The Movie Waffler SSFF 2016 Reviews - RAE / MICHELLE / HER AND ME | The Movie Waffler


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

Reviews by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)


Aaron Rovner’s dark science fiction Rae opens with a lonely, nerdy office worker attempting to reprogram the work robot to ‘be his friend’. As Richard (Eric Schulman) overrides the code of the machine (‘Rae’, played by Jason McBeth), it short circuits, breaking from its mechanical encryption and becoming human. But, as the Black Mirror-esque short suggests, being human is also being privy to jealousies, uncertainty and, ultimately, violence. Rae intrudes on the tentative office romance occurring between Richard and Katelyn (Maria Molund), leaving a possessive Richard to balk from the other end of his spycam as (in a lovely, witty touch) Rae leaves Katelyn the beautiful gift of a clockwork heart. But who, exactly, is Richard jealous of?

Rae is a dark fable that convincingly presents its themes of insecurity and loneliness, with Rovner suggesting that while we may feel attracted to someone or something, what we are sometimes doing, in fact, is projecting our own angst rather than dealing with it. The best science fiction, after all, examines what it is to be human. The soundtrack to Rae beguiles with its dark Elfman wonder, and Rae is a charming presence as he navigates the pristine shots of this engaging short.


From the near future to the far-flung past with Kendra Ann Sherrill’s Michelle. We open in a pleasingly recreated 1960s diner, wherein a bunch of jocksy dudes share sexist jokes and attempt to mask their evident lack of confidence surrounding women; it may be 1967 but some things never change, even though the dialogue is enjoyably peppered with such period colloquialisms as ‘scored’, ‘made it’ and ‘spazzes’. The more nervous of the bunch (and, crucially, the least hateful) is new to the group, and therefore faces an initiation: to seduce the fabled Michelle, and, upon doing so, share his very own ‘Michelle Story’.

Michelle (played by model Victoria James) seems to take pity on Doug’s (Nich Witham) polite enough blather, and whisks him off to a toilet stall for ‘a chat’ - yikes! However, what ensues, away from the rigid social conventions of the diner (one of Michelle’s friends introduces the girl gang in turn as ‘the sensible one’, ‘the nice one’ and so on) is an exploration of identity and of the facades people construct to guard themselves from judgement. Michelle becomes a female figure in the lineage of Nefertiti, of Cleopatra, of Petrach’s Laura; women that have held the imagination of men who both fear and desire them, constructing legend and myth to distance their feminine mystique. At the end, it transpires that (just like the wretched Richard of Rae), all Doug wants is ‘some friends’, not the tail end of a fiction created to simply make other men feel better about their overwhelming inadequacies. Michelle is a fun and poppy confection, which, just like its titular character, disguises its perceptive ideas under a pretty sheen that is lovely to look at. 

Her and Me

Loneliness and the desire for friendship characterise both Rae and Michelle, and this theme is also deftly explored, albeit in a different manner, in Shelby Hadden’s Her and Me, a documentary focussing on the experiences of monozygotic pairs. Concentrating mainly on student sisters Allie and Gabby Byers, the film explores the nature of being an identical twin; from the Byers who experience almost every aspect of their life together, to other siblings who find the ‘twin thing annoying’ and attempt, with varying successes, to differentiate themselves from their brother or sister.

What makes Hadden’s documentary so fascinating is the presentation of Allie and Gabby; a pair so analogously telegenic that one begins to suspect split screen trickery as the two finish each other’s sentences and fluidly mirror respective gestures. When Hadden interviews them separately in one shots, the screen feels immediately hollower, the mise-en-scene incomplete. Gabby and Allie don’t only look alike, but seem to inhabit the same personality and share their daily existence; working together, dressing the same, and even choosing the same classes. ‘I is really hard for me to say’, says Allie.

When the other twins in Her and Me are presented with footage of Gabby and Allie, they can barely hold in their shock; ‘that is pathological’ one exclaims. An early teacher of the Byers argued that the two ‘should be separate’, and their (lovely) parents worry that future relationships may be jeopardised by the twins’ closeness. The Byers are 24-year-old women who don’t seem to have had much romantic experience; ‘as funny as it would be to share a guy’, one sister in all innocence states, ‘I can’t imagine the fights it would cause’. They’re right, it probably would. And, as the insecurities essayed in Rae attest, and as the dissatisfactions inherent in Michelle propose, it’s difficult and rare to find such love and support in other people.

We end with an image of Gabby and Allie turning to each other, with their perpetual smiles, gazing into each others’ wide eyes: happy to be alive, thrilled to be together.

A happier ending would be difficult to imagine.

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