DISCLAIMER: The following essays contain spoilers!
Thumb. 2021. Directed & Written by Alexandra Pechman (from a story by Pechman & Kate Adams).
Starring Kate Adams & DeMorge Brown
Not Rated / 10 minutes
Horror / Thriller
★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
Alexandra Pechman’s Thumb is a story about a woman called Thumb (Kate Adams), whose mother Leigh Enders—a famous, controversial performance artist—has recently died. Now Thumb’s left dealing with her mother’s house and estate, including an infamous piece of performance art that bears her name. When she gets a visit from Red (DeMorge Brown), her mother’s partner, she finds out he wants to take ownership of the art. Thumb’s forced to deal with Red on top of the broken relationship she had with her mother that continues to haunt her.
The mysterious, troubled mother-daughter dynamic in Thumb is what drives everything. The horror elements are there, and they’re excellent—especially the last few moments of the short. But Pechman’s film is first and foremost about the relationship at the story’s core. Thumb talks about how she was “just another performance” for her mother, a child prop in her mother’s life. It’s in this line I feel like the whole short opens up, where the most significant theme is located. After the art piece ‘Thumb’ is revealed we get a stronger impression about Leigh’s performance art; she was a Chris Burden-like artist, unafraid of putting her own bodily safety on the line to create a lasting, memorable work of art. Thumb’s dialogue starts to unravel the fraught relationship she had with Leigh. The biggest piece of evidence is when we find out she slept with Red at one point, suggesting she did it to make her mother mad, considering she clearly can’t stand him. The finale is intense and haunting. To me, it speaks to the idea that bad parent-child relationships take pieces of us, both parent and child, and it also often takes more pieces of us to genuinely move past the trauma those relationships create. Anybody who has a tough relationship with their parents might find Thumb highly realistic in spite of its creepy supernatural vibe.
I’ll certainly be keeping my eye on Pechman, who’s already been on my radar due to the writing she did on Into the Dark and one of my favourite episodes from Channel Zero. She has another short in the can already, so let’s hope she’ll have a feature film as director under her belt sooner than later.
Night Bus. 2021. Directed & Written by Joe Hsieh.
Starring Shu-Fang Chen & Ming-Hsiu Tsai.
Not Rated / 20 minutes
Animation / Horror / Thriller
★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
I’ve admitted, even in another Fantasia 2021 article, that animated films aren’t my particular bag. Nothing against them, just not a big of interest of mine. And yet here I am, writing a review of Joe Hsieh’s short in which I’m about to give an animated film massive praise.
Night Bus follows a group of travellers who’ve all wound up on a night bus together, travelling along the coast, when the bus driver runs over a monkey. At the same time as the accident, a rich lady has her pearl necklace stolen on the bus and a man’s accused of being the thief, despite insisting he never stole the necklace that’s now in his pocket. Soon, a story of love and revenge unfolds between the bus and the coast, and, unbeknownst to everybody, the monkey’s surviving baby gets onboard with the passengers, too. Then all hell breaks loose.
“Stupid animals, don’t know better to stay alive.”
I enjoyed Night Bus tremendously. It’s tough for a feature-length film to juggle numerous characters and their plots, let alone a short. Joe Hsieh’s little film manages to weave its way through a half dozen characters in only twenty minutes, giving at least a little attention to everybody. And one of the characters is a little monkey! So there’s a lot of intriguing things happening. What I love most is the way there are two stories of violent revenge playing out on/around the eponymous bus as it heads down a desolate coastline; there’s even a romance happening underneath it all. Hiseh’s non-linear storytelling works so well as the film slowly reveals to us the motivations at play in the story, going into a flashback at just the right time as events occur that make us think something else may be happening. The story’s fantastically human—paralleling human love and what it can push us to do with the love of animals, which is just as real and strong as our own. Plus the story’s made all the more wonderful(/eerie) because of the animation. Night Bus is one of the shorts from Fantasia that’s made me reevaluate my thoughts about animation, and from here on I’ll be making a point to watch (and cover) more animated films, especially the horror.