Since some people still assume that short films are things solely created before filmmakers move on to the path of feature-length, the art form is deservingly in need of some additional appreciation. A necessity to keeping the film industry healthy, short films and their more digestible runtimes undeniably encourage creativity in all aspects of the medium.
Just in time for Halloween, below is an extensive list containing 31 titles (each individually linked with where to watch), all presenting various elements of horror. Regardless of indulging in now or saving for a rainy day, there’s a short film for every viewer and any mood — ranging from eerie social commentary and visually gory to darkly comedic, psychological, and unsettlingly realistic.
#chadgetstheaxe/Chad Gets the Axe (2019) Dir. Travis Bible
Presented in its entirety as a live stream from the protagonist’s point of view, Chad Gets the Axe is a satire of social media scandals in the vein of Logan Paul and, most notably, his visit to the Aokigahara forest in 2017. When online personality Chad Ryan (Spencer Harrison Levin) decides to spend an evening investigating an infamous murder scene cabin, things quickly get out of hand. With no shortage of inspiration on the internet, it’s easy to develop a character like this. However, doing it with vulnerability is much harder, and Chad Gets the Axe primarily works due to the protagonist’s believability and genuine nuance. It’s easy to criticise the ones who seemingly will do anything for a like, view, or share — it might be harder to reflect on how society at large is complicit in their acts. Would creators like Chad even entertain obnoxious behaviour if everyone wasn’t eager to consume more content?
100,000 Acres of Pine (2020) Dir. Jennifer Alice Wright
A student film from Denmark’s The Animation Workshop/VIA University College, 100,000 Acres of Pine is a beautifully animated short featuring a masterful creation of worldbuilding and an unsettling, spooky atmosphere. Struggling to let go of the mysterious circumstances surrounding her brother’s death, ranger Megan (Sarah Airriess) decides to retrace his final steps in search of answers. However, the deeper into the forest she gets, the more things start to change. Soon she will find herself in locations with no recollection of how she got there, as her perception of time becomes skewed. Featuring a stop-motion style of animation, this haunting film is perfect for eerie autumn nights.
Camp Calypso (2020) Dir. Hannah May Cumming and Karlee Boon
From queer-feminist film collective Monstrous Femme Films, who champion diversity both in front of and behind the camera, comes a self-aware and campy nostalgia-soaked story about a vengeful siren living nearby a summer camp. While flirting with tropes from monster, slasher, and camp films from the 1970s and ’80s, Camp Calypso simultaneously pays tribute to its inspirations whilst presenting something new and playfully made with love for the genre.
Cerdita/Piggy (2018) Dir. Carlota Martínez Pereda
A highly distressing anti-bullying PSA, Piggy is essentially about a long walk home that encapsulates some of the most prominent emotions humans can experience. When Sara (Laura Galán) spends time at the local pool, already very self-conscious about showing more skin, a group of girls start to torment her. Bullying, body shaming, and a terrible prank of forcing Sara to walk home wearing nothing but her bikini, Piggy is all about Galán’s believable acting through various horrifying moments and the following emotions she conveys through her expert use of body language and facial expressions.
Dudecreeps (2020) Dir. Dylan Hamilton-Smith
When Janine (Barbie Robertson) returns home from an evening jog, she immediately realises something is different about her boyfriend, Nathan (Nathan Hollis). Besides featuring an extensive mashup of various horror tropes, Dudecreeps is a story split into two chapters that portray the same evening from two different perspectives. Aside from the different perspectives of the more threatening elements, the short also presents an interesting notion of how two individuals can perceive each other and their own relationship differently.
Fry Day (2017) Dir. Laura Moss
A coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of Ted Bundy’s execution in 1989, Fry Day follows Lauryn (Jordyn DiNatale) as she photographs the accompanying circus of people for economic profit. When she later finds herself in a truck with a boy from school and his friends, she’s questioning whether or not she made the right decision to join them. Filled with the lingering dread and fear that follows a certain kind of loss of innocence in adolescence, viewers stay with Lauryn as her trust is misplaced and abused throughout the evening. Beautifully acted and visually stunning, Fry Day is about the mundanity of evil and how easy it is for everyday monsters to stay hidden when everyone is focusing on a more obvious one.
