Spine-tingling Thrillers

This year’s Aesthetica Short Film Festival brought some thrills and spills as filmmakers upped the tension and set our nerves on edge. Here are five thrillers available to stream for virtual pass holders via the ASFF platform.

Such Small Hands

Maria Martinez Bayona’s Such Small Hands took home Best Thriller, Best Director and Best Cinematography at this year’s ASFF. The chilling, atmospheric short is based on Andrés Barba’s book Las Manos Pequeñas, a disquieting tale set in a girls’ orphanage. With a predominantly young cast, led by Sophie Mulhall, the film comes produced by Wellington Films, the team behind Paul Andrew Williams’ London To Brighton.

The Thing That Ate The Birds

On the North Yorkshire Moors, Abel, Head Gamekeeper, discovers the thing that is eating his grouse and it’s not quite what he’s expecting. Co-directed by Dan Gitsham and Sophie Mair, newcomer Eoin Slattery plays Abel while James Swanton gets the remarkable credit as ‘The Thing That Ate The Birds’. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is tense, taut and boasts some fine prosthetics work.


A normal day at school, Nina and Ruby have an argument in the bathroom. Fed up with Ruby, Nina – played by rising star Laura Janes – enters a cubicle to be alone. Moments later, Nina hears a shot being fired whilst hiding. Alissa Autschbach’s 16-minute film expertly plays with tension and claustrophobia, using the confined bathroom setting brilliantly, before concluding in dramatic, provocative fashion.


From The Shining to Barton Fink, hotels have provided filmmakers with perfect locations for thrillers and so it goes for Behind, the debut short of Chinese director Yili Li. It tells the story of aspiring writer Wen, played by Sheng Liu, who takes work as a janitor in an underground hotel. When he accidentally enters a room saying, ‘Do Not Clean’ and discovers a secret, it provides fuel for his writing, but it will surely come with a price.


During the riots of 2005, four young suburban college students hear about an old urban legend: that of Paupaul, who would attack young people from the poorer neighborhoods. As the All Saints’ Day vacations loom, they set themselves a challenge: to go through the woods to check out the existence of the legend. Olivier Bayu Gandrille directs, bringing out some incredible performances from his young cast: Nama Sissoko, Rany Kanaan, Rayane Beliouz and Mathéo Thomas.

The 2021 Aesthetica Short Film Festival runs online until 30 November. Virtual tickets are still available to purchase here.

James Mottram