Talking Science Horror With the Director of the Short Film “Symbiont”

Still from “Symbiont with actor Luke Bond

Science-horror is an important genre within the categories of both “science fiction” and “horror” cinema. They use scientific settings and characters rather than supernatural elements to push humans up against the strange, terrifying, and unknown.

The trope of “mad science” or “science crossing moral lines with horrific consequences” goes all the way back to 1910 when Edison Studios produced the first film version of Frankenstein. (Or even further if the 1908 production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is scientific enough for you.)

Truly visionary filmmakers have emerged from the science-horror genre, with David Cronenberg as the most notable example.

Today we’re focusing on the brand-new short film Symbiont from director Sydney Clara Brafman and biologist Sally Warring.

The two had never met when they were charged with making a film with the theme of “light” in less than a week for the Imagine Science Film Festival.

Among other entries, Symbiont is unique as the only one with a horror angle, and the only one based on the chemistry of photosynthesis. The plot is simply “a scientist gets absorbed in his lab work.”

Next week we’ll post an interview with Sally Warring about her work with microbes. For Halloween, we talk with Sydney Brafman about horror, science, and making Symbiont.

What is your background in making movies?

I have a background in horror film, which started when I went to Pratt Institute for filmmaking. Everything I made ended up have a spooky vibe, but still made people laugh, so now I corner the genre of comedy horror.

I’ve been watching film and television for as long as I can remember though, it’s always been a part of my life.

Previously I wrote and directed the short film, SQUIB (2015), about two broke filmmakers who can’t afford special effects and decide to really kill people for their slasher film. I’m currently working on the feature script for SQUIB.

What are your thoughts about the intersection of science and cinema?

I think specifically in horror, there’s always an intersection of science. Things that go bump in the night are far more terrifying if they’re based in reality. It gives you something to REALLY be afraid of!

Working closely with a scientist really made the process of SYMBIONT more exciting.

There were things that I thought about doing, but they were just for show and not realistic. Having those guidelines kept me challenging myself to make a better film in the long run.

Doing the research and having someone to consult will undoubtedly set you above the rest. The second you’ve lost the believability factor, you’ve lost your audience too.

What’s next for you?

Right now I’m finishing up the SQUIB feature script, and also starting a horror anthology series called Tiny Terrors. It’ll be similar to the Symbiosis Film Competition in that we’re challenging filmmakers to make short films in a limited amount of time with a specific theme.

Working in the short style is a great place to explore the concepts you’ve been wanting to make, but keep putting off. I want to give myself and my crew a chance to experiment and just have fun with it.

Follow Sydney Brafman on Instagram and visit her website at

Watch “Symbiont” on