Etherea

3 out of 5

Directed by: Various

covers season 1

I’m viewing Etherea on Shudder, a horror-themed streaming service, and it’s produced by a unit called The Horror Collective. It’s probably good to clear the decks up front, then, and clarify that Etherea is in no way horror. The show is an anthology of film shorts, so there’s wiggle room there – entries can be more or less of a style than another – and Shudder has plenty of not-exactly-horror entries, but especially with the promotional blurb on the series’ page mentioning “Japanese ghosts, serial killer road trips,” and etc., I do think there’s some expectation there. Not that there aren’t deaths and some blood, but without the context, one would probably classify a lot of these as thrillers, or light sci-fi, or even comedy.

That doesn’t factor into the rating, but best to go in knowing what’s what anyway, as pressing too hard for horror will probably prevent enjoying what are, in general, very solid shorts.

Ranging from between 10 – 20 minutes, the eight episodes of Ehterea’s first season come in three flavors of quality: the majority of the entries have a very solid central concept, and a good character or two forefronted to develop that concept. However, once those elements have been established, things will generally peter out – meaning conclusions feel rather tacked on. These are great taste-tests for new talent, then, the kinda stuff that lets you know if you’d want to see more from those behind the lens, and providing enough meat on their story such that the potential for it to be developed into a full length isn’t beyond question. Interesting, and surely entertaining enough for their short runtime, but also not whole beginning-middle-end “films.”

On the outside extremes, you have a couple of entries that don’t quite get to that level – those that are moreso constructed around a key scene, or have an idea that never feels like it fully arrives. You can feel the padding in these to even get them to the double-digit minute mark. Because those minutes average out to about 15, this is never especially painful or anything, and the production and acting are consistently of an immersive-enough quality throughout all of these episodes, so even these exceptions are watchable.

The other rarities are those that feel fully formed – every minute of screentime feels motivated, and there’s an actual story that evolves and concludes. We’d be spoiled if the whole series was like this, I suppose; it’s great that we do get a couple that hit this mark, though, since I think it makes it easier to appreciate the range of what’s offered up.

A billion short films that the majority of us never get to see come and go. Even though horror is not the right tag for these, The Horror Collective did gather eight flicks up that all share a tweaked point of view – a little silly sometimes, a little weird, but always, at bare minimum, interesting. And as a positive, not being limited by horror means it’s fun to go into the next episode, having zero clue what the tone will be. Most importantly, the curation seems to have guaranteed a minimal level of quality; we’re getting a good taste of some of those short films we’re usually not privy to, sifted to select ones that are, at the very least, interesting, with a couple even rating top marks.