We celebrate the artistry, creativity, and talent of the genre’s best, rising filmmakers with 13 outstanding shorts out of GenreBlast.
The GenreBlast Film Festival is a one-of-a-kind film experience created for both filmmakers and film lovers to celebrate genre filmmaking in an approachable environment. Among our absolute favorites, the fest highlights the latest in independent, cult, niche, and underground films that aren’t easily accessible. Last year, I covered several of my feature film favorites. And even with extensive coverage, I felt I just scratched the surface of the fest’s outstanding offering.
This year, I wanted to focus more on the unsung hero of the fest, the unbelievably impressive short film lineup. Unfortunately, while features get a lot of love and attention, many jaw-droppingly great shorts may go unheralded. And that’s absolutely criminal because it is nothing short of inspiring what these talented up-and-coming filmmakers can achieve on a shoestring budget and just a few precious minutes to truly make an impact.
Narrowing down my list of favorites from the fest was no easy feat. There wasn’t a dud in the bunch, and it seemed each short I watched was more impressive than the last.
But here are 13 of the shorts that moved me the most — rather though laughter, genuine terror, or even tears — and lingered in my head long after the credits rolled.
1. Sucker (Alix Austin)
The riveting, special-effects-driven creature feature from Alix Austin won Best FX Short at this year’s GenreBlast, and it’s not hard to see why.
In this twisted story of co-dependence, two sisters, Caitlin (Annie Knox) and Sam (Sophia Capasso), are pitted against each other by a giant, abhorrent leech creature that uses its mind-controlling influence to puppeteer them from the inside out.
While the focus is squarely on the skin-crawling, all-too-effective body horror and terrifying visuals, Sucker is also an investing and relatable tale of sibling rivalry and how difficult it can be to ask for help — especially when you’re used to being judged or feeling like a disappointment to those you love. The film’s impact is enhanced considerably by two emotional and compelling performances from Capasso and Knox.
Award-winning Director and Creative Producer Austin had this to say about her standout short:
The intention of SUCKER is very much to give the audience a full body experience: From the sound design invading their minds down to the practical effects leaving their skin crawling long after they’ve left the cinema.
A successful short film leaves you satisfied but still wanting more, and Sucker undeniably fits the bill. After this eight-minute thrill ride, I was eager to see what the talented Austin could do in longer-form media. I was delighted to discover she’s currently working on a feature film project with Keir Siewart through their film collective Switchblade Cinema.
KILL YOUR LOVER is described as Blue Valentine meets The Fly — a psychological drama with a punk edge and skin-crawling body horror. Previously, Alix and Keir (Team AK) co-created the award-winning short RETCH, which premiered on ALTER and can be viewed right here.
Sucker is guaranteed to get under your skin and should be immediately sought out by anyone who, like me, is a sucker for outstanding practical effects.
2. Meat Friend (Izzy Lee)
Full disclosure: when I saw Izzy Lee’s (Innsmouth) name attached to this film, I was already strongly predisposed to favor this short. Fortunately, however, it’s a well-earned bias, and Lee certainly did not disappoint with the hilarious and gleefully unhinged Meat Friend.
A cheeky parody of saccharine, Full House-style sitcoms — in the vein of Adult Swim’s criminally underrated Beef House from Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim — Lee’s uproarious short follows a sweet young girl named Billie (played by the excellent Marnie McKendry, daughter of genre stalwarts Rebekah and David McKendry). An innocent mistake, trying to microwave raw hamburger meats, leads to comedic chaos, causing the meat to become sentient.
Voiced by Steve Johanson (who co-wrote the screenplay with Lee), the titular Meat Friend attempts to teach Billie a series of life lessons from the perspective of a hard-edged, streetwise hoodlum. Those lessons essentially boil down to, “F around and find out.”
The wonderfully weird juxtaposition of an inanely chipper ’90s sitcom sensibility with the progressively more psychotic and troubling tutelage of Meat Friend is nothing short of brilliant. It’s absurd, off-kilter, wildly inventive, and difficult to forget.
Lee proves she’s as much a master of humor as horror, and Meat Friend is as delicious as it is demented…a must-see!
3. Reel Trouble (Brian Asman)
Reel Trouble, from writer-actor-producer Brian Asman, exemplifies why I have such affection for short films. It’s just six minutes long, but it manages to take viewers on quite a rollercoaster ride with its clever premise, outstanding animation, and perverse ending.
This wildly entertaining short begins with two friends, Jason (Lyndon Hoffman-Lew) and Kyle (Baker Chase Powell), sharing the weirdest and most effed-up internet videos they can find. Completely unimpressed with Kyle’s demonic cat video, Jason shares an infamous animated film from Arnaut Subotica, an animator from the 20s.
