The 20 Best Short Films of 2021

By Andrew Buckner

*Please note that the short films included in this list are based on an official 2021 U.S. release date.

20. “Bloom”

Director: Richard M. Anthony.

19. “Us Again”

Director: Zach Parrish.

18. “Culpa”

Director: Miguel Angel Ferrer.

17. “La Deuda”

Director: Jeff Prahl.

16. “Twice as Good”

Director: Kristian King.

15. 10:59 P.M.

Director: Kris Salvi.

14. “The Nurturing”

Director: Alex DiVincenzo.

13. “Live Health”

Directors: Jamie Cox, Timothy Cox.

12. “The Flamboyant Rites of Gay Dracula”

Director: Richard Griffin.

11. “Stay Inside, Michael”

Director: Jeremy Arruda.

10. “Heart Wreck”

Director: Gabrielle Rosson.

9. “The Death of David Cronenberg”

Directors: Caitlain Cronenberg, David Cronenberg.

8. “The Present”

Director: Farah Nabulsi.

7. “Trigger Warning: The Life and Art of Chrystal”

Director: Chrystal Shofroth.

6. “The Dreamer”

Director: Jeremy Arruda.

5. “Come Rain or Come Shine”

Director: Mark Maille.

4. “Paul Laurence Dunbar: An American Poet”

Director: Kane Stratton.

3. “The Serpent Writhes in a Glass Coffin”

Director: Richard Griffin.

2. “Undertaker”

Director: Chris Esper.

1. “The Last Cruise”

Director: Hannah Olson.

“Undertaker” (2021) – Short Film Review

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****

“Undertaker” (2021), from director Chris Esper, is a masterful meditation on the inherent need for mankind to understand life. It also concerns the confusion that arises as we attempt to comprehend our wants, desires, and surroundings. The ten-minute short film also focuses in on how fleeting our time is on Earth. This is cleverly illustrated in the piece through several efficient and effective sequences that range from the commonplace (the search for a perfect cup of coffee) to the transformative (uncovering a key romantic relationship). Furthermore, the account can also be viewed as a singular glimpse of the world that may arise after death.

As is the core component of a great number of works by Esper, the universal relatability in these themes, as well as the compassionate and upfront manner with which they are addressed, is emotionally compelling from the first frame to the last. The same can be said of the brilliantly handled symbolism inherent in the project. Because of this connection, onlookers effortlessly comprehend the mentality of the lead of the exercise, referred to as only The Undertaker (rendered in a terrific, quietly layered, and mature portrayal by Dustin Teuber).  The gorgeous black and white cinematography from Colin Munson adds an air of nostalgia to the narrative. It beautifully compliments these qualities as well as its noirish demeanor.

The deceptively simple story, which involves a man realizing that everything around him is not what it he believes it to be, is given superb depth via the wonderfully penned, intimate yet ambitious screenplay by Kris Salvi. The script is especially striking in demonstrating sharp dialogue. Such speech capably teases the fundamental mystery The Undertaker is attempting to unlock about himself and his environment. This is without ever being wholly direct. Such measures add a heightened sense of elegant poetry to the proceedings that is simultaneously theatrical and organic. In an equally successful decision in this arena, the characters are also cryptic.

The excursion also triumphs in terms of its secondary roles. Justin Thibault is memorable in his brief turn, which occurs in the engaging opening segments, as Passenger. Salvi is equally good in the understated, yet gloriously poignant, final scene as The Driver. Teddy Pryor as The Identical, Michael Lepore as Waiter, and Jen Drummond as Customer also make a considerably indelible impression.

From a technical angle, the undertaking is also outstanding. The stylish, yet nuanced and thoughtful, direction from Esper is a highlight. His editing is also proficient. The music from Steven Lanning-Cafaro is appropriately gentle and spellbinding. It captures the spirit of the development with tremendous grace. Moreover, the score is used both delicately and sparingly. Such a method punctuates the underlying sentiment of certain instances. This is without taking away from the immersive value of the construction. Continually, the production design from Gabrielle Rosson and sound from Ryan Collins and Jay Sheehan is just as remarkable.

