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Day 2 of the AxWound Film Fest delivered a block of five shorts centered around grief, exploring the intersection of horror and humanity.

The 6th Annual AxWound Film Festival (Virtual Editon) followed up an outstanding opening night with a couple of notable special events and another flawlessly curated block of short horror films.

The day began with a screening and live discussion of the essay film Three Ways to Dine Well by multi-award-winning horror writer and associate professor of film Alison Peirse.

Peirse has published four books on horror films, her latest, Women Make Horror: Filmmaking, Feminism, Genre, was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Best Nonfiction Book and as Book of the Year at the Rondo Award.

Three Ways to Dine Well — exploring horror’s relationship to eating, in over seventy horror films made by women, from the 1920s-2020s — is Peirse’s first film as a writer-director.

Later, attendees were treated to a talk by Lea Anderson, a horror scholar and critic working at the intersections of Black feminism and monster theory.

Part one of Love Is A F*cking Horrorshow explored the surprising relationship between romance and horror as complimentary tensions and tools of narrative storytelling, and how this coalesces in the body of the modern horror film.

From ancient mythology to 17th and 18th-century fairy tales; from the serialized gothic romance to Creature From the Black Lagoon to the Twilight saga, love — or what disguises itself as such — has always been an experience associated with the horrific.

Finally, the day ended with a short horror block centered around loss and grief, featuring five more powerful, must-see shorts. 

1. The Kall

An anxious young woman searches for answers when the dead come knocking on her door.

The Kall is the chilling and deeply affecting 10-minute short from Canadian filmmaker Barbara Mamabolo about a woman whose gift is also her curse.

It begins with an arresting opening. Standing alone in front of a blood-red backdrop, a beautiful and confident woman smiles at the camera and we’re told she has the “Knowing”, the gift of communicating with the dead. She’s described as powerful, respected, and admired. But then the narrator informs us, “This is not the story of a powerful woman,” and another woman appears in front of a half-red, half-beige background looking pensive before fading into the background, revealing the title screen.

That woman is Nia, played by the filmmaker herself. She’s inherited the gift of otherworldly sight from her ancestors but not the admiration that comes with it. In her world, she is mocked and ridiculed — made to endure psychiatric evaluations with condescending doctors. Thus, her gift comes with a heavy burden that leads to fear, insecurity, and crippling anxiety.

As Nia tries to come to grips with the invasion of the dead into her life and the consequences of her ability to see and interact with those others cannot, we as viewers are treated to heavy doses of foreboding dread and heartbreak. It’s mesmerizingly beautiful and expertly crafted.

Check out the trailer for The Kall here and follow Mamabolo on Twitter here.

2. Thumb

When the daughter of a controversial performance artist inherits her late mother’s home archive, an unexpected visitor comes to claim the most notorious artwork but they discover this legacy may be more of a curse.

Following the death of her notorious performance artist mother, a woman named Thumb (story co-writer Kate Adams) returns to her mother’s home to collect the assets of her estate. Her mother’s lover, Red, also shows up to confront Thumb and exert his influence regarding what will happen to the valuable art.

Named after her mother’s most famous piece of performance art, we quickly learn Thumb had a troubled childhood at the hands of a visionary but disturbed mother. And Thumb’s connection to her mother through the art is one of fear and emotional torment. Haunted by her mother’s legacy and distant nature in life, the woman remains under her mother’s oppressive thumb even after she’s passed.

Writer/director Alexandra Pechman wrote the psychosexual thriller TENTACLES, produced by Blumhouse TV for Hulu’s INTO THE DARK film series, and she has written for the cult anthology series CHANNEL ZERO on Syfy. Her work as a director has been granted awards by the Future of Film is Female. Previously as a magazine writer, she published her writing in Vogue, the New York Times, Artforum, Vanity Fair, and many other magazines, and worked for publications such as Artnews, Aperture, and W magazine.

Penchman had this to say about her impressive and legitimately frightening directorial debut:

As a former arts writer for magazines, I’m drawn to stories of art and artists; as a lifelong devotee of horror films and fables, I’m fascinated by the supernatural.

While researching a feature-length script about the founding of MoMA, I interviewed a curator who had just finished a group exhibition, for which she had to fight to include a crucial artist’s work. A sister owned the long-dead artist’s archive, and would not let it go, so the artist’s work had languished in obscurity for years.

I was fascinated by the story: why would someone keep her family member’s legacy locked away? What happened between these two women? Did the sister want to protect the art, or rather, shield the world from it? Maybe it was cursed. The world of artists’ estates (many are still kept from the public, in obscurity) is a world full of ghosts.

