Sometimes, less is more.
…but sometimes, you want a little extra.
I think things like YouTube and Tiktok have warped what the ‘short’ in ‘short film’ means to a lot of people. In our first showcase of the month, we looked at shorts that were under three minutes. That’s usually the lower end of what people generally attribute to being ‘short,’ with the upper end being five or six minutes.
In actuality, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences specifies that anything under 40 minutes can be considered a short film. Clearly, there’s a lot more wiggle room to work with than some people are perhaps accustomed to. Quick bites of horror are great to give yourself a nice, fun little jolt, but these mid-length shorts are better suited when you want a little more meat to your scares. Some more build-up, more time to build tension. And, more often than not, a wilder, more explosive climax.
And sure, sometimes shorts that approach the longer side of the spectrum tend to drag a bit. But when they hit that sweet spot, that magical length of time that really maximizes the about of suspense they can pull from a concept? They can be genuinely haunting.
So for week three of our showcase, let’s take a look at some slightly longer, more slow-burn horror shorts.
Remember Unfriended? Remember how badly it sucked? Well, here’s how you actually make social media scary. Never answer a DM from beyond the grave, people. Especially if it’s from an ex.
Is That You?
A young girl is stuck inside on Halloween. Super tense, and full of holiday spirit. Lot’s of gaslighting and false jumps, setting you up for a great (if not slightly cliché) end scare.
Don’t Let Them In
Ever heard of the Black-Eyed Children? It’s a fairly modern urban legend about a group of ghostly, supernatural creatures that take on the appearance of young kids, with black, featureless eyes. The appear on the sides of roads and on doorsteps, and while the specifics of their encounters vary from story to story, it tends to never end well for whoever sees them. ‘Don’t Let Them In’ shows what happens when you probe a little too deeply into the stories.
Don’t Look Away
Another short that takes full advantage of the media-laden landscape we call home, and manages to make your smartphone scary. Remember, kids: Snapchat can be used as an accurate ghost detection app.
Inspired by the works of horror heavyweights like Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Woods’ is the story of a haunted man pushed to the edge by someone (or something) intruding on his peaceful, isolated home. A slow-build, methodical spiral into paranoia and insanity, this short clocks in at around 30 minutes, which may push the boundaries on length for some of you. But that runtime really gives the story a chance to breathe, and allows the full weight of our poor, suffering protagonist’s ordeal to sink in. And trust me: The payoff here is well worth the wait.
Technically an anthology of three shorter stories, ‘Intruders’ still manages to tell a cohesive, loosely connected tale of malevolent, supernatural activity. The cinematography in this one is excellent, and the framing of the scares is extremely effective. ‘Intruders’ will scare the living hell out of you without resorting to cheap jumpscares, which tends to be the short film tool of choice. Each subsequent section is scarier than the last, with the subtlety of the final story being, in my opinion, masterful.
If the Joker and Art the Clown from Terrifier somehow produced a stylish, malicious bastard offspring, the end result would be The Jester. Equal parts silly and spooky, this short teaches a valuable lesson: Never mock an amateur magician. They’re all insane, and have absolutely nothing to lose.
Of all the shorts on this list, this is the one that I’d like to see made into a feature-length film. The mystery and suspense is stellar, and it has a genuinely fantastic twist that’s hinted at just enough for more eagle-eyed viewers to catch before the reveal. An all-around brilliant piece of classical horror, with a slick modern sheen.
No ghosts, no monsters, no surprise demons. Just some nice, quiet, peaceful isolation in the majesty of nature. Right? The most realistic short on this list, and therefore the most unnerving. Super minimalist, relying on nothing more than the tension of the unassuming plot. Excellent payoff.
That’s all for this week! Once again, shout out in the comments with your own favorite spooky web shorts! Next week, we’re going to be taking a look at The Backrooms, the internet’s newest bit of creepy, unsettling horror lore.