Directed by Justin Daering.
Screenplay by Daering & Kenda Greenwood Moran.
Starring Chasen Tyler Bauer, Wyni Landry, Christian Dunlop, Clayton Hoff, & Hans Christopher.
Drama / Sci-fi
★★★★1/2Justin Daering’s short film Progeny is one that truly upset me, in the best cinematic sense. I’m admittedly not the biggest science fiction fan, unless it’s Star Trek: The Next Generation or weird, depressing Polish movies. Although when a really good one comes along I know it, particularly when it’s in my wheelhouse: dark and disturbing.
Daering and co-writer Kenda Greenwood Moran tell the tale of Tanner (Chasen Bauer), a working class guy trying to get ahead like everyone else. He works for a man named Mr. Walton (Hans Christopher), an alien. Society’s full of aliens, and humans— particularly men, it seems— are capable of carrying their offspring as host parents. When Tanner goes on a hunting trip with a few coworkers and Mr. Walton, he gets assaulted by his boss and forcibly implanted with alien seed. He then discovers just how low a rung on the class ladder he sits.
Progeny reminds me, in a sense, of a 2004 Belgian horror film called Calvaire. They’re entirely different, and Progeny is obviously more focused on science fiction. Yet they each operate similarly as a vision of a world where men go through the same experiences women have gone through since time immemorial. In Calvaire it was more about a man experiencing the emotional/sexual violence women do. Progeny goes deeper, figuratively and literally. It certainly does explore the violent side of what women go through at the hands of men, played out on a male character. More than that, the screenplay looks at how horrific it might be for men if they experienced the biological phenomenon of childbirth. It also has a compelling perspective on sexual assault, flipping the genders to where the man’s been impregnated by his rapist and has to tell his wife. There’s an absurdity Daering reaches here that screams at those who treat rape flippantly, using the switched genders to point out fallacy in such misogynistic views on sexual assault. It all comes together in a statement about gender, power, and rape by way of terrifying science fiction.
The film offers a great sci-fi view on classism, too. Tanner’s a working class guy being used by his bourgeois boss. The alien upper class implant their offspring in those of the lower class— it encapsulates the heart of capitalism by having the alien offspring, new members of the bourgeoisie, feed off the working class as a parasite to their host. Nobody at the company being used as a vessel for alien seed will say a word because they’re all worried they’ll get fired, willing to trade off the abuse for employment which goes back to the power dynamics women normally face. Finally, there’s a moment right at the end that actually dropped my jaw a second. Not because it’s such an original scene, because it creepily suggests the upper alien class in this hellish futuristic world are all connected by one hive mind.
No different than reality, I suppose.
Who Goes There? 2020.
Directed by Astrid Thorvaldsen. Screenplay by William Gillies.
Starring Nina Yndis, Siri Meland, Rikké Haughem, & Liam McMahon.
Horror / Western
★★★★Astrid Thorvaldsen’s Who Goes There? is a spooky horror set on the American frontier in the Old West. Three sisters living in Minnesota circa 1880 are struggling as one of them, Ada (Rikké Haughem), is seriously ill. The other two sisters, Ingrid (Nina Yndis) and Liv (Siri Meland), do what they can to keep Ada comfortable. One day Ingrid notices an Irishman (Liam McMahon) on their land. He seems to know things about them he shouldn’t, such as the fact one of the sisters is sick. Although Ingrid’s suspicious of him she eventually lets him into their home and allows him to sit with Ada. After she starts to feel better it slowly dawns on Ingrid that perhaps her sister’s recovery comes at a steep price.
In a similar vein as Progeny, Thorvaldsen’s film involves the idea of a parasite. In Who Goes There? a man carries a kind of supernatural parasite. In the beginning, Ingrid and her sisters exist in an environment that’s entirely female. The man shows up on their property and disturbs a delicate equilibrium in their lives. Liv at one point calls the Irishman “a damned witch” like historical gender role reversal. And it’s the Irishman’s presence that precipitates a growing darkness around the sisters. All the same, death feels ever present in the sisters’ world, men or not.
At the same time, we’re in the American Old West and that naturally drops us into an era of violent colonialism even if we see no Native American characters. The three sisters are immigrants—judging by Thorvaldsen and the majority of the cast’s heritage the sisters are Norwegian. Since the story’s set in Minnesota during 1880 it makes sense, given that hundreds of thousands of Norwegians emigrated from their homes to find opportunity there between 1860 and 1920. They were buying up land that was taken from the Sioux and other tribes in the area. Through a post-colonialist lens we can look at the evil presence which infiltrates the sisters’ land as an inevitable retribution by the land itself, passed from one white body to the next and corrupting them from within. The parasite is not just man, it’s colonialism feeding off a host country. Regardless how you choose to interpret the plot of Who Goes There? it’s a beautiful looking, haunting film with strong performances, jamming more macabre excitement and tension into 24 minutes than some other films can manage in 90.