Monster Fest has a selection of creepy short films in its programme, many of which pleasingly come from here in Australia. The selection reviewed here are all home-grown, and they aim for a kind of horror that carries no supernatural elements, but bring disturbingly real human compulsions to the surface in heightened realities.
There’s a kind of scripted joke unique to amateur film-makers, which copies from reams of American films while acting above them, and The Dead Guy in the Trunk hits its own when the female lead literally says “you know when I said I wanted more excitement in our relationship… it’s not exactly what I had in mind!” With that sensibility, I can’t be too hard on Lucas Scheffel and his crew for trying. It gets well-lit shots and a basic enough premise down – a couple’s anniversary dinner goes awry when the husband returns home with take-a-wild-guess – but pretty much everything else carries the hallmarks of a firmly average BA major work. The script aspires to play on protective marital instincts, but late plot turns make very little sense and strain that warped sympathy. Worse, the extras are clearly non-professionals roped in on short notice and all the dialogue is dubbed in comically distracting ADR (meaning something must have gone scarily wrong with the sound recorded on location). It would be churlish to hate on it when it likely will only live on to festoon showreels, but to give it the same respect as other shorts (even just the ones at Monster Fest) would be disingenuous. I just hope everyone involved goes on to better things.
The Jelly Wrestler, meanwhile, may look like the kind of purposeful schlock that is prone to the same mistakes, but director Rebecca Thomson and writer Claire D’Este bring the trashy premise to exuberant life. Their lead is a bartender (Elise Taylor) who finds herself losing work to younger and perkier talent. When new recruit Amy (Rachel Williams) wants to gel up for the pub’s upcoming jelly wrestling competition, Eileen taps into her former life as champion of the circuit to coach her to victory, and to get her name back on the work roster in return. It’s written and acted with zero pretense, leading to a dark but surprisingly endearing ending that makes Dead Guy’s shortcomings all the more pronounced. Moreover, the simple stakes, Saturday-night aesthetic and dominating female presence combine to make it a gutsy and grubby delight.
Best of the lot, though, is Violent Florence, which lives up well to both the name and the promises made to its Pozible supporters. Its shy protagonist (Charly Thorn, magnetic) rescues a cat from local youths, only to take it home to feed her own malevolent desires. It’s a wild ride that tensely crawls across the skin before rupturing it in explosive terror. As with The Jelly Wrestler, the ending is the conceit, and the one here grounds the freakish affair with an amusingly sympathetic reveal. Props to the Monster Fest team for placing it in front of Starry Eyes for a pleasingly gross double of bodily abjection.