Joseph’s Reviews: SXSW Online 2021 Horror Shorts

Along with SXSW Online 2021’s incredible horror feature-film lineup, the festival offered plenty of fear fare in short form, too. Here are capsule reviews of four of these short-length shudder makers.

Don’t Peek

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

Directed by Julian Terry

ATMOSfx! Woo!

Don’t Peek takes the trope of someone alone in their home and slowly becoming aware of some paranormal occurrences and shows that the premise can still be an effective one for delivering rising tension and scares. A young woman (Katie Cetta) is playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons on her Nintendo Switch in her darkened bedroom when she notices that the game controls are now affecting events in her room. She has fun with it — at least at first, before a sinister presence begins making itself known. Writer/director Terry takes a fun time in solitude and successfully builds it into a spooky time. Don’t Peek has been picked up for a feature-length treatment by director Timur Bekmambetov (Hardcore Henry; Wanted).

Significant Other

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

Directed by Quinn George

A couple’s argument over the presence of a mysterious red orb in their home is the premise behind Significant Other. Writer/director George sets up an odd, unsettling atmosphere from the beginning and sustains it through to the climax. 

A Tale Best Forgotten

★★★★ out of ★★★★★

Directed by Tomas Stark

Swedish folk-horror short A Tale Best Forgotten, written by Stark and based on a poem by Helen Adam, is an atmospheric, beautifully shot (by cinematographer Ashley Briggs) slow-burn shocker about a father and daughter who live with a dog-headed man in a house by a river. Sebastian Bergström’s terrific score heightens the discomfiting atmosphere. 

Joanne Is Dead

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

Directed by Brian Sacca

Joanne is Dead is loaded with surprises and dark comedy, and packs a mighty wallop with its finale. Jenny O’Hara stars as a patient in an elderly care facility whose constant talk about someone named Joanne irks her caregivers (Barry Rothbart and Jade Catta-Preta as two employees who no one would want to be in charge of their aged parents). She annoys one of the staff members to his breaking point, and an upsetting dramatic scene leads toward a jaw-dropping payoff. Fueled by solid performances and Sacca‘s top-notch direction, this energetic short is an absolute blast. 

Don’t Peek, Significant Other, A Tale Best Forgotten, and Joanne is Dead screened as part of SXSW Online 2021, which ran from March 16–20, 2021. 

Reviews by Joseph Perry

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