Hideous (2022) Dir. Yann Gonzalez
Wearing its cinematic inspirations on its sleeve yet sculpting its own identity, Hideous feels like the equivalent of being comforted by a hug and getting hit by a truck simultaneously. Visually stunning in everything from camera movement and framing to costumes and styling, Hideous is a deeply personal musical short in three parts starring Oliver Sim (The xx) that features songs from his debut solo album Hideous Bastard. Dreamy and otherworldly, nightmarish yet hopeful, Hideous is an unapologetically queer story about youthful pain and eventual liberation through openly addressing shame and revealing that the monster within might not be quite so monstrous after all.
I am Normal (2020) Dir. Olia Oparina
Inspired by the Rosenhan experiment of 1973, I am Normal centres on Keira (Nora-Jane Noone) as she fakes the symptoms of a mentally unstable patient so as to be admitted into a mental institution for a secret psychiatric experiment. With cinematography by the late Halyna Hutchins, the short successfully captures the texture and colours of its time as it gently tells a complex story about the rush to label people, as well as people taking advantage of authoritarian positions.
Juliet dans Paris/Juliet in Paris (1967) Dir. Claude Miller
Forget about Emily, because the protagonist in Juliet in Paris is having the biggest challenges in Paris by far! Since young student Juliet (Juliet Berto) arrived in the French capital, she has been engaging in bloody acts of which she is both the authoriser and victim. Less interested in explanations than inviting viewers to carve out their own interpretations of the bloodshed, Juliet in Paris features an interestingly deadpan performance by Berto that’s consistent up until the end, with its masterful final shot that lingers in the mind with its potent imagery.
Junior (2011) Dir. Julia Ducournau
While Ducournau is no stranger to body horror and exploring characters through various transformations, Junior is specifically about puberty and the bizarre changes 13-year-old tomboy Justine (Garance Marillier) goes through. Through the act of peeling away layers of universal anxieties, Ducournau explores puberty as the equally disgusting and fascinating thing it is while simultaneously underlining how disconnecting it might feel for the ones going through it.
Material Girl (2020) Dir. Kris Carr
Even though giving into materialistic values in the search for satisfaction is known to deepen anxiety and depression, retail therapy is as strong as ever without much thought on its negative implications. However, one day Jay (Simone Stewart) discovers that her careless overconsumption is not as harmless as she thinks. Material Girl effectively uses its runtime to play with how one’s imagination can run wild – specifically in how spaces and items can suddenly appear much more sinister during the night than they do during the day – as it delivers its message.
Monitor (2018) Dir. Matthew Black and Ryan Polly
Short and effective, Monitor follows a sleep-deprived convenience store clerk who begins questioning if what he’s seeing on security camera monitors is real, when a man appears yet isn’t visible within the store itself. A suspenseful psychological horror toying with perception and reality, it conveys an eeriness that stays long after it’s finished.
Overtime (2016) Dir. Craig D. Foster
During an unusually busy day, hard worker Ralph (Aaron Glenane) finds himself in an endless cycle of tasks on the one day he badly needs to get home. Redefining what it means to have a bad day at work, Overtime is a silly bit of fun about the crossing of boundaries. Additionally, it’s a great allegory for people who simply need to have their alone time and recharge from being around other people.
Pantser/Shielded (2021) Dir. Jan Verdijk
During a worldwide epidemic, who can you actually trust? As they await the return of their parents who left over a month ago, it quickly becomes apparent to viewers that sisters Mira (Femke de Booys) and Roos (Nola Kemper) are on borrowed time. When a stranger one day appears, offering his help and promising an underground bunker haven, they become rightfully sceptical.
