Halloween is coming, which makes the strange, spooky, and sometimes inexplicable films of the NewFest shorts program Mad as Hell particularly appropriate at this time of year. If they have a common theme, it’s “the world is stranger than you think,” a sentiment also particularly appropriate to our times.
In M.G. Evangelista’s “Blood Hana” (15 min.; also known as “Hana Lily”), Lily (Emily May Jampel), who’s always followed the rules set out by her family and her church, develops a crush on a female classmate, Alex (Emily Bessa), which is definitely not on the list of approved activities. At about the same time, she starts vomiting up a combination of blood and flowers, which prompts her mother to tell Lily that she’s actually inherited a disease that is triggered by unrequited love. “Blood Hana” is based on a story by Lexington Rivera and incorporates animation into what is otherwise a primarily live-action film.
A different sort of mystery is at the heart of the New Jersey-set “Chaperone” (16 min.), written and directed by Sam Max. It starts when “Client” (Russell Kahn) is picked up by “Chaperone” (Zachary Quinto, I kid you not), and they go to an isolated country home that might as well have been sent over from Central Casting (right down to the plastic-covered upholstery, which is about as New Jersey as you can get). At first, it seems obvious where the story is going, but that’s not at all where it ends up. “Chaperone” was screened at Sundance this year and won a special jury award at the 2022 Palm Springs International ShortFest.
It’s tough being a teenage girl—just ask Wen (Ting Chiu), the central character in Deborah Devyn Chuang’s “Mom, If I Were a Vampire” (17 min.). Wen’s #1 goal in life is to not become like her mother (Rou-Ming Wang), but for the near future she’s stuck living with Mom and attending a bully-filled high school where the perfectly ordinary female reality of menstruation is used to humiliate her. Then she meets cool-girl Jo (Yu-Xuan Wang), then a a rapist-vampire turns up, and after all that there’s simply no going back. “Mom, If I Were a Vampire” was shot in Taiwan and uses video-quality footage to excellent effect.
Any woman who’s had to walk home at night, which is just to say a whole lot of women, can identify with the setup in Karimah Zakia Issa’s “Scaring Women at Night” (11 min.). But the film is more complicated than it seems, as Issa uses technical mastery to mislead the viewer. It turns out that the thoughts heard in voiceover are those of Ash (Izaiah Dockery), not the single woman (Kavita Musty) who is presented as the proverbial “girl walking home at night.” At heart, Issa is more interested in how gender is perceived than in the real dangers faced by women, at night or otherwise.
Mark Keane’s “Sour Milk” (5 min.) focuses on an apparently unimportant encounter between two teenage boys, but one which proves decisive for both. Tij Doyen’s “Lollygag” (10 min.) also takes a narrow focus, in this case the obsession of a teenaged girl with the boy next door. Everything’s more than a bit arch in this film, which won honorable mention for U.S. Narrative shorts at the 2022 L.A. Outfest. | Sarah Boslaugh
The in-person screening of Shorts: Mad as Hell is sold out, but the program, is available on streaming throughout the 34th Annual NewFest, which runs Oct. 13-25. More information about film programs, special events, and passes and tickets is available from the festival web site.