Final Girls Berlin: “Cabin Fever” 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.

In the opening months of 2021, there feels like there is probably no more unifying topic for a film than the concept of isolation. In the midst of a global pandemic, the need for human interaction and the impact missing that can impose have become abundantly evident. While none of these films, all focused on a sense of being separated from the larger world, were made with COVID and its global impact in mind, it is impossible to not view them at least partially though that prism at this time.

A short content warning: some of these short films include sensitive or triggering topics

Nyt Kun Olet Minun (Now That You’re Mine)
Dir. Petra Lumioksa

Aava is returning to her childhood home on an isolated island to help clean it out with her sister Iiris to potentially sell, and she has brought along her girlfriend Heidi to let her bond with the family. Things don’t go according to plan however, first due to a Discman in the old house dredging up long lost memories of her mother’s tragic drowning death, and then because Heidi and Iris grow increasingly suspicious of each other. As the trip quickly sours, soon Aava needs to escape before things go from bad to worse.

At nearly 40 minutes, Now That You’re Mine is far and away the longest of the shorts presented at the festival. That extra time allows it more times of quiet before things grow darker. Set against a lush Finnish forest, the film luxuriates in its isolated setting, allowing it grow from idyllic to oppressing gradually over time. The film’s ending is both sinister and somewhat ambiguous, allowing the scenario to play out in the viewer’s head, leaving behind an effective sense of menace.

Lose It
Dir. AJ Taylor and Maximillian Clark

A woman is enjoying a luxurious night home alone, when items in her home suddenly start to disappear. Before long, her whole sense of reality is quick unraveling before her. From the longest film to the shortest, Lose It is an efficient piece of dreamlike horror storytelling that has the confidence to never fully explain itself, leaving interpretation up to the viewer. To say much more basically robs the piece of its power, but suffice to say that this viewer saw in it a powerful message about generalized anxiety, and how it can unsettle an otherwise comfortable existence with little warning. However, to each viewer the short will speak to different things, and thus it demands to be seen to be properly understood and known.

A Dinner Party
Dir. Michèle Kaye

Set in an unexplained post-apocalypse, Ruby lives alone but has some unusual house guests. Three delirious, wild-eyed outsiders who come with tales of outside her home, it is revealed through conversation that Ruby is an environmentally minded activist who was not against using violence as a tool to make her point in the past. However, the state of the world has become such that Ruby can’t leave, not without proper protection. As the dinner goes on, conversation becomes more agitated, as the outsiders clearly desire to have a peaceful, relaxed meal resembling normalcy, while Ruby is in search for the truth.

A darkly comedic film, A Dinner Party expertly does world building without necessarily diving into clunky bits of exposition. Conversation is natural and communicates the world to the viewer without having the speakers bend over backwards to explain what has occurred. Because the specifics are less important than the effect: a sudden onset change have left those in denial forced to act like things are still normal, while those steady-eyed like Ruby are scraping by to survive and remain sane. The contrast, and tension, between these two perspectives builds a strange tension that propels the film to its quiet ending.

Fat Henry
Dir. England Simpson

Jada (Simpson) has hit rock bottom; suffering from multiple addictions, including self-harm, she is struggling with finding work and her daughter recently being taken from her for child protective reasons. Seeing no other path forward, she reaches out to “Fat Henry”, who seems desperate for obese actresses to perform for some experimental project. Traveling through nightmarish imagery, Jada descends deeper and deeper into murky circumstances.

Fat Henry is an unrelentingly bleak film, not only because of just how far Jada has fallen, but with the viscerally upsetting imagery the film depicts. These pieces of oppressively unpleasant imagery and circumstances grows with urgency throughout, somewhat aided by the film’s low-budget, grimy aesthetic. Unfortunately, a somewhat discouraging twist ending depletes the impact of a lot of the unpleasantness; what director/writer/star Simpson likely intends to be startling revelation lands as a bit of a groan-inducing cheat. She clearly has an eye for how to unsettle an audience, but narratively the film doesn’t quite seem to know how to disengage.

Dir. Janina Gavankar and Russo Schelling

A woman known only as J (played by Gavankar) has recently moved into a new home and has been working through crippling agoraphobia. When attempting to hang a picture, she punctures a hole in her wall, and discovers what appears to be a secret space. Her mind begins to imagine what could possibly be behind the wall, and soon her fantasies and real life seem to merge, and she soon becomes unable to think about anything other than the mystery of the other room.

Stucco’s strange tone lurches a bit all over the place, as like its protagonist, it fixates on the hole in the wall, only to move away from it, and then back. The finale is startling and unexpected, though perfectly set up by context. Gavankar’s performance as a woman who is plagued by obsession and anxiety carries a lot of the oddity through to the finale, as does scoring and one original song from the Root’s ?uestlove. Funny, strange and eerie in equal measure, Stucco stands as a confident and cerebral piece of filmmaking that leaves itself open for interpretation.

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