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2023 Sundance Festival Midnight Shorts: Visceral Body Horror, Intimacy Issues, Aliens, and More

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By Katie Small

The Midnight Shorts section is known for bringing the most creative and visually innovative horror to the big screen, and the 2023 Festival selections did not disappoint. From encounters with aliens to romance gone wrong, the following sci-fi and surrealistic short films each contain wild and unruly worlds. 

 

In the Flesh – Tracey is just trying to jerk off with her bathtub faucet like normal when some old memories dredge themselves up, the pipes explode with dirty water, and she starts leaking black goo, the logline for In the Flesh states. Daphne Gardner’s 13-minute visceral body horror takes place in her actual apartment. “I wanted to tell a story that dealt with fear and desire and where those intersect in ways that are both really horrifying and really funny,” she says during the post-premiere Q&A.

 

Pipes – This four-minute animated short is more of a scene than a story. Bob is a plumber hired to fix a broken pipe. He lands, to his surprise, in a gay fetish club. “This film is based on a real fetish club in Zurich that sadly closed during COVID,” says co-director Kilian Feusi. “[The club] was a very overwhelming experience” that Feusi wanted to document. 

 

A Folded Ocean – For 13-minutes, a couple get lost in each other… both metaphorically and physically. Writer-director Ben Brewer was notably mysterious when explaining his inspiration. “I wanted to explore intimacy and I got a new camera,” he says. He did reveal that his four-person cast and crew used incredible 2D compositing technology to create the film’s signature surreal visual effects. You have to see it to believe it.

 

Unborn Biru – A pregnant widow steals silver from a dead body in order to survive and feed her daughter. But the silver is cursed and has consequences for all of them, including the unborn. Swedish filmmaker and reindeer herder Elin Marakatt says her 19-minute short was inspired by true events. “I was inspired by my own Sámi culture, and real events that happened in my family a long time ago.”

 

Power Signal – While trying to navigate a city that won’t provide him a bathroom, a delivery worker discovers an unearthly presence infecting women all over New York. Oscar Boyson’s 20-minute short film was inspired by the pandemic. “At the height of the pandemic, New York City seemed so empty, it was almost like a desert, and these delivery workers on e-bikes were like the cowboys,” he explains. “And the idea that they knew something that everybody who was stuck inside didn’t know, kind of felt like this potent metaphor.” 


Claudio’s Song – This 10-minute short depicts a young man, Claudio, who faces the wrath of criminals targeting people who are famous on the internet. Things take an unexpected turn when their scheme fails. “This is inspired by a guy I met in a bar, he was a male model/influencer, and he told me that one day he woke up and his Instagram account was hacked. He couldn’t access it for several days… trauma,” laughs director Andreas Nilsson. “Then he got it back and a few days later secret police came and told him that his account had been hacked by ISIS, and they used it to plan a terror attack,” he states very matter-of-factly in the post-premiere Q&A, before passing the mic to his screenwriter David Kolbusz. “Andreas is obsessed with weird news stories, and I’m obsessed with mortality, and how we’re remembered,” Kolbusz says. “We had a long conversation and the two things sort of fused together.”

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