SXSW 2011: ‘Little Deaths’ – an anthology for open-minded individuals
Directed by Sean Hogan, Andrew Parkinson, and Simon Rumley
UK – 2011
The Fantastic Fest Midnighters sidebar at SXSW is a wonderful idea. Austin’s annual Fantastic Festival is certainly one of the most esteemed and well curated genre festivals out there, but programming exclusively to a midnight crowd means occasionally succumbing to your baser instincts. Little Deaths, a horror anthology featuring three British directors shown as a part of this sidebar, seems designed to be assaultive and memorable, and is programmed to drive a midnight crowd wild. But beyond their immediate, and, sure, considerable, shock value, the three shorts here are overlong, underdeveloped, and cruel.
The first short, Sean Hogan’s House & Home, is easily the most frustrating of the three. It opens on a 30-something couple in bed as Victoria (Siubhan Harrison) frigidly dismisses her husband’s (Luke de Lacey) wandering hands. It becomes immediately clear that she is uninterested in him sexually outside of a particular, and vaguely ominous, ritual the two conduct with a third party. The third, turns out, is a non-consenting homeless person. In this case a homeless girl named, groan, Sorrow (Holly Lucas). From the beginning this short clumsily projects its intentions, and the most shocking thing about the final twist is how cheap its execution is. Stuffed in the last few minutes of the film and with no proper table-setting, it retroactively nullifies the film’s greatest success–it’s patient, plodding build–and undermines the potential cathartic wallop.
Andrew Parkinson’s Mutant Tool and is a marked improvement. That is to say, this film that is an extremely convoluted excuse to portray a wailing monster’s five foot penis ejaculating into a bucket is sort of better than House & Home. The story follows loving couple and former two-person prostitution ring Jen (Jodie Jameson) and Frank (Daniel Brocklebank). Jen is trying very hard to stay on the sobriety and monogamy wagon, but things start to get weird when she’s prescribed a medication to help her out with withdrawal symptoms. The medication is mutant tool ejaculate, street-name unknown, and the side effects are pretty much way worse than seems legally acceptable. The twists and turns of this tale are actually fun and clever, but the characters are rubbish and the ending makes absolutely no sense while also managing to be completely predictable.
The best short of the bunch–as my colleauge put it: “pretty much by default”–is Simon Rumley’s Bitch. This short, as with the others, follows a dysfunctional couple. But the two characters here, Pete (Tom Sawyer!) and Claire (Kate Braithwaite), have the great distinction of feeling real. The couple’s dysfunction–an emotionally and physically abusive relationship, but with refreshingly reversed gender roles–also seems way less contrived and way more sympathetic. The film is essentially an examination of their relationship and it manages to be 100% less explicit and about twice as frightening as the two films preceding it. Rumley’s introduction of some kinkier elements and his too infrequent humanization of Claire keep the short from being truly good, but his naturalistic grounding of the film and his unique approach to terror make this short better than just a midnight WTF marathon. Then comes the climax: a montage which is so laboriously drawn out and hilariously sound-tracked that it obscures the horrible act its portraying . But for the first time in the whole movie, that result seems completely intended.
Clearly this an anthology that is best experienced with a crowd of open-minded individuals. There are cinematic choices here to marvel at and wonder about. And there are images from these three films that I will likely never get out of my head. But in no way, after reading those three plot descriptions, should you be unclear about whether you want to see this or not. You don’t.
Unless you really, really, really do.