[Our thanks to Lauren Baggett for the following.]
SMALL GAUGE TRAUMA is historically seen as the best of the best in Fantasia's many shorts programs. This year was no exception. With a stated focus on "Adolescence, Ritual and The Body", the program was chock full of twisted takes on growing up, growing old, or just growing strange. I felt that this was an unusually strong year, with some unparalleled talent on display.
THE BABY SHREDDER SONG, directed by David Avallone: Exactly what it says in the title. A jaunty ode to everyone who's been driven round the twist by overenthusiastic parents. Any, uh, actually baby shredding is left to the imagination, but it's funnier that way. This was a perfect way to kick off the program, and put everyone in a welcoming mood for what was to come.
FULL EMPLOYMENT, directed by Matthias Vogel and Thomas Oberlies : A gem from Germany, presented as one of those cheery public relations videos that we all know and loathe. FULL EMPLOYMENT follows a pilot program of young strivers serving as unpaid assistants to senior citizens who are still working. This means that the slightly cranky and hard of hearing Mr. Janssen gets an underemployed young man to push his wheelchair around and pick his suits out for him. What starts as a darkly comic look at corporations taking advantage of an aging workforce takes a sharp turn into sheer bloody delight. To say exactly what happens would spoil the fun, but let's just say that Mr. Jenssen has a very particular job, one that requires some very specialized skills. This one's a crowd-pleaser, alright. The twist in the tale is pulled off with humor and copious bloodletting, and it is glorious.
DEATH IN CHARGE, directed by Devi Snively: After overseeing the demise of an unfortunate babysitter, Death assumes her form and fills in at her babysitting gig. She finds herself at the home of a flighty single mother and her violent video game-loving brat of a daughter. But Death isn't here to collect any souls, at least not yet. Death has come to babysit. And she likes macaroni and cheese. The ending is a little moralistic, but it isn't downright preachy, just thought-provoking. Of course, if you want to turn your brain off and enjoy the retro cheese sleaze of DEATH IN CHARGE, that's alright, too. It's an amusing, twisted short with just a dab of poignancy and a gory ending.
CONTROL, directed by Charles Spiteri: Someone takes his OCD a bit too far. Honestly, this one was far too short to make much of an impression. The lead-up is so slight that when the blood starts flowing, I found it hard to care. This isn't really a very coherent review of a several minute short, but eh. There was no zing to CONTROL to make it memorable for me.
THE SCAVENGERS, directed by Cory Bowles: A dreamlike but dark look at the more surreal moments of childhood, peer pressure, and encountering the inexplicable. This one is shot beautifully, and features some naturalistic, non-hokey acting from its three young leads. They speak and act as boys their age really speak and act, and this is used to devastating effect in THE SCAVENGERS. The camerawork is wonderfully eerie, and the makeup design for the... thing the boys discover is an unconventional mix of beautiful and repulsive.
RITE, directed by Alicia Conway: The standout in a program full of standouts. Director Alicia Conway explained during the Q&A that RITE was inspired by all of the rituals in life that seem normal to us, but from an outsider's perspective would look twisted or even horrifying. To explain the details of the ritual depicted in RITE here would be against the point. The particulars, though they are shocking, are secondary to the surreal, bright setting where all of this is happening. It's sunny and sharp as a cotillion in Hell. To say anything more would ruin what Conway has in store. Track down RITE. I predict here and now that both the short and the director will be going places.
MY LOVE LIVES IN THE SEWER, directed by Manuel Arija: A Spanish black and white fever dream of a short where a schlub of a man still living with his parents starts receiving messages via coded toilet paper. Really. The messages become love letters, and soon our hero (if he can be called that) is lubing up various body parts so they can squeeze through the pipes to rendezvous with his lady love. This is every bit as gross and raunchy as you can imagine, and though the black and white spares us to some extent, the visuals are still quite graphic. MY LOVE LIVES IN THE SEWER overstays its welcome a little by the end, but it's still an imaginative and truly unique piece of work. It's also audacious, more than a little disgusting, and filled to bursting with every bodily fluid you can name. There's never been anything like MY LOVE LIVES IN THE SEWER. We should probably all be thankful for that.
FALLOW, directed by Dave Alexander and Colin Landry:
A promising premise which suffers from some pacing problems just when it ought to get suspenseful. Shot in the prairies of Canada, FALLOW hosts one of your average "small farming community harbors a dark secret behind their abundant crops" storylines. The farmers are a little behind in their offerings this year, and something is taking it out in blood. The set-up is fine and dandy, with a few creepy moments, and makes good use of early pioneer photography, but then we get to what should be the meat of the story and the film stalls out completely, never to start back up again in the remaining minutes. A tone deaf script with too-sudden revelations and a few horrible "menacing" quips make what could have been a classic take on the rural horror genre into a lurching mess of a climax that had the audience laughing for all the wrong reasons. If this sounds a bit harsh, bear in mind that I really wanted to like FALLOW. The production took every advantage of what must have been a shoestring budget, and that's admirable. But maybe the makers of FALLOW should have spent as much time polishing up the script as they spent on the skinned calf (a very cool effect, don't get me wrong). Some more work on characterization and FALLOW could have been truly memorable. As it is, the practical effects, though used sparingly, are quite effective. Hopefully next time, fledgling director NAME will wrangle up a script to do these effects justice.
THE TRUNK, directed by Can Evrenol : I'm still not quite sure what this one is supposed to be about, and I'm not sure if I want to know. A tiny glowering schoolboy pulls a trunk through a very sunny suburban neighborhood. He confronts an extended family and, with much ado, pulls something out of the trunk. Then the boy starts destroying that something, with eye-bleeding results. The over the top nature of what follows drew some shocked, nervous laughter from the audience; we simply couldn't believe what we were seeing. Does it work? Is it just pointless gore? I have no idea. All I know is that making a short of this nature involving a live baby takes guts, both literally and figuratively.
BOOB, directed by Honest: A killer breast implant wreaks havoc at a clinic. This wasn't my cup of tea, but the audience ate it up. And at three minutes, at least it doesn't overstay its welcome. I'd give it a 2 out of 5 from me, and a 5 out of 5 from the audience.
Review by Lauren Baggett