10 Shorts to Look Out For at the NIGHTSTREAM Film Festival

Due to the unprecedented nature of the 2020 festival season, the Boston Underground Film Festival, Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, North Bend Film Festival, the Overlook Film Festival, and Popcorn Frights Film Festival joined forces to present NIGHTSTREAM, a virtual genre festival and celebration of all things horror, sci-fi, dark comedy, and vanguard. In addition to the festival’s highly anticipated feature film line-up, which includes the world premieres of Run (2020) and The Doorman (2020), the event also has a number of short film offerings sure to satisfy any craving for thrilling and inventive storytelling. Although an oft-overlooked part of the festival experience, short films are an art in and of themselves, forcing filmmakers to present their concepts within the confines of a truncated runtime.

With twenty different short blocks to choose from at NIGHTSTREAM, it can be hard to narrow down just what to watch, let alone figure out where to begin. Below are ten of my personal favorites from the festival to help you get started, with short reviews to match their bite-sized runtimes.

Two women sit in a car at night, looking out of the windshield.

Thorns, written and directed by Sean Temple & Sarah Wisner
Part of the Slayed: LGBT Horror shorts block, courtesy of Brooklyn Horror

Mirroring many real life horror stories for women around the world, Thorns (2020) presents the simple, yet realistic, story of two women who receive some unwanted attention after stopping at a motel late at night. With color-soaked lighting and a killer soundtrack, the short builds an ample amount of suspense in its six minute runtime, coming to a head when the protagonists finally confront their unwanted admirer head-on. 

Against green grass, a woman and man lay on a red and white checkered picnic blanket. The man is dressed in drag, with a blue checkered dress, red lipstick, and blue eyeshadow.

Going Steady, directed by Brydie O’Connor
Part of the Slayed: LGBT Horror shorts block, courtesy of Brooklyn Horror

Against a charming 1950’s backdrop, a young woman imagines a world in which she is at least one degree closer to her ideal love life. Darkly comedic and bittersweet, Going Steady (2019) is a maladjusted exploration of sexuality and societal norms in a conservative, pre-Stonewall, era with delightful set and costume designs that provide a nice contrast to the film’s dark subject matter.

Two women can be seen reflected in an ornate mirror, with one of them being out of focus. The room surrounding them has a "hipster" vibe.

Don’t Text Back!, written and directed by Kaye Adelaide & Mariel Sharp
Part of the Slayed: LGBT Horror shorts block, courtesy of Brooklyn Horror

After a Tinder date gone wrong, a woman (Danielle Lapointe) is saddled with a cursed necklace that chokes her whenever she doesn’t respond to her bad date’s texts. Desperate for a solution, she visits an energy healer by the name of Jaren (Nancy Webb) in the hopes that the curse can be lifted and she can return to a normal life without the constant stress (and pain) that comes from getting a message. This darkly comedic premise is matched with a smart, witty script and pitch perfect performances from the short’s leading ladies, making Don’t Text Back! (2020) the perfect chaser to some of the festival’s more spine-chilling offerings.

A woman looks past the camera, walking alone at night with car headlights approaching her. She is holding her phone and has smudged mascara on her cheeks.

The Three Men You Meet at Night, written and directed by Beck Kitsis
Part of the Program 3 shorts block, courtesy of The Overlook Film Festival

An incredibly tense and realistic horror story, The Three Men You Meet at Night (2020) follows a young woman (played by Stella Baker) walking home in the dark after attending a party. On her walk, she encounters three different men, and must decide whom she can trust. As any woman who has been out on her own after dark can attest, the decision isn’t an easy one, and a consistent feeling of dread and terror hangs over the short’s thirteen minute runtime as the protagonist attempts to return home unscathed. Only the blinding light of the morning can save her from her indecision, but it will also illuminate the evils hiding in plain sight. Sure to resonate with women across the country, Beck Kitsis’ film is an unsettling, yet necessary, feminist addition to the NIGHTSTREAM short lineup.

A person in a white fox mask peers from behind a collection of plants. Behind the person is a tree and more greenery.

