A few weeks back, I was asked to be one of the judges for DVXuser’s Monsterfest short film competition. Time is short nowadays, however I was not only honored, but I also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out a bunch of short films (especially when I was asked by none other than Jack Daniel Stanley, whose short films at Shriekfest were a definite highlight of that festival) by upcoming filmmakers.
So I watched all 13 finalists, and enjoyed pretty much all of them. Of course I liked some more than others, but all 13 films were well-made, unique from one another, and largely entertaining. And while I had favorites, it wasn’t easy to put them in any sort of ranked order, which I had to do in order to submit my ballot so a winner could be determined among all of the ballot entries from the other judges (which included Denise Gossett of Shriekfest, Grudge screenwriter Stephen Susco, and other esteemed folks).
At the end of the day, the three big winners were Dispatch, Bits and Pieces, and Red and the Wolf, all of which were among the top half of my ballot, making my promise to review the winners all the more pleasurable. So, on to the reviews, and congrats to all of the finalists!
NOTE - as the films are only a few minutes each, it would be hard to discuss them without spoiling plot points. You can watch all of the films on the DVXuser site, so I recommend doing that prior to reading the reviews.
3RD PLACE: RED AND THE WOLF
This spin on Little Red Riding Hood struck a chord with me, as it follows a similarly circular plot that I devised for a short script I wrote in college, where the heroine turns out to be the villain and is apparently leading a succession of good Samaritans to their doom. Obviously, I like the central concept. It’s also pretty suspenseful - the middle of the film depicts a cross over a bridge, which has its own little surprise that ramps up the tension.
2ND PLACE: BITS AND PIECES
This one placed in my own top 3 as well. It’s a strange, oddly moving piece about a monster trying to find companionship, but ultimately gives in to his horrific nature. The set design and lighting are fantastic; even though it all takes place in one building, it has the most polished and “professional” look of all of the entries. And additional props to director/editor Justin Durban for doing the music as well, I dug the hell out of the score.
1ST PLACE: DISPATCH
The big winner! A woman makes a 911 call, and throughout the course of the piece we learn a. what happened to her and b. the real reason for her call. Lots of short films have twists, and even though I saw this one coming, it’s still one of the better ones I’ve seen in recent memory, and it works on a horror level as well as a darkly comic one. And “Noble O” tells his/her story almost completely without dialogue, trusting in his visuals (and traditional horror “rules”) to let the audience know what happened and why, which is laudable in and of itself. The monster makeup is surprisingly strong as well - it’s only on-screen for a few frames, which some filmmakers might use as an excuse to cut corners and put any old thing up on the screen, but that does not seem to be the case here. A fast-paced, suspenseful, darkly funny film all around.
I would also like to give a shoutout to Devon Lyon and his film The Tell, which is the first short I can recall ever seeing that included a full blown musical number. I love to be surprised, and let me tell you - I did NOT expect a showtune. It was a bold gamble, and while it didn’t win everyone over, it ranks as the single most unique entry of the bunch, and I eagerly await the next film from Lyon and his crew.
You can read more about the winning films and the prizes their filmmakers won HERE at the DVXuser site. Grats again to all entrants, and I hope to take part in future competitions!