If at the start of 2022 you would have informed me that an improvised horror short from a comedy group would be getting my curatorial juices flowing this year, I would have probably dismissed your comment as some kind of attempt at humour. That just isn’t a combination that feels like it would work…at all. Yet, one of things I look for in a Short of the Week pick is originality and watching hundreds of shorts every year, that can be a difficult thing to find. Feeling like a cross between weird Stoner comedy and The Blair Witch Project, Simple Town’s Scary Car is a film I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I first saw it. It’s the most original short I’ve seen in some time and despite that (somewhat lazy) comparison I just made, it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.
Managing to be both freaky and funny, Scary Car invites you to spend a little time in the company of a group friends, as they chat sh*t about conspiracy theories in their car in the woods. As the different individuals have varied reactions – from complete and utter confusion to eureka moments – to the topics being discussed, they decide to perform a ceremony where they all touch a crystal and call forth a being from another world.
With the opening of the film seemingly all about immersing you in this low-key, hangout scenario along with the characters, the “relaxed” vibe the quartet emit means you’re not really expecting anything scary to happen. However, as one of the four heads out into the dark for a toilet break, and the poop jokes rain down, the first twist slips out almost unnoticed. As tensions rise – a mislaid phone continuously rings and the car’s alarm starts to sound – and the attention of the group and the audience is focused elsewhere, the second, and more unnerving twist, happens so inconspicuously you start to doubt the facts right in front of you, even though you know them to be true.
It’s only when the group confirm the “event” that you really start to process what has happened. There’s no jump scare or special FX’s needed here, Scary Car doesn’t need monsters or demons to crawl under you skin. All the surprises throughout the short are handled off camera and tie in perfectly with the lo-fi aesthetic of the film. Shot with jerky handheld footage and cut together through a frenetic edit, this isn’t a pretty film to look at, but the production fits the story and performance-based nature of the short perfectly. It’s a film that could be easily labeled as “ugly” for its aesthetic choices, but again it’s such a departure from 99% of the shorts I’ve watched recently (you know, shot on film with a 4:3 ratio), I found the visuals genuinely refreshing.
Directed by Ian Faria and starring Felipe Di Poi (The Long & Lonesome Road to Grandma’s), Rob Polidoro, Caroline Yost, Sam Lanier, Will Niedmann & Will Freudenheim, the comedy group decided to try their hand at horror after deciding they wanted to bring their “improvisational style to a different context”. With just an outline for the film when they went into production, the direction the narrative takes comes from the cast ad-libbing on set, even the camerawork adopted more of a documentary approach, following the action instead of any kind of planned structure. It’s this unexpected nature that makes Scary Car so exciting for me, it really does feel like the cast and crew had no idea the direction their film would take and that in turns makes for a genuinely surprising watch.
In all honesty, my fellow S/W team members think I’m a little weird (not for the first time) for loving Scary Car so much, but I’m all about championing films that try something different and this is certainly a film that fits that brief. If you look on our Submit page, under the What We Look For section we describe a S/W pick as both ‘stories that brave new territory’ and ‘stories that surprise us’, for me Scary Car ticks both those boxes and much more. Ultimately, being programmers is all about trust. I trust the S/W team and their individual opinions to bring the most exciting short film content to our platform – I just hope they trust me to do the same.
I also hope you, our audience, trust our curatorial choices. So let me know what you think of Scary Car – am I crazy for thinking it’s a slice of genius? My sanity is in your hands.