The Menaing Presences shorts block is full of films that leave an impression, whether they deliver on a well-earned jump scare or simply linger with heaps of unresolved tension.
L’appel (The Call)
Made from archive footage with a voiceover telling the story of a young woman seeing a notorious horror film and allowing the lasting fear and anxiety to fully influence her life. The footage used in the montage is interesting and the voiceover is calming, despite the serious nature of it. That idea of a film’s atmosphere being so penetrating that it directly changes someone’s trajectory is a very interesting one, speaking to the power of horror to strike chords with people far beyond the cinema.
The premise of Midnight Visitor is a simple one – a woman in her apartment hears another woman outside in distress and has to balance her own safety and that of a stranger. In less than 4 minutes Abby Brenker’s Midnight Visitor manages to squeeze in a lot of nightmare fuel, along with a set piece that you definitely won’t see coming, despite the familiarity of the setup. That arresting moment is delivered perfectly, in keeping with the claustrophobic setting and sickly green tinge of the film. Definitely one of the ones that has stuck with me for the longest time.
Pregnancy is terrifying when taken into the horror genre but the fear rarely stops there. Post-partum horror where sleepless nights and newborn anxieties dominate lives is full of opportunity for scares. Sleep Study takes this idea and runs with it in an appropriately jumpy and energetic presentation as a woman suffers from night terrors around her newborn baby. That energy is maintained throughout, pausing only to deliver on a sickly, well-realised finale that knows sometimes, the scariest things are the things you don’t see.
Another eerie parenting tale in which a writer takes some time away from her 4-month old to catch up on work. As she continues to write, she can’t help but feel something else is with her. Night Work is so deeply ominous, thanks to excellent use of darkness and near-silence. Each frame encourages the viewer to explore the surroundings with longer, steady shots of darkened rooms that feel suddenly threatening. Keisha Mitchell does excellent work as an anchor to support those lingering looks and her performance is to be commended.
While Mudmonster is a film that makes the most of uncanny visuals with simple yet effective design work, it is its sound design that most impressed me. The dips to near-silence are suffocating. The ability to genuinely provide a jolt without just turning up the volume on a jump-scare is one that should always be celebrated and this has several moments that utilise a lack of volume to incredibly disquieting effect. A music-box-style soundtrack later in the film further adds to the menace within the film, drawing all its threads together.
Knit One, Stab Two
I love a visual essay, so films like Knit One, Stab Two are always going to grab my attention. It is particularly interesting to see a focus on knitting within horror, allowing for the exploration of class, age and the impact of using a conventionally soothing activity to denote danger and even, as the film suggests, ‘a prop on the edge of madness’. More overt, knitting needle-as-weapon scenes are set against quieter scenes that merely hint at a character’s state of mind, but there is no doubt that this is an excellently researched and well presented piece.
The Menacing Presences shorts block screened as part of the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2023. Find out more about the festival at their webpage.