By Ryan Keating-Lambert

★★★★☆

The Festival of Short Films in Prague has brought us some QUALITY screenings this year – a more than decent selection of fascinating films spanning a multitude of different genres and cultures. But one of the highlights was the wonderfully dark and original Likely Stories by the twisted king of contemporary literature, Neil Gaiman. Four short stories oozing with sick and supernatural tales, each one as engaging and rewarding as the next.

Each story or episode is packed with symbolism. Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard (Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth), have carefully assembled dark and intriguing narratives through motifs like glass, reflections, blinding lens flares, and some very clever sound design (that buzzing STD in first episode Foreign Parts… youch!), some of it even reminded me of Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. There’s also an underlying theme of self-reflection here; forcing characters to confront something dark and unnatural within themselves. It’s not for the faint hearted.

Generally, the imagery is quite creepy, but you’re luckily never shown too much. A lot is left to the imagination so you can really go home and obsessively think about what exactly was inside that house in the woods in Closing Time, which was probably the scariest episode of all. There’s nothing quite like sitting around a pub table and exchanging ghost stories.

Gaiman also has a cameo in every story; talking about his work and dropping subtle hints to each narrative and how he wrote it. It’s a complex web of f*cked-up fun that’ll have you pondering each story hours after you’ve finished watching. It’s very Black Mirror, but with a focus on the supernatural rather than technology. And don’t expect resolution or happy endings either.

The narratives are generally pretty unconventional, but there are solid storytellers most of the time. The second episode, Feeders and Eaters, really enjoys passing the talking stick from person to person, and it’s wonderful. This one was probably the most memorable for me as it showed such a specific metamorphosis, both physically and emotionally – I wouldn’t watch it after eating though. The final episode Looking for the Girl was probably the lightest of the four, but that doesn’t mean it’s happy go lucky.

The performances were pretty decent across the whole board, even George MacKay (Captain Fantastic) surprised me in Foreign Parts. I’d be anxious as hell if my penis was being overtaken by a mysterious force, and he captured that anxiety pretty well. A step up from his brooding one-dimensional look in film. There were some issues with accents throughout, but perhaps I’m just being picky. The Australian accent after all is probably one of the most difficult to get right…

Jarvis Cocker has composed a fitting soundtrack that works well when it needs to. Combined with the electric visuals and the dreamy lens flares, it helps bring everything together in this disturbing miniature universe set in London.

It’s all about having a shared universe these days, but at least Gaiman’s is only hinted at. A lot of effort has gone into character development and quality tension building here.

Also keep an eye out for Neil Gaiman’s American Gods TV series, set to be released later this year. 

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