For its second year at Fantasia, the theme running across the curation for the shorts programme Born Of Woman has moved away from the cerebral physical fetishes, and queer emotional landscapes of last year, towards the nature of haunting. The highlights were the quieter, more introspective entries that focused on mood and precise cinematography from some impressive new cinematic voices.
First and foremost was Mexico's The Last Light (pictured above), which, coincidentally or not, meticulously recreates the tone of the prologue from Don't Look Now. No small feat that, considering Nicolas Roeg's film has one of the greatest opening scenes in the history of film.
Angela Mendoza shows the contrast between grieving parents and an innocent girl who are dealing with a child's murder in a rural settlement. The suspect is another child, a ten year old boy, and while the parents grieve and grit their teeth as to how to get answers from the boy, likely with the use of violence, the girl slips out and tries to connect emotionally with the boy who is tied up in the guesthouse.
Shot at the magic hour in the Mexican desert (possibly the Northern Provinces?), the 35mm source positively dances with texture and life. The yellow raincoat and red skirt stand out against the dusty provincial landscape, captured in those precise browns and dull greens that remind me of a certain era of arthouse British horror films from the 1970s.
On the other side of the world, in Australia, cinematography again dictates mood and atmosphere in Natalie James' Creswick. The short feels like more of a set-up to a feature film than a self-contained thing unto itself, but it is a knock-out of a 'intro.'
A woman returns to her childhood home to help her somewhat addled father pack up and move out. As she goes through her childhood things, each object triggers memories, but seem to add to something more. Her father is more focused on woodworking, in his shop, than preparing to vacate, however, his dementia might be triggered from a Slenderman type figure that seems to always be on the periphery, particularly in the centre of a very creepy path through the woods. Given enough time, every house becomes haunted in its own ways, from a collection of memory, ephemera, and physical bric-a-brac left behind by those who lived there.
Immaculately produced with an eye for framing, and a narrative patience that amplifies effectiveness, I do hope James manages to blow it up into a feature someday, it could be the next Babadook.
The third stand-out in the programme was the stop-motion animation short, Dead Horses. Anna Solanas and Marc Riba have toured extensively on the festival circuit with this film and have won numerous awards.
Animated with pieces of yarn, cotton, and burlap, it focuses on a young boy caught up in the destruction an unnamed war, possibly the Spanish-American war at the tail end of the 19th century, but really it could be any child in any war. As the bombs explode around him, the child is more curious as to what they are than afraid of the ensuing destruction they cause from afar.
With large, expressive eyes that exude melancholy and curiosity, he counts the number of horse corpses as they travel as refugees away from their home. He simply asks, "Why?" in a way that is both supremely innocent, and hauntingly effective anti-war sentiment.
At a mere 6 minutes, Dead Horses, is a succinct testament to the power of animation in evoking complex emotion out of extreme artifice. I have embedded the teaser for it below to offer a glimpse.