Fantasia 2020 Short Films – Suspense, Laura Hasn’t Slept, Peter the Penguin and Don’t Text Back

Just a note about this round-up of shorts: I put the more horror heavy shorts at the top (Suspense, Laura Hasn’t Slept) and the more comedic driven shorts at the bottom (Peter the Penguin, Don’t Text Back). 

SUSPENSE (from USA, directed by Ben and Jacob Burghart, this film was paired with The Block Island Sound at Fantasia Film Festival).

In the new short from the Burghart brothers (Ben and Jacob), Suspense (pictured in the featured image) follows an army pilot (Jelani Talib) who survives a plane crash and his parachute gets stuck in a tree. Soon, he and his friend learn they are not alone in the forest.

More situational horror meets creature feature than anything resembling Overlord (the most obvious comp when I just heard the premise), there is one delightfully creepy stretch here with the way sound is used as something climbs a tree. The anticipation in these moments is worth the watch alone.

About this something climbing the tree, the film loses a step when we see the creature – we only see frames of it – but the sounds are so great and there are a couple surprising comedic moments, as well. There’s also a great use of flares here. It’s impressively shot and since this is made on a short film budget, there’s enough budget to show an actual plane crash. The way the directors get around this is clever.

Note about this film: I will be posting an interview with writing/directing team Ben and Jacob Burghart in the coming week.

Score: 75/100

Laura Hasn't Slept 1
Caitlin Stasey in Laura Hasn’t Slept. (Photo courtesy of Fantasia Film Festival.)

LAURA HASN’T SLEPT (from USA, directed by Parker Finn, this film was paired with The Dark and the Wicked at Fantasia Film Festival).

Directed by Parker Finn, Laura Hasn’t Slept follows the titular Laura (Caitlin Stasey) who is plagued by a recurring dream, and visits her therapist (Lew Temple) for advice. Laura opens the short by asking if he thinks a dream can be so real it can bring itself into the real world and affect her everyday life. If she’s this worried about it, the answer is already yes.

Stasey delivers a great, anxious performance as Laura and you can totally feel her fear. This performance is what helps make it a great short film, as by both Stasey and Temple, these are both very strong performances.

To spoil much about the story in this 11-minute short would be a disservice, but I loved every direction it went in. The set design and visuals look wonderful and the horror of the short really got under my skin. The sounds in this short really, really help with creeping out audiences. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a short film that had everything I wanted, but this got very close.

Score: 100/100

Chris Butler in Peter the Penguin. (Photo courtesy of Fantasia Film Festival.)

PETER THE PENGUIN (from England, directed by Andrew Rutter, this film was paired with 12 Hour Shift at Fantasia Film Festival).

I’m so glad this one was paired with 12 Hour Shift because Andrew Rutter’s Peter the Penguin is a delightful surprise. It’s about Nigel (Chris Butler) who is about to meet his partner’s daughter, Emily (Mia Hemerling). He’s equipped with a small toy lion, but his partner Rachel (Alex Kapila) warns it won’t be big enough.

When I first heard about the film, I thought it would be better paired with an animated film because it just looks like a cute little comedy, and while I would use many words to describe this film, “cute” would not be one of them. I won’t spoil anymore of the plot as it would be a disservice to the surprising direction this film takes, but it’s a great little short that taps into the anxiety of meeting a loved one’s child for the first time.

The dialogue is strong from the start and it’s funny, and the short gets better as it delves deeper into the bizarre situation with the titular Peter the Penguin. There’s a great original song, to boot. I’ll remember this one because it’s such a surprise.

Note about this film: I will be posting an interview with writer/director Andrew Rutter and lead actor Chris Butler in the coming week.

Score: 88/100

Don't Text Back 1
Danielle Lapointe and Nancy Webb in Don’t Text Back. (Photo courtesy of Fantasia Film Festival.)

DON’T TEXT BACK (from Canada, directed by Kaye Adelaide and Mariel Sharp, this film was paired with Bleed with Me at Fantasia Film Festival).

I totally love the premise of the Canadian short comedy, Don’t Text Back. A woman named Kelly (Danielle Lapointe) seeks out a healer, named Jaren (Nancy Webb), because she put on a supernatural necklace that strangles her whenever she does not reply to a Tinder date’s text.

It’s a meditation on online dating that has an incredibly clever moment at the end of the short, but most of the humour really missed for me. Directed and written by Kaye Adelaide and Mariel Sharp, I found the humour tried way too hard without an actual focus on having natural laughs.

The observational humour is my kind-of humour, but it just didn’t work for me with Don’t Text Back, but I really did enjoy the supernatural aspect of the film.

Score: 50/100


6 thoughts on “Fantasia 2020 Short Films – Suspense, Laura Hasn’t Slept, Peter the Penguin and Don’t Text Back

  1. I love horror short films! The first two really got my attention. Also, creature features are much better when we only get a glimpse of the monsters, with the rest left up to our imagination. Hope they’re available to stream sometime. Looking forward to your interviews!

      1. Haha, I know what you mean. On a random note, I’ve just watched Overlord and loved it! Cool to see it mentioned on here. 🙂

      2. Always a good time for a rewatch. 😉 and yes to an Overlord review, though I also have Time Trap, The Grudge and Event Horizon on my to-write list. Let’s see how many I can get to this month, haha!

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