Synopsis: Shot in seven different countries, the third season of 20th Digital Studio’s Bite Size Halloween series of spooky shorts on Hulu takes on topical issues such as racism, gender, parenthood, sexuality, and identity.
Stars: Tatiana Maslany, Brendan Hines, Misha Osherovich, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Lin Shaye, David Costabile, Rebekka Johnson, Kate Nash
Director: Nuhash Humayun, Sam Max, Michelle Krusiec, Zoey Martinson, Michael Schwartz, Conscian Morgan, Brandon Espy, Samantha Aldana, Jon K Jones, Nikki Taylor-Roberts, Carlo Ledesma, Robin Takao, Minsun Park, Coral Amiga, Nicole Hartley, Luka Wilson, Natalie Metzger, Rebekka Johnson, Kate Nash
Running Length: Between 2 and 15 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I know you know this feeling. You’re flipping through your queue looking for something scary to watch on a weekend night leading up to Halloween and you can’t manage to commit to anything. You’ve either seen everything or can’t bring yourself to watch another film with zombies created by a deadly virus that has decimated most of the planet. Hulu must have heard enough grumblings about this within their employees’ families each holiday season because they started producing a series of short films for their Huluween celebration a few years back.
Dubbed Bite Size Horror, the programming provides opportunities for directors from underrepresented groups (women, racial & ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities) to submit their horror-themed shorts for a run leading up to Halloween. More popular shorts in past years have been considered for feature-length films, and two upcoming Hulu Original Movies, Grimcutty (out 10/10) and Matriarch (out 10/21) began their life in this programming block. Easy to digest with lengths running anywhere from 2 minutes to 15, these 20 spooky shorts for 2022 aren’t all winners but even the least successful of the bunch has a decidedly creative point of view.
Despite the presence of current She-Hulk star Tatiana Maslany and her husband Brendan Hines, Lin Shaye, and musician Kate Nash, most actors participating in these shorts aren’t familiar faces. This approach gives the Bite Size Halloween shorts room to breathe, living or dying on their moxie and not on how well-received their recognized cast members are. Speaking of Maslany and Hines, Hulu’s featuring their short SNATCHED quite a lot in their advertising, specifically Maslany’s blazing blue eyes. I found this short to be on the lower end of the pile, with its message of acceptance/tolerance only being possible if aliens invaded our planet to be unintentionally regressive.
Things start fun with NIAN, following a Chinese American girl’s show and tell day that takes a deadly turn when the ancient mask of a mythological creature goes on the offense toward her high school tormentor. The acting gets iffy, but the premise is solid. Though bloody with scary make-up effects, as a short TICKS didn’t work for me at all, and neither did BUG, which finds a woman losing her annoying daughter in the woods but getting something nasty back when she returns.
Entries that stood out early on were NZU, making great use of its short time frame to turn a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?-ish awkward family first meeting into an exploration of past transgression stretching back generations. Director Conscian Morgan has something unique here, and if Hulu is looking for something to throw money at to develop further, this is a good one to keep an eye on. I’d also like to see INCOMPLETE fill out more. Featuring Marchant Davis as a man terrorized by his breathalyzer machine (it’s more menacing than it sounds), director Zoey Martinson gets a lot of mileage out of a simple premise. Then there’s FOREIGNERS ONLY, a disturbing trip to Bangladesh where we learn just how far a local man will go to usurp the country’s notorious welcoming of tourists while rejecting the needs of their people. This short was frightening, so take my advice and watch this in the daytime.
REMOTE is almost near the bottom of the list, bungling its sci-fi story with lugubrious editing, a barely coherent screenplay, and effects that feel more like a first-run experiment. This feels like true amateur filmmaking compared to other shorts playing alongside it.
Titles like LIVE BAIT, MR. CROCKET, ANGELS, FRACTURE, GO TO BED RAYMOND, SLEEP STUDY, ALONE WITH HIM, TRESPASSERS, and RIDE OR DIE are serviceable but forgettable entries that were neither here nor there for this viewer. Do yourself a favor and watch THE HERITAGE on an empty stomach. I’m not one to gag when watching obvious special effects, but this one is so disgusting that I watched almost everything with my eyes closed. Maybe that means it was a success in the eyes of the filmmakers, but it’s pretty revolting if I do say so myself.
Though it is by far my least favorite of all the shorts by a large margin, I feel BAD RABBIT will be one people will be interested in because singer/songwriter Kate Nash shared the writing and directing duties with her GLOW co-star Rebekka Johnson. Both also star in this, a mean-spirited and super tacky look at a nasty invalid mother and her brow-beaten daughter (Nash). She finally cracks and follows the advice of her bunny (Johnson – in the lamest rabbit outfit ever) to mow her down. Literally. This short is terrible. You’ve been dutifully warned.
I’ll mention the last two titles (like NZU and INCOMPLETE) that Hulu could lengthen into a feature film. DISPOSAL isn’t a horror movie in the traditional sense. A Brooklyn family gathers for a celebration, giving a young husband pause to consider that his wife might be having an affair. I get the impression writer/director Luka Wilson has more to talk about with this family and what happens in this episodic short is just one piece of a larger puzzle. The acting and filmmaking are top-notch here; I hope this gets its due.
The final short to look out for is THE KAPRE from writer/director Carlo Ledesma. On a stormy night in a Philippine forest, an American couple camping at the base of a tree supposedly protected by a mythical creature finds out that some legends are real…and gigantic. There’s a nice dose of comedy here that doesn’t go over the top and effects, which suggest Ledesma would be able to provide the goods if given more time and budget.
None of these are so much of a commitment you must skip entirely. If you need to pass over some, I can tell you my preferences. I wouldn’t want to revisit REMOTE or BAD RABBIT, and you can also keep TICKS and BUGS off my list. Do seek out NZU, INCOMPLETE, THE KAPRE, and DISPOSAL. If you are feeling brave, I think FOREIGNERS ONLY is twisted fun. Especially nice if you want something akin to an adult bedtime story, throw one of these on your phone or the TV before hitting the hay, and then try to fall asleep with a few of these freaky images floating through your mind.