Final Girls Berlin: “Busting a Gut” Shorts Program

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.

According to Final Girls Berlin’s own programming notes, this block of shorts is a mixture of absurdist humor and horror themes; their own disclaimer states “watch out; these films get messy”. And while that is certainly true for a handful of them, I would say these definitely lean more into the absurdist angle than being especially visually graphic; in fact, the most powerfully viscerally imagery in the whole festival arguably was featured in the Cabin Fever block (though to say much more than that would be a bit of a spoiler). So far as graphic depictions, this set of shorts didn’t quite live up to that premise. As bite-sized pieces of horror absurdism however? They are mostly winners.

A quick note: for all the previous sets of shorts, I wrote a review for every short that I was provided a screener for. That was due to each set having either five or six films. Busting a Gut, due to the nature of it having on the whole having many more very short pieces (think sub ten minutes), has a higher number of shorts, clocking in at twelves shorts in total, of which I was able to watch eleven. Because you don’t want to read and I don’t want to write twelve mini reviews, I have selected the six most interesting to feature. They range from charming to unnerving, but they reflect the best this set has to offer. That said, just because something wasn’t featured in here doesn’t mean it was without merit. This is probably the most diverse set of shorts yet, and not merely due to the pure size of it, but because the category and different target lengths created a pleasant contrasts of storytelling, both visually and narratively, that was a pleasant final shorts set to enjoy.

Dir. Allison Miller

Laura has been struggling with a mysterious ailment that causes her ongoing stomach pain, that can only be relieved if she posts abusive comments of YouTube. She is tossed between various doctors until finally receiving a seeming cure, but what has been ailing her raises more questions than it answers.

Growth definitely lives up to the promise of a messier brand of horror, due to Laura (played by Miller, who also wrote the short) constantly vomiting little by little throughout the piece. It also shares themes with the cyber horror series from earlier in the festival, but focuses more on the nature of health care for women, and how often women’s concerns and pain are passed off as inherently reactionary. Laura’s plight is both seen as painful and absurd, as her soft-spoken outward demeanor is somewhat undercut by her aggressive online persona. When the short reaches its graphic conclusion, it punctuates that the cure and symptoms for her condition may not be that far apart.

Hitte (Heat)
Dir. Thessa Meijer

A girl, attempting to escape the summer heat, runs into an ice cream store, where she has a fateful encounter with the man behind the counter. At a risk two and a half minutes (not even),to say much more would give away the game of this short, but suffice to say that this piece is a playful visual showpiece that utilizes dream-like imagery to create an unnerving but strangely sensual moment. And I do mean moment; that is about all this one has time for.

You Don’t Know Me
Dir. Isabelle Giroux and David Emond-Ferrat

A tourist couple is traveling along rural Quebec when they have to stop for gas. When trying to pay, they stumble across a corpse in the gas station, clearly the victim of foul play. Their panic of how to respond to this quickly spirals out of control, especially when the gas station owner suddenly returns.

One of the things about short films is that, like prose short stories, their stakes have to be established quickly and efficiently. You Don’t Know Me operates almost as a sort of contained Coen brothers experiment: people stumble into a volatile situation, attempt to control it by making big decisions, and those decision in turn start to escalate. With intentional understated performances, and a dual-language script, You Don’t Know Me captures the proper fear that comes from suddenly being thrust into a scenario you were not prepared for, in unfamiliar territory.

Dir. Carlyn Hudson

Kerry and Katie are best friends, but that’s only because Katie has paid Kerry through a gig-economy service. When Kerry’s time is up, Katie pays for more of her time. But it soon becomes clear that the waffle heiress’ ideas of what friendship entails may be more than Kerry is ready to commit to.

A biting satire of the power dynamics between buyer and provider in the modern gig economy, Waffle blends genuine horror and razor-sharp wit with perfect balance. The short paces out its multiple twists carefully patiently, and when it gets to the finale, it recontextualizes everything before. Hudson establishes herself as a striking visual storyteller who has a finely crafted sense of comedic horror storytelling that recalls Jordan Peele. A real highlight of the festival.

The Claw
Dir. Lael Rogers

Return Policy, an up and coming Seattle punk band, has a chance for their big break as they are opening their biggest show yet. But as the band squabbles over details like set list order and their preparedness, front woman Kiran struggles with wondering if they, and specifically her, are going to screw up this opportunity.

The Claw’s relationship to horror is tenuous at best; it is mostly scene comedy where ambitious rock musicians patter along about how to best capitalize on their new found luck, each covering up their own imposter syndrome with false bravado. All of this will be very familiar to anyone who has been part of a band, or really invested in any creative effort. Alaji Marie as Kiran embodies the conflict between wanting to “make it”, and wondering if you have what it takes. When the film gets to its delirious, absurd punchline, it doesn’t break the otherwise grounded tone, but rather plays it right alongside all the other strange parts of band life. Punctuated by a mid-film performance by the fantastic Hobosexual.

Your Monster
Dir. Caroline Liddy

Right as Laura is going in for cancer-treatment, her boyfriend breaks up with her, her mother runs off to vacation in Florida and her best friend cancels plans. She is feeling very alone and very scared, and then things escalate when she discovers she has a literal monster living in her literal closet. But luckily for her, this monster is on her side.

An exercise in tone and genre, Your Monster starts in one place and takes several genre twists before finally getting to its heart-felt conclusion. These shifts could be disorienting and strange, but are handled with enough care to seem logical and in some way inevitable. The journey for Laura (played wonderfully by Orange in the New Black’s Kimiko Glen) from abandonment to self-empowerment is effectively triumphant, and Tommy Dewey’s turn as a supportive, laid back closet monster is genuinely one of the sweetest characters I have seen in a movie in a long time. Of all the shorts this week, this is the one that could best be fleshed out into a proper feature, if only because you want to see more of these characters interacting, and more of Laura taking the power back in her life when everything seems taken away from her.

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