Panic Fest Shorts Roundup: Miniscule musings on tiny terrors

Featurd Sick Thats Our Time 2

That’s Our Time. // Courtesy Panic Fest

This story is part of our coverage of Panic Fest 2023Read more from our film team here.

People always ask me, “Caroline, how did you log 700 movies on Letterboxd last year?” The answer is depression, but also: shorts! Short movies are frequently the highlight of a film festival for me, and this year’s Panic Fest offerings are no exception. 

Here were the best selections from the over 60 films available on this year’s shorts slate. 

Featurd Meat Friend 4

Meat Friend. // Courtesy Panic Fest

Shorts Block 1

That’s Our Time (dir. Alex Backes): This sci-fi selection, starring Debra Wilson and Marque Richardson, introduces us to Danny. He has difficulty connecting with the people in his life, but thanks to his therapist, he is learning how to make the most of the time he has left. In-person Panic Fest attendees were treated to 45s of the short’s score!

Meat Friend (dir. Izzy Lee): When young Billie decides to microwave ground beef, she gets more than a burger; she also gains a new friend. I caught Meat Friend during a virtual festival last year, and the promise of getting to experience the film again with a crowd at Panic Fest was too exciting to pass up. Lee perfectly captures a terminally online, Adult Swim-style tone in a tale of… well, meat. Megan Duffy excels in the role of Billie’s exasperated mom.

Featured Prom Car 91 2

Prom Car ’91. // Courtesy Panic Fest

Shorts Block 2

Pool Party (dir. Ellie Stewart ): In this clever fish-out-of-water story, Freya (Glen Dela Cruz) grapples with the ultimate teenage nightmare: not fitting in at your best friend’s sleepover. 

Prom Car 91 (dir. Brian Otting): A festival favorite, Prom Car 91 has everything: Murder. Blood. Plot twists. A better-written teen romance than half the programming available on Netflix. More blood.

Featurd Bug Bites 1

Bug Bites. // Courtesy Panic Fest

Shorts Block 3

Bug Bites (dir. Daniel DelPurgatorio): Conveying a rich story with minimal dialogue, Bug Bites drew more than a few “What the fuck?”s from the packed Shorts Block 3 screening. Edited by John Pata (whose directorial effort, Black Mold, had its world premiere at Panic Fest), Bug Bites combines humor and horror with social satire in a tightly packaged short. 

Lichemoth (dir. Carla Nichemon): When concert photographer Doll inhales a dead man’s ashes during a metal concert, she descends into a state of carnal psychosis in this heavy-metal horror debut from Carla Nichemon. The film does an excellent job of capturing the feeling of being a woman in a historically male-dominated cultural space (a common experience in heavy metal and horror) and has a great soundtrack. In an interview with Kansas City’s own Nightmare Junkhead, Carla revealed that a feature extension of this film is already written. This is one to be excited about!

Featured Buzzkill 1

Buzzkill. // Courtesy Panic Fest

Shorts Block 4

Buzzkill (dir. Peter Ahern): This animated short about a date gone awry was an immediate standout—packed with bright colors and fun, gory moments.

Ringworms (dir. Will Lee): The number one fear when booking an Airbnb: What if my stay here gets interrupted by a murderous cult? When young couple Abbie and Jacob arrive at a cabin for a weekend getaway, their romantic vacation is interrupted by some truly impressive body horror, but that’s not the only surprise in store for these lovebirds.

The ForeMen (dir. Adrian Bobb): The ForeMen is an imaginative, world-splicing science fiction short. While it didn’t always land for me, Bobb’s unique vision is worth checking out—especially for fans of similarly-styled movies like Annihilation (2018).

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Flappy. // Courtesy Panic Fest

Shorts Block 5

Kickstart My Heart (dir. Kelsey Bollig): Kickstart My Heart, in which a woman must fight very literal demons to process a traumatic car accident, has been a hit at every festival it has screened at for a good reason. Horror and catharsis are two sides of the same coin; a concept explored beautifully here.

Flappy (dir. Darcy Conlan): A car thief is stalked by a dealership’s inflatable tube mascot in this beautifully simple tale. 

Featured Black Dragon 1

Black Dragon. // Courtesy Panic Fest

Online Shorts Block 1

Merger (dir. Daniel Negret): This short bit of corpo-horror illustrates some gruesome physical consequences of poor work-life balance.

Black Dragon (dir. Alexander Thompson): Set during the Vietnam War, this short illustrates the horror and guilt that are inextricable from warfare. Much like fellow Panic Fest 2023 selection Brooklyn 45, Black Dragon offers evidence that mankind’s monstrosity is as fearsome as any otherworldly specter. 

Featured Bad Penny 3

Bad Penny. // Courtesy Panic Fest

Online Shorts Block 2

Wild Card (dir. Tipper Newton): Set in the Video Dating era, Wild Card offers viewers a look at a delightfully mishap-laden first date. While the story feels unfinished, it’s worth a watch for the production design and overall vibes.

Bad Penny (dir. Tony Hipwell): One of a few “cursed object” horror shorts screening at Panic Fest this year, Bad Penny is one I’d recommend for fans of Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell (there are dozens of us).

Featured Chicks 1

Chicks. // Courtesy Panic Fest

Online Shorts Blocks 3

Marked (dir. Catherine Bonny): A critical entry in the “Uterus Horror” canon, Marked follows Andrea (Lauren Summers) as she struggles with dismissive medical professionals and violent side effects from a contraceptive implant. 

Chicks (dir. Geena Marie Hernandez): There’s no such thing as too much sleepover horror. Combining a comedic script with teenage body horror, Chicks serves up vibes of Midsommar in neon.

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In the Shadow of God. // Courtesy Panic Fest

Longform Shorts Block

In the Shadow of God (dir. Brian Sepanzyk): When a woman returns home to settle her father’s affairs after his unexpected death, she thinks sinister forces are at work. In the Shadow of God is a tense, moody thriller that would translate seamlessly into a feature format. 

Categories: Movies