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ETHERIA FILM NIGHT Review – An Amalgamation of Imaginative Horror Shorts

​​Sarah Kirk says Etheria Film Night highlights new horror talent while also giving a platform to women's voices.


THE FAMILIARS (2020), a supernatural horror short film directed by Millicent Malcolm.
Courtesy of Millicent Malcolm

[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS REFERENCES TO VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND ASSAULT]


Etheria Film Night is a culmination of creative, ingenious, and captivating films directed by women. These short films span the genres of dark comedy, horror, suspense, thriller, and science fiction, sometimes blending genres. They cover topics such as black magic, an art student obsessed with blood and gore, mice infestations, and robots with feelings. These women filmmakers have established inventive stories with excellent cinematography, lighting, and commentary on prevalent societal issues. Let us hope to see more women directing in the future with promising shorts turning into beautifully executed features.


These films are unique in the sense that they are all from women’s perspectives, and that link binds them together. The film industry is dominated by men, and it's refreshing to see short films written, directed, and produced by talented and fearless women. A common theme in horror films is violence against women. Here, we see strong female characters who are empowered with magic or artistic ability, and who want to fight back and be heard.


Fear is ingrained into women when they grow up in a patriarchal society and these short films turn the tables. The shorts featured in Etheria Film Night were all enjoyable. It was a wonderful experience to watch the minds of all these women come to life through their art as filmmakers.



 

THIS IS OUR HOME

In This Is Our Home (2021), Dina (Mor Cohen), an empathetic vegan and Ruya (Ruba Thérèse Mansouri), her roommate, are at a crossroads. They have a rodent infestation in their apartment and struggle to find a method to resolve this problem. Dina is against animal cruelty, and the mice infestation makes her spiral. A rodent infestation and roommate conflict; it’s a New York living nightmare. Dina provides moral justification by stating, “They’re living creatures,” to Ruya, who could care less. She has nightmares of mice climbing into her bed and wakes up to find a mouse and her babies living under her bed. The mouse is accidentally killed while trying to save the mouse from the glue trap. Upset, she results in eating comfort food and results in dissociation as the mice problem gets exponentially worse. Director A.K. Espada captures the fascinating story from all points of view.


Alexandra Bock’s cinematography is effective. It shows the perspective of Dina and the mice themselves. The mice scurry behind the walls and the film ends with an up-close shot of the mouse's face. If you dislike rodents, this will be unsettling because it’s very in your face. Dan Carey Bailey’s sound design also contributed to the fear-bathed atmosphere. One example is Dina hearing scratching noises as the nursery rhyme “Hickory Dickory Dock” creepily plays.


Bloody Knives // 3


INHERITANCE

Director Annalise Lockhart creates a unique and compelling story with Inheritance (2021). The film follows Norra (Victoria A. Villier), who inherits her family's secluded cabin in the Vermont woods. She begins to see spirits following her wherever she goes after heading to the property. With a strong opening act and anxiety-inducing cinematography, the film zooms in on the family as if an outsider is watching them. It's frightening to see the spirits standing amongst Norra, like empty vessels.


In addition to beautiful images, there are lingering shots that build the suspense. Villier, DeLeon Dallas, and Ron Brice contribute to the short’s engaging story. I haven’t experienced anything quite like this film. My only frustration was that I could not fully comprehend the spirit's purpose. While some questions remain unanswered, Inheritance combines science fiction and horror in a unique way.


Bloody Knives // 3


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LUCID

Directed and co-written by Deanna Milligan with Claire E. Robertson, Lucid (2021) follows young art student Mia (Caitlin Taylor), who embarks on a journey of creative self-expression. Her self-portrait receives unsatisfactory remarks and critiques in class. She’s asked to find something with a heart, so she draws upon her interest in the morbid and repulsive, like blood and organs. Camera work and pacing are quick, reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film. Lucid deals with imposter syndrome, failure, and feelings of being an outcast who never quite fits in. Ingenious, colorful, and grotesque flashbacks begin when Mia takes inspiration from her childlike interest in the macabre.


As a child, she was fascinated by the organs of dead animals. What once brought shame now brings her artistic invention. Mia internalizes the negative messages from her youth and turns them into an immersive art project for her classmates to experience. The structure and tone are fast and enjoyable. We watch a montage of ideas as Mia discovers herself and discovers what is at the heart of who she is as a person. Her revelation is gross, funny, and original. Lucid is a funky work of art with splashes of saturated color and a cinematic production that uncovers trauma and transforms those feelings into art.