Arnaut once worked for the legendary Whitt Dabney Studios. However, when the evil Whitt Dabney stole Arnaut’s ideas without giving him credit, Arnaut left to make his own cartoon, a decade in the making. Upon completing the film, Arnaut (voiced by Brian Asman himself in the animated film within a film) tragically took his own life, and the film he lived and died for is now said to be cursed.
Of course, that doesn’t stop Kyle from watching it. And things, as you might imagine, do not end well for the two curious friends.
Reel Trouble is a fun, twisted, and fantastically unique short that pays loving homage to classic Disney while also tapping into the studio’s darker history.
4. Specter of Weeping Hill (Matthew & Nathaniel Barber)
I’ve been quite a fan of the twin filmmaking duo Matthew and Nathaniel Barber for some time now, having previously enjoyed their short horror films Windigo Origins, Windigo Revolution, and No One is Coming. So, I was excited to see the prolific pair have another short screening at GenreBlast.
The Barber brothers have quite a knack for atmosphere and an affection for 70s horror films that infuse their sumptuous visual style. Specter of Weeping Hill was influenced by Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), Glory (1989), and The Changeling (1980). That’s quite a diverse array of inspirations, and the result is a wonderfully surprising short that subverts expectations at every turn.
According to the brothers:
SPECTER OF WEEPING HILL is about dealing with grief and the lengths at which it can take someone. The story of the titular Specter is inspired by a traditional theme in paranormal hauntings in which a ghost searches for a loved one that has long passed.
What begins as a tense and terrifying ghost story evolves into a moving treatise on grief and the human condition, and it’s absolutely masterful.
5. Get Out of There (Matthew & Nathaniel Barber)
How good are the wickedly talented Barber brothers? They had not one but two “best horror short” nominated films in this year’s GenreBlast Film Fest. And their second short, Get Out of There, took home the coveted prize.
Part of what I love so much about these Texas filmmakers is their passion for 70s horror and their uncanny expertise at recreating the magic of horror’s golden age. The filmmakers cite influences such as Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in making this film, and they expertly capture the tone and atmosphere of the era.
They also discuss the importance of grounding the film in reality. And although it’s an unequivocal horror film — steeped in nail-biting tension and a sense of genuine terror — it never asks you to suspend your disbelief to fully invest in the unfolding nightmare. With a careful eye for detail and an engrossing performance from Nathaniel Barber as a wounded cop caught in a horrifying predicament he can’t escape, Get Out of There will have you riveted from beginning to end.
In the words of the Barber brothers:
The design of the picture is to set the audience into our protagonist’s shoes and in doing so see him not as an authority figure but as an everyman. He could be any of us and we could just as easily fall into such a horrific event. So once the cards are stacked against him, the tension will be closing in… on all of us.
Not only is Get Out of There gorgeous to look at, but it sounds spectacular, too, thanks to an impressive 59-piece orchestra score by The Budapest Scoring Orchestra. Check out more of the Barbers’ excellent work right here.
6. Lily’s Mirror (Linnea Frye and Adam Pinney)
The remarkable Lily’s Mirror wastes no time hooking its audience, immediately kickstarting the wild affair with a brutal bit of unexpected violence. Lily (director Linnea Frye) is talking and laughing with her date over dinner when he suddenly — and without provocation — whips out a cleaver and chops off her hand. He then unceremoniously leaves Lily to bleed out and pick up the tab.
As Taylor Swift would say, it’s an act of such casual cruelty. And no one in the restaurant even bats an eye. The waiter drops the check in a pool of her blood, unconcerned and completely unphased.
Afterward, Lily experiences understandable depression and phantom limb pain. She visits a doctor who gives her a mirrored box designed to help her recover by creating an illusion that her missing hand has returned, thus tricking her brain into adjusting to the loss. It’s a therapy based on legitimate science, but the film furthers this clever trick. Lily discovers she can temporarily bring back other things that have disappeared — like women who have been murdered by a serial killer.
While the film is darkly comedic and quite entertaining, it tackles some pretty heavy and deadly serious subject matter without ever feeling preachy. The idea of gendered violence, and the social structure that empowers perpetrators while shaming victims, is explored with inventive creativity and wit.
Lily’s Mirror won Best Short at the fest, and it’s a well-deserved win for a film that proves social horror can be quite engaging and impactful — even without the real-life trauma hitting with blunt force.
7. The Trunk (Travis Laidlaw)
A father and daughter — Marco and Cass (Craig Monk and Ashleigh Morrison) — find an old trunk covered with chains in the woods. They don’t know what’s inside, but the father assumes it must be valuable and hopes to make a nice profit from selling the contents. Thus, they haul it home and store it in a shed for the night. After Marco falls asleep, Cass is awakened in the middle of the night by an overwhelming urge to check on the box. It’s as if it’s beckoning her, like a siren’s call she can’t resist.
