One person’s belief system is another person’s superstition, and director Reangsei Phos’ Talisman (Canada) finds school-aged Yi (Sean Lu) torn between these two schools of thought. His family has just moved into a new house, and while his mother (Qingqing Yang) tries to protect the house from ghosts, his father (Danny Liang) urges her not to fill the young boy’s head with nonsense. Strange things are indeed happening inside the house, resulting in shocking acts of violence. Phos balances solid family drama with well-paced suspense, including flash-and-you-miss-it events, which should keep viewers’ eyes glued to the proceedings. The cast members, including Pascale Behrman, all turn in strong performances.
The animated short film wendigo (Ireland, 2021) is an intriguing take on the North American First Nations mythological creature combined with other eldritch occurrences. Charlie (voiced by Marc-Ivan O’Gorman) is a curious young man who wants to investigate first-hand what remains of the Olsen Mansion, site of some horrific events in the past. Local inn owner Fred (voiced by Dave Hendrickson) gives him some advice, but when Charlie visits the site himself, things get stranger and stranger. Writer/director Max Hendrickson invests his short with increasingly eerie surreal qualities, and his engaging animation style works in tandem with a fitting score.
No one does high school horror, ghost stories and pop tech using urban legends like Japanese filmmakers, and writer/director Masaki Nishiyama continues in the tradition of luminaries such as Hideo Nakata (Ringu) and Takashi Shimizu (Beef Head Village) with its shocker vertical aspect SMAHORROR. Three high school friends record their investigation of a closed school bathroom after a bullied classmate allegedly committed suicide there. Nishiyama shot the short entirely with smart phones, and it uses the claustrophobic atmospheres of a small bathroom and dark school hallways to great creepy effect. He comments on the negativity that being obsessed with social media can have while delivering a straight thrill reminiscent of classic J-horror. Its actors – Serika Gunji, Saki Kisaki, Yui Narumi and Sumipon – all give believable turns.
A one-person effort, writer/director/actor/editor Ethan Hunt Spare body finds a teenager looking for hidden money and recklessly ignoring a sign not to open a closet – the second sign he’s seen in minutes; the first being on a delivery box promising that a second life is now possible, stating that the carton should not be opened until necessary. What teenager in a horror movie wouldn’t open a door that says don’t open it? The boy does it and, as you’d expect, the consequences are disastrous. Hunt wears a lot of hats for this production, and he does a great job with all of them. The film is a chiller on its own, and thinking about the hard work of a young, lonely filmmaker adds to the appeal of the short.
Talisman, Wendigo, SMAHORROR, and Spare body screen as part of National Talented Youth Film Festival – featuring works by filmmakers aged 24 or younger – who will be presented as a hybrid event, both in person and virtual. The in-person festival runs from April 28 to May 1, 2022 in Seattle, WA. The full virtual festival runs from April 28 to May 8, 2022.