Occasionally I like breaking free of the feature-length shackles to watch something that can pack a punch in just a few short minutes. I did a mini short-film marathon the other night and happened to see a link between the three: all of them manage to create a very unsettling feeling by not doing much at all.
Other Side of the Box (2018) dir. by Caleb J. Phillips
So…what’s in the
Couple Rachel and Ben are enjoying a night in before Christmas when an unwelcome visitor arrives. Their not-quite-friend Shawn is invited in, and he gives a wrapped gift to Ben. Not wanting to be rude, Ben accepts the gift but is told not to read the card until after opening the box. Shawn skedaddles quickly after he’s sure the box has been opened.
In a similar vein to It Follows, Ben and Rachel realise that they’ve been saddled with a curse. The curse? A creepy man peering at them from over the side of the box. Shawn’s card warns them not to look away from the man at any point.
The man is a very simple visual, but it really made my skin crawl. No offence to the actor playing him, of course! It’s the hidden face and unblinking eyes that really set me on edge. Something about a Peeping Tom really unsettles me.
The Backrooms (Found Footage) (2022) dir. by Kane Parsons
Kids these days… I’m glad they’ll be running things when I’m old because these little ones know what they’re doing. They’re more competent than I’ve ever been!
Director Parsons was only 16 when he made this short. This is an impressive film without that fact, but it’s definitely worth noting because this kid accomplished a lot (with presumably little other than a phone and a computer programme…yes I’m aware of how old that makes me sound).
The Backrooms is a relatively new urban legend that is about an endless maze of empty rooms and liminal spaces. A person can find themselves in the Backrooms by accident and it’s never known how to escape. It’s all seemingly random, which adds to the uncomfortable atmosphere.
In The Backrooms (Found Footage) a cameraman is making a movie when he noclips into an empty office with an abandoned 1980s style. He wanders for ages trying to find a way out when he soon realises he isn’t alone.
This would have been my literal nightmare as a kid. What Parsons managed to do is incredible. He sets feels genuinely isolated and sad. A lot like my real office, come to think of it…
Atman (1975) dir. by Toshio Matsumoto
The final film of the evening was Atman by experimental director Toshio Matsumoto. It’s not strictly a horror short, but for some reason, there’s a sense of dread that permeates throughout.
A person in a hannya (a Japanese demon representing jealousy) mask sits in a chair while the camera revolves around them. The images are presented in a frame-by-frame manner, slowing speeding up while zooming in and out.
As the shots get faster, the shrill sounds become more and more intense. There’s really nothing else “happening”, but I do know that I would never like to be in this world or come across this person anywhere, let alone the seemingly isolated countryside where it was filmed.