“Shi” (2015): Lush, Enigmatic Short Follows a Father’s Terrifying Downward Spiral

On a day when it seems that things can’t possibly get any worse than they just have, the short horror film Shi proves that they can, indeed. This stylish, gripping offering from writer/director Pablo Absento is rich with atmosphere and a sense of foreboding.

As Shi opens, an unnamed man (Justin Berti) receives a call from his boss (the voice of Nigel van der Grijspaarde) who unceremoniously fires him for reasons that the man cannot understand. The man pleads for another chance, stating the case that he needs the work to support his family, including hospital bills for one child and school tuition for another. The boss hangs up on him after a few choice expletives, and the man ponders what he will do as he stands on a bridge high above a river. Walking back to land, he suddenly sees a strange figure below dragging something. The man’s phone rings, the figure hears it and sees the man, and suddenly the loss of his job is the least of the man’s worries.

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Justin Berti’s character has just received devastating news, but it’s far from the worst thing that will happen to him on this day in Shi.

The word shi has at least four meanings in Japanese, one of which is “death.” This being a horror film, you might guess that this meaning somehow applies here. Another meaning, however, is “poem,” and that certainly applies to Pablo Absento’s short, as well. Shi is a nifty, elegant-looking piece of cinematic poetry; like a lot of good poetry, it presents itself without easy explanation or interpretation, leaving the reader – or in this case, the viewer – to bring his or her own sense of meaning to the piece, and to wonder what happens after the poem ends. The elegance comes in part from the opening setting in a Japanese forest and Dmitriy Bobrov’s marvelous cinematography, along with Valentin Khodakov’s sound direction and Alexandr Zhelanov’s score.

Justin Berti is terrific as the man. His facial expressions and sense of desperation are spot on. Berti’s performance is the main acting focus in Shi and he shines in the role. Tensei Sugahara warrants a mention as the other main character, but I won’t discuss his role any further to avoid spoilers.

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Shi boasts some incredible cinematography, and this wooded locale in Japan is one of the short film’s settings.

Pablo Absento’s script and direction are captivating. She deftly blends elements of Japanese supernatural horror with a Western bent. Shi is her second short feature; it is currently making the film festival rounds and is winning awards while doing so. While waiting for a chance to see it, those interested can watch her debut short, Call My Name (2013), on YouTube. Keep her name in mind; I predict that we’ll be hearing it often in the future.  

As I mentioned earlier, Shi leaves many things open to interpretation and will likely leave viewers with unanswered questions. Several solid feature-length horror films started out as short films; Shi certainly holds enough promise to warrant being tabbed for a full-length treatment, and what better way to have some of those questions answered . . . or to perhaps have some new ones raised?

Shi: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry’s formative years were spent watching classic monster movies (starting with "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "Godzilla Vs. the Thing") and TV series (starting with "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits"), Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features" and Roy Shires’ Big Time Wrestling (two northern California legends); reading Silver Age and Bronze Age Gold Key, Dell, Charlton, Marvel, and DC comics; and writing mimeographed newsletters about the original "Planet of the Apes" film and TV series. More recently, he has written for "Filmfax" magazine, is the foreign correspondent reporter for the "Horror News Radio" podcast, and is a regular contributing writer to "Phantom of the Movies’s VideoScope" magazine, occasionally proudly co-writing articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.