Place (2019) Dir. Jason Gudasz
Adjusting to living together is hard, even without otherworldly forces interfering. Wanting a fresh start, Lauren (Emily Green) moves into a house with her daughter Stella (Stella Edwards) and new boyfriend Greg (Nick Hurley). However, unbeknownst to them, spirits living in the house have other plans for them. With its sharp dialogue, Place is a disorienting portrait of a fracturing family packaged as a surreal suburban fever dream. The best part? The wonderfully fresh take on the bathroom-mirror horror cliché.
Satans Barn/Children of Satan (2019) Dir. Thea Hvistendahl
Louise (Iben Amalie Valås) and Maria (Stella Valpuri Nilsen) make friends at a strict Christian summer camp. When new girl Erna (Tia Schjølberg-Olavsen) arrives and they’re asked to take care of her, it doesn’t take long until they begin to notice that there’s something different about her. A cautionary tale about the dangers of unambiguous teachings for impressionable ages, Satans Barn is a visually stunning Norwegian piece about how people easily toss any morals aside for the simple yet human desire to belong to something.
Slut (2014) Dir. Chloe Okuno
Maddy (Molly McIntyre) becomes the next target of a murderous, misogynistic sociopath when she attempts to reinvent herself to impress the boys at her local roller rink. With a little splash of Little Red Riding Hood thrown in, Okuno’s AFI thesis film Slut dives into the sexual awakening of a naïve girl and the dangers that follow.
Spelletjesavond/Game Night (2016) Dir. Jan van Gorkum
Meeting the parents of someone you’re dating is usually quite daunting, but more so if they’re very into board games. When Liz (Sofie Porro) meets her boyfriend Pepijn’s (Sol Vinken) parents during their regular game night, she learns that his mother is determined to win at all costs. A blend of dark comedy and psychological thriller, this roller coaster begins completely innocent and ends nightmarishly in its exploration of familial dynamics. The believable cast creates a palpable tension that successfully transcends the screen, resulting in a real gem that never loses its sight, despite becoming increasingly twisted.
The Big Shave (1967) Dir. Martin Scorsese
Leave it to Scorsese to turn one of the most mundane acts into a razor-sharp message about the Vietnam War. A young man (Peter Bernuth) walks into a pristine white bathroom with the purpose of shaving, and carries out the bloody spectacle of self-mutilation as he finds himself unable to stop. With the contrast of the bright red and white, this visually stimulating short effectively proves how no dialogue sometimes conveys the most significant meaning.
The Boogeywoman (2019) Dir. Erica Scoggins
In the wake of her first period, Sam (Amélie Hoeferle) is drawn to her small town’s local legend about a “Boogeywoman,” only to learn that it might in fact all be real. With an atmospheric small-town backdrop, this coming-of-age narrative takes a natural process often associated with shame and secrecy, only to transform it into an experience filled with newfound agency and power.
The Changing Room (2022) Dir. Sam Evenson
While changing rooms alone have long been the cause of many bad experiences, Evenson’s The Changing Room — with its original and captivating concept — has proven that sometimes less is much more. When an unnamed woman (Jamie Taylor Ballesta) sneaks into a closed-off cubicle, she’s initially excited about the empty space and its trippy mirror with the illusion of endless space. However, when something suddenly appears in it, the previously large space starts to feel increasingly claustrophobic.
The Itch (2019) Dir. Connor O. McIntyre
Even though Addy (Chelsea Jordan) feels like something could be very wrong at the first signs of an itch on her body, her claim is repeatedly met with dismissal by her husband and doctor. Scattered with various background easter eggs — including a book stating, “Obey” — Addy’s position in life itself is revealed as the itch’s cause, and her desperate need for relief begets several interpretations.
