The Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF) has perenially had its roots in experimental, cutting-edge films, making it an “underground” phenomenon in the truest sense of the term. BUFF, in their latest collection of homegrown horror, officially dubbed “Dunwich Horrors,” forays into the caverns of the unsettling aspects of human existence, namely an exploration of spaces that are not safe, sheltered, comfortable. From the valleys of Vermont to the lush, creepy forests of Maine, Dunwich Horrors explores it all, leaving viewers with a lingering sense of dread, spurring pertinent questions about the true nature of terror. No space is safe, as even the comfort of your own home is a lie, as anyone can barge in and destroy your semblance of peace and equilibrium.

Interestingly, almost all of these homegrown offerings are tinted with the anxiety and isolation that we faced (and still face) as a race in the midst of a pandemic, making these shorts timely and more relevant than ever. Horror, as a genre, has always been brave to tackle uncomfortable notions, the stuff of waking nightmares, the hidden underbelly of beasts, looking darkness straight in the eye while pondering about the human psyche. While some of these shorts only run up to the 2-minute mark, while others sit at a comfortable 15 minutes runtime, every entry is nothing short of a revelation, no matter how small or mammoth in scale. Within the ambit of the Dunwich Horrors category at BUFF 2022, we will be covering four interesting shorts: In Darkness, A Family Affair, Poor Glenna, and Thorns.


In Darkness
In Darkness (BUFF 2022)

Synopsis: An ominous folk tale resonates through the dark forests of Maine.
Category: THE DUNWICH HORRORS (Local Horror Shorts)
Country: USA
Runtime: 3 minutes, 20 seconds

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Review: Directing duo Candace Janée and Federico Chiesa approach a cautionary folk tale through the lens of atmospheric ruminations, wherein In Darkness is a result of an impromptu, experimental foray during a stay in Maine. Based on the ominous folk tale “Babes in the Wood,” In Darkness opens with shots of a dense, murky forest, focusing on the lush undergrowth and the rot that naturally haunts spaces that lie in the heart of nature. The traditional English children’s tale follows two children abandoned in the middle of a forest (the details vary, as does with most folk offerings), and the short delves into this premise in a rather atmospheric manner, as opposed to a strictly narrative approach.

This undoubtedly works in favor of the short, which other runs the risk of coming off as a low-effort project. However, In Darkness is anything but that, as it is a commentary on the tropes of confinement, danger, and naivety in the face of a dangerous situation, drawing parallels to how we as a race continue to act in the face of a global catastrophe. When placed against the context of the actual child murder cases that were referred to by the media officially as the Babes in the Wood murders, the short’s tone undergoes a drastic change, replete with poetic, aesthetic shots and rhyming couplets. Chiesa makes music under the name Oora, crafting ambient soundscapes that are reminiscent of the atmospheric black metal genre (albeit leaning more towards a more synth-heavy sound), and In Darkness acts as a prelude to the eponymous album, which attempts to capture soundscapes entrenched in horror.



A Family Affair
A Family Affair (BUFF 2022)

Synopsis: A family in an isolated cabin is visited by a drifter seeking shelter from a winter storm raging through the night.
Category: THE DUNWICH HORRORS (Local Horror Shorts)
Country: USA
Runtime: 16 minutes

Review: Kyle Mangione-Smith’s 16-minute homegrown offering, A Family Affair, announces its aesthetic right off the bat. The title card, in Old English font, followed by a heavily grainy shot of a cozy cabin battling a raging snowstorm, immediately pulls the viewer in, evoking a sense of ominousness via its atmosphere and sound design. The family in question, parents Henry (Toby Cleary) and Julia (Allura Duffy), and their son George (Wes Cannon) clearly share a tense, borderline-dysfunctional dynamic, heightened by George’s insistence that his friend Jonas (Ian Hurlbut) will arrive soon.

However, the seemingly cozy equilibrium is shattered by the arrival of a drifter (Mary Hronicek), who seems to be harboring motivations that are nothing short of nefarious. A Family Affair is expertly shot and edited, making use of the stark contrast, grainy film aesthetic to its advantage, evoking a true sense of anxiety as it reaches the climax. Although the short’s ending might be too open-ended for some, A Family Affair is a solid entry in the Dunwich Horrors category, given how it is able to elicit a range of emotions within such a short period of time. The short explores the themes of isolation and the eerie manifestations of the psyche, blurring the line between reality and imagination. Our homes are traditionally associated with safe spaces, and A Family Affair inverts this trope masterfully, by converging discordant entities that lie without and within.


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Poor Glenna
Poor Glenna (BUFF 2022)

Synopsis: When her mutant son develops a taste for human flesh, a timid mother must find a victim to satisfy his ravenous appetite.
Category: THE DUNWICH HORRORS (Local Horror Shorts)
Country: USA
Runtime: 17 minutes

Review: The era of ’70s exploitation films rife with gore and tentacles were surely a riot and director Jean-Paul DiSciscio captures this essence with near-perfection in his short, Poor Glenna. Helming a solid premise, Poor Glenna opens with an overhead shot of various kinds of meat on the assembly line at a supermarket, bought by a timid, mild-mannered woman, Glenna (Ann Marie Shea). Once home, she makes a disgusting meat smoothie and pours it over a bowl of cereal, adding a dash of her own fresh blood as, erm, garnish. This elaborate breakfast ritual is meant for her son, Alex, who is not human anymore, and craves human flesh on a daily basis. The results are gory, shocking, and downright delightful, as the mix of a well-executed premise and great practical effects elevates Poor Glenna above everyday genre offerings.

One might be reminded of Lovecraftian, cosmic horror films such as From Beyond, especially with the design of the monster, who is never clearly seen except for a mass of wriggling, lightning-fast tendrils. Apart from this, Poor Glenna is absolutely hilarious – be it Ant’s (Cliff Blake) exasperated rants about his mutant son or the absurd nature of Alex’s predicament, the film is consciously tongue-in-cheek, and wears its references on its sleeve. “God sends meat and the devil sends cooks,” after all, and the climax is a solid amalgamation of shock factor, compelling practical effects, and slapstick gratification.



Thorns (BUFF 2022)

Synopsis: Stopping at a sketchy motel for some private intimacy, Gwen and Jade get the sense that someone’s watching them.
Category: THE DUNWICH HORRORS (Local Horror Shorts)
Country: USA
Runtime: 5 minutes

Review: Sarah Wisner and Sean Temple have managed to craft a satisfying, compelling motel thriller under the 5-minute runtime, which, by any means is no easy feat. Thorns borrows its premise from typical motel horrors, wherein the overarching trope is defined by the male gaze via which women are stalked, look at via covert means, and eventually terrorized. Wisner and Temple subvert all genre expectations, ending the short with a sense of visceral self-awareness as opposed to the bull-headed obliviousness showcased by traditional characters in horror thrillers. This is not only refreshing but essential, as horror, as a genre, needs to expand beyond its staple tropes that are fast becoming stale and predictable by the minute.

Thorns opens with couple Gwen (Sydni Perry) and Jade (Kathleen Burke), two young women who stop at a seedy, sketchy motel to spend the night in. Although no backstories are offered, they seem to be on a trip of sorts, engaging in a harmless lover’s quarrel, which is punctuated by a creepy man (Tyler Buckingham) who leaves a single rose on their windshield. To make matters more creepy, they get a phone call from an unknown man warning them of recent motel break-ins, which puts the duo on alert, which is usually not what happens in these kinds of films. The shots, drenched in warm, neon tones help set the mood fairly well, and the film is a celebration of female autonomy, offering a fresh perspective on the genre in many ways.




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