Following are reviews of four of the offerings that screened as part of the 2024 Final Girls Berlin Film Festival’s Folk Horror short-film block.
Short chiller Nian (U.S., 2023), finds a Chinese American schoolgirl (Lauren Mei in a delightful performance) standing up to a racist bully with the help of a Chinese demon mask and the supernatural assistance of the titular mythological punisher of naughty children. Director Michelle Krusiec delivers a crisp commentary on racism and bullying that nails its fantasy aspects, with a nice amount of heart behind it.
Days of Spring
Writer/director Arianne Hinz’s Days of Spring (Netherlands, 2022) is a disturbing peek into the secretive world of a small group of young Dutch girls who surrender their individual wills to the group. Eleven-year-old Roos (Anoek Neervort) has invited her friend Ella (Maeve Hickey) to join the group but begins to question herself when the demands of the girls grows increasingly extreme, including animal sacrifice. Beautifully lensed by Michel Rosendaal, marvelously acted by its young cast members, and directed splendidly by Hinz, Days of Spring looks as bright and gorgeous as its subject matter is dark and eerie.
Restricting access to abortion and the loss of bodily autonomy are two of the social issues addressed in Kristine Gerolaga’s horror short Mosquito Lady, (U.S., 2023), which sees a young woman (Hanna Lorica) facing anger from her parents because of her pregnancy out of wedlock. She turns to a neighbor (Maria Lingbanan) about whom her parents warned her. The titular monster is the manananggal, a folkloric beast from the Philippines that eats fetuses, and the practical effects makeup and creature design here are eerie and impressive. Gerolaga has crafted a dark, thought-provoking short that leaves food for thought long after its ending.
A Dire Strait
U.S./Taiwanese coproduction A Dire Strait (2022) involves new mother Demi (Christine Liao) dealing with her husband and in-laws’ insistence that she follow the Chinese tradition of Zuo-Yue-Zi, which involves women who have just given birth needing to stay in bed for a month straight and strictly eat chicken soup in the belief that it will heal their bodies and help them produce nutritious breast milk. Trying to comply but needing the occasional junk food fix and simple exercise and freedom of walking around the house, Demi hits her limit and acts out against the trio. Liao gives a terrific lead performance, and Lee Chen assists as the perfect foil for our protagonist. Writer/director Liang-Chun Lin delivers a darkly comic thriller that leaves viewers to ponder the effects of cultural traditions on modern people, and women in particular.
The folk horror shorts reviewed here screened as part of the 2024 Final Girls Berlin Film Festival, which ran in Berlin, Germany, from February 7–11 with an online component.