[Fantasia 2020] Short Films: F FOR FREAKS / DIABLA / NARROW

F for FreaksF for Freaks. 2019.
Directed & Written by Sabine Ehrl.
Starring Ursula Werner, Aleksandra Cwen, Mathilde Besse, Gerdy Zint, Paul Boche, & Katharina Nesytowa.

30 minutes
Drama / Sci-fi

★★★★1/2Father Son Holy Gore - F for Freaks - Sick BedShort films, by virtue of the format, have a small window to grab your attention, let alone setup a whole world. F for Freaks starts with a highly character driven bit of weird drama, after that it gradually evolves into a science fiction film set among a vast, dystopian world. Though the extent of the dystopian setting isn’t clear, the film shows us enough so we’re able to understand just how dire an existence these characters have come to know.

The story follows an older woman (Ursula Werner) suffering from a respiratory disease. She’s picked up at her trailer by a gang of three misfits, then they take her somewhere through the forest to an area where they’re meant to go hunting. However, they’re hunting tiny people. These little humans are used as scientific fodder to help so-called regular-sized people extend their lives, have babies, and more. Unfortunately for the old woman things don’t turn out quite how she expected.Father Son Holy Gore - F for Freaks - Small Woman CagedA lot to be interpreted, which is exciting for a film only a half hour long. The screenplay touches on so much, from authoritarianism and class divide, to human and animal rights issues respectively. A dystopian world’s effectively built in such a limited amount of time by depicting decay, both in the landscape and also in the people themselves. It also comes through an overall sense of authoritarianism. We see Soviet-era programming on a television set in the rundown, greasy hospital. More than that there’s class separation. The big people are seen as inherently better, so their lives are considered worth more than the small people. It sadly appears to be a systemic acceptance in this dystopian world. You can look at the separation between big-little in different ways, trading size for race, class, religion, or any other element that divides people socially/politically.

What stands out to me most is F for Freaks as an allegory for the way human beings view and treat animals. One particular line spoken by the old woman captures the allegory succinctly. She screams at one of the little people: “Youre not even aware that youre breathing.” The little people are seen as non-human, treated how humans treat animals. They’re seen as disposable, as ways to better our own lives. They’re used for scientific purposes to help humans, not unlike how we use animals to test beauty products, or we use their physical bodies for commodities like toothpaste (yes, there’s animal in your toothpastes), and long before there were any protections for animals we did far, far worse. The old woman’s actually more concerned about her cat back at home— whom she left food for while she was gone to receive her hopeful operation— than the living humans she’s violently oppressing for the betterment of her health.

A grim little film, though important. I’d love to see a full-length feature within this world. At the same time, Sabine Ehrl creates such a distinctive dystopian setting with a fleshed out world, and people to populate it, within 30 minutes that never a moment feels wasted.

DiablaDiabla. 2019.
Directed by Ashley George. Screenplay by Alonso Diaz-Rickards.
Starring Ruth Ramos, Daniel Fuentes Lobo, Cesar Mijangos, Violeta Santiago, & Sandra Zellweger.

15 minutes

★★★★★Father Son Holy Gore - Diabla - Nayeli and NurseRape-revenge is one of my most loathed subgenres. Largely due to the majority being written and directed by men, who seem to take it upon themselves to put their female protagonists through utter agony and depraved sexual violence as a way to somehow show strength. Although there is a rape in Diabla, and it leads the protagonist to take revenge in her own special way, there’s a more feminist feeling about the story than the typical rape-revenge horror. It focuses on the power of women as individuals and as a collective in the face of gendered injustice.

Ashley George’s film— screenplay written by Alonso Diaz-Rickards— follows a young Mexican woman, Nayeli (Ruth Ramos), as she lives a normal day in her life. That normalcy is shattered by a handsome young dude called Rayan (Cesar Mijangos). One afternoon while Nayeli and Rayan talk casually he suddenly forces himself onto her, raping her. She tries telling her brother but he won’t believe her. When she goes to the hospital a nurse doing a post-assault exam on Nayeli clues her into the untapped power of womanhood, which could help avenge her rape.Father Son Holy Gore - Diabla - WitchesBrujería is used as revenge to get back at the rapist. Though there’s only a little real magic used. Most of the ritual seems based on the collective power women hold as a group, when they come together rather than relying on a broken justice system managed from the top down by misogynistic men in power. The film’s all about women using their natural power to do what their communities and the justice system can’t or simply won’t do for them. “The men who abuse us do not understand what power we have,” one of the witchy women says: “We are their curse.”

The resulting revenge Nayeli and her newfound coven of witches takes on her rapist is shocking. There’s a practical effect just before the film closes that’s a) an impressively horrific creation, and b) a stunning, nasty moment. Also, rather than killing her rapist Nayeli lets him live, yet forever marked by his disgusting trangression, bearing that mark forever. It’s a fantastic finisher, right before we see the face of Nayeli at the end. She isn’t happy, she doesn’t smile at the camera necessarily, she doesn’t look proud. She only did what needed doing, and she did it without the help of men or police, she did it with the power of a sisterhood.

NarrowNarrow. 2020.
Directed & Written by Anna Chazelle.
Starring Anna Chazelle, Shayan Ebrahim, Matthew Gallenstein, Maia Henkin, Elizabeth Hirsch-Tauber, & Tabetha Ray.

10 minutes
Horror / Thriller

★★★1/2Father Son Holy Gore - Narrow - StrangersAnna Chazelle’s short film Narrow is a sleek 10-minute journey that’s unnerving and surreal. One of those shorts that people are either going to enjoy or loathe, if only because Chazelle isn’t interested in spoon-feeding an audience. She’s instead committed to making something atmospheric that’s left open to interpretation, never saying too much through dialogue and keeping with a thick, suggestive air of mystery.

The surreal story revolves around Sloane (played by Chazelle). She’s caught in a decimated world with very few people around, and those who are seem to be terrifying. There’s also a sinister thing lurking on the periphery of Sloane’s consciousness. She follows a path marked out that leads into an abandoned house. She follows it past a group of silent people whose voices still whisper all around her. When she meets a man called Rhys (Matthew Gallenstein) things takes a turn. And the beast is always there— waiting, watching, hoping Sloane will step off the path.

There’s a number of interesting things to pull out of this, so I’ll stick with one that interests me most. Sloane and Rhys’s conversation leads me to believe there could’ve been a daughter. If not, a girl or woman close to Sloane died. It actually feels like this is the afterlife, as if Sloane’s caught in a state of limbo where she’s got to find her way back to the light instead of being caught by a growling beast in the shadows. Specifically there feels like a religious parallel to Chazelle’s little tale. When people talk of walking the ‘straight and narrow’ or following the ‘narrow path,’ they’re actually referring to Matthew 7:14, whether they realise it or not. Matthew 7:14 reads: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” It feels like Sloane’s trying to walk that narrow path through a strange place in hopes of finding the one she’s lost. A dangerous, surreal journey that Chazelle makes visually intriguing, packing 10 sparse minutes with heavy emotional pull.

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