Playing like a condensed, yet still wildly inventive and timelessly relevant, episode of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), “Undertaker” is a confidently paced, smartly structured, and unforgettable example of cinematic art. The dreamlike drama once again showcases Esper as an incredible talent who consistently crafts top-tier material. His latest venture is another unique, intelligent, breathtaking, powerful, and refined achievement that will assuredly resonate with spectators of all degrees. Extraordinary on all fronts and endlessly absorbing, it is at the top of the list of my favorite short films of the year.

The Andrew Buckner/ AWordofDreams Summer 2020 Short Film Festival- Films 7 and 8: “The Loner” (2019) and “Slow Burn” (2014)

By Andrew Buckner

The Andrew Buckner/ AWordofDreams Summer 2020 Short Film Festival continues with films 7 and 8 in the 14-part series: “The Loner” (2019), which was directed by Kris Salvi, and “Slow Burn” (2014). The latter was directed by Stephen Martin. Both projects are connected by being dramatic, credible, character-driven works. Moreover, they are also similarly notable for their intense tone and premises which revolve around crimes of the past.

As promised, the festival continues with:

Film 7: “The Loner”

Summary:

Frank Rizzo is an over the hill hit-man and soldier who is trying to redeem himself. All the while, he is haunted by the murder of a close friend from years ago.

Cast and Crew Information:

Writer/Director: Kris Salvi

Cast: Marc Powers, Dustin Teuber, Kate Eppers, Craig Capone And Samantha Webb

Run Time: 31:52

Director Statement: “This film is done in a docudrama style. Filmed very gritty to represent the lifestyle of this mobster’s life. ‘The Loner’ is a look inside the everyday life of a working class Gangster and the pain that follows him throughout that world.”

The film can be viewed in full at the Facebook page for the short. It can be found here.

Film 8: “Slow Burn”

Tag line/ Summary:

A father struggles with the release of his son’s murderer from prison. Revenge is a given….seeing it through is not.

Cast and crew information can be found on the above poster for the film.

Contact Stephen on Instagram:

Stephenmartin11.11

Additional Information:

Black and white.

Run Time: 19 min. 30 sec.

“Slow Burn” was an official selection of the Woods Hole Film Festival 2015.

It won the Audience Award at the Southeast New England Film, Music and Arts Festival.

*The films included herein are included with the kind permission of the filmmakers.

The Andrew Buckner/ AWordofDreams Summer 2020 Short Film Festival- Films 5 and 6: “A Rock Feels No Pain” (2020) and “Spice” (2018)

By Andrew Buckner

The Andrew Buckner/ AWordofDreams Summer 2020 Short Film Festival continues with films 5 and 6 of the 14-part series: “A Rock Feels No Pain” (2020), directed by Gabrielle Rosson and Kris Salvi, and “Spice” (2018). The latter was directed by Lawrence Butchbinder. Both shorts are again connected by the genre of Comedy, as was the case with the former pair of brief films. Moreover, they are both hilarious and uniquely heartfelt.

As promised, the online festival continues with:

Film 5: “A Rock Feels No Pain”

Summary:

A Rock Feels No Pain (2020)

Quarantine feels like a life sentence to Jimmy, until he learns to do the time on his own terms.

Not Rated | 8 min |Short, Comedy

About The Directors:

Gabrielle Rosson & Kris Salvi live, work, and make art in Massachusetts, and have collaborated on a number of projects since meeting in 2019.

Salvi is known for his writing, directing, and acting in independent films such as “I Am A Rain Dog,” “Gutterbug,” “Odd Men Out,” “Deja Vu’ers,” “Strawberry Lane,” “The Loner,” “Cleaner,” “You’re On The Air,” and “Salvation,”—among many others. When he isn’t making movies, he’s writing and conducting research for future productions.

Rosson began her filmmaking career as a student at Bridgewater State University where she wrote, directed, and produced her first award-winning short, “Get Up Eight,” as part of a larger effort to raise awareness about addiction and recovery. Since then, she has written, directed, produced, and acted in a number of independent shorts, including “Salvation,” “Kill Me In The Moonlight,” and “Being Kris Salvi.” Her next film, an homage to 1930s Hollywood called “Dessert,” begins principal photography this Fall. 

