The persistent beast from The Return of the Monster. Image: Vimeo

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is creeping ever closer to finally coming out, but we still have a ways to go. We’ve all been waiting so long it’s getting unbearable, and there are only so many times you can reread Porg news. So why not spend the time curating your own mini film festival, and enjoying some recently released shorts? Here are 10 we highly recommend.

1) The Ningyo

Cryptozoology, high-stakes intrigue, and stunningly gorgeous VFX work bring to life this tale of a monster-hunting professor who’s obsessed with finding the title creature—a mermaid from Japanese folklore, said to carry the gift of immortality. Filmmakers Miguel Ortega and Tran Ma (who’ve done effects work on big-budget Hollywood films like Avatar and 300) shot most of this Kickstarter-funded labor of love in their own high-ceilinged living room, which is incredible given the film’s lush Victorian settings, including a massive, subterranean cabinet of curiosities filled with living specimens, as well as an underwater sequence. The Ningyo, which ends on a “to be continued” cliffhanger with some pretty major dangling plot threads, is on the longer side at 26 minutes. But after you watch it you’ll also want to check out the short making-of vid to really appreciate the level of artistry at work here. [Short of the Week]

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2) The Return of the Monster

If you’ve only got a minute to spare, this hilarious yet terrifying tale—an unbeatable combination—of a little boy bedeviled by recurring nightmares of a monster that just won’t go away rips by with lightning speed. Clearly, the pacing is everything in The Return of the Monster, created by Corentin Yvergniaux, Camille Jalabert, and Quentin Camus (known collectively as “MegaComputeur”), though the facial expressions of both the freaked-out kid and the bellowing monster are also pretty priceless. [Vimeo Staff Picks]

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3) Timber

Desperate to survive a bitterly cold night in a barren wasteland, a group of stumps and logs gather together and build a fire, snipping off pieces of themselves to burn for warmth. It’s a recipe for awkwardness... which soon morphs into a brutal log-eat-log scenario that would make the Donner Party shiver. Learn more about Nils Hedinger’s nature gone wild short here, where you can also get paper models of some of the characters to construct at home. Cheekily, they come with “one matchstick, so you can burn them right away.” [Vimeo Staff Picks, Short of the Week]

4) Turn Around

In this horror short directed by Luke Ostermiller, a couple decides to go on a camping trip for their third date. Determined not to blow it but not sure how he feels about the wilderness, the dude is already nervous before the girl announces they’ll be pitching their tent somewhere “off the grid”—but then he begins to outright panic when she pulls over for a pee break... and never returns. What’s in the woods? Nothing good. Exert every ounce of your willpower and don’t read the YouTube comments, unless you want to be spoiled for the twist at the end. [LosteFilms]

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5) Change

There’s no concrete narrative driving Jonny Ostrem’s experimental animated film, but it’s completely engrossing—the visuals make you feel like you’re first floating among the stars, then drifting underwater. Imagine a sonically-enhanced journey in a spaceship that can also dive into the deepest ocean trench, maybe with some black lights flickering on here and there, and you’ll get an idea of what the aptly-named, alluringly kaleidoscopic Change looks like. You should probably just experience it for yourself to get the full trippy effect, though—no chemical enhancement required. [Cartoon Brew]

6) Recoil

Recoil was made by a USC film student named Evan Matthews, but there’s nothing unsophisticated about it—the story is intriguing and the effects are impressive. (It’s been around for a few years but was new to us, after a recent spotlight on scifi-centric YouTube channel Dust.) Traveling through deep space, lone pilot Marshall and his trusty AI, Bodhi, receive a distress call. Now, Marshall gets a lot of those, and acts on them when he’s motivated enough by the potential reward. But this time, the cry for help is from his own brother, who’s stranded on the edge of a massive black hole, “trapped in distorted space.” The siblings aren’t on good terms, but still, they’re family, and one of them is caught in an endless time loop. What’s Marshall to do... and more importantly, how many chances will he get to do it? [Dust]

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7) Continue

Anyone who’s ever had trouble focusing will relate to Oliver Abbott’s dark fantasy short Continue, about a writer whose distractions and urges to procrastinate literally come alive in his apartment as he’s trying to work (creepily, they all look like naked versions of his plastic self). The imagination that he should be pouring into whatever he’s writing gets the better of him, and he takes some drastic measures (two words: samurai sword) to get himself back on track. [Everything Animated]

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8) Death Metal

According to filmmaker Chris McInroy, Death Metal is “a practical effects driven horror comedy about a metalhead who inherits a Satanic guitar that riffs to shreds,” which just might be our favorite short-film description of all time. Fans of Tenacious D and Metalocalypse will especially want to take note, but this outstandingly gory short is goofy fun no matter what your musical tastes happen to be. [Chris McInroy]

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9) Brian and Charles

This is first of two repeats on this list, because Brian and Charles is so wonderful that even if you caught it when we originally shared it, it’s totally worth revisiting. And, of course, if this is your first time watching Jim Archer’s mockumentary about a lonely farmer and his droll yet excitable robot companion, you’re in for a poignantly bizarre, cabbage-filled good time.

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10) Scavengers

We we first saw Joseph Bennett and Charles Huettner’s Scavengers way back in January, and we still haven’t been able to get it out of our minds. It’s about astronauts who find themselves marooned on a distant planet with a fantastically imagined array of animals, plants, and other creatures that defy earthbound description. Somehow—don’t ask how—they figure out a specific ritual that allows them to get a glimpse of even the mundane parts of home they miss so desperately. The visual creativity on display here is truly fantastic.

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