DISCLAIMER: The following essays contain spoilers!
Carnivorous Bean Sprout. 2021. Directed & Written by Seo Sae-rom.
Not Rated / 5 minutes
★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
I’m admittedly not big into animated films; I don’t look down on them in any way, they’re just not often my cup of tea. That shouldn’t imply I don’t like any at all, because there are many fantastic animated films, of all genres, out there. Probably safe to say I’ve found one of my favourites ever and it’s sadly only five minutes long, yet those five minutes are utterly fabulous. Seo Sae-rom’s Carnivorous Bean Sprout is a uniquely fun little horror-comedy short that plays off postmodernity by way of tourist consumerism, depicting an animal theme park that display rare animals in Southeast Asia. On the island of Pangkor there was a discovery: the “first carnivorous bean sprout.” From there it led to experiments, as well as theme park attractions. The angry little sprouts thrill the tourists, all of whom are scared to death. A great treat for the whole family!
What I adore about Carnivorous Bean Sprout is it blends fear and excitement together hilariously. It also has a touch of reality in the way it’s casually critiquing postmodern science and tourist consumerism. We get a quick glimpse of the process through which the park has gone to create tourist attractions out of these new carnivorous bean sprouts, resulting in investigations over “breeding farms” and more trouble. Best of all, the film critiques this while turning a critical eye towards our own role in the consumerism involved in such exploitative parks; sure, here it’s carnivorous bean sprouts, but it wasn’t that long ago SeaWorld was in the international spotlight for how it treats its living attractions. Though short, Carnivorous Bean Sprout says a lot, and it does so with tongue firmly planted in cheek, alongside delightfully cute animation.
Aria. 2021. Directed & Written by Christopher Poole.
Starring Daniel Lawrence Taylor & Susannah Fielding.
Not Rated / 13 minutes
★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
Christopher Poole’s Aria tells the story of a couple—Tom (Daniel Lawrence Taylor) and Jenny (Susannah Fielding)—getting their home security system up and running. Things are fine until Tom begins to suspect there’s something not quite right with the system, which uses an Amazon Alexa-like technology called Aria. He thinks there’s someone lurking outside and messing with the doorbell, except nobody’s there. When Jenny goes on a trip, Tom’s left home alone and his sense of reality is turned upside down as he witnesses the full scope of what Aria’s installation involves; and it terrifies him.
“We watch. You relax.”
Aria is brilliant, taking an Orwellian concept and spinning it into 13 minutes of unsettling tension. Tom’s gradual paranoia eventually blossoms into reality. The way Poole gets into the viewer’s head is by repetition, convincing us at times that Tom is seeing something real only to pull the rug out from under him/us by showing it as a nightmare, except this starts to break down over the short’s thirteen-minute runtime. By the end it’s clear the terror Tom’s experiencing is not at all a dream, it’s a living nightmare. Poole’s short touches on contemporary anxieties and fears about technology, particularly as smart technology becomes more prevalent. There are great, eerie moments, such as when Tom watches porn only to hear what sounds like a man giggling, making him fear that his most intimate, private moments are being intruded upon. This aspect of “human–curated surveillance” is where technology can become truly deviousness, joining tech and the darker side of human nature. I also found it incredibly affective the way Poole anthropomorphises technology, like in a scene where Tom sees Aria become a fleshlight-style mouth sucking on his finger in a psychosexual vision, and a later scene where Tom sees a woman on a scooter with Aria’s voice who lets out an Invasion of the Body Snatchers electronic scream.
Aria‘s also scary because it looks at the idea of how we want to keep people out using security systems and yet a) we have to trust the ‘official’ people from security companies to come into our houses to set these systems up (fyi: Dennis Rader a.k.a BTK worked in home security), and b) technology can be hacked so that people can figuratively enter our homes via computers, as well as other devices. This short felt like a Let’s Not Meet story from Reddit with a build of dread that only snaps right at the end. A smart mashup of horror and sci-fi that explores certain concern about technology and the ever expanding role it plays in our lives.
Habitat. 2021. Directed by Jaime A. Calachi. Written by Javier Huesa.
Starring Itziar Castro, Balbino Lacosta, & Candela Liu.
Not Rated / 11 minutes
Fantasy / Thriller / Science Fiction
★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
Jaime A. Calachi’s Habitat, written by Javier Huesa, is a weird, timely short film tackling internet obsession, consumerism, and the modern world of digital convenience. The story revolves around a man who spends all his time locked in his apartment, never seeming to go past the door; he doesn’t need to go anywhere because his groceries, mainly cigarettes and chips and beer, can be delivered right into his living room. He spends his solitary existence clicking his computer mouse, waiting for the day he’s clicked enough to get a trip to Paradise. Until then he watches a never ending reality show featuring a woman in a bathtub eating cockroaches.
“In a polluted world, there is a virgin place for freedom.”
There’s a quiet, permeating sense of dread throughout Habitat, right from the start when we see the man in his decaying apartment, alternating between mouse clicks, sips of beer, mouthfuls of chips, and puffs on his cigarette. Just his keyboard alone looks like a petri dish of bacteria. This short has a lot of atmosphere, largely due to the setting of the disgusting apartment. We contrast this with Paradise and the bright, clean-looking ads on the man’s computer, showing him a better world than the one he currently inhabits; the promise of consumerism, that through buying enough and buying the right things one can create a new, better life. In this film’s world, money doesn’t quite seem to exist any longer, it’s all about how many clicks of the mouse you can manage. The quote above about a “polluted world” and a “virgin place for freedom” comes to be a failed prophecy in this crumbling, decaying world—the man eventually discovers that beyond his apartment is yet another awful, decaying apartment. This is like the end stages of capitalism, where everything is depleted and trashed. That “virgin place” is a failed promise of a better life and world that doesn’t exist because we have polluted all of it; again, the promise of consumerism, but it’s selling a product here that simply no longer exists in the short’s world, and the story concludes with a bitterly hilarious, gross moment that hammers this point home, straight to the gut.
The grass here is not greener on the other side—there isn’t even any grass.