A brief history lesson: I saw the feature film The Fostering (also known by the much cooler title, The Devil Lives Here), at FilmQuest in Utah a few years back… and this year, while I perused the offerings in the short film categories at Screamfest, I happened upon Dead Teenager Seance from the same filmmakers. Well, color me intrigued.

I gave The Devil Lives Here a solid 4-star rating, so anything coming down the wire from filmmakers Rodrigo Gasparini and Dante Vescio will no doubt spark my interest (as it should yours), and to bring proper attention to their latest project – this dive into all things dead, teenaged and seance-y – I wanted to tell you all how great this short film is.

Here’s the scoop: two total metal-heads, Punky (Sofia Peres) and her boyfriend Rocky (Diego Goullart) – show up to an abandoned mansion, where years before, Adam (Ivo Muller) murdered his entire family. Thing is, Adam’s previous victims are watching Punky and Rocky (and Adam) from the other side (limbo), with very bated breath. If either Punky or Rocky were to die at the hands of Adam this night, it would greatly assist the “dead teenagers” in their quest for vengeance.

Like The Devil Lives Here, the editing is absolutely fantastic. Of note is the sequence where the victims gather for the titular séance: as they prep for the event, there are quick edits back and forth in the timeline – perfectly timed with the score in this scene. Love it.

Despite the fact the film is but 20 minutes long, you’ll get to know these folks pretty quickly, and you’ll root for them. Of course, even the dialogue refers to each character as their stereotypical puzzle piece (nerdo, stoner, etc.), but everything about this film is a cliché… and I certainly don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean, c’mon – dumb teenagers going to a creepy mansion to make out, only to be stalked by a homicidal maniac? But the filmmakers know all of this, and they use it to their benefit… and of course, by seeing what’s going on in the parallel dimension of limbo – these horror movie tropes get a wonderfully new and unexpected treatment.

I found a lot of the film’s atmosphere reminiscent of 1981’s Hell Night (starring Linda Blair). Obviously, the locale and design of the massive home lends itself to such comparisons, but the way Punky moves through the house seemed to call out how the audience was introduced to Garth Manor in that film.

The production design is wonderfully done, notably when going back and forth between dimensions. In the television room – which you’ll see in both times/places, and with immediate back and forth – the changing up of details (aging, lighting, etc.) is perfectly executed. Overall, I simply loved the look of the film.

Performances are great all around: Sofia Peres as Punky never ceases to amaze with her waterworks, crying on cue, and each of the other actors brings plenty of life (despite their character’s predicaments) to the proceedings.

A special call-out to Bianca Tadini, who nails the blind but all-seeing psychic Cassandra, with an extra bit of kick-assery as the film comes to a close. There’s not a lot of time for an actor to completely develop a character in such a short film, but Tadini imbues Cassandra with a great deal of anger, anguish and resentment. What’s more, the tidbits of information provided by the writers and Tadini’s performance cement the fact that you certainly want to know more about Cassandra. What’s the old saying, “leave ‘em wanting more?” Definitely the case here.

There are actually several rather frightening moments in what is essentially a horror-comedy; it helps a great deal that Adam’s mask design (taking a cue from the look of Michael Myers – with a “symbolic” twist) is uber-creepy… and who doesn’t want that painting of Adam used in the séance as a striking souvenir hanging on their own walls?  Guilty.

The film ends on a wonderfully explosive note, and it’s one of those “stand up and cheer” final moments we all crave. Again, I have to call it out: the editing in this scene – delicious.

Dead Teenager Seance was an easy highlight at this year’s Screamfest, and there’s certainly enough mileage in this idea for a feature-length film. In fact, I heard from director Vescio that a feature is indeed in the works. Ask and ye shall receive, right?

Oh, and did I mention it’s an ‘80s period piece? As if I needed a reason to love it more.

The film is still playing the festival circuit (with still half a dozen or so screenings remaining), so keep your eyes open for any showings in your neighborhood. 20 minutes well spent.

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