Directors Statement:

“A Rock Feels No Pain” was conceived during quarantine and was filmed in one day using the principals of social distancing. It was tremendous fun to work with lead actor Justin Thibault, and we are very proud of the final product. We hope it provides a little relief during these trying times! Enjoy 🙂

Film 6: “Spice”

Summary:

“Spice” (2018) is an award-winning comedy from Shoot the Moon Films, about a married couple (Steve Blackwood and Pamela Morgan) who hope to spice things up in the bedroom. This 12-minute short packs in great humor, heart-felt moments, and leaves you wanting more!

Cast and crew information:

Written by David Susman

Produced by Curtis Reid

Directed by Jeffrey Buchbinder

Links to further information on the film:

IMDB page:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5341518/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2&fbclid=IwAR1tRiNegHzUH-2kuXKcQP74so1yVLUrbRKj_vlGlmBTP7TB9t0v9xoEDI8

Shoot the Moon Films Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/shootthemoonfilms

Facebook Page for “Spice”:

https://www.facebook.com/SpiceFilm

*All films included in this festival are shown in full with the kind permission of those involved with the film itself.

The 10 Best Short Films of 2020 (So Far)

By Andrew Buckner

*The inclusion of the short films on this list is based on the criteria of a 2020 release date.

10. “The Never Was”
Director: Mike Messier.

9. “Waffle”
Director: Carlyn Hudson.

8. “Dear Guest”
Director: Megan Freels Johnston.

7. “Thankless”
Director: Mark Maille.

6. “Wives of the Skies”
Director: Honey Lauren.

5. “Stuck”
Director: Steve Blackwood.

4. “The Dirty Burg”
Director: John Papp.

3. “Being Kris Salvi”
Director: Gabrielle Rosson.

2. “Fire (Pozar)”
Director: David Lynch.

1. “Yesteryear”
Director: Chris Esper.

Runner-Up:

“The Onlookers and Him”
Directors: Susruta Mukherjee, Saswata Mukherjee.

“The Deja Vuers”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

“The Deja Vuers” (2016), an eight-minute short picture from director Chris Esper and screenwriter Jason K. Allen, is a charming, frequently funny and endlessly engaging experience. It is ingenious in the way it takes a commonplace set-up, a man approaching a woman on a park bench, to comically absurd levels. This is without it ever becoming too over the top. Simultaneously, Esper and Allen inject trademark components of fantasy and science-fiction, time travel and dreams, into an undertaking that is consistently fresh and exciting. This is while maintaining its commonplace relatability. Likewise, it never once utilizes humor that isn’t naturally born from the unfolding circumstances of the plot itself. With these un-related items, a balance of the mundane and the fantastic is seamlessly created. It is one that is built on dialogue. The articulations heard throughout are rich in everyday observations, exchanges and quiet insights. Furthermore, Allen’s penned characterizations are accessible. This is without coming across as archetypical or lacking in dimension. Such is certainly a tremendous feat unto itself.

The attribute apparent in the writing of the protagonists is amplified by the herculean strength of the lead performers we follow on-screen. Christie Devine is outstanding in her enactment as Morgan. Kris Salvi is phenomenal in his portrayal of Chuck. Yet, even the comparatively smaller roles, such as Craig Capone as Elias and J.P. Valenti as “Repairman”, offer well-rounded and memorable depictions. Adam Miller as “Teenager” fares just as well.

The potency of these qualities is vastly a courtesy of Esper’s masterful administrative hand. It is just as evident in Allen’s sharply designed and intelligent authorship of the material. The duo immediately establishes, via their respective contributions, a quietly whimsical tone for the piece. It is propelled in the opening moments by the smoothly upbeat music of Steven Lanning- Cafaro. This can also be said for Evan Schneider’s sumptuous, vibrant and suitably cheery cinematography. Schneider’s influence also benefits from taking full advantage of the natural beauty of its budding fall backdrop. The result is a smartly penned and honed, effortlessly enjoyable production. It is one that visibly triumphs from both a technical and narrative stand-point.

