Horror-on-Sea Film Festival offered up a treasure trove of incredible horror shorts. Here are reviews about four of them, featuring a man stalking a skateboarder, a terrifying taxi ride, a disturbing encounter with mental illness, and a deadly revenge date.
★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Writer/director Romén Rivero’s Spanish short Noctámbulos (Night Owls) is a great-looking, highly effective chiller that sees a teenage girl (Sabina Zambrano) skateboard alone after separating from her friends (Carlos Carnero, Jesús Extraviz, and Santiago Santana) for the night. A man (Manuel Aragonés) stalks and pursues her, leading to an unsettling scene between the two — but that is just the beginning of what’s in store in this superb short. Rivero not only penned and helmed Noctámbulos, he also performed almost every filmmaking task except for help with makeup, and writing and performing the synthesizer-fueled score — the latter of which was done by Co.Ag. Loaded with remarkable shots, including a good deal of close-ups, the short has an eerie feel from the beginning that lasts throughout its eight-minutes-plus running time. The tension is gripping throughout. This fine short deserves to be expanded into a feature-length film, as a deeper dive into the world Rivero has created should surely be a blast.
★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
U.K. horror short No Strings is a stunning macabre tale rich with atmosphere. Francesca Louise White (Slasher House 2 ; Monsters in the Dark ) plays a young woman whose car breaks down in a rural area on a rainy day. She finds a business card for No Strings taxi service in a nearby phone booth, and a driver (Marcus Davis-Orrom) soon arrives to pick her up. This being a slice of scare-fare cinema, you can imagine that things do not go well for her, and you would be right. Director Pablo Raybould, an actor who also helmed and appeared in The Snarling (2018), cowrote the screenplay with fellow The Snarling actor Ben Manning. Light on dialogue, No Strings unfolds its ghastly charms through splendid visuals courtesy of Liam Thomas Burke’s sumptuous cinematography and a perfect-storm combination of outstanding sound design by Wayne Reay and some magnificent classical music. One of my favorite sequences regarding the sound design involves mounting terror during the taxi ride as the woman shouts at the driver repeatedly but instead of her voice, the soundtrack uses percussion to heighten the madness. The reveal of what happens after the cab ride is truly sinister stuff.
★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
A new-to-the-job nurse named Cassie (Roma Malik) is assigned to interview Christine (Barbara Halsey), an older patient with a reputation for spitting, biting, and being prone to violently attack people. When supervisor Vera (Hari Flanagan) leaves Cassie alone with Christine, the patient reveals that her first-hand knowledge of mental illness hides a disturbing secret that Cassie does not want to accept as truth. Writer/director Steven Lancefield has crafted a disquieting U.K. short driven by solid performances from its two leads. Halsey invests her character with a fine dose of creepy energy without going over the top, and Malik is a perfect no-nonsense foil for the antagonist.
★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Writer/director Paul Laight’s U.K. horror short Tolerance is a taut thriller with wicked comic overtones. Sadie Cort (Georgia Kerr) invites her ex-boyfriend Stephen Torrance (Patrick Tolan) over for a candlelight dinner. She poisons the wine before his arrival, and sets her plan of revenge in motion. Getting Stephen to drink the wine proves to be a difficult proposition, as he has turned over a new leaf or two since their breakup. Laight wrings this premise for true Hitchockian suspense, while also delivering jarring subtext about relationships and the emotional scars they can leave with people. He balances tension, dark humor, and food for thought splendidly, with Kerr and Tolan delivering top-notch performances.
These shorts screened at Horror-on-Sea Film Festival, which ran January 10th–19th at Park Inn by Raddison Palace, Southend-on-Sea, U.K.