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Shorts Round-Up #2 - July 23

Level (2017) *** - It isn't exactly subtle, but still fun. Take a less exciting chapter (or level, cough) from the likes of a Silent Hill or Resident Evil game and literally commit it to film. Some nice nods to the way horror video games work here, even going so far as restarting after death with all of the items you had already picked up. Left me wanting more, so thumbs up.

Anomaly (2014) **.5 - Polished, dream-like half hour sci-fi short in the realm of Malick's The Tree of Life. Ambiguous by design, challenging the audience to work out the meaning for themselves regarding the imminent arrival of a comet in Earth's atmosphere and what it means for the featured cast. Naysays may not like the open-ended delivery as it doesn't provide obvious closure.

Amanda_Test 1 (2018) **.5 - Another DUST sci-fi short, weighing in at under thirteen minutes. Adequately performed and about as radical as most shorts that originate from DUST, extolling innovation thematically more often than not. The same is true here, bringing loss and love a new option through invention.

Lot 36 (2022) *** - From the Cabinet of Curiosities this, like most in the series, is a morality tale where making the wrong decision has suitable consequences. If you poke the bull, you'll get the horns, so to speak. Here, a gruff, unfriendly man buys an abandoned storage lot which contains much more interesting items than he at first thought.

Graveyard Rats (2022) *** - Another from Del Toro's Cabinet where the unsavoury act of graverobbing can prove to be lucrative, but in this case, not without dire consequences. Avarice notwithstanding, this is an authentic, considered and pleasing short with some great performances and a grubby fingernailed tone.

The Autopsy (2022) ***.5 - Another Curious Cabinet entry, this time from David Prior (The Empty Man) starring F Murray Abraham as a forensic examiner charged with biologically investigating the deaths of a handful of miners after an unexplained explosion in the local mine. It's grubby, sloppy and grisly with a simple but otherworldly tale at its centre. At nearly an hour, it probably can't be described as a short. Good performances, but maybe bring your sickbag if you're of a nervous or delicate disposition.

The Outside (2022) **** - Probably the best of the Curiosities so far comes in the rather sloppy form of The Outside, social commentary about the pressures of female beauty and the pursuit of perfection, confidence and acceptance. Cosmetically challenging for the weak-minded, I imagine, telling a story of an ugly duckling misfit prepared to go to any lengths to become a beautiful swan. Darkly comic and occasionally grisly, again, this is a morality tale, suggesting that life is what you make it and not the other way around.

Dreams in the Witch House (2022) **.5 - The drugs, in fact, do work. Who knew? The fact that Rupert Grint stars in this just put me on the back foot straight away. When his twin sister dies and her soul is whisked away in front of him, he vows to save her. Thirty years later and he's still trying, but now he's getting close, ultimately delivering him to the house of a witch who has her own plans for him while he's traversing other dimensions, looking for his dead sister. Not awful, but forgettable and struggles to play with the big boys even within the limited confines of this Cabinet of Curiosities.

The Viewing (2022) ** - Despite a turn from Peter Weller, this struggles to convince that it ever knew where it was going to begin with, which becomes more and more obvious as time goes on and is glaringly obvious by the conclusion. If there was a hidden hedonistic message hidden amongst the scotch, the weed and the piles and piles of coke, I'm afraid I missed it.

The Murmuring (2022) ***.5 - The last Curiosity for the time being. An accomplished ghost story with extra portions of tragedy thrown in incase you imagined for a minute that there might be even a seconds' brevity. Excellent performances throughout and at an hour, it uses all of its runtime effectively as our leads spend some time in a uniquely haunted house by the lake, with a slowly unravelling history, for the purposes of birdwatching and the pursuit of almost as much misery.

Imminent Arrival (2023?) ***.5 - Good luck finding too much information about this Empty Can Films project, released by DUST, as it doesn't appear on most established film sites. The story of a hick ex-marine and his close encounter with a supposed alien invasion is both well-written and funny, which is fortunate as that was the aim. Does very well with its nineteen minutes which whizzes by too quickly.

Boxballet (2020) *** - There's someone for everyone, no matter how unlikely it seems. The simple and often charming tale of the relationship sparked between two individuals, seemingly worlds apart. Animated sweetly throughout with some very inventive editing. Proof positive that you can conjure romance without so much as a word. Neither drop dead gorgeous nor awe-inspiring, but honest and satisfying nonetheless.

Affairs of the Art (2021) ** - Not really my cup of tea. Sounds like a wannabe Alan Bennett monologue but with difficult imagery to accompany it. I guess Patricia Routledge and Maggie Smith were both unavailable for narration? Like a trifle with nails hidden in it when you haven't eaten for three days.

Bestia (2021) *** - Before you shake your head and scoff at me with incredulity, I was actually thinking to myself, not a week ago, that I need to see more Chilean cinema (guess who's been checking the Letterboxd map?). Okay it's an animated short, but it's also a start. And if this is indicative of what I'm in for, I have to say I am at least morbidly curious. I've always found stop-motion to be helplessly dated but very effective in the right hands. This surprisingly dark story concerning the unusual torture practices of a member of the secret police in Chile may not keep you awake at night, but will certainly make you uncomfortable. Based (loosely) on real events too, allegedly.

The Windshield Wiper (2021) ***.5 - Can't deny that the animation is simply lovely, but it easily overshadows a message of simple curiosity - what is love? The two matching in Tinder whilst standing next to one another in the supermarket, yet never looking up from their phones to see that the object of their desire is standing right there, and then rather than messaging their new match, they just continue to swipe which is a powerful and imaginative social comment on relationships today, even if by the end, it has redeemed itself to become maybe more than just Alberto Mielgo showing off for the sake of it.


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