Now in its fifth year, the Lowcountry Shorts Festival drew 179 entries from regional, national, and international directors, and the 32 selections that made the cut are the ones that don’t pull any punches. Right from the start, they bewilder and beguile.

As a member of the Park Circle Film Society, the community cinema that puts on the festival, I got the chance to preview all of the selected shorts and submit my ratings to help pick the award-winners. As a passable Spanish speaker with a passing knowledge of Spanish film, I was excited to see a strong showing from Spain this year, with directors making stylistic nods to the outrageous fun of Pedro Almodóvar and the black comedy of Álex de la Iglesia.

The films hit a few other familiar notes: Director Dustin Bowser’s Weighting has an off-kilter Charlie Kaufman look to it, and Charles Pieper’s Last Remnants has the surreal feeling of a classic ghost story. But the best shorts of the bunch are the ones that take utterly original conceits and make them believable — at least for 10 minutes or so. That’s the beauty of a short: You can explore a fresh idea without having to stretch it out for an hour-and-a-half.

The festival is organized in four 90-minute blocks, and tickets can be purchased for individual blocks or for the entire festival (if you buy in advance online, a full-fest pass is available for $35). Here are some can’t-miss selections from each block:

Block 1 (Sat. Sept. 28 at 4 p.m.)
Director: Michael Kefeyalew (U.S.)

Written and directed by a Florida State University film student, this short takes a look at a traumatic event through the eyes of a child. Young actor Israel Underhill stars as Rodney, a boy who may or may not understand his parents’ argument over the phone and who may or may not be able to process the horror that unfolds on a ride home from a birthday party. The camera work is stellar, with lots of low angles to bring us to Rodney’s level and an inventive use of focus to convey his confusion when the pivotal moment comes.

Room 8
Block 2 (Sat. Sept. 28 at 8:30 p.m.)
Director: James W. Griffiths (U.K.)

This film was a winner in the British gin company Bombay Sapphire’s Imagination Series contest, in which directors created films from the same ambiguously worded script. The premise in this one is simple: A prisoner is led to a cell where a standoffish cellmate warns him not to tamper with an unlabeled red box on his bunk bed. “You might regret it,” he warns. But when the man takes his chances and opens the box, reality starts to bend, thanks to some fiendishly creative special effects.

This is Vanity
Block 2 (Sat. Sept. 28 at 8:30 p.m.)
Director: Oliver Goodrum (U.K.)

Based on a true story, this short film shows a mother at her wit’s end as neighborhood children relentlessly bully her handicapped teenage daughter — pinning her down, cutting her hair, throwing eggs at their house. As the bullying descends into frightening violence, the mother seeks help from police and other authorities, but to no avail. The opening scene shows the mother immolating herself and her daughter in a minivan, and the film backs up from there to show what led her to the brink. Interspersed with selections from a parish pastor’s sermon, we see a vision of hell on earth.

Block 3 (Sun. Sept. 29 at 2 p.m.)
Director: Sam Baixauli (Spain)

This is far and away the sweetest of the festival’s feel-good selections. Two foreigners, Xiaoyan and Werner, meet in a park in Spain and begin an unlikely friendship. Their common language is Spanish, which neither speaks particularly well, and so they teach each other, stumbling over awkward syntax and discovering common interests — including a half-belief in a radio host’s conspiracy theory about the end of the world. Based on a stage play, most of the 15-minute film takes place on a park bench, with straightforward camera work and charming performances by actors Carlos Olalla and Huichi Chiu. Bring your tissues for this one.

Decapoda Shock
Block 3 (Sun. Sept. 29 at 2 p.m.)
Director: Javier Chillon (Spain)

This one comes from way the heck out in left field. The film begins with an astronaut exploring the red dirt surface of an alien planet, where a crab-like creature reaches out of the soil and snips through his space suit, infecting him with a disease that transforms him into a man-sized lobster-beast. When he comes home to Earth and tries to reconnect with his family, he realizes things can never be the same. Bloodshed and Satanic rituals commence. The plot only halfway makes sense, but that’s fine. You’ll be too enraptured by the horror-schlocky camera cuts, animated depictions of evil government cabals, and close-up shots of gored anonymous henchmen to put all the pieces together anyway.

Voice Over
Block 4 (Sun. Sept. 29 at 7 p.m.)
Director: Martín Rosete (Spain)

Here’s one for the hopeless romantics. Director Martín Rosete, who made his money filming commercials, cut no corners when crafting his bold entry into narrative filmmaking. Impressively, Rosete has said in interviews that he used almost no computer-generated animation for this short, filming underwater and on apparently remote locations to tell three interwoven narratives. A stranded astronaut races the clock to find spare oxygen tanks on an alien planet, a shipwrecked fisherman struggles to disentangle himself from a rope that holds him underwater, and a legless World War II Allied soldier crawls through the rain to detonate explosives under a bridge and save the love of his life. All of this is held together by a narrator’s hushed reading of writer Luiso Berdejo’s French script, which is at once humorous, light, and suspenseful. This is a labor of love, and you feel it from the start.

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