I tried to imagine what personal grievance could motivate keeping creations out of view, what horror was believed to reside in the art itself. Using tropes from Gothic narratives and Giallo films, THUMB examines how the people close to artists try to free themselves of their legacies, influence, and even madness.

Follow Penchman on Instagram to stay up-to-date with her work. And be sure to catch Thumb as soon as you are able.

3. Night Waking

At home one night with their two young children, Ari and her wife Miriam face an existential threat.

Written by Liz Maestri and directed by Shoshana Rosenbaum, and based on the short story by Hugo-nominated science fiction author Benjamin Rosenbaum, the gut-wrenchingly provoking short Night Waking begins deceptively unassuming.

A couple, Ari and Miriam, are dealing with the typical stress of raising a newborn baby and a hyperactive young boy. We think the two women are just unraveling a bit due to the ordinary demands and exhaustion of parenthood. But we soon learn there’s something much bigger weighing heavy on their hearts and minds.

This is no ordinary night when we meet this loving family of four. This is the night the world ends.

Shoshana Rosenbaum is a writer/director based in Washington, D.C. Her award-winning short films NIGHT WAKING, THE GOBLIN BABY and HIDE AND SEEK have screened at festivals around the U.S. and internationally.

Rosenbaum explains her inspiration for the beautifully crafted and deeply moving Night Waking:

I am a big fan of disaster movies, and the small human stories within the apocalypse are always what interests me most. It was a pleasure to work on this film with so many women in leadership roles telling a disaster story from two angles we rarely see: 1) putting a queer family front and center 2) focusing on how the parents of two young children handle an existential crisis.

NIGHT WAKING gives us a chance to explore a classic science fiction scenario from fresh angles and through fresh eyes. In a time of political tumult and environmental existential dread, we focus on a family grappling with crisis and relying on the enduring strength of love.

As a big fan, myself, of disaster films and fascinated by the idea of what it would be like to know tomorrow isn’t coming, I was mesmerized by this stunning short.

Watch the teaser for Night Waking here. And learn more about Shoshana and her other films at her website.

4. Keep Mum

A woman wrecks her big family house. The atmosphere is eerie. Soon it turns out that her past haunts her, throwing her into a whirlwind of emotions and projections as she tries to piece together what happened to her and her child; the psyche of a mother pushed beyond the limits of sanity is explored.

With very little dialogue but some powerful visual imagery, Keep Mum compresses a 24-hour journey into a nightmarish and thoroughly engrossing 15-minute mystery that is chilling, disorienting, and dread-inducing.

Partly inspired by a personal tragedy, Keep Mum is an award-winning and critically-acclaimed short horror/thriller about domestic trauma and the cycle of domestic violence. It stars a real-life Mother and Son — Nadira & Cameron Murray. Written and directed by the London-based filmmaker Luana Di Pasquale, it’s told through the lens of Mum as she’s consumed by a dissociative state brought on by some unspeakable horror we’re not initially privy to. 

Luana explains, “Through the use of symbolism and metaphor, I wanted to invite the audience to join Mum as she tries to unravel meanings and make sense of the horrific circumstances in which she and her son have been living.”

My artistic choices as to the mise-en-scene and the editing were intended all-in-all to create a genre-bending short film that would reveal the real horror of domestic violence without showing the violence, making the audience feel Mum’s inner struggle and delirium instead.

Now in its second year of the film festival circuit, Keep Mum was conceived as a short pilot for Luana’s debut feature film My Enemy Within, and I can’t wait to see this powerful story receive a more fleshed-out treatment and to see more from this captivating filmmaker.

KEEP MUM is currently available to rent on Amazon Prime UKAmazon Prime US, Sofy TV and PLEX TV.

5. Mourn

A grief counselor is visited by a very disturbed man.

Mourn is a satisfyingly wicked little tale anchored by two exceptional performances, including the great Lynne Griffin of the cult classic Black Christmas (1974).

Griffin plays a grief counselor who receives a surprise visitor right before leaving the office for the day. She starts to turn him away, but the man expresses agony over the loss of his beloved wife and the grief that is all-consuming. Feeling moved by his sorrow, she invites him to stay and talk to her.

At just over 10 minutes, award-winning Canadian filmmaker Joanna Tsanis expertly crafts a slow-burning mystery that twists and turns — crescendoing in an unexpected, gut-punch of an ending that flips everything upside-down and leaves viewers reeling from the brief but richly fulfilling cinematic journey. (Read our previous Fantastic Fest review here.)

Joanna’s directorial debut Imagine a World (2019), a satirical horror short, premiered at Toronto After Dark Film Festival in 2019 and screened in multiple festivals around the world.

Watch the trailer for Mourn here and follow Joanna on Twitter here. You can also watch Joanna’s debut short Imagine a World here on Alter