The Final Girls Berlin Film Festival is going on virtually from February 4th to the 7th. Please visit their website to see more about what films will be available for viewing in you area, as some will be Geolocked.
The first showcase of the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival focuses on the relationship between our modern lives and technology, a fairly universal anxiety in our increasingly connected world. But the diversity in messaging within these shorts varies wildly. Tackling familiar topics like online dating and eager would-be influencers, some films strike a playful and light tone, while others really dig into the unsavory aspects of how a wired world has provided new avenues for realized horror.
The perspective however is fairly unified. While the whole festival is designed around the promise of women providing their unique perspective to the area of horror, the specificity of how each of these short films dive into how women’s relationship with technology and the access it provides has changed their lives is significant and irreversible ways.
Dir. Javi Prada
The first and shorted film in the block was also quite possibly the most the tense. A woman, in a basement with a baby, gets on a social media streaming platform, Spyglass, and establishes a rather dangerous challenge for herself: she plans to drink bleach, and won’t be calling for an ambulance. Instead, one of her viewers will have to figure out where she is, and call for the ambulance. The challenge will only commence until she reaches 1000 viewers however, so as we watch the number go up and up, we as participating viewers are faced with the real question: will she do it?
A single-actor piece, whether the short works or not heavily relies on the shoulders of Paula Munoz. Luckily, she is more than up to the task at hand, and definitely sells the desperation of a woman who says she is hoping to make a point, but mostly seems interested in clicks. I won’t spoil the end of the short (it’s barely 8 minutes long), but suffice to say the ending had my jaw drop open. A strong start to the block.
Don’t Text Back
Dirs. Kaye Adelaide and Mariel Sharp
Kelly has a problem: after a bad date from an online app, she was gifted an amulet. Despite not being interested in continuing the relationship, she wore the amulet…and now anytime this guy texts her, the amulet chokes her until she texts him back. She visits energy healer Jaren (“like Karen with a J”) who proceeds to attempt to help her exorcise this bad date.
While there are some horror elements in the premise, the tone and presentation of Don’t Text Back is almost entirely comedic. It tackles real issues surrounding women’s self-perceived responsibility to toxic men met online, but the delivery mechanism is through broad stereotypes and caricature. Nancy Webb’s Jaren is an especially broad version of new age, granola crunchy thinking, and her methods for relieving Kelly are over the top and silly. However, the final release cuts at some actual power dynamics that crop up within online dating, and how strange and stressful it can seem. A silly little piece that doesn’t play anything subtly.
Dir. Allison-Eve Hammersley
The longest and slickest looking of the films, Fragile.com follows teenager Mara (Carly Stewart in a debut performance) who finds herself facing many familiar frustrations of adolescence: the boy she likes not only doesn’t like her back, but likes another girl publicly and unabashedly. When she is seen crying in public, she is approached by stranger and filmmaker Duco(Colin Woodell) to participate in his newest project: the website Fragile.com, a streaming platform where girls cry on camera for a live audience of one.
Fragile.com is tackling a lot of different subjects, chief among them the way that women’s pain can often by fetishized and read as an attractive trait, and the means by which that can then be commodified and marketed off of. It is elevated by Hammersley being a confident filmmaker with several shorts under her belt at this point, and she effectively uses video artifacting in the real world to illustrate how Mara’s life become subsumed by performing her pain. The only complaint is that the concepts could be more fully fleshed out in a feature, and certain moments aren’t allowed the best space to breathe; thus the ending sneaks up on you, and leaves you demanding more.
Swipe Up, Vivian!
Dir. Hannah Welever
Set in a dystopian America after “the bombing,” we view this world through the lens of Vivian’s (Emily Marso) apartment, where she mostly sulks around and worries about if something else horrific could happen at any second. She is an agoraphobe who is addicted to urban life, and thus is isolated in a busy space. Her sister begs her to try out a dating app, where she meets Katrina (Mary Williamson), who challenges her to push outside her defensive walls.
Like Don’t Text Back, Swipe Up, Vivian! is laser-focused on the strange social pressures that come from online dating; unlike the former short however, those pressures aren’t seen as a curse so much as a barrier. Swipe Up ends up being far sweeter than it’s grim setting would suggest, and the chemistry between its two leads goes a long way with that. A thoughtful examination on how interacting with strangers can bring out strange sides of ourselves.
Kalley’s Last Review
Dir. Julia Bailey Johnson
A found-footage style piece, this short appears to be a beauty influencer YouTube video, depicting an up-and-comer who is excited to try out their first sponsorship: the Sous at-home face peel kit. This is another short one, sub ten minutes, so to say much more would give the whole game away. Suffice to say, the second credit after director and writer Johnson is “Special FX Makeup” from Alondra Excene Shields, and for good reason.
The programming is well paced, as we bookend with two videos about influencer culture and the lengths people will go to for attention. And while Kalley’s is less tense than Spyglass, there stylistic choice of just making a YouTube video as the document is a strong one, and the editing that Johnson does perfectly emulates influence videos, with jerky cutting to punctuate attempts at humor and create momentum. It is clearly made by someone who has carefully studied the craft of making these sorts of videos, and emulates it perfectly, even while parodying it. It part loving pastiche and part scolding criticism.