REVIEW: THE 2020 ETHERIA FILM FESTIVAL showcases a rich and diverse array of new female voices in the horror genre.


The online version of the yearly Etheria Film Festival serves up a great array of horror shorts from women in the horror genre that run the gamut from ruminations on the horrors of social media to a sassy computer waxing on the fate of humanity at the end of the world.

The yearly Etheria Film Festival which spotlights emerging female voices in the horror held at the Egyptian Theater as part of the American Cinematheque was canceled this year, a victim of the Covid-19 virus that has shutdown live entertainment throughout the whole of 2020. Thankfully, Shudder offered a friendly home for the shorts and presented them as a program on their streaming service. This year’s entries held a great diversity of titles that gave women a real voice in a year that has seen a lot of negative in the horror community’s treatment of female filmmakers.

Two of my favorite shorts, Waffle, directed by Carlyn Hudson, and Live, directed by Taryn O’Neil, deal with the horrors of social media and the impact it could have on our lives in the future. Waffle is a bit Black Mirror-esque in dealing with a world where people rent other people to serve as friends and lovers in a ghastly take on where debt and the gig economy could lead us. Compound that with having to befriend a possible murderous millionaire sociopath and the horror really comes into play. Live deals with having to support oneself in a gig economy where your everyday life is the economy and having to raise the stakes to keep yourself alive and fed.

Basic Witch, directed by Yoko Okamura, has hints of The Craft in its DNA in a tale where taking something that doesn’t belong to you, whether a latte or someone’s agency, out of unearned privilege serves up a dark and fitting punishment. Bears Rebecca Fonte’s The Conversion Therapist is an interesting entry into the torture porn oeuvre as a homophobic closeted pastor/gay conversion therapist is captured and tortured and forced to face the consequences of his hypocrisy. A bit of wish fulfillment for victims of monsters like this, the short runs a bit long with the gore but serves up a compelling finale. Alexandria Perez’ The Final Girl Returns is a bit wooden but follows a driver who tries to rescue the final girl victims of a horror movie style serial killer to come to terms with his own role in the trope he’s trying to subvert. It’s interesting but feels like a college short in its clinical take on genre deconstruction.

Kelli Bresslin’s Man in the Corner was one of my favorites. An interesting entry in the queer horror canon, it features a couple trying o make love only to have a large creepy man keep interfering. It finds interesting ways to deal with issues like being closeted and the shame in confronting one’s inner desires. All that as interpreted by a character that wears other people’s likenesses as skinsuits. My favorite of the bunch was the closing short, Ava in The End, directed by Ursula Ellis. It deals with an actress who is accidentally killed in a future where one’s essence is uploaded to the cloud to be downloaded in a new cloned body. However, she has the misfortune to be killed and resurrected by a broken-down AI in a world long past its sell-by date as the two face oblivion together with regret and sarcasm their only respite. A really well-done short.

For the most part, I enjoyed all of this year’s shorts. Mia’Kate Russell’s Maggie May had a lot of gore in a grotesque family funeral/reunion gone awry and this was one of the few shorts that really didn’t land with me, feeling a bit on the Harmony Korine spectrum of gross for the sake of gross ala Gummo. Myrte Ouwerkerk’s Offbeat also didn’t really resonate with me although I could see where it was coming from in terms of the issues it addressed. Overall, a great selection of shorts and I look forward to seeing more from all of these filmmakers in the future, and hopefully Shudder keeps this presentation an annual event even when the physical event can be held again.