Your Last Day on Earth, written and directed by Marc Martínez Jordán
Part of the Cinema Vista shorts block, courtesy of North Bend

What if you were given the chance to visit the past and see your dead loved ones one last time? Confronted with the possibility, the grief-stricken protagonist of Your Last Day on Earth (2019) takes that chance, paying to take a “Time Tour” back to the day his wife died. The short film is equal parts melancholic and darkly humorous, with unique visuals and an inventive twist that sets it apart from the countless time travel stories like it.

A woman, basked in red lighting, stares directly at the camera. She has large wire frame glasses, a dark brown bob, and is dressed in a park ranger uniform. Surrounding her are trees and dense fog. The entire image is CG animated.

100,000 Acres of Pine, directed by Jennifer Alice Wright
Part of the Animation Domination shorts block, courtesy of Popcorn Frights

100,000 Acres of Pine (2020) is an enthralling mystery, opening with a cryptic radio call played on cassette. The call is revealed to be from a former ranger, the brother of protagonist Megan Patel (Sarah Airriess/Jerrica Cleland) who died of mysterious causes in the woods. Determined to figure out the cause of her brother’s death, Megan ventures out into those same woods to conduct her own investigation, only to find herself being pulled deeper and deeper into the vast pine forest by an unknown force. Although a fairly grounded story, the film is told through beautifully rendered animation and with a masterful use of color and texture, adding an extra dimension to the short’s already engaging narrative.

A woman looks distressed and confused in a field. She is wearing a hoodie and t-shirt and her hair blows to the right in the wind.

Abduction, directed by Paul Komadina, written by Frances Elliot
Part of the Chaos Internal shorts block, courtesy of North Bend

After blacking out and waking up in a field, Mathilda (Alexandra Nell) finds strange marks on her body and is plagued by unexplainable, supernatural visions. The Australia-based short, Abduction (2019), utilizes this brush with the supernatural to tell a story of the judgement and ostracization of women who have been taken advantage of – and does so quite well. In spite of its possible alien element, the short’s story feels real and Nell’s leading performance heartfelt.

A young adult woman lies on a bathroom floor looking at an assortment of colorful blocks.

Blocks, written and directed by Bridget Moloney
Part of the Something Strange shorts block, courtesy of North Bend

With Blocks (2019), Bridget Moloney illustrates the horrors of motherhood through a colorful and creative premise wherein the short’s protagonist (played by Claire Coffee), an overworked mother of two young children, begins to vomit up plastic toy blocks. Although initially disturbed by the strange sickness, the mother slowly begins to accept her new affliction and finds solace in the alone time it indirectly provides her. A whimsical body horror, Moloney’s film is sure to connect with any parent who has ever found themselves desperate for a little bit of time to themselves.

A teenage boy sits on a bed in a dark room, looking to his right at a tube containing an AI girl.

Yandere, directed by William Laboury, written by William Laboury & Anne Brouillet
Part of the Something Strange shorts block, courtesy of North Bend

Written from the perspective of an AI hologram built to be fully committed to her owner, Yandere (2019) deals with the concept of love and loss in a way that is wholly unique to its futuristic premise. Although initially content to tell a fellow AI the cautionary tale of her owner getting a human girlfriend, the film’s protagonist (played by Ayumi Roux) eventually desires revenge, resulting in a horror story for the teenage Tommy (Gulliver Bevernaege-Benhadj) and his new girlfriend, Sophie (Armande Boulanger). Clocking in at twenty minutes, Yandere is one of the longer shorts showing at the festival, but it more than earns its runtime, being a consistently engaging sci-fi thriller with enough of a story to make for a compelling feature.

A doctor looks at a screen showing an image of a brain.

Side Effects May Include, directed by Jonathan Kiefer
Part of the Highly Illogical shorts block, courtesy of BUFF

Reminiscent of the brand of humor often employed by Adult Swim, Side Effects May Include (2020) is a cleverly written faux advertisement satirizing American drug commercials and the culture surrounding them. The execution of the short manages to keep it feeling fresh, with a script full of witty narration delivered by the narrator in a “sales pitch voice” befitting the subject matter. With a runtime of less than three minutes, Side Effects May Include never overstays its welcome, and is a short and sweet comedic punch to the NIGHTSTREAM shorts lineup.

Festival badges and individual tickets are available now for NIGHTSTREAM, running from October 8 – 11.

All images courtesy of NIGHTSTREAM.