Unsurprisingly, something sinister lurks in that mysterious box — and there’s a damn good reason why it was left abandoned and chained up in the middle of the woods. Cass is about to discover exactly what that reason is, though it may be too late to save her and her father from a tragic fate.
Travis Laidlaw won Best Director of a Short Film at the festival, and it’s an accolade he truly deserves. The technical expertise shown on The Trunk is impressive, and the execution of this simple but satisfying story is flawless.
The Trunk is incredibly creepy and chilling, boasting some beautiful shots, great cinematography, and expert direction.
Watching this eerie, unsettling film with its stellar production values made me want to seek out more of Laidlaw’s work. While you wait for The Trunk to show at a fest near you or land on a streaming platform following its festival run, I encourage you to check out THE SILENT LAY STEADY and DEAD HOUSE from Laidlaw.
Don’t be surprised if you quickly fall in love with this up-and-coming genre filmmaker; he’s one to watch.
8. I’m Losing You (Courtney Sposato and Mark Sposato)
This one destroyed me — in the best possible way.
GenreBlast Best Actress Koko Marshall plays a woman desperately trying to put her life back together while trying to battle her inner demons and feelings of overwhelming guilt associated with her infant daughter’s disappearance.
We learn through a series of screen life interactions — including Facetime calls with her parents, AA meeting appointment reminders, and videos on her desktop — that it’s been three years since her daughter disappeared from a park after the woman passed out, presumably while drunk.
Failing to receive the comfort she seeks from her parents (it’s not quite clear if her parents truly harbor feelings of resentment towards her or if she’s simply projecting internalized guilt; either way, it’s heartbreaking to watch these interactions), she turns to strangers on the internet.
Logging on to a video chat website, she meets a mysterious young woman (Catharine Daddario, sister of Alexandra) who seems to know way more than she should about the woman and may hold the secret to helping her heal. But is she real or imagined? And can the woman escape the guilt that threatens to consume her completely?
Marshall is a revelation and conveys a depth of emotion with her eyes, capable of reaching into your soul and making you feel the character’s suffering on such a palpable level. There’s also a great cameo by the brilliant Natasha Lyonne as the voice of an online meditation guru.
Directed by Mark Sposato and Courtney Sposato, who wrote the short, this Hounds Tooth Studios production is truly something special.
#Trailer drop! @CourtneySposato cut an amazing “I’m Losing You” tease 🎞— Mark Sposato (@MarkSposato) May 9, 2022
So excited to have worked w/ #NatashaLyonne & our amazing cast & crew 💻 🔥@nlyonne #filmtrailer #screenlife #trailerdrop #movietrailer #catdaddario #catharinedaddario #film #shortfilm #natashalyonnefans pic.twitter.com/fjpIlT8cmD
9. Buzzkill (Peter Ahern)
This short but truly memorable animated film is a microdose of joy for fans of weird, often unsettling but consistently delightful adult animated offerings like Ren & Stimpy, Invader Zim, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Flapjack, and Rick and Morty.
It starts off sweet, as two young people, Becky (Kelly McCormack) and Rick (Peter Ahern, who is also the writer and director), enjoy the romantic end of a successful first date. As the two try to share a kiss, Becky is consistently distracted by irritation in her eye, presumably a rogue eyelash. She excuses herself to the bathroom to fish it out, and we soon learn that something far more insidious is lurking beneath her eye socket.
The WTF insanity and skin-crawling, laugh-out-loud hysteria only ramps up from there, culminating in a wickedly satisfying off-the-rails climax.
Winning Best Animated Short at GenreBlast, Buzzkill is wildly entertaining but also boasts stunning animation which took months to bring to life.
Ahern packs more into five minutes than many feature films come close to delivering, and it’s an absolute treat from beginning to end.
10. Our First Priority (Ariel Baska)
Winning Best Virginia Short at the fest, the debut short film from Ariel Baska packs quite a punch.
It centers around a young girl with a chronic illness, Hannah (Violet Gotcher), as she faces yet another doctor’s visit and another tedious rundown of her many symptoms. She’s been through this routine so often that her parents no longer accompany her, and she deals with the dismissive doctor alone. Though she isn’t really alone. There’s someone else in the room with her, a young woman who looks to maybe be Hannah’s older sister (Jamie Kirsten Howard).
Only, we soon learn that no one but Hannah can see or hear the other woman.
Perhaps the woman is simply a manifestation of Hannah’s inner voice — a culmination of her fears, frustrations, and anxieties over finding herself in such a frightening position. It’s an assumption both her doctor and nurse make as well, quickly diagnosing Hannah with “White Coat Syndrome” after noting her elevated heart rate. She tries to tell them it’s one of her many medical symptoms, but they simply assume she’s nervous and agitated.
