The Hong Kong Indie Film Festival is a new online bi-monthly film festival. In their May-July selection they had 89 films. I selected four films to review based on their summaries, picking films from multiple countries and in both live action and animation. My selection ended up being all films that fall under the sci-fi, horror, fantasy umbrella.

Sundown Town – The best horror thrives in truth because it’s inescapable. Fact is stranger than fiction, but it’s also scarier. Sundown Towns existed throughout the United States, in both “red” and “blue” States into the 1960s. Two guys, Bryce (Black, played by Tashan Thornton) and Mitchell (white, played by Michael Haggerty), are on a cross-country road trip when they enter a “white township”. Bryce starts seeing visions of Black people that have been murdered in this town. Without spoiling it too much, the pair are inevitably confronted by the cops, but that’s when it takes an unexpected turn. Perhaps a commentary on if we remember the past, we don’t have to repeat it.

The technical elements in this short really elevate it. The costumes, makeup, wardrobe, music, etc., everything works to bring this world to life. The song that played at the beginning is such a perfect road tune I immediately downloaded it to my road mix after I finished watching the short.

Written and directed by Mylo Butler.

Transfert – This was a very effective and efficient time travel sci-fi in the vein of 12 Monkeys. It did this by not getting bogged down in the “how,” we know the Nazis won WII (the short starts in 1967 during the IV Reich), and the time travel device is explained in the broadest of strokes. A Jewish man (Issac played by David Doukhan) is taken from one of the concentration camps by an SS officer (Max played by Vernon Dobtcheff) who wants him to go back in time to steal a device that he says turned the war in favour of the Nazis, but it’s not a simple snatch and grab as there is someone else there trying to get the device. The film is very visual and the fight sequence has good choreography.

idola – A promising horror premise derailed by technical aspects, from out focus frames to overexposed frames. At one point, the picture was so overexposed the white of the lead’s shirt completely bled with the curtains in the scene.

It was one of the longer films, clocking in at just shy of thirty minutes, and there are places it could’ve been trimmed without losing the story. The first one that stood out to me was the first sequence, the interview tape, which I felt gave too much of the later plot away. We could’ve begun right in the forest and the discovery of the first body without losing anything.

The film seemed to have good special effects makeup, but the cinematography didn’t always allow you to see this. This was particularly frustrating when the doctor (played by Kaori Abe) got infected and you could not see what was happening to her face. She grew a mouth on her cheek, which we learn through dialogue, but could not see it clearly on the screen until she returned later in the film.

While the special effects makeup was good, the monster (Kaiju) itself, looked like a toy, and the visual effects fire looked like visual effects, aka fake.

The film had no real closure for our lead Saito (played by Seiichi Mukai), and, despite its length, didn’t know where to end and just petered off.

Written and directed by Tomo Suguira.

Coming Back: Directed by Yuxin Zhao, it is a student film made at the Pratt Institute. And wow. It has a distinct visual style that really captures emotion and motion well. I particularly enjoyed the way water was expressed. Like many animated shorts, it’s told sans dialogue. It didn’t need words, the visual story of a lonely girl and her magical experience of finding connection through a museum was sweet. It doesn’t give you the expected ending, she never goes back to her father, who she was unable to connect with at the beginning, but she still ends feeling less alone than she started. I looked up Yuxin Zhao after watching the film, hoping to discover she was already working on something else. While I didn’t find anything, that doesn’t mean she isn’t as animation work takes years. This movie was her thesis film, and I hope she submits it for the Student Academy Awards as I think she’d have a real chance.

© 2021. UniversalCinema Mag.

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