Short indie film roundup: Old Flame, Suburbia, Ken

A still from indie short film Old Flame. A hand holding a lit match.
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A trio of short films available for you to watch online and for free: here’s our round-up and a few more details as well.

Welcome again to the weekly section that highlights indie short films on Youtube. It aims to bring back the human element of curation and help talented creators trump the algorithm. This week we’re going old school and featuring three shorts shot on super 8 film. There’s been a resurgence in celluloid enthusiasts recently and when you see these you’ll understand why. FIlm, expensive and cumbersome as it can be, still has that dream-like magic.

The three films in this review have a boy with a broken heart turning to drink, a creepy and surreal meditation on life in the suburbs, and a young man is hounded on the subway by a gnome. You heard me.

Old Flame (Dir. Spencer Hetherington, Jesse Ricottone)

Old Flame stars Nick Nylen and Kateryna Fylypchuk as young lovers who, after a summery romance (which super 8 captures perfectly), break up. The young man takes it badly, drinking and pining on the beach for his lost love. There he has a nightmarish experience that changes his perception.

If there’s one thing that the hazy nostalgic quality of 8mm film captures better than anything else it’s dreamy romantic montages, and Hetherington’s cinematography certainly does that. The nightmarish sequence also has a timelessness to it that’s unique to film. There’s no dialogue, just ethereal music and enough sound design to ground you in the world and not make you feel like you’re observing things from behind glass.

It’s nice to see 8mm being used to tell fictional narrative stories when it’s mostly associated with old reels of people’s trips to Disneyland (or Blackpool if you’re from the UK). It was the starter kit for many fledgling filmmakers in the past and, perhaps ironically, it’s now a more expensive niche activity — especially when these days you can shoot your first attempts at cinema on your phone — but the results speak for themselves. Check it out here:

Suburbia (Dir. Trevor Gautereaux)

Suburbia has always been inextricably linked with a peculiar feeling of existential dread, and Gauteraux’s surrealist nightmare plays on this fear with a sense of macabre glee. A young woman, feeling trapped in her suburban home, drives to a secluded woodland. There she encounters a sinister man in black who holds some mysterious power over her.

To say this is steeped in metaphor is understating things. A voice on the radio says, “a brand new beginning, same treacherous end,” alluding to life in the suburbs being anything but perfect. The cast all perform admirably, in particular Kristen Adams who sort of plays two roles, or at least two versions of the same person. Cameron Poletti’s cinematography is solid and the music by Juan Mendizabal is suitably kooky and creepy, reminding me of Carnival Of Souls (1962).

The short is dedicated to John Carpenter. I assume this is because he’s arguably the master of the suburban horror story. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is horror, or even scary. It’s a playful, darkly comic reflection of our modern anxiety about feeling trapped in the dull existence of the nuclear family. Don’t think too deeply about it, just enjoy the quirky atmosphere of it.

Ken (Dir. Michael Varrati)

Saving the best till last, Ken is the utterly mad story of a young man being relentlessly pursued across the city by a creepy gnome that looks like Ken Russell. Can you imagine anything like this ever getting the green light from executives at Marvel? This is why I love reviewing indie shorts. This takes ‘high concept’ to absurd extremes.

Again, it’s the choice to shoot 8mm that elevates this from simply a daft little skit to something approaching cinematic. The photography, editing and music is all helmed by Andrew J. Ceperley who clearly has vision and a taste for late 20th century exploitation flicks. For something shot in 2022 this looks like it could be some bizarre lost reel from the 1970s. Even the end titles have a flare that something created in Final Cut Pro couldn’t match.

There’s a fascinating interview with the director and owner of June Gloom Productions where he discusses his motivations. To quote him: “June Gloom Productions is devoted to the production, curation, and creation of queer horror and queer social commentary cinema. We’re very interested in making projects that say or expose something about our community and the world around us.”

Check out Ken here:

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