FrightFest 2015 Review: A FAVOR Engenders Favour
One of our own, the incorrigibly wicked Izzy Lee, is back with another macabrely mirthsome short film - A Favor - which just screened at no less a "dark heart of cinema" than FrightFest.
Though I have only seen Lee's most recent other short, Postpartum, which impregnated my mind for days, her latest demonstrates a rapidly maturing prowess behind the camera. Coming in at 10 minutes, A Favor is a serious piece of film-making, polished on every level, and to my mind heralds Lee's transition from aspiring auteur to bona fide film-maker.
A Favor is also hilarious throughout, though progressively darker, and pitch-black by the crescendo. Laughs flow freely thanks to a great performance by Shaun Callaghan as Jackson, a somewhat schluby hipster who gets called on to clean up yet another body for his corpse-prone lady-friend Liz. Plenty of deft editing and cinematography help to sustain Jackson's charming comedic tempo, and fantastic effects work brings the film to culmination, and a slam-dunk grand, grim joke.
As with Postpartum, in which Lee tackled the sometimes tetchy topic of motherhood, the comedy and irreverence of A Favor cannot wholly disguise the more ambitious thematics at hand. Lee has already proven herself an intelligent and provocative film-maker, and there seems much of depth to mine from this, surely her best work to date.
A Favor scathingly lampoons contemporary gender stereotypes. Jackson lives in a dude-ish squalor that suggests some degree of existential apathy, yet Liz has no problem inspiring him to great effort, risk, and ultimately violence on the whim of "a favor." Jackson is easily manipulated, with his own knowledge of this fact, and yet commits to the task with such whole-hearted conscientiousness that the source of Liz's power over him becomes the film's most pressing mystery. The two never share a scene however, so there are neither sexual innuendoes nor platonic platitudes to clarify the nature of their relationship. The reasons for why Liz manipulates Jackson, and why he permits it, seem less important than the fact that it happens.
Time then to wade, willy-nilly, into the quagmire that is contemporary gender dynamics.
A Favor appears to suggest that women are both able and willing, though by no means necessarily with malice, to manipulate men for personal benefit. That men are, in a word, pussy-whipped.
Please pardon my feline profanity in the midst of a gender-sensitivity discussion, but in this context men are not pussy-whipped because of pussy. Men are pussy-whipped because, as a gender, women are leaps and bounds ahead of us in understanding themselves. Women have been thinking about their identity for decades, striving variously for rights, opportunity, self-determination, and much else besides. Men have thought mostly about how women think about themselves, and how we are to more rightly think about them. As a gender, men have not given much thought to what masculinity actually means to us, or should mean. There has been minimal emancipation of male identity from archaic norms when compared with the great strides women have achieved for themselves.
Women, if we consider Liz representative, clearly wield the upper hand in A Favor, which contradicts the power dynamics we still see manifest in practical reality. Liz's power then does not reflect societal power dynamics, and we have no evidence to suggest it reflects sexual power dynamics (a la Ex Machina). However, gender dynamics also manifest in how we understand ourselves - in gender introspection, as opposed to gender interaction - and in this regard women are decades ahead.
Importantly, or so it seems to me, this imbalance can be traced to the pervasive presumption that only women have been oppressed by our patriarchal societies. This is akin to assuming, if I might resort to my South African heritage for analogy, that only black South Africans were oppressed by the racist white Apartheid government. The reality was certainly characterized by black victims and white perpetrators, but Apartheid was a system that oppressed human dignity for some, and thereby stripped it from all. Everyone lived in a state of existential corruption.
So too are men the beneficiaries in our patriarchal society, and thus complicit in its woes for women, and thereby oppressed (wittingly or not) by this burden of ills. The assumption that women are the only ones in need of emancipation is just another version of the same old bullshit; it suggests that men are somehow "already there" - perfected - and that women are still "catching up" - perfecting. This could not be farther from the truth; in the quest to know thyself, women are leagues ahead of men in their gender introspection.
A Favor seems to me to capture the imbalances I see in our genders' respective emancipation from obsolete norms, and thus the profound disfunction in our collective existential development. But whatever the deeper contemplations actually intended by the film-makers (if any!), A Favor stands out as frightfully fun short-form film-making.
Lee now has a distinct directorial voice that, though still discovering itself, is already very much her own. Her penchant for droll juxtaposition of the mundane and the macabre makes for deliciously dark humor, and some hilariously physical comedy. Combined with a gathered team that clearly brings quality to all departments, thought-provoking ambitions, and a refreshing feminine perspective in a testosterone-heavy genre, it's clear Lee is gathering both momentum and mastery.
I may cringe or gape aghast with each new Nihil Noctem film, but I won't look away. Neither should you.
Note that Izzy Lee is indeed Michelle "Izzy" Galgana, who also writes for ScreenAnarchy. She was not involved in any way with the content or editing of this article.