Review: ‘Minutes Past Midnight,’ a collection of horror shorts

by Andrew Parker

Instead of offering up yet another horror anthology this Halloween (although I’m sure there has to be one lurking around a dark corner somewhere), filmmaker and shorts programmer Justin McConnell offers audience the grab-bag experience of Minutes Past Midnight. Instead of stringing together a bunch of works from various filmmakers all built around a similar theme, loose connections, or a halfassed wrap around segment, McConnell keeps things simple by offering the audience nothing more than a solid array of spooktacular short films from around the world. An offshoot of the monthly Little Terrors series he programmes at Carlton Cinemas (which like the feature is co-produced in part by Rue Morgue Magazine), McConnell clearly has a love and admiration for the short film format and his keen programming eye serves this omnibus well.

While not all the hits here are grand slams, the hit to miss ratio here is outstandingly higher than most shorts packages or anthologies. There’s only one comparatively weak offering here – the admittedly slight, but not terrible Awake, about a couple trying to figure out why their kid won’t sleep, won’t eat, and is going blind – but the rest work with varying degrees of success and entertainment value.

Those who like their shocks cut with a dose of dark humour will find a lot to love here, as the majority of the shorts either try to tickle and tingle the funny bone at the same time or build to Twilight Zone-ish twists. Never Tear Us Apart (the opener) follows two bros on a trek through the woods as they attempt to find a party, and instead stumble upon a loving couple living a secret lifestyle. Crazy for You casts former Doctor Who performer Arthur Darvill as a serial killer looking for love despite his propensity for snapping whenever he sees someone wearing spots. Roid Rage plays like the bastard child of Lloyd Kaufman and Lamberto Bava; a bad taste trash-terpiece about a man with a monster living in his butt. In the Spanish language Timothy, a young boy slowly realizes that his favourite kids show character might be a sledgehammer wielding psychopath. And in Horrific (the closer) a trailer trashy dude who’s already having a terrible night has things get worse when a chupacabra starts picking on him.

Those who prefer their horror more on the psychological side will appreciate Feeder and Ghost Train. In the former, a struggling singer-songwriter moves into a new flat only to find a strange altar in the walls that might be tied to a hard to explain rodent problem. The latter is more in the Stephen King vein, as a man returns to his hometown to confront a childhood tragedy where he lost one of his best friends after an incident at a spooky, abandoned amusement park.

The best of the nine offerings is also the most unclassifiable. Using bunraku puppets, the Gothic period piece The Mill at Calder’s End tells the story of a man seeking to rid his family of a generations old curse. It’s original, wildly entertaining, and unlike any short I’ve seen before. It fully commits to its dark and brooding aesthetic while maintaining a true sense of wonder and creative exploration. Expertly directed by veteran special effects technician Kevin McTurk, this on its own would be outstanding Halloween entertainment, but as a part of Minutes Past Midnight, it strengthens an already enjoyable whole.

Minutes Past Midnight opens on Friday, October 7, 2016 for a week long run at Carlton Cinemas in Toronto. You can catch it on VOD everywhere starting October 18, 2016.

Check out the trailer for Minutes Past Midnight:

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