DISCLAIMER: The following essays contain spoilers!
Lucid. 2021. Directed by Deanna Milligan. Written by Claire E. Robertson.
Starring Caitlin Taylor, Stacy Grant, Georgia Acken, Peter Hoskins, Metta Rose, & Keith Picot.
Stage Fright Productions / Lucid Film Productions / Sublunar Films
Not Rated / 16 minutes
Comedy / Fantasy / Horror
★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)The story of Lucid—following Mia (Caitlin Taylor), a young student artist who’s a bit different from all the other pretentious douchebags in her class—is the story of so many of us who’ve felt outside the general spectrum of the mainstream art world, the tale of lost and struggling artists looking for that one thing that’s going to set them apart from all the other fish in a boundless artistic sea. Mia’s always been a girl who’s enjoyed blood and the yucky parts of the body. That doesn’t mean it’s weird. It may be a little macabre, but so what? And she keeps dealing with a snobby art teacher, along with the rest of her class who’ve all got their lofty ideas about what art’s supposed to be. Finally, when it comes down to the wire, Mia creates a viscerally shocking experience that’ll definitely change peoples’ impressions of her, one way or another.
“There’s no there there.”
There’s this fun, nasty focus on the abject by way of Julia Kristeva in Lucid, specifically blood and organs, centred on corpses. Through that, the film explores expectations put upon women. The short is all about art and creating, yet there are strong connotations related to gender here. People, men and women alike, expect women—especially young women and girls—to act a certain way. The fact Mia’s interested in bodies as “big bags of blood” goes against all the traditional expectations forced upon her solely due to gender. I found the scene showing Mia recalling learning to gut a fish with her dad emotionally touching and loaded with ideas about gender, considering it’s her mother who thought Mia was strange and rejected her, whereas her father encouraged the non-traditional aspects of his daughter’s personality. It’s in the final scene with Mia’s own reverse Carrie performance art piece where she embraces all the abject things she loves and shows that love off in public for her class. It’s a hilarious and messy moment that’s full of weird, wonderful joy. Lucid is about being yourself, no matter if others find that strange, because it’s in that selfness you’ll find what makes you happiest, which in Mia’s case is discovering her strange little niche amongst the wide world of art.
The Expected. 2021. Directed & Written by Carolina Sandvik.
C Sandvik Film
Not Rated / 15 minutes
Animation / Horror / Mystery
★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)Carolina Sandvik’s The Expected is a gruesome animated short that took me by surprise, having not read anything about it beforehand. The plot involves a pregnant woman who has a miscarriage while in the tub, after which she becomes a deflated lump of skin and a head. Her husband has to pick up the pieces and continue on. The woman’s husband takes her deflated body to bed and lays her there. Eventually he needs to take a bath, so he transfers all the bloody miscarriage water into an aquarium in the living room. As time goes by, the wife doesn’t move, and the husband feels like something’s growing in the aquarium.
Even in an animated short there’s a visceral horror Sandvik gets to through the strange story, tackling a plot concerned with the female body and its tribulations. There’s so much symbolism happening, such as when the wife has her miscarriage and the husband’s at the stovetop, boiling eggs. Or just the fact the wife’s body deflates entirely while her head remains, illustrating how women and their bodies become a prop, especially when they’re pregnant; their body becomes their identity, by no will of their own, and when pregnant the child further takes over a woman’s identity completely in the eyes of traditional society. We see the husband treat his wife like a plant, giving her water like their other houseplants; women here are like crops that need tending to and watering, to make sure the seeds in them grow.
Ultimately, The Expected is about the disposability of women and their bodies in the eyes of men. Even when the man’s wife is just deflated skin attached to a head he’s more concerned with the thing growing in the tank, making sure it has an environment to keep growing. In the end, neither the man’s deflated wife nor the potential thing growing in the tank matter to him because, just like the generally aloof way he handles everything previously, he kicks back with a cold one after we see there’s nothing left in the tank and his wife’s nowhere to be found. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a shot of the deflated wife in a trash can outside, though I suspect that’d be far too on the nose. The short’s horrific because of the imagery, and haunting for the cold, distant manner of the husband before, during, and after the plot’s shattering events surrounding a woman’s bodily trauma.
Other Bodies. 2021. Directed & Written by Alyssa Loh.
Starring Ian Cramer & Eva Ravenal.
Not Rated / 10 minutes
Drama / Horror
★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)I’m a huge fan of the Gothic, in all its forms. Alyssa Loh’s Other Bodies is a real treat because it takes all the romanticism of the Gothic and combines that with an eerie Gothic horror story that slowly crawls under your skin until the short’s shocking conclusion. Loh’s tale concerns the budding romance between a young man and a young woman on a college campus. The relationship never quite gets off the ground as the young man acts awkwardly and there are misunderstandings between the two, leading to plenty of anticipation for them both. What starts as a hesitant romance erupts into violent insanity, ending in horror.
“I had her entrails gripped in my fist.”
Other Bodies straddles that great Gothic line between eroticism and death. It almost feels like it could be a Georges Bataille story, except I’m inclined to believe Loh’s film is being critical of the male appetite. What I mean is that it feels like the short can be read as a response to men who believe that women are the ones who bring out their worst instincts, such as sexual assault and other violence. That logic implies men are uncontrollable beasts—or, monsters, if you will—and their appetite is like the mythic hunger of cannibalism, always wanting more, never quite satisfied. The man in the short brings up the fact he’s “been studying all those Gothic monsters,” and even says “I was made to burn.” He knows his true nature, yet seems incapable of controlling it, acknowledging his own monstrosity. More than that, it’s interesting how the man connects vampires to the first rule of life on Earth in the Garden of Eden: “Don‘t bite.” The whole Garden of Eden story has been the historical basis for misogyny and sexism for millennia, so there’s something in that connection the man makes between a monster of unending hunger in the vampire, a Gothic monster like himself, and Biblical patriarchy. There’s an acknowledgement in the Gothic monstrosity of men and the relation to the original sin in the Garden of Eden that the short’s story has to do with patriarchal attitudes towards women. This reading could’ve gone off the rails. Then again, Other Bodies does conclude with a vicious act of cannibalism perpetrated against a woman, even if we don’t see it. Loh’s film is a cocktail of erotic romance and macabre, Gothic qualities which make this a potent little story with unnerving gendered implications, and the way she conveys the story visually is nothing short of brilliant.