Esper, who also produced, and Allen chronicle Chuck coming across Morgan in a chance assembly. He has never met her before. Yet, a reverie Chuck had from the night before, where Morgan is sitting in the precise location she is at that initial instant and with an identical expression of the confused look that overtakes her countenance, makes him come up to Morgan and address her in conversation. While the explanation of such an act itself could easily be perceived as a pick-up line, it is immediately conveyed that Chuck and Morgan both find each other “repulsive”. But, Chuck states, in one of the many efficaciously guffaw-inducing bits herein, that the mutual unattraction between the two doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be intimate. This is just on the off case that a bizarre fate is bringing them together. Soon after this smirk-inducing gag is administered, a chain of circumstances, often built around loose connections and clever ironies, amusingly unfurls. This begins with something as small as a container of fruit cocktail. Soon it evolves into an assortment of individuals from bygone eras and lives. Included in the mix is a personality who could well be conjured from a vision induced through slumber itself. It isn’t far into these episodes before Morgan and Chuck realize that there may be more to this sense of de ja vu than a vague sense of familiarity. It is than a portal unveils. Such an incidence threatens to pull Chuck and Morgan apart from their moment together. In so doing, it promises to bring them to a place and time more matched to their personal desires.

This Stories in Motion production, budgeted for $2,000 and shot in Attleboro, Massachusetts, further benefits from this truly original plot. The single position found in the piece is also impeccable for a celluloid invention such as this. Moreover, it activates intriguingly and ends much in an equivalent fashion. This is on a wildly satisfactory note of paradoxical enigma. This stretch is also striking in that it seems to express the general outlooks of the personalities viewed in this pre-closing acknowledgments succession. This is through decision over exposition. Best of all, it incorporates this without being obvious about its intentions. The construction is just as confident in its pacing as it is in its sly execution of such happenstances. Such an affair issues a commencing and concluding credits segment that is as quaint, stimulating to the eye and proficient as the sequences these portions bookend. Correspondingly, Esper’s editing as well as the optical effects from Robert L. Lopez are outstanding. Andrew P. Marsden provides deftly issued sound. Danielle Schneider’s make-up is expertly fashioned. These ingredients are eye-catching on their own. When combined, these details illuminate and augment splendidly the effortlessly admirable appeal of all we encounter herein.

Esper’s latest accomplishes an incredible amount in its brief run time. It efficaciously juggles a multitude of genres and ideas. All of which are difficult enough to pull off individually. Yet, with all these various foundations at play: there is an undeniable air of gentle romanticism to the proceedings. This is fitting and welcome. The composition is much like Esper’s “Please Punish Me” (2015) in this respect. This is also accurate when pondering its ability to explore human interactions and regressed passions. Such occurs in a package that operates equally well as both an unexpectedly cerebral character study and as a witty comedy. In turn, “The Deja Vuers” is a wonderful display of talent and wise storytelling moves all around. It continually exhibits Esper’s as a craftsman of the photoplay at every turn. The work also serves as perpetual evidence of the equally deft capabilities of his cast and crew. More than anything, the exertion reminds us of the illimitability and experimental nature inherent in arrangements such as these. Because of this, Esper and company have erected a must-see; another fantastic addition to his increasingly spellbinding filmography.

“Strawberry Lane” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

“Strawberry Lane” (2016), the outstanding and enigmatic twenty-three minute and fifteen second debut from writer-directors Jeremy Arruda and Aaron Babcock, is thematically and visually designed to unnerve. Arruda and Babcock have created a living nightmare on celluloid. This is via a collection of sinisterly striking images. All of which, even down to the otherwise simplistic visage of the child’s doll and ventriloquist’s dummy casually spied in the second half, are guaranteed to linger in the subconscious long after they are viewed. The upshot of these brilliantly delivered constituents is undoubtedly an extension of horror in its purest sense. We, the audience, are continually made to feel uncomfortable, apprehensive and alarmed. Yet, we are wholly engaged and intrigued throughout. This is by the notions and scenarios that are unfolding. Likewise, those that could potentially be right around the corner. In an era where most related yarns are more than content to go the safe route, with jump scares and routine motions galore, Arruda and Babcock give us a presentation of credible, sobering and unwavering darkness. It is one that is anything but predictable. The unsettling quote from American serial killer Albert Fish glimpsed in the opening moments set the clinical atmosphere and violent chain of events which are to follow quickly and proficiently.