Bloody Knives // 3


DANA

Director Lucía Forner Segarra delivers a satisfying Spanish horror-vigilante justice film with Dana (2020), capturing women's strength and justified anger. The film opens with Dana (Thais Blume) washing blood off her face. She is sexually assaulted on the way home from meeting her friend for drinks. Watching her attack is like watching every woman's nightmare worst nightmare realized. Blume does a tremendous job of portraying a scared and angry woman dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. We feel the intensity of her anger and fear. Blume’s portrayal perfectly depicts how many women relate in a patriarchal society, where violence against women has become normalized. Dana points the lens at the violence perpetuated toward women and its accepted prevalence.


The revenge horror story depicts Dana hunting down the rapists in her city and acting out vigilante justice because the police aren’t solving the problem fast enough. She slices throats and staples their criminal records to their pants. Segarra balances the film’s heavy tone with dark comedy, making it more digestible. Dana turns her rage into a way to save other women from a terrible fate. It’s emotional and physically tiring to experience yet is blended in a profound and captivating way.


Bloody Knives // 5


Victoria A. Villier in INHERITANCE, directed by Annalise Lockhart.
Courtesy of Annalise Lockhart

FREYA

Director Camille Hollett-French and writer Rhona Rees, who also plays the lead character, Jade, have crafted an intriguing dystopian concept with their science-fiction horror short, Freya (2020). Freya is a more invasive and intelligent version of Siri. She tracks your health and social media—she does everything for you. Technology has become ingrained in Jade’s life, and she becomes pregnant after a fun night out. Freya, her AI, updates her social media status, alerting everyone in her network. The catch is that she can’t terminate the pregnancy because it would be considered a federal offense. The government tracks Jade’s search engines and has her on an obese geriatric government diet. After searching for abortion methods, a government service urges her to think about the ‘miracle’ inside her. Her job as a woman is to procreate for a more unified society.


The film mirrors the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade and the intrusion of the government on a women’s right to choose. Jade has no control over her own body. Freya and the government now dictate her life and the life of other women. Watching the film was disturbing, knowing that this dystopian has in some respects become a related in the United States. The advanced technological special effects plastered in front of Jade drew me out of that association. Freedom of choice, access to information, and bodily autonomy are gone. It’s so eerily similar to real life, and it’s horrifying.


Rees recently commented on YouTube, "I wrote this film in 2019 when I first heard that Roe v Wade could be at risk...as a filmmaker you always want your work to be timely, but wow. Watching it in post-Roe times is truly horrific."


Bloody Knives // 4



THE FAMILIARS

The atmosphere and cinematography are reminiscent of Robert Eggers, The Witch (2015). Director Millicent Malcolm creates intense, uncomfortable family tension in The Familiars (2020), with constant dark lighting, intimate camera angles, and an intense focus on the actors. The film stars Alison (Milly Alcock), Liz (Helen Stuart), and Jen (Julia Savage). Beginning with a witch’s death, and in the present day, the grand matriarch Nanna (Leila Wedd) has died, and the family is left to figure out who has been transferred her power.


Liz’s mood fluctuates, leading to differential treatment towards her daughters, causing them to walk on eggshells whenever she is near. Stuart’s performance infuses the film with absolute terror with bursts of anger that quickly transition to caring mother. Director of Photography, Calum Riddell, generates frightful and penetrating images, poignantly building suspense. The sound design is eerie and sinister, with the score crescendoing from silent to startling loud noises in this suspenseful supernatural thriller.


Bloody Knives // 3


COME F*CK MY ROBOT

Director Mercedes Bryce Morgan comments on how women are sexually viewed in Come F*ck My Robot (2020) and the societal fixation on sex in contemporary culture. The engineer, played by Ian Abramson, builds a sex robot and posts an advertisement on Craiglist for someone to test it and provide feedback. He claims that the robot will "redefine pleasure” and "eradicate rape and loneliness," which is an odd approach to eradicating those two things. Come F*ck My Robot has beautiful and seductive lighting that is supposed to aid Brian (Nicholas Alexander) in having a sexual encounter with Ivy, the sex robot voiced by Catherine Tapling. Although the robot doesn't look human, Brian wonders how he's meant to be intimate with her.


The robot's design is a representation of how women are often viewed as nothing more than objects of sexual desire rather than as actualized people with ideas, feelings, and beliefs. Brian complies with Ivy's desire to talk and get to know him, and both refrain from making rash decisions regarding sex. The engineer is an example of a collective idea that some men have where they want a woman to shut up and just be there for pleasure. He mutes her and commands Brian to continue.


Ivy is much more than simply a sex object in Brian's eyes. When Ivy tells Brian that saving her from her maker isn't going to get him sex, it’s a commentary on how some men expect sex as a reward for generic and normal behavior. Being a woman, I felt a connection to these ideas. Women want to be seen as fully realized and complete individuals, not just parts. Come F*ck My Robot has outstanding story execution, and the story digs deep into societal criticism.


Bloody Knives // 4


 



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