As the film progresses, Hannah’s doctor accuses her of making up her symptoms, implying it’s all in her head. Soon, we learn who the other woman in the room is and why she’s there. The film then evolves into a powerful tale of revenge against a broken system and justice for those who place their faith in a caregiver only to be dismissed or dehumanized.
Baska was inspired to write Our First Priority after her own experiences as a disabled woman facing chronic illness from birth. She wanted to tell a unique story of the trauma faced by those with chronic illness and disability communities, reflecting on a medical system that rarely has the best interests of vulnerable populations, including young women, at its heart.
In my own experience, as a child growing up with inaccurate diagnoses, I had many encounters with medical horrors because of doctors who would not listen and would insist I was just anxious. Within the disability community, this kind of gaslighting is very common and can be extremely traumatic, not to mention deadly, when serious conditions are ignored.
This important film won the Disability Advocacy Award from the BAFTA-qualifying Superfest Disability Film Festival.
Baska shares a very personal story with Our First Priority, and it’s one with great emotional impact.
11. Pretty Pickle (Jim Vendiola)
Sexy, subversive, and truly stunning, Jim Vendiola’s Pretty Pickle is an impressive black-and-white short that brilliantly builds tension and suspense as it moves towards its shocking conclusion.
New couple Sam and Sam — Samuel (Brennan Urbi) and Samantha (Whitney Masters) — are in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. The short opens with the couple having sex, and it’s clear that passion and physical chemistry are there. However, it’s time for them to take things to the next level and see if there’s more to this relationship than just hot sex. This thought fuels Samuel’s increasingly intrusive thoughts that maybe something isn’t quite right between them.
There aren’t any glaring red flags, just subtle quirks about Samantha that begin to pick away at Samuel. Sure, there’s that odd memory she shares about that time in biology class when she found a bit too much joy in dissecting a frog and getting intoxicated by the smell of formaldehyde. And, yes, she seems to have been deeply affected by the recent loss of her mother, with whom she was extremely close. She also loves gory horror films. But everyone reading this can attest that’s not a cause for alarm.
What worries him most is Samantha’s paranoia over what may be on Samuel’s phone and a troubling conversation with a friend who suggests maybe it’s Samantha who has something to hide.
Award-winning Filipino-American filmmaker Jim Vendiola is masterful at taking viewers on an unexpected and unpredictable journey. We’re never quite sure where the story is headed, making the stellar ending all the more impactful.
He flawlessly blends several sub-genres to create a compelling and unforgettable gothic romance horror-thriller that provocatively explores the perils and paranoia of modern dating. He powerfully illustrates the excitement and fear of discovering someone with whom you may share intense physical intimacy without really knowing them at all.
Winning Best Midnight/WTF Short at GenreBlast, Pretty Pickle is extraordinary in every way.
12. The Blood of the Dinosaurs (Joe Badon)
The above IMDb synopsis for the film is comically misleading. While technically accurate, it doesn’t even remotely explain what this surreal, subversive short is about. Though, with all the words in the English language, I doubt I could do much better describing what transpires in Joe Badon’s captivating The Blood of the Dinosaurs.
In fact, the short (written and directed by Badon and co-written by Jason Kruppa) begins with a cheeky acknowledgment of the difficulty of explaining what’s about to transpire. It’s immediately clear we should not expect anything resembling a traditional narrative. And that’s ok. Because as inexplicably odd as this short is, it also happens to be wildly entertaining.
It begins with an intentionally crude recreation of the end of the Age of Reptiles using plastic dinosaurs. This sets up our introduction to a 1950’s children’s show hosted by Uncle Bobbo (Vincent Stalba). In this episode, he will attempt to teach children where oil comes from with the help of his young co-host, Purity (Stella Creel). This show belies the innocence and, well, purity we’ve come to expect from vintage made-for-kids television programming.
Uncle Bobbo is Mister Rogers if Mr. Rogers was a quietly unhinged psychopath. And Purity radiates not-so-innocent energy that hints at something dark and mischievous lurking behind her bright eyes. Stalba and Creel make a perfect duo, selling every delicious bit of charm and off-kilter creepiness that keeps the audience teetering on a constant edge.
We get a wicked retelling of the story of Christmas as a fossil fuel fable, skewering everything from religion to the horrors of capitalism, which alone would make for a damn enjoyable short. But Badon also assaults audiences with an odd mix of archive footage and ominous undertones that make this short a disorienting but rollicking good time.
The ending is pure perfection. And I’m not entirely sure what, if anything, deep and meaningful I was supposed to take out of this hilarious and inventive short. So, maybe it’s my own personal bias creeping in when I tell you I believed it to be about the absolute chaotic dumpster fire of humanity. Where’s a good meteorite when you need one?
The Blood of the Dinosaurs is indescribable, but I think it’s best summarized as Christmas for the Midnight Movie crowd — an absolute gift for the discerning WTF connoisseur.
13. In the Shadow of God (Brian Sepanzyk)