The Retreat (2020) Dir. Marcus Anthony Thomas
Mia (Iniki Mariano) is a young woman struggling to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic event. In desperation, she seeks help from a secretive retreat that promises closure by means of revenge with no consequences in the outside world. Echoing something caught between Ari Aster’s Midsommar and Yorgos Lanthimos’s filmography, The Retreat features an equally chilling and fascinating exploration of revenge as a form of therapy.
The Sermon (2018) Dir. Dean Puckett
In an isolated and strict church community in the English countryside, a powerful hate preacher prepares to deliver a sermon to his congregation — with no knowledge that his daughter is about to turn everything on its head. In the same vein as British folk horror films from the late 1960s and early ’70s, The Sermon is carefully crafted, oozing with ambience in its timeless tale of faith, sexuality, and oppression.
Tic (2019) Dir. Josef Bates
First impressions are always nerve-racking, something people on first dates are well aware of. Dave (Will Merrick) struggles to keep his Tourettes on the down low while on a date with Jess (Emma Mackey) — only to learn that keeping his tic hidden may not be the best plan. A highly divisive and energetic short based on Bates’ own experiences of growing up with Tourettes, Tic uses dark comedy to address preconceptions about the condition as it presents an often neglected physical side of it. With great chemistry between its two leads — and a particularly captivating performance by Merrick — it’s a reminder that even if you try, you just can’t remove certain parts of yourself.
Undress Me (2017) Dir. Amelia Moses
A twist on the horror trope of sex leading to death, Undress Me follows the physical decay of socially awkward college freshman Alice (Lee Marshall) as she experiences gruesome deterioration after a sexual encounter at a frat party. Entertaining various interpretations ranging from a sexual disease to her simply rushing into something she wasn’t ready for in an attempt to fit in, Undress Me features increasingly grisly effects.
Unfinished Business (2020) Dir. Mary Dauterman
In Unfinished Business, a male stripper has an unusual experience on the job, involving a group of 1980’s business women celebrating their latest achievement. There’s no denying that the most alluring element of Dauterman’s short is how atmospheric and visually stunning it is, particularly in one choreographed dance number soaked in red hues that is well worth the watch alone.
Waffle (2020) Dir. Carlyn Hudson
Successfully subverting expectations and juggling the tonal challenge of balancing dark comedy and real suspense, Waffle uses an initially seemingly normal sleepover to introduce viewers to a world of codependency and hierarchies. Written by its co-stars Kerry Barker and Katie Marovitch, this is an exploration of friendship in an alternative yet highly believable society where relationships have been reduced to the hourly rate.
Wild (2019) Dir. Jan Verdijk
Toine (Wouter Hendrickx), Iris (Hannah van Lunteren), and their son travel to the idyllic Dutch countryside for a weekend of relaxation. When Toine, the self-proclaimed head of the family, starts exhibiting aggressive behaviour, it becomes evident that his disturbing behaviour and snide remarks are nothing new. As cinematographer Thijmen Doornik successfully captures the juxtaposition of the stunning open landscape and the growing claustrophobic lingering unease, it prompts one question: whose idea actually was the trip?
Willing to Go There (2022) Dir. Laura Beckner
Inherently contradictory, phone calls are intimate yet physically distanced. In Willing to Go There, it’s even explored how intrusive they can be. When Margaret (Deborah Ann Woll) answers a call from a withheld number, the conversation quickly takes an uncomfortable turn as the man (Dylan Kenin) on the other end preys on her deepest vulnerabilities. Pieced together from memories of a conversation Beckner had with a phone predator and con artist who had been cold-calling actresses with fake offers for years, Willing to Go There manages to create so much with so little.
Your Reality (2019) Dir. Top Tarasin
It’s no secret that sometimes the most terrifying things portrayed on screen are the things that are most likely to happen in real life. Your Reality focalises Alicia (Tatjana Anders) as she becomes increasingly unsure of her ability to trust her own memory, after moving in with her photographer boyfriend Mark (Kyle James). Intending to raise awareness and show how to recognise its signs, Your Reality is a painfully realistic vision of gaslighting.