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SSFF 2016 Reviews - THIS PRETTY FACE / RANDY / WISHGRANTER

Three reviews from this year's Seattle Shorts Film Festival.






Reviews by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)


This Pretty Face

There are two distinct types of horror film. The first involves a menacing, disruptive force invading what would otherwise be a realm of comfort and safety (the Halloween paradigm), while the other concerns an innocent who is plunged into a world that is threatening and horrific (say, for example, Suspiria). Justin Robert Vinall’s This Pretty Face is a superlative example of the latter, a disturbing little horror that is weird, creepy and original. Everything that you would hope for in an event like the Seattle Short Film Festival.

We open with a young woman (Sophie - Kaela McVicker) abruptly waking up in a ditch at night. In panic, she coughs up black water and frantically attempts to make sense of the darkness. A discordant swoon of broken strings then heralds a companion (Cadence Whittle), a doll-like woman in a fresh summer dress, holding a glowing lantern over the spluttering woman in the water as if she has been expecting her. The piquant creepiness of this image sets the tone for This Pretty Face; oblique and unsettling, as the strange woman leads the newcomer into a nearby house and proceeds to prepare her for the coming of ‘Mom’. This process involves making over Sophie, a ‘fresh new face’, with lurid cosmetics and stylised clothes, adding to her disorientation. Are the girls in a sort of limbo? Is the film a comment on the expectations of how a woman is expected to present herself? The short gives us no easy answers, as This Pretty Face is the sort of sophisticated horror that exists without a specified thematic circumstance, creating an atmosphere of pristine dread that means no one thing and is instead universally suggestive of unconscious anxieties; the loss of control, rules we don’t understand, the fear of not being good enough.

Fittingly, for a film about surface feature, This Pretty Face is itself gorgeous, affecting the vivid green and red washes of prime giallo. Whittle is fantastic, her perky statements about ‘mom’ and ‘being pretty’ carefully hinting towards the powerful last reel implosion the character instigates. In real life Whittle is, without wishing to be reductive, crisply pulchritudinous, but here the make-up and Kirsten Zeller’s photography make a mask of her face, almost a cruel mockery of beauty. The last shot, a close up of Whittle in profile held just long enough for you to begin to turn your own head away from the palpable sadness of ‘not being wanted or admired’, is agonising. One of my favourite shorts, not just of Seattle but of the entire year.



Randy

Someone who does get what he wants is the titular hero of Shawn Ryan’s fun gay comedy Randy, which focuses on a young man with Down’s syndrome being interviewed for a job in a high-end fashion company. Paul DeVincenzo gives a winning, immensely likeable performance as Randy, a boy who from ‘the minute he was born was fabulous’ and whose natural cheer is at odds with the drudgery of the world around him (the sniffy receptionist, the slow toil of his work mate’s morning routines).

Perhaps the film assumes a prejudice in its audience: is it so discombobulating that a man with Down’s syndrome likes other fellas, or that he achieves gainful employment due to his skill set and initiative? To some people perhaps it is, and such positive representations are to be applauded, especially when placed within the delightful circumstances of shorts such as this. Randy is a film that will leave you with a grin almost as wide as its lead character. You go girl!



Wishgranter

We end with Wishgranter, another heart-warming film which takes a sidelong look at fortune and destiny. In this charming (a word I use a lot, but perhaps never as meaningfully as when describing fare such as this) animation from Chalkdust, we are introduced to a world wherein the wishes we make by tossing coins into fountains are granted by the strange little creatures that live and work beneath. Through the vibrant colours and jaunty motion of the short, we follow a jaded wishgranter as he leaves his underground dwelling (which is all decked out with radars and dials, making a fun science of magic) to enter the field and grant an elusive wish. The stylings reminded me of the distinctive form of Illumination Entertainment’s output; just like in Minions, so much of the humour is driven from the exaggerated gestures of its unusual lead character, as he utilises his arsenal of dandelion clocks and wishbones (used, for example, as an enchanted boomerang) to enact a warm and fuzzy fate, ensuring that everyone, eventually, gets what they want.

Does the little wishgranter work for the Seattle Shorts programming board? In this missive alone, we’ve witnessed a startling horror concerning the nature of beauty, a gay comedy that seeks to redress the balance regarding the under-representation of certain groups of people, and now this beautiful animation that speaks to the nature of chance and human goodness. Wishes granted galore: there is truly something for everyone in the diverse quality of the Seattle Shorts Film Festival.


The 2016 Seattle Shorts Film Festival runs from November 11th - 13th. More info at seattleshort.org.




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