the anticipation of something fresh. Wilson delivered by taking the genre’s most beloved tropes, balling them up, and tossing them out the window. And for that, we should all be thankful.
More stellar shorts from SXSW 2020 Midnight Film Festival Lineup:
- Laura Hasn’t Slept (Special Jury Recognition)
- Deep Clean
- The Doe
All 70 short films are available to stream in Mailchimp’s website. So, make sure to check them out!
What is your favorite SXSW Midnight movie marathon selection? Let us know in the comments.