Working in comedy can be high risk yet high reward, as it can all depend on your ability to get a certain reaction out of an audience. Plus, humor is very subjective, which makes it a great form of entertainment, but sometimes hard to pull off. Dark comedy, a sub-genre that blends comedic stylings with something a bit more unique, can be even more challenging, as it takes very taboo topics and depicts them in a funny and entertaining way, or puts a new spin on some well-worn comedic styles. The group of filmmakers at this year’s HollyShorts were able to blend humor and discomfort very well, making for some very interesting films. As one of my favorite blocks as a whole of this year’s festival, each film really brought something to the table.
This film might be my favorite of the entire festival, as it takes a very taboo subject and infuses it with a dark humor that is impossible to escape. Directed by comedian and actress Kimmy Gatewood and starring the renowned Alsion Becker, this film combines the tough subjects of both having a major need to be in control and of taking one’s own life. Becker does an incredible job in this one-woman show, as she goes through the motion of killing herself, all while supporting her incredible neatness. This leads to a hilarious narrative that shows a woman sure of what she’s doing, but needing everything to be perfect, down to the details of what to do after her death, and what items go to who. A bit tough to watch at times, but both Gatewood and Becker did an excellent job in making this a very dark, but very engrossing, film.
Directed by television icon John Stamos, this film follows a very bad day in the life of a struggling actress as she balances getting work, networking, and attempting to make the best of her talent, all while dealing with life’s struggles. After a night of partying (while she should have been getting ready for an audition), our lead finds herself dealing with bad luck as everything she tries to do as she goes in unprepared fails, leading to an end result that doesn’t look so flattering for her when it comes time for the audition. It’s a really funny film that blends a few raunchy ideas into a charming mix of ideas. Stamos shows some real skill behind the camera, and stars Caitlin McHugh and Josh Peck really show off their talent.
El Audifono (The Earpiece)
This Spanish-language title focuses on a long-married couple as they deal with the struggles of having such a long marriage. As time has gone by, the two seem to harbor a disdain for one another, something complicated by the appearance of a hearing aid that seems to be able to read thoughts. As the day progresses, this film takes a bit of a turn, going from a squabbling couple to a potential murder plot. Samuel Quiles Palop brings some brightness to the dark subjects of murder and conspiracy, giving the heinous acts some humor.
A Study in Tyranny
While a movie about Hilter isn’t usually something to be considered for a comedy category, this film is a bit different. Trying to answer the age old question of “if you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you?” this film shows a young man in the modern day attempting to do just that. Traveling back in time to Vienna, when Hilter was still an artist, the two have a showdown as the bewildered Hitler and the terrified young man try to figure out how this will possibly help, what it would truly prevent, and, if he’s not done any of these things yet, is it even right to take his life. It’s awkward and uncomfortable at times, but the charm is there, as both actors do a great job of showing the inherent dark humor that these events would cause in the moments they’re happening.
I Know Jake Gyllenhaal Is Going to F*ck My Girlfriend
Easily the best title of any film in this festival, this is also a hilarious short tale about a paranoid boyfriend convinced that after seeing the acclaimed actor in a movie, his girlfriend is going to inevitably sleep with him. This leads to an all-out panic for the boyfriend, as he begins to pry deeper and deeper into something he already believes to be true, despite no evidence that he can find. It’s a ridiculous concept but is pulled off very well by the cast and director Nino Manusco. This was another favorite of the festival, as it totally delivered on the out-there conceit.
Hearing nasty rumors about the person you love, about who they were before or accusations of who they are now can be tough, and in this film, that is still true. As a man gets ready to propose to his long-time girlfriend at a fancy restaurant, things take an odd turn as person after person comes out of the woodwork to tell him about the terrible things she’s doing and her reasons why. Despite not believing them at first, he is presented with horrific statement after horrific statement, followed by a truth about her that links her to these acts. While not there to defend herself, doubt begins to creep in, and this man’s night, which would have changed his life forever, heads in a very different direction. Director Danny Turkiewicz has helped direct a fun and difficult film that really shows the capabilities of this genre.
Bye, Bye, Baby
It’s something that many new parents can admit to thinking about: “What if our newborn child, whom we love, was gone?” Could they go back to their own lives? Would they be happier? Not that the child was taken from them, mind you, but if the child was never born, or if they decided to give it away. It’s not a pleasant thought in retrospect, but many first-time, stressed parents have had the thought. Well, this film takes it a step further, and focuses on a young, unhappy couple who have resigned themselves to the knowledge that the rest of their lives will revolve around their new child, his needs, and the lives they live in service of them. That is, until they decide to just sell the baby on the black market and use the cash to follow their dreams. What results is an uncomfortable, but amusing, film that follows the couple as they travel to do the unthinkable: sell their own child to the highest bidder and move on with their lives. Director Fabio Frey and the cast do an excellent job of selling this dream to the viewers while not making the parents out to be total monsters.
Shauna Is A Liar
The imaginations of the young are a pretty amazing thing to witness, especially when they get some time to build upon it and have a goal in mind. This film follows that premise as the young and bright-eyed Shauna creates a wild world in which she gets vengeance on something she hates more than all else: liars. Shauna, in direct opposition to her arch nemesis, also named Shauna, imagines robust and complex acts of revenge on her young nemesis for her mistruths. It’s adorable in a super uncomfortable way, as these young children really make some bold choices as they build out their goals in their mind.
There are so many odd quirks, disorders, and routines that people have or use to help get them through every day life. Some garden, some have to follow a certain pattern to feel better, and some people write eulogies for people who are still alive. That last one is pretty weird, but it’s the subject of this film, as we watch our lead deal with the fallout of her own odd habit. After losing her significant other because of how shocking this practice can be, Vivian goes to group therapy to explain why she does this, and what it means to her. It’s kind of beautiful, as well as oddly funny, and the film has a pretty staggering twist at the end that no matter how much you think it to be possible, is really only justified by seeing it happen. Alex Grossman and writer/star Molly Beucher made a pretty fantastic film out of this very dark and slightly disturbing topic.
The final film of this block belongs to directors Jon Hoeg and John F. Beach. The story is of Jerry, as he, after returning home from a long trip, finds a series of messages from a friend of his that isn’t always known for making the best choices. These messages, despite Jerry’s hesitance, bring him into the fray of one of his friend Randy’s crazy plans, and willing or not, Jerry and Randy are now on an interesting adventure.