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The 5 Most Gruesome Non-Horror Films at This Year’s Encounters

Thursday 28 September 2017, by Elizabeth Mizon

Isn’t brevity great? And managing to avoid scraping a bit of your septal cartilage off with the edge of your fingernail when you’re picking your nose? Two things I really appreciate. Being gross, quickly.

As a filmmaker, film journalist and former film student, I’ve always preferred punchy shorts to epic features. I also like short distances, making Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival my favourite event of the UK’s cultural calendar, being that it’s held just 1.41km from my house.
I’m also a fan of filth, discomfort and terror, so I was pleased to find a real stronghold of the grotesque at this year’s festival. Though the 2017 programme ended on two sessions dedicated to horror hosted by The Final Girls (who ‘explore feminist themes in horror cinema and highlight the representation and work of women in horror’), there were several wince-worthy films that stood out for me as part of a number of other programmes - thematically grouped by length (in the DepicT! programme) or style (in the animation sessions), for example.

Here are the top 5 films I caught this year that had no place in the festival’s horror sessions, but earned a comfortable seat in the bloody chambers of my heart.

Hotdog Hands

Likely my favourite entry of all I saw this year, Hotdog Hands is a hilarious, touching and disturbing animation about a suburban woman trapped in her home, due to the embarrassment of relentlessly growing loads of fingers. The chant of her unfortunate nickname by the local teenage bullies keeps her an isolated, tearful mess (I feel you girl), until one day she receives a mysterious coupon that promises affordable surgery. However, to redeem that coupon, she’s first got to make it all the way to the postbox across the street…

Luckily, though, the postbox turns out to be a magic cave full of malnourished baby creatures who require nothing if not a never-ending supply of hotdogs to munch off someone’s limbs, and we’ve all been there. Well done to Matthew Reynolds for making something so surreal, yet so relatable.

[Hot Dog Hands is our short of the week: watch it here in all its gruesomeness]

Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant

Another brilliant animated offering from the student body of NFTS (see last year’s Man-O-Man) was this piece by Suraya Raja, about a young Liverpudlian girl suffering from OCD. Tasked with looking after her younger brother for an afternoon, she cannot rid herself of the distracting, violent thoughts she experiences around sharp
household objects. It doesn’t help that her brother knows this, and finds it fun to make a game out of…
A genuinely sweet mix of family drama, mental health study and coming-of-age narrative, the impressive craft of the claymation holds both its playfulness and gripping, toe-curling body horror. I never would have guessed that a nano-second-length clip of a clay hand getting lacerated by a cheese grater could be so haunting days later. Watch the trailer here.

I Know I Shouldn’t Like It, But I Do

This entry into DepicT!, Encounters’ 90-seconds-or-less film competition, is a dark and satisfying poetry film that explores those viscerally guilty desires and delights that few of us tend to admit to. Creative writing student-turned-filmmaker Ben Williams-Butt has grasped every last second of his 90-second allowance by taking a piece of writing from his university days, and cutting it beautifully with bleak and grotesque imagery that can’t help but make you grimace, and with recognition.
The ‘good-pain’ of pressing on a bruise; the relief of pulling hair out of your crack; the fantasy of murdering that kid who’s bullying your little brother…okay so none of that’s in the film - I don’t want to ruin it for you - but we can all relate to my neuroses, yes? Yes.

Neverlanding: a Bad Thriller

It wasn’t until half way through this piece that’s slowly revealed to be (loosely) about a die-hard Michael Jackson fan that I thought back to the funny title and “uhhhhhhh, geddit”-ed to myself. A dialogue-free, parallel-post-apocalyptic world sees a grimy, lanky man make himself an MJ costume out of foodstuffs. A single glove sewn from
chicken skin, facial ‘prosthetics’ made of minced meat and affixed with saliva, and an attempt at wig-making from dyed tagliatelle strings precedes a surreal tribute performance in an old boys’ bar in the outback. Even though there was zero incest going on here, the grimy, carnal environment reminded me of the worlds of Bad Boy Bubby and Precious, which tells you all you need to know - except that this was far, FAR more light-hearted. Saying that, it was perhaps not the intention - considering the tagline for this 14 minute short from Belgian director Wim Reygaert is simply: “Escape. Escape. Escape.” Watch the trailer here.

Die Brücke über den Fluss (The Bridge Over the River)

Swiss director Jadwiga Kowalska has managed not only to achieve powerful emotion in the tone of this simple animation, but also to convincingly switch up that tone half way through - a general nono in every Directing 101 manual - without losing an audience. What begins as a heartbreaking glimpse of a lone and suicidal man on the precipice of a bridge develops into a story of hope and community, as one by one people gather on the next bridge along, and shout words of encouragement.
However, on his retreat from the edge, the sheer power of the hordes’ celebration on the adjacent bridge ends in the comic relief of mass death. If there were ever an allegory for the reasoning of the depressed individual amongst the ignorant, self-destructive masses, well, here we are. Watch the trailer here.

Elizabeth Mizon is a Bristol-based writer and film director. Follow her follow @elizabethethird.

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