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Take a Brief Vacation From Reality With These 6 Short Sci-Fi and Horror Films

An intergalactic chef searches for exotic Earth ingredients like salt and cinnamon in Spice Frontier.
An intergalactic chef searches for exotic Earth ingredients like salt and cinnamon in Spice Frontier.
Screenshot: Steamroller Studios

Dreaming of other planets, other realities, or other timelines? So far, 2020 has us wishing we could be literally anywhere else. Here’s a temporary escape hatch: these awesome new short films, all of which share glimpses of a future where so much more has gone wrong. At least we aren’t there... yet?

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1) Triangulation

We’ve shared shorts from John Panton before (he describes himself as “a full time teacher with a slightly out-of-control filmmaking hobby... it keeps me out of trouble”): check out haunted-house tale Surveyor and spooky-forest tale Line Signal. Today io9 is excited to share the debut of his latest work, Triangulation.

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The story of a man who has a most unusual series of encounters while scouting some triangulation pillars in the British countryside, Triangulation is way more sci-fi than the horror-skewing films mentioned above. The short picks up Panton’s childhood obsession with triangulation pillars (“something about them being defunct but previously interconnected stuck with me,” he told io9), then “I gave a rough concept to writer David Quantick (Danger Mouse) as I wanted to try making a more overt sci-fi—essentially, cool kids from the future, inept adults, and scary AI.”

Panton hopes that the intriguing ideas that are packed into just under six lo-fi minutes in Triangulation, which stars comedian Simon Evans (star of the director’s Lot 13) and Isabel Shanahan (daughter of the short’s director of photography, Carl Shanahan), could one day be expanded into a longer project. There are definitely questions left unanswered—though the purpose of that mysterious phone message is made pretty clear by the end—so here’s hoping he gets a chance to do that.

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2) The Slows

If you scroll past this Vimeo Staff Pick, figuring 22 minutes is too long of a “short,” you’ll be missing out on an involving story that feels like the first episode of a TV show we’d definitely watch. Written and directed by Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy), and based on a story by Gail Hareven, The Slows imagines that the human race has saved itself from the brink of extinction by eliminating biological reproduction. Instead, almost every new life is created in a lab and then rapidly accelerated into adulthood. Everyone born into this system fervently believes in it, but one ambitious journalist is still curious enough to sneak onto “the preserve,” an isolated patch of wilderness where a small community of people are still living according to the antiquated old ways.

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The film offers a vivid glimpse of a future where the fight for human survival has bulldozed over the laws of nature, with affecting performances by Annet Mahendru and Breeda Wool as women who find common ground despite their considerable differences.

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3) Acid

Acid, or Acide, is another longer short that is 100% worth it, this time shared by Short of the Week. Just Philippot’s bleak nail-biter opens with the distressing image of a stuffed animal being dissolved by what is clearly the most brutal rain ever to fall, and soon we see precisely what that same rain does to the flesh of a human being. Our desperate protagonists are a mother, a father, and a young son who’s not quite able to grasp the terror of their situation; their breakneck quest is to dodge all the gun-waving survivalists who’re guarding every nearby shelter, and somehow figure out a way to shield themselves from the next rapidly approaching storm.

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4) Lab Rat

YouTube sci-fi channel Dust recently debuted this film from Nour Wazzi, who also co-wrote with Matt Brothers. Lab Rat is set in a future when AI technology has advanced to Westworld and Blade Runner levels of android authenticity. The story follows a tense experiment in which co-workers in a robotics lab are locked in together and forced to determine who among them is actually human, and who is not. At 14 minutes, there’s not quite enough build-up time for the audience to form their own guesses about who the fake is, but Lab Rat leans heavily into the frantic fear that comes with calling your own reality into question.




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5) Spice Frontier

Another Short of the Week selection, this animated sci-fi adventure from Steamroller Studios’ Jalil Sadool and Adam Meyer introduces dorky spaceman Kentucky Williams and his badass lady cyborg C-LA, who criss-cross the galaxy looking for any precious spices that still remain after the destruction of Earth. See, Kent is a wannabe chef, and his dream is to keep the cuisine of Earth alive. So he needs those spices! Even if he has to go through a giant, hostile robot to get ’em! If that sounds like an awesome set-up, that’s because it is. Dig in!

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6) Down Here

Striking black-and-white cinematography and interludes of stop-motion animation elevate Down Here, about a submarine captain on a solo voyage who’s starting to realize that even a genuine desire for solitude can easily morph into mind-warping loneliness. If that feels... familiar, there’s a reason why; as you can see in this fun behind-the-scenes look at the film with writer, director, and star Harry Chaskin, Down Here was created entirely during California’s “safer at home” orders, which inspired both the theme and Chaskin’s resourceful use of found objects to create his sets and special effects.

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DISCUSSION

I wish “Spice Frontier” would be made into a series.