Reviews by Darren Gaskell
Starring: Gordon Holliday (Dysmorphia), Austin Hayden, Shian Denovan (Split), Sam Hayman (Ink)
Writer: Andy Stewart
Director: Andy Stewart
On what began as a fairly unremarkable Tuesday in January 2013, I decided to go to see the Brandon Cronenberg movie Antiviral as part of the monthly Celluloid Screams screenings in Sheffield. Before the film began, we were told that there would be also be a bonus short movie and a warning that said short movie had caused people to pass out at its previous screenings.
Oh, really? That old chestnut. Over the years I’d seen a lot of movies and not once had I seen anyone pass out at a screening. That kind of publicity might have worked back in the days of William Castle but there’s no denying that filmgoers have become much more savvy over the decades. And so, with my cynicism now firmly set to “on”, the lights dimmed and the short movie began to play.
A few minutes later, a girl three rows in front of me slid from her seat and landed on her knees with a bump. She stumbled into the aisle, zigzagged her woozy way to the back of the cinema, reached the exit door….and then fell straight through it, hitting the floor with a sickening thump.
The short film? Dysmorphia.
Okay, so now that I’ve put most (if not all) of you off ever seeing this film, allow me to drag you back from that place where you’ve now dug your heels in quite deeply. Yes, Dysmorphia is strong stuff. Yes, it’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen. And yet I’d urge you to see it because it’s superbly made, beautifully paced and builds to a magnificently twisted and darkly comic punchline.
One of the many great things about Dysmorphia is that it plays upon the things that you don’t see as well as the things you do. Add in some amazing – and truly disgusting – sound design and you find yourself dropped into a genuinely gruelling experience which isn’t going to give you an easy way out. Maybe fainting is the way to go. For horror fans it’s an absolute treat, one that left me catching my breath, then laughing nervously as the end credits rolled and I realised I’d made it through. It certainly made Antiviral seem tame by comparison.
Dysmorphia was the first movie in a “body horror” trilogy from Glaswegian writer/director (and producer and prosthetic effects supervisor and….) Andy Stewart and it was a pleasant surprise when it was revealed that the second and third movies in the trilogy – Split and Ink – would be screened during the Celluloid Screams 2014 Festival. I can report that neither Split nor Ink caused any further faintings in Sheffield but that doesn’t mean either film is any less disturbing.
Split focuses on one man’s extreme reaction to the break-up of a relationship and what’s clever here is that Stewart understands exactly what makes an audience squirm in their seats. People don’t really feel the pain of a spectacular decapitation but they’ll sure as hell wince at someone losing a fingernail.
The content in this short is, for me, more explicitly gross than that in Dysmorphia but it’s all part of the plot as “The Man” experiences a physical deterioration in the most drastic way possible. Any film that can make an entire audience recoil with disgust and yet still keep them engaged gets my vote.
And so to Ink, the final film in the trilogy and a gruesome tale of a man who takes a novel approach to getting himself the best tattoos possible. In keeping with the trilogy there are sequences which are most certainly not for the squeamish but the wince-inducing stuff is balanced with some welcome pitch-black humour. Yet again I don’t really want to say too much more about it because as with all three films in the trilogy it’s so much better when you have no idea what’s coming next.
If you’re a fan of “body horror” you should check this Caledonian Cronenbergian trilogy out as soon as you possibly can. Even if you’re not, I’d still recommend that you see these. Each short film is a disturbing little gem, made with a lot of care, featuring great performances.
Just don’t eat beforehand…
Post-Credits Bit: The next short Andy Stewart went on to make was Remnant, which pulled the rug delightfully on gorehounds like myself by containing none of the splattery stuff whatsoever. Watch this space in the future for what I thought of that one…