As the icy winds whispered their final haunting tales, the curtain fell on the last day of the Blood in the Snow 2023 Horror Film Festival. Day 5 promised a sinister send-off, and it delivered, leaving us with the echoes of screams and the shadows of thrills that had skittered across the silver screen. In the heart of Toronto, among fellow enthusiasts whose hearts beat for the macabre, I found myself immersed in a world crafted by the dark muses of cinema.
From psychological thrillers that unraveled the mind to supernatural encounters that defied the laws of nature, each film presented its own unique dance with dread. The festival, a celebration of the grotesque and the beautiful terror that horror embodies, has been a riveting journey – and I’m eager to share my experiences from the final day with you.
Join me as I recount the spine-tingling tales, the masterful storytelling, and the eerie atmospheres that enveloped us in a cinematic embrace one last time. So, dim the lights, grab your favorite comfort blanket (you might need it!), and let’s dive into the abyss of the unforgettable day 5 at Blood in the Snow 2023.
White Noise (2023)
White Noise is a haunting and visceral portrayal of hyperacusis, a debilitating sensitivity to everyday sounds. Directed by Tamara Scherbak, the 16-minute short film follows Ava, a young woman whose agonizing auditory condition has made normal life unbearable. As the film opens, we witness Ava suffering a fit of panic in class as ambient noises overwhelm her. Her doctor’s prescription of exposure therapy only worsens her suffering, culminating in a collapse during a walk in the park.
In desperation, Ava agrees to an experimental treatment in an anechoic chamber, a room designed to completely dampen outside noise. At first, the chamber provides a blessing of silence and calm. But as Ava relaxes into the quiet, the sounds of her own body – her breathing, heartbeat, and digestion – become deafening in the absence of external noise. The oasis of silence turns torturous, Ava’s own biology betraying her.
Scherbak effectively builds an atmosphere of anxiety and dread around sound itself. Everyday noises most take for granted – a pen clicking, a phone vibrating – turn menacing. The sound design keeps us in Ava’s tortured headspace, while cinematography alternates between claustrophobic close-ups and agoraphobic wide shots underscore her fear.
As Ava’s panic rises, the film descends into visceral body horror. The final shots inside the anechoic chamber are genuinely hard to endure, as Ava takes increasingly extreme measures to silence herself. White Noise concludes on a chilling and ambiguous note, asking how far one might go to find relief from inner turmoil. An impactful short that uses genre elements to enlighten around a little-known condition.
Solitary shown at Blood in the Show 2023 is a taut and spiritually-tinged escape thriller from director Maninder Chana. Clocking in at just under 17 minutes, the short film wrings high tension from its compact runtime. We open on a unnamed Sikh prisoner locked in solitary confinement in a Mujahideen camp, awaiting the imminent destruction of the camp by an incoming U.S. air strike. With only minutes left to escape the doomed camp, the prisoner turns inward to his faith for the strength to make a daring break for freedom.
Trapped alone in his tiny cell, the prisoner deftly conceals a homemade knife and uses it to pick the lock on his chains. But escaping the cell is only the first challenge, as he navigates through the maze-like corridors of the camp, avoiding guards and attack dogs. Chana squeezes the maximum tension from each narrow escape and close call.
The action is paired with the prisoner’s voiceover addresses to God, which reveal his fortitude and resignation. Even when confronted by armed guards, he refuses to surrender his faith or dignity. The film’s title takes on a double meaning – while physically solitary, the prisoner finds community and purpose through his beliefs.
Solitary culminates in a genuinely thrilling escape under the fence just moments before missiles rain down on the camp behind him. The prisoner ultimately prevails through perseverance and faith. While short on dialogue and backstory, Chana still creates a compelling character study of inner strength in the face of persecution. Tense action choreography and religious themes make Solitary a thought-provoking genre piece.
Cold is a melancholy character study of a woman struggling with depression and existential despair. Directed by Liz Whitmere, the 20-minute short film follows Jane, a fastidiously tidy woman who has recently turned 40 and passed away sometime in the last week – though whether her death was metaphorical or literal remains ambiguous.
