I don’t think it’s unfair to say that one of the hardest things to pull off in genre storytelling is an anthology film that remains consistently entertaining, where the quality of all the stories can all hit the same high notes, just in different ways. We’ve had our fair share of great ones over the years, as well as some that just don’t quite hit their mark, and for me, while I appreciate the ingenuity and passion on display here, The Pandemic Anthology falls somewhere squarely in the middle. There are some shorts that have stuck with me over the last few days, but there were several segments that just did absolutely nothing for me, making this newest anthology fall squarely in the “it’s fine” territory.
For The Pandemic Anthology, 14 different filmmakers from all over the world created their own short films that are reflective of the current times we’re living in, with only the resources they had on hand. As mentioned, I find that quite exceptional and admirable, because as the old adage says, ingenuity is the mother of invention, and there are some pretty great entries here, especially the ones that dug a little deeper into the themes of isolation and fear that’s bound to overtake our psyches as we isolate ourselves away from the world. And as a whole, there are a few shorts that don’t quite measure up in comparison to the stronger stories here, but I really enjoyed getting this intriguing snapshot of just how the pandemic has not only changed the lives of all of us from around the globe, but also unifying us with a sense of sameness in regard to how we’ve all been feeling over the last few months.
I won’t spend too much time dragging the segments that I didn’t enjoy, because that’s not productive, so I thought I’d highlight several of the shorts that I found to be compelling, chilling and fascinatingly funny. Probably my favorite short film of the bunch was “Macabre Hide and Seek,” which hails from Brazil. The story is centered around a man who receives a creepy old baby doll and decides to hold a ritual as a means of cleansing the doll of any evil spirits lurking inside. Unfortunately, the ritual doesn’t work and chaos (and hilarity) ensues. One of my favorite gags in “Macabre Hide and Seek” was a moment where the doll is watching a colorized version of Night of the Living Dead (that MONSTER!), and the image of this gnarly old doll jabbing a full-sized human being with a box cutter made me crack up repeatedly. This one definitely has some Child’s Play vibes to it, but the credits at the end revealed that it was inspired by Trilogy of Terror, which makes perfect sense.
Maybe it’s the fact that I find horror comedies to be irresistible, but another short that I enjoyed in The Pandemic Anthology was “Baldomero” from Argentinian filmmaker Martín Blousson. This one focuses on people living in isolation trying to find a romantic connection with others during a pandemic, and how that person on the other end of the conversation might just not be what they seem. It’s a rather quick short, but it delivers the goods and left me chuckling in the end. And another lighthearted short that I thought was rather adorable was “Jerome: A Christmas Carol,” which takes us into the future, 10 months since the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Brazil, and there’s a kitty scampering about (I’m guessing his name is Jerome) whose owner has died. All this poor kitty wants is to be fed, so he summons a demon for food, so that he and some other hungry cat friends of his can enjoy a bountiful feast.
I must also commend director Andreas Kyriacou for his short, “Strain Roulette,” which introduces us to “The Web’s Most Contagious Game,” hosted by an animated figure named Mr. Strain. There are definitely some really good ideas floating around in this one, but the ending just didn’t quite come together as a whole. But it’s definitely worth mentioning here because there was still quite a bit about it that does work well.
In terms of the shorts that were a bit more serious-minded, “Stain on the Wall” by Brazilian filmmaker Daniel Pires was a creepy little ghost story about a woman being tormented by a stain shaped like a person that would disappear every day. It had some great psychological horror elements to it, and I thought it was quite enjoyable. Then, there is “Sometimes She Comes Back,” which also hails from Brazil. Directed by Matheus Maltempi, this short is about dealing with grief, as we follow a young woman who has lost her sister to the virus. Out of the blue, someone begins messaging her from her sister’s phone, which is definitely an unnerving experience, and we learn that those who have died from COVID-19 are now reanimating and attacking the living. It may borrow some elements from a handful of familiar stories we’ve seen before, but I think Maltempi’s presentation is extremely effective here.
One last short I wanted to mention before I wrap this review up is “The Last Day” from Uruguayan director Guillermo Carbonell. This short takes us into lockdown day 2153, where a pair of teens are listening to a handheld radio telling them that it’s finally safe to go outside. This one is a super quick short, but I absolutely loved the final shots of this segment, as it really gave me some District 9 vibes, and acted as a great showcase for how minimal storytelling can still be wholly effective all the same.
Movie Score: 3/5
In case you missed it, visit our online hub to catch up on our previous coverage of the 2020 Chattanooga Film Festival.