Adding to the tonal ingenuity at hand, this wonderfully creepy concoction derives heavy inspiration from avant-garde maestro David Lynch, most notably Eraserhead (1977), as well as the chairman of many controversial comedies, John Waters. The eerily erected commencing and closing credits, made increasingly incredible and unflinchingly bizarre by the deliberately old-fashioned music from Arruda, make this point sharply evident. Such augments an endlessly intense, marvelously macabre impression. It is one which pulsates proudly through every frame of the proceedings. Such beautifully mirrors the exploitation features of the 1970’s. This is with Tobe Hooper’s quintessential masterpiece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), frequently coming to the forefront. Yet, the anti-heroes that pose as our leads are appropriately repulsive, menacing and impossibly mesmerizing. Such is in the tradition of the best cinematic villains. The duo of murderers who form this uncommon “love story”, as it is declared in the sub-title of the depiction, Harry Meyland (in a performance by Kris Salvi that is terrific) and Billy (in an enactment by Justin Thibault that is just as accomplished as that of Salvi) summon a certain parallel to Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill. Such iconic entities were found in Jonathan Demme’s Best Picture Academy Award- winning  The Silence of the Lambs (1991). These aforesaid mirrors to the past also provide an undercurrent of nostalgia to the piece. Such makes the overall feel of the labor akin to watching a long-lost classic for the first time.

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All of this is punctuated, memorably and appropriately, by an extended, ardently gut-wrenching and impressive finale. Such readily calls to mind the oft banned invention of fright, Nekromantik (1987), from German auteur Jorg Buttgereit. The combination of these influences results in an artistically satisfying and courageous endeavor. Such is especially true when considering that these sights are set within the haunting, gorgeously gritty cinematography conducted by Babcock. This is also an undeniably potent display of the behind the lens capabilities Arruda and Babcock encompass. Their tough, taut and meticulously paced script, co-authored by Dave Orten, compliments these attributes splendidly. Arruda and Babcock utilize a uniquely fashioned, boldly constructed narrative. It is one that wisely leaves as much to the captivated psyche to ponder as it paints explicitly blood red. The team craft sparsely delivered, but authentic, dialogue. Such casts a painstaking eye for believability in all details of the effort. The plot, which contains just a touch of pulp, is gripping. Such makes the undertaking seamless; a deft exhibition of raw, uncompromising aptitude.

Arruda and Babcock chronicle an unexpected conflict that erupts with the introverted transvestite Harry Meyland. He is a psychotic maniac. More specifically, one who abducts and slaughters the women of the local Magdalene Escort Service. This act is made more dangerous by the fact that it is where he is employed. All the while, the near demonic sounding voice of his mother (exceptionally issued by Arruda) guides him along. Yet, he encounters a grave challenge. This is as Billy, who delights in the same fatal indulgences, takes Harry’s work into his own hands. What starts as a competition between Harry and Billy soon evolves into a strange affinity; one that is as strangely absorbing and twisted as the fiction itself.

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The composition also benefits from other various components that are just as attention-garnering. Crystal Correa is phenomenal as Trisha. Geneve Lanouette is just as astounding in her turn as The Captive Woman. Carlo Barbieri III, Arruda and Kristen McNulty play Masked Figure 1-3 respectively. Their presence is unforgettable. They are seen fleetingly in an assembly of surprising instances which are heavily reminiscent of Bryan Bertino’s criminally underrated The Strangers (2008). Such apparently random illustrations hypnotically reinforce the brute, jarring strength of the visuals herein. A death sequence that transpires in the beginning minutes, worthy of Hitchcock in conception and delivery, only reaffirm this trait. Such is greatly enhanced by the slickly constructed editing Arruda and Babcock invoke.

Shot over the course of two years, this Zeta Wave Productions release is guaranteed to be a new favorite of fellow genre addicts. More importantly, it signifies the arrival of a tremendous pair of filmmakers. Both of whom have an obvious admiration for and wide-reaching knowledge of the history of moving picture terror. Best of all, they are equally versed in how to evoke fear and confidently, expertly project it on-screen. “Strawberry Lane” confirms this at every turn. The outcome of this is an astonishing tour de force; a brief affair that is far more satisfying, evocative and in-depth than most full-length exertions. That only offers further proof of their photographic command. Because of this, I greatly anticipate what gruesome marvels Arruda and Babcock bring to life in upcoming collaborations.

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