We’re introduced to Jane languishing in her pristine apartment, bundled in blankets yet still cold, her skin grey and appetite nonexistent. Through fragmented scenes and dreamlike flashes, we piece together Jane’s loneliness and isolation. She drifts through her routine, going through the motions of existence, interacting with no one. The spark of life seems to have gone out in Jane.
Whitmere excels at creating a pervasive atmosphere of melancholy. Cinematography emphasizes Jane’s smallness against the empty vastness of her environment. Spartan production design and muted cool colors echo Jane’s emotional void. While dialogue is minimal, actor Viktória Varga conveys Jane’s sadness through subtle expressions and body language.
The film’s cyclical nature reinforces the repetition and inertia of severe depression. As Jane sleepwalks through her days, time becomes meaningless. Whitmere offers no easy answers for Jane’s malaise, instead sitting with her in her aimless grief. A quietly haunting film, Cold underscores depression’s cruel persistence and the struggle to reconnect with meaning. Through Jane, we viscerally feel the numbness and dislocation of the condition. A bleak yet empathetic character study.
Spaghetti is an emotional supernatural drama about grief and letting go. Directed by M.H. Murray, this 16-minute short film follows a young queer woman on her final night in the home she shared with her recently deceased lover. While packing up the house before it is sold, she is visited by the ghost of her partner for one last painful goodbye.
We open on a melancholy scene of the woman half-heartedly preparing a lonely dinner, still setting two places at the table out of habit. The atmosphere is steeped in sadness and loss, the cavernous house feeling empty without her lover’s presence. When the ghost appears, their bittersweet reunion stirs up raw emotions of anger, regret, and longing. The film captures in visceral detail the ache of missing someone who is gone forever.
Murray effectively uses the genre trope of a ghostly visitation to explore the grieving process. The supernatural element adds poetic metaphor to the universal experience of mourning a loved one. While the story is compact, the depth of emotion and chemistry between the two women sells their relationship and shared history.
Cinematography alternates between warmly lit domestic scenes and cool, unsettling shots when the ghost appears, creating an eerie supernatural atmosphere. Camerawork and editing shift fluidly between the past and present, memory and reality. The title refers to the modest dinner the woman prepares, a simple comfort food representing the ordinary joys she shared with her departed partner.
A bittersweet meditation on the pain of letting go and the permanence of loss, Spaghetti will resonate with anyone who has longed for one more moment with a loved one. The film succeeds as both an emotional drama and an evocative ghost story.
Cold Light is a taut thriller that wrings nerve-shredding tension from a simple premise. In just 17 minutes, director Rogelio Rodriguez crafts an impactful tale of survival against nearly impossible odds. We open on a young woman beaten and tied to a chair in a remote farmhouse, about to be buried alive by an intimidating older farmer for reasons unknown. With no apparent escape, she desperately tries to talk her way out of her horrifying fate.
Through sparse dialogue, we slowly piece together hints of how she came to be kidnapped and trapped by this dangerous man. The remote farm location heightens her isolation and helplessness, with no one around for miles to hear her cries for help. Rodriguez amplifies the suspense through tight shots of the woman’s face conveying her escalating panic.
As the farmer callously digs her grave outside, she struggles against her restraints, trying anything to delay or distract him from her impending murder. Their psychological cat-and-mouse game creates nail-biting tension. When appeals to the farmer’s empathy fail, she resorts to manipulating his evident attraction to her, resulting in an uncomfortable scene brimming with predatory undertones.
Cold Light’s simple but extreme premise recalls classic suspense films like Misery, Duel, and Buried. Though we only glimpse pieces of the backstory, the director skillfully strips the story down to its tensest elements. Outstanding performances and a foreboding atmosphere make this a white-knuckle thriller. Only a miracle, as the synopsis states, could save the woman from her harrowing predicament.
Get Away is an eerie and suspenseful horror short that wrings creepy tension from its remote desert setting. Directed by Michael Gabriele, this 15-minute film follows a group of friends whose weekend getaway takes a sinister turn after they watch a mysterious VHS tape. Strange coincidences and events leave them questioning what is real as they try to “get away” from an unseen evil presence.
Gabriele excels at establishing an atmosphere of isolation and paranoia right from the opening shots of the friends driving into the vast, empty desert. Cinematography captures the harsh beauty of the landscape while emphasizing its danger. Once at the rental house, the group’s carefree vacation vibe quickly shifts after putting on the unlabelled VHS tape. Reality seems to unravel as the tape’s disturbing images bleed into their surroundings.
