Short-Form Terror at This Year’s Panic Fest

There are few things better than a deliciously crafted short film. At this year’s Panic Fest, the talent evident in the sundry shorts available is, quite simply, unmatched. Diverse in genre and approach, these filmmakers play with well-worn themes, conventions of form, and even the broader convictions of the genre itself for truly outstanding work. While I might reasonably recommend any of the dozens of shorts available, I’ll be spotlighting five of my favorites from the festival below.

Sleep Tight

Lisa Ovies’ Sleep Tight targets a perennial fear: Sleep paralysis. Sure, it’s uncommon, but it’s like quicksand in that the odds of it happening don’t matter much. The fact that it could happen is scary enough. Running for 14 minutes, Ovies’ short, written by Shane Thompson, merges domestic drama with scary monsters in the closet. It’s chock-full of cliches—creepy drawings, therapy sessions—but they’re paced tightly enough, and grounded by an entity scary enough, to work wonders.

The Crossing Over Express

Luke Barnett’s and Tanner Thomason’s The Crossing Over Express ends with Carol Ann’s Theme from Poltergeist. In other words, it was made for me. Opting for a more tender approach than most, this tale of contacting the dead has pop culture references, Dot-Marie Jones from Glee, and an earnest tale of loss at its core. The Poltergeist allusion helps, and it might be my favorite from the fest.

There is Someone at Your Door

I’m a sucker for ghosts and Halloween. Put them together for a high-concept riff on home invasion formula and it’s a winner in my book. Writer/Director Jacob Ewing’s There is Someone at Your Door plays with smart homes as a woman, home alone, is alerted to (guess) someone at her door. Violent. Scary. Scored to perfection by Andrew Scott Bell. This short is the one I can most promisingly see being adapted to feature length. The next Lights Out, perhaps?


Director Alexis Caro’s Rats worked for me because I love French genre work. It’s grim, gritty, and nihilistic. Rats is also uncompromising, giving audiences a small slice of a prison riot as one cell contends with escape or murder. It’s a brawling good time.

Bath Bomb

Don’t cheat. If you cheat, terrible things can happen. Such is the case in Colin G. Cooper’s Bath Bomb, a nasty queer story of revenge that rivals Audition in its “I gotta look away” torture. Played for laughs, the gore augments a simple yet stylish addition to a well-worn subgenre. Plus, Chekov’s Blender. Yeah.

If you’re attending this year’s Panic Fest, either in-person or online, have you had a chance to check out any shorts? Which were your favorite? Let me know over on Twitter @Chadiscollins.



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