The Dream Machine
Cowriters/codirectors Josef Hermansson Embring and Philip Sterner have crafted a trippy work, Swedish short The Dream Machine. A young man (Alec Toselli) buys the titular device advertised on late-night television in hopes of easing his insomnia, or at least coming to grips with it, but this being a science fiction thriller, naturally using the machine leads to odd consequences. The filmmakers make the most of a small, sparsely decorated apartment, almost bare except for technology circa the short’s early 2000s-setting. The result is a mind-boggling lo-fi mind bender.
Writer/director Adrian Bobb’s The Fore-Men reveals its secrets slowly, and quite satisfyingly so. Sophia Walker and Gabriel Darku give fine performances as they star as what seems to be the lone survivors, at least in their area, of some cataclysmic event that brought the far past and present colliding together. Bobb makes the most of using what viewers don’t see to build mystery and tension and then lays a huge, shocking reveal on us. The Fore-Men comes strongly recommended for aficionados of science-fiction horror.
Crafted to drive home messages about the horrors of war — especially ones that involve innocent civilians — while providing a good deal of supernatural chills and psychological horror, director Alex Thompson’s Black Dragon (2018) is an excellent short shocker. Colonel Thompson (Matthew Del Negro) and his charges in a command post during the Vietnam War have just committed an atrocity — Thompson used the Mỹ Lai massacre in 1968 as a reference point — and a young local girl (Celia Au) who allegedly has the power to raise the dead enters enters the picture. This great-looking short boasts gruesome sights you won’t easily forget along with its solid cast and direction, and is gripping in its suspenseful delivery.
That’s Our Time
As director Alex Backes’ short That’s Our Time begins, Danny (Marque Richardson) discusses his disconnection with other people with his therapist, Dr. Dana Miller (Debra Wilson). We see fragments of his life as he contemplates the difficulty of bonding with others, of which the short does a fine job of addressing before going in an unexpected direction. Well helmed and performed, this is a gripping slice of genre cinema.
You can check out the official teaser trailer at https://vimeo.com/738075713.
In the Shadow of God
Obviously having not watched horror films that warn adult children never to go to their childhood homes after a parent dies, Rachel (Sara Canning) does just that, and finds that mysterious, deadly presences may be part of the family’s property now. Writer/director Brian Sepanzyk’s In the Shadow of God has multiple enigmatic layers to its 18-minute running time but rather than seeming jam-packed with clues but insufficient backstory, the short feels like a dread-filled, self-contained world heavy with unexplained mysteries that we don’t necessarily need all the answers to. This one cries out to be fully fleshed out into a feature film, and I hope that it does become one.
These shorts screened as part of Panic Fest 2023, which took place in person from April 13–19, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri, and which offered a virtual fest from April 14–23.