The director shows great creativity in portraying the entity’s menacing influence, from props and set pieces moving inexplicably to clever editing and sound design. Well-timed reveals and jump scares amplify the tension. As the friends realize something unnatural is stalking them, their desperation to escape the rental house and isolation of the desert ratchets up the suspense.
The actors effectively convey the escalating dread and paranoia of the situation. Strong performances help ground the supernatural threat with believable reactions. Gabriele’s meticulous direction serves the horror with stylish execution. Get Away is a tight, terrifying ride – a showcase for the director’s considerable talent within the horror genre. The film’s ending provides a satisfying final twist that leaves an unsettling impression.
With “My Animal,” director Jacqueline Castel howls to the moon with a chilling coming-of-age tale that bites into themes of sexuality, transformation, and the secrets we keep. Castel stalks the screen with style, prowling between genres fluidly like her shape-shifting protagonist. This is no mere “teen werewolf movie;” it’s a lushly shot thriller that marks Castel as a rising talent with a sharp eye and sharper teeth.
At the heart of “My Animal” is Heather, played with feral intensity by Bobbi Salvör Menuez. Heather lurks on the fringes, an outsider even before her hereditary lycanthropy. But when alluring figure skater Jonny (Amandla Stenberg) takes an interest in her, Heather’s animal instincts surge forth. Suddenly she’s on the hunt, pursuing Jonny with a pent-up longing she’s kept chained.
Castel frames Heather and Jonny’s simmering connection in dreamy compositions and hypnotic camerawork. A standout scene finds them tangling intimately in a bar bathroom, the camera circling like a predator as their desire reaches feverish heights. Castel and DP Bryn McCashin drench the film in icy blues and hot reds, evoking the extremes of Heather’s experiences.
While the story borders on cryptic, leaving some characters and themes unexplored, the film sinks its claws into the palpable chemistry between Menuez and Stenberg. Their offbeat magnetism and prickly rapport keeps the narrative tense and lively.
Ultimately, “My Animal” is a cunning, stylish tale that uses horror tropes to bare the raw hunger at Heather’s core. With this arresting debut, Castel emerges as a creative force with a taste for blood and bold vision to spare. She’s one to watch as she stalks ever more daring and dangerous cinematic territory.
In the skin-crawling short film “Pest,” director Matthew Broughton unleashes a tale of terror in a tight 6 minutes. Focusing on a chilling concept and propulsive execution, Broughton delivers a lean, mean thriller that sinks its teeth in and doesn’t let go.
We open on a woman frantically calling for a pest control specialist, but it’s not bugs she’s trying to exterminate. Something far more sinister lurks within the walls of her home. When the stoic exterminator arrives, Broughton ratchets up the tension through tight framing and ominous angles within the shadowy house.
While we never glimpse the actual threat, Broughton’s less-is-more approach allows our imagination to run wild about what malevolent force has infested this home. Through the exterminator’s methodical, grim determination and the woman’s escalating hysteria, a sense of quiet dread permeates the film even in its dialogue-free stretches.
Broughton wrings maximum suspense out of the simple scenario, and teases just enough clues about the nature of the pest to make our skin crawl. The cryptic, chilling ending will linger long after the credits roll on this compact creeper. With its focus on mood and suggestion over gore, “Pest” shows Broughton’s mastery of horror shorthand, promising more nightmarish delights to come from this burgeoning genre talent.
The Last Video Store – Blood in the Snow 2023
The Last Video Store is a loving ode to the glory days of VHS, when mom-and-pop video stores were meccas for horror fans seeking their next obscure fright fix. As someone who has spent countless hours perusing the horror section myself, this film hit me right in the nostalgia.
Set in a fictional video store ironically called Blaster Video, The Last Video Store follows the store’s lone employee Kevin (Kevin Martin) as he receives a visit from a mysterious woman, Nyla (Vanessa Adams). Nyla is returning a stash of her late father’s overdue VHS rentals, which Kevin quickly realizes are his own favorites – campy obscurities like Beaver Lake Massacre 4 and Preystalker. But one tape stands out: the eldritch Videonomicon, which unleashes the very killers and creatures from the other tapes into the real world.
