Monday, February 17, 2020

Sundance ’20: Regret & Bad Hair (Midnight shorts)

Horror can address human frailty better than any other genre. We make our own nightmares after all. For instance, two of the films included this year’s Sundance Midnight Shorts Program were made possible by vanity and denial. People do it to themselves in Oskar Lehemaa’s Bad Hair and Santiago Menghini’s Regret, which screened during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Lehemaa’s Bad Hair should not be confused with Justin Simien’s feature-length Bad Hair, which also screened as part of the midnight section at this year’s Sundance, even though they share some common themes. In the Estonian short, the follically-challenged Leo has ordered a decidedly suspicious hair-growth product. As part of the instructions, he shares his ratty looking remnants and almost stops there, struck by the improvement his bald head represents.

Unfortunately, he goes ahead applying the goop. What follows is some of the wildest, yell-out-loud body horror you will ever see. In fact, the big, destructive finale is sort of anti-climatic compared to the slimy stuff and the hairy chaos it wreaks. Sten Karpov is a heck of a good sport letting all that goey lunacy fall upon his head as part of his performance as Leo, but the real stars are the hair and makeup effects artists, including Hella Marats, Iris Muntel, wig-maker Kerli Laaberg, and “hair punchers” Liisi Roht and Arlin Saan.

In contrast, Menghini’s Quebec-set short is all about atmosphere. Wayne’s father has died, but he is not dealing with it—not one little bit. Instead, he is using a business trip as an excuse for his absence. However, his guilt will metastasize and manifest itself in semi-corporal form, literally haunting Wayne during his long night of the soul.

Or something like that. Arguably, Regret shares some themes and concepts with Tyler Cole’s Philophobia: or the Fear of Falling in Love, but Menghini’s execution is more stylish. Olivier Gossot’s cinematography is richly foreboding, while the old luxury hotel location evokes a deep sense of mystery. In fact, this could be the best-looking film that played midnight screenings this year in Park City.

Humans are weak and horror helps us recognize our collective faults. Bad Hair and Regret both follow in that genre tradition. The two shorts are highly recommended as they continue to screen festivals (including the upcoming 2020 SXSW for Regret), following their screenings as part of the Midnight Shorts Program at this year’s Sundance.