In the French-language Fear(s) of the Dark, six short films- from French, Italian, and American artists- dealing with various aspects of fear and scary stories are combined. They are all animated in black and white, but done in very different visual and narrative styles. Let’s talk about each one individually!
>My favourite one was probably the first, by Blutch(who doesn’t appear to have his own website). It follows a frightening 18th-century(?) figure barely restraining a pack of ravenous dogs. One by one they each escape and tear up unsuspecting passersby. It’s done in dark sketchy pencils, heightening the overall anxiety of the piece. There’s no dialogue, just the sounds of clicking shoes on cobblestone and echoes of dog barking. Yeesh.
Charles Burns had the ickiest short that certainly made more than one member of the audience squirm. A solitary academic college student finally opens up enough to start dating a cute girl, only for her to gradually be taken over by gross praying-mantis-like bugs who want him as a host for their eggs. Or something to that effect. It’s animated with stark, harsh shapes and lines, in a more cartoon/comic style, with halting movements. Definitely the creepiest story, but not as visually stimulating (for my personal tastes) as most of the others.
The only female artist to head one of the films, Marie Caillou created an interesting and ambiguous tale of a young Japanese school girl forced by a malicious doctor to experience a long nightmare. In the dream, after being viciously beaten up by her classmates, she limps home along a forest path past the tomb of a murderous, ghostly samurai. She is surrounded by various demon figures and ultimately possessed by the samurai himself. Every time she tries to wake up from the horror, the doctor re-induces sleep. Reality and nightmare are confused and intermingled, with no real explanation for the girl’s incarceration and study. The artwork is done in Flash, in an anime-like style with muted greys and whites. It was soft but clean, with an apt dreamlike quality but cartoonish enough to not be particularly frightening. I liked the art and story (especially the subject of horror as experienced by children), but have mixed feelings about serious animation being done in the Flash medium.
I liked Lorenzo Mattotti‘s piece a lot. Narrated by a young man reminiscing about a particular summerhe spent at his aunt and uncle’s farm house, it deals with the hunt for an unidentified monster stalking the neighborhood. The narrator’s uncle goes missing, as does his best friend. The following hunt for the alleged beast brings him to a shocking conclusion- the monster may be someone he knows, and he’s been haunted by that realization ever since. I dug the sketchy but smooth artwork- possibly(?) a mix of traditional and digital- and the artist’s attention to shadows.
The last piece was my other favourite, a short by Richard McGuire (who also seems to have no website or even Wikipedia entry). A man enters a seemingly abandoned house to shelter himself against a raging blizzard outside. His only light is from a candle and the fireplace. For a while he rests and warms up, until he finds a photo album pictorially narrating the history of the house’s inhabitants. A lonely young woman takes over the estate after her parents die, and proceeds to be involved with several men over a period of years. Each man’s face is removed from the photos. The housecrasher hears noises and investigates upstairs, fearing the unhappy woman’s ghost remains and that he is her next victim. It plays out the best way this story can, and it is awesome. The whole film is done in complete black and white, with no gradations and little linework. He focuses on shape, pattern, and the play of light. It’s extremely difficult to achieve but extremely well done. It had a disturbing ending, and was the story that lingered with me the most.
Between the films were free-style monologues by an anxious liberal French woman, waxing poetic about fears of how she is perceived by others, how things change, etc- basically the fears of everyday life. It’s animated by graphic and typeface designer Pierre Di Sciullo, in fluxuating abstract shapes that don’t seem to have a connection to her words. It was the one I liked least, feeling out of place with the rest of the films. The animation did nothing for me.
Overall it’s an enjoyable look at different aspects of fear, but most of all an exciting collection of experimental animation. Because of the involvement of multiple animators, it’s a little hit-or-miss, but definitely still worth a look. You can see a lot of clips and work from all of the artists at the film’s website.