What follows is a loving homage and parody of VHS-era horror and sci-fi schlock. With his encyclopedic knowledge of B-movies, Kevin acts as our guide through the carnage, fanboying out even as he’s fighting for his life. The characters and scenarios riff on everything from Friday the 13th to Predator to the Evil Dead, realized through a DIY aesthetic that looks appropriately like an overblown student film.
As a celebration of physical media and the tape-trading horror fans who kept these obscure titles alive, The Last Video Store clearly comes from a place of passion. It’s a scrappy, silly romp that perhaps bites off more than it can chew, with some jokes and effects falling flat. But there’s an earnestness and charm that shines through as it revels in recreations of our VHS treasures. For nostalgic horror buffs like me, that feeling of fondness for forgotten films makes up for any shortcomings. The Last Video Store may look worn and frayed, but that perfectly encapsulates the wistful nostalgia of its retro-loving heart.
The creators clearly share Kevin’s infectious enthusiasm for the films that inspired The Last Video Store. Co-writers and directors Cody Kennedy and Tim Rutherford previously made a short film of the same name, expanding the premise into a celebration of physical media and the fading video store era, this was a great film to catch at Blood in the Snow.
Like Kevin, Kennedy and Rutherford have an encyclopedic knowledge of horror and sci-fi history on display here. The film namechecks and references countless genre classics through its menagerie of familiar but legally distinct villains. We get loving sendups of the full Friday the 13th and Evil Dead franchises, plus hat tips to films like Predator, Chopping Mall, and so many more. The handcrafted creatures and practical effects further bring us back to the DIY ingenuity of indie filmmaking in the analog age.
Of course, the irony is that a film so steeped in nostalgia for old media like VHS can now only be appreciated via new technology. The Last Video Store itself is only available on streaming and digital platforms that hastened the end of brick-and-mortar rental stores. But like Kevin, the film holds onto hope that there are still fellow fans who treasure this era of film history. Its references may fly over the head of many modern viewers, but for those in the know, it delivers a wealth of Easter eggs to delight the horror connoisseur.
The plot mechanics are ramshackle, feeling every bit as cobbled together as the store’s own dusty decor. But The Last Video Store keeps things fun and brisk at a tight 80 minutes. It wears its B-movie inspirations proudly, complete with stilted acting, silly creature effects, hokey gore, and charmingly bad visuals. Kennedy and Rutherford clearly aimed to lovingly recreate the Z-grade charms of the direct-to-video schlockfests they grew up on.
While it likely won’t appeal to viewers lacking that very specific nostalgia, The Last Video Store affectionately bottles the feeling of finding a forgotten gem in the horror section for those who remember it fondly. It’s a celebration not just of VHS, but of the entire culture of grungy video stores and the clerk-curators who offered their handpicked recommendations
As the spectral glow of the projector fades and the haunting echoes of the final credits roll into silence, it’s time to bid farewell to the Blood in the Snow 2023 Horror Film Festival. These five days have been a macabre waltz through the most twisted corridors of cinematic imagination, a gathering that has celebrated the art of fear and the craft of chills.
From the blood-curdling screams to the shared gasps of shock, from the thought-provoking discussions to the laughter that followed a cleverly timed jump scare, the festival was more than just a showcase of horror—it was a communal experience. We bonded over our love for the genre, making connections that transcended the darkened theater rooms and the stories on screen.
The films were the heart of the festival, each beat resonating with the passion of filmmakers who dared to explore the darkest corners of the human psyche and beyond. But the people—ah, the people—were the soul. The enthusiasts, the creators, the critics, and the fans; we all came together under the banner of horror, finding joy in the shared adrenaline and the mutual appreciation of the craft.
As I leave behind the shadows of the festival for another year, I carry with me the memories of a fantastic celebration of horror. The Blood in the Snow 2023 has etched itself into my mind with indelible ink, reminding me why we flock to these gatherings, why we revel in the stories that unsettle us. Here’s to the good times, the spine-tingles, and the eerie stories that will linger until we meet again under the festival’s spell.
Thank you for joining me on this chilling journey. Until next year, keep the horror alive in your hearts—and may your nights be filled with delightful terrors that only the best of horror can provide.
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