This year, Boston Underground Film Festival’s short film program, Trigger Warning, offered a masterful bill of eccentric and otherworldly stories. Trigger Warning showcases a wide range of cinema, from the comedic to the diabolical. Featuring topics like urban legends and sinister new girlfriends to parasitic worms and gruesome transformations, consider yourself warned—these shorts are NSFW.
dir. Zahm Waters
A.i. Movie is exactly what it sounds like—a short film generated completely by artificial intelligence. Presented by a woman who looks like she’s been pulled from the uncanny valley, A.i. provides doses of comedy in its script, giving its audience tongue-in-cheek tips on making their way in the cinema industry, or why they shouldn’t go to film school. Waters’ short is deeply unsettling in its use of arbitrary background imagery paired with the enthusiasm that’s oozing from our presenter.
As a technophobic millennial, I loved this short. Waters’ choice to have everything created by artificial intelligence was a clever one. A.i.‘s self-aware nature gives it charm, but at the same time, adds to its sinister element.
dir. Imanol Ortiz Lopez
Delivery follows Paula, a traumatized, heavily pregnant young woman. She vents to her therapist about her lifelong phobia of locusts due to a perturbing childhood memory. She fears that the locusts that were killed in front of her as a child will come back to kill her unborn baby. Her therapist muses on her story and offers advice, but Paula begins to notice that her phobia is not completely unfounded.
Stylistically, Delivery soars—Lopez’s short film is a gritty, unnerving monster feature that effectively builds tension.
dir. Zach Fleming
Zach Fleming’s Mickey Dogface is an atmospheric, old-fashioned scary story. On Halloween night, Eddie and his friends get high and investigate an urban legend deep in the woods. Eddie is forced to take a closer look, with bloody results.
Mickey Dogface‘s retro aesthetic, dash of comedy and use of classic storytelling creates a bewitching little flick.
dir. Julien Jauniaux
Garbage Days is the most effective short in this lineup. A physically abusive tech CEO murders his girlfriend and is brought to justice—or so it seems. Shot in black and white with muted, minimal dialogue, this noir-infused short creates a surreal, highly disturbing narrative that addresses several issues of modern society and its justice system.
The lack of dialogue speaks volumes here.
dir. Bryan R. Ferguson
This zany short out of the United Kingdom isn’t afraid to get in your face. After picking up a tape that says don’t listen, two rock fans pop it in their boombox. Little do they know, the term “earworm” is about to take on a whole other meaning.
Earworm is a quirky, stylish, and vibrant short with killer stop-motion—pun absolutely intended.
dir. Kam Duv
Kam Duv’s smooth, thrilling French short follows a young woman coming to the rescue of her ex during a disturbing crisis. Bond is a stunning piece of film, accentuated by its color palette and foreboding atmosphere.
dir. Simon Michael Valentine
Simon Michael Valentine’s cinematic short film follows a young couple staying at the remote Tistlebu farm. As they try to connect with the natural world around them, an ancient force creeps into their lives and threatens to destroy everything they hold dear.
Tistlebu is a visually capturing short that would be a beautiful feature-length film.
dir. Sylvea Suydam
Fop Wash is a zany, lighthearted little flick that follows two snobbish women who request that their driver bring his car through a wash—though everything doesn’t go exactly as planned.
This Brooklyn-based short was a breath of fresh air among the more disturbing films on this list. Sylvea Suydam offers a fun snippet of cinema bound to entertain.
dir. Jim Vendiola
Chicago-based filmmaker Jim Vendiola’s Pretty Pickle was the standout in this surreal lineup. Shot in black and white, Pickle follows the newly dating Samantha and Samuel. The couple knows little about one another, as they are still in their “honeymoon phase.” Samuel begins to become irritated by one of Samantha’s quirks. One morning after Samantha leaves the house, Samuel finds that the “quirk” is something altogether more sinister.
Pretty Pickle is a deeply disturbing little piece of cinema—a raw, haunting short that will gnaw at you long after it’s over. Vendiola’s risky ending is well-executed, shocking, and bold. For this reason alone, he exhibits wisdom and expertise that can only grow from here.
Part of the 2023 Boston Underground Film Festival – click here to read our festival coverage!