As Panic Fest continues to grow, the quality of films in its shorts blocks continues to rise. Each and every one I saw, ranging from four-and-a-half minutes to 15 1/2 minutes, was well made, leaving only personal taste about their content as a deciding factor in choosing a favorite.
Block 1 featured the Kansas City premiere of hometown favorite Jill (Sixx) Gevargizian’s latest film, 42 Counts (8:20). Talk about the quality of the shorts in general improving, Jill in particular demonstrates maturity in style. From rich colors in the living room of a posh apartment to dark shadows deep in its bowels, the film is beautiful to experience. My only disappointment is that after building intense suspense, the climax packs no punch, instead opting for, dare I say it, a happy ending.
Greater Good (8:13) is more sci-fi than horror and while it has a fantastic premise, it feels too familiar. Surely we’ve seen movies where someone from the future (here, 2041) returns to the present granting someone else the power to change what’s coming. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent version of the concept and packs an emotional punch.
You have to see Brown Fish (15:39) to believe it. It’s certainly the most bizarre film of all the shorts. When her goldfish goes missing, a frantic woman tells her friend on a park bench that she thinks her beaver-like roommate ate it. What she discovers in her bedroom, though, makes eating goldfish seem like a common occurrence. This one leaves me speechless; yet, at the same time, I want to tell other people to watch it.
Chickens (12:24) reflects another trend among the shorts shown at Panic Fest, political commentary, and is not the only one this year to address race relations and police brutality in the United States. It’s got a heck of a twist that provides both a perfect ending and a catharsis for the audience. It doesn’t surprise me that it won audience favorite at the festival.
However, my personal favorite is Here There Be Monsters (14:30). It’s a good, old-fashioned monster movie making a statement on bullying. I’m not sure what is a dream and what is reality, but the film is infinitely compelling and engaging, resulting in a win for the good guy (or girl, in this case) as the bad guy (or girl) gets what she deserves. The point is obvious: human beings are the real monsters.
Block 2’s take on the political landscape, race relations and immigration came in the form of Amigos (11:40). It’s not as effective as Chickens, though, because it doesn’t provide the cathartic ending. Nevertheless, it makes you think that the events it depicts may not be as far from reality as you think. The MAGA hat-wearing population of a possibly not-too-distant future turns its hatred for people of color into a money making venture for anyone it can recruit to its side.
I thought I would like Cryptino’s Spook-Time Variety Show (12:50) more than I did. It’s both a spoof of television horror hosts as well as a showcase for three other short films. The horror host part is painfully unfunny and the shorts-within-a-short are a mixed bag. The first one is fun, but reminiscent of What We Do in the Shadows. The second one is better, with a more original, although silly, idea. I’d rather see each one expanded as a standalone without the wraparound. (On the other hand, this would be a great concept for a regular series featuring micro shorts.)
The Hidebehind (9:47), Dodah (6:20) and Look Twice (7:44) are all scary monster movies that maximize technique to generate scares. While thought provoking, most of the shorts this year aren’t particularly suspenseful or thrilling. These three, though, feature terrifying creatures and effective jump scares. However, if I were programming the schedule, I might not have included all three in one block.
The two remaining shorts have grown on me since I first watched them. Malacostraca (15.36) is a fever dream that left me befuddled. However, if that ending means what I think it means, it’s hands-down the most horrific short (and maybe film) of Panic Fest.
Pinki (10:40) is strange and took me probably eight minutes to figure out what was happening. If I had to describe the concept, I’d say it’s about the reincarnation of old technology into human form. It’s also dreamlike, but results in eliciting melancholy memories of the good old days. With a little more time to reflect on it, it might be my second favorite short of Panic Fest.