Short of the Week

The External World

Enter the disturbing world of David OReilly (Please Say Something) for a spin into low-poly, subconscious madness.

It’s rare for us to mention a filmmaker twice on our site, but even more rare for us to twice crown one’s work as Short of the Week. In fact, I’m sure we’ve never done it. We tend to be drawn toward the new and exciting, a feat most short filmmakers are lucky to pull off once. But all of that ends today with David OReilly’s opus, The External World. His previous short, Please Say Something, is one of our Top 10 Short Films of 2010, so after The External World found success at the Venice Film Festival, Ottawa Int’l Film Festival, and Sundance, David keenly posted the film online.

I referred to the film as an opus, and perhaps I can explain why the analog is suitable. The External World is both grand in scale—17 minutes long—and, much like a musical opus, is composed of a set of separate compositions that run together. Each composition represents a new setting and new characters in a funny yet often bleak set of circumstances. (not unlike Don Hertzfeldt). In one scene, a box of tissue screams each time a crying girl yanks a tissue from its box. In another, a patient stays at a “Nothing Is Wrong” hospital. These aren’t so much as stories as they are a glimpse into David’s unbounded imagination—a darkly comedic world where irony is called out in titles. But unlike Hertzfeldt, David has managed to hit a deeper emotional chord with his twisted comedy—one that hints at an underlying darkness in our world.

Stylistically, The External World follows in the same low-poly, video game-inspired aesthetic from Please Say Something, however there is a certain maturation over its predecessor. Characters and movements are more refined with cameras that move beyond the orthographic video game perspective and closer to live-action camera movements. It’s a difficult feat to evolve a very stylized aesthetic—one that more money and resources too often vandalizes. David deserves credit for refining an aesthetic without killing its spirit.

David received a fair bit of flak from his diehard Please Say Something fans who had hopes of The External World being more of a PSS 2 with a continuation of its two lovable cat and mouse characters. But I’m glad to see him shelve that and dig for more original work. It’s kept his work fresh and exciting— the type of work that deserves a second honor here at Short of the Week.

The External World
David OReilly

Andrew makes no attempt to hide his love for the magic art of animation. He appreciates compelling visuals but never forgets that in this modern age, a strong story always reigns supreme. You can see his work at or his latest film The Thomas Beale Cipher.
  • Felonious Punk

    I 100% agree with your assessment. I loved it. During my viewing of it, I kept thinking of David Lynch’s “Inland Empire”, which this and “Please Say Something” both seem to have as a foster parent. However, I think “The External World” soars over both of the former movies. It is more ambitious in structure and emotional spectrum than “Please Say Something”, but at the same time, the direction is more confident and masterly than “Inland”. Lynch unfortunately seemed to have bit off more than he could chew, while O’Reilly seems to have bitten off an amazing amount that perfectly matches his jaws. I am on pins and needles wondering if he’ll be able to top this. But even if he doesn’t, I don’t think he has anything to be ashamed of ever again. After all, nobody gives David Lynch grief over “Mulholland Drive” or “Lost Highway”.

  • richard

    “But unlike Hertzfeldt, David has managed to hit a deeper emotional chord with his twisted comedy…”

    Not so. It sounds like you’ve never seen Hertzfeldt’s “Everything will be OK” or “I am so Proud of you,” shorts that I’ve seen move people to tears. You must rectify this immediately!

    “OK” won the Shorts Grand Prize at Sundance in 2007 and “Proud” is, frankly, the best short film I’ve ever seen.

  • Jason Sondhi

    @richard, you might have a point. I can’t speak for Andrew, but I’ve only seen the ones that have come online recently, “Wisdom Teeth” and “Ah L’Amour”, which are decidedly unsentimental.

  • richard


    Here’s a couple of clips from Hertzfeldt’s “OK” and “Proud.” They’re the first two chapters of a trilogy he’s making.

    His strange, also not-comedic short “The Meaning of Life” can be seen in entirety at

    Of course he’s more well known for the sillier, more surreal cartoons that are all over YouTube now, like “Rejected,” and I like those ones too. But I feel like O’Reilly is just doing a Hertzfeldt impression with “External World.” It really has fingerprints of “Rejected” all over it. That’s not a bad thing, but where I feel warmth and depth from Hertzfeldt’s humor and dramatic films, I only feel coldness from O’Reilly. Though maybe that is his intent.

    Definitely check out more Hertzfeldt, the two shorts you list are really just scraping the surface. He’s fast become one of my favorite directors:

  • Andrew S Allen

    I appreciate your thoughts, Richard. Don Hertzfeldt is one of my favorite animators. I’ve seen all of his films except “I’m So Proud of You” (other than the clip you shared).

    I’m glad you brought up Hertzfeldt’s “The Meaning of Life”, because that film and OReilly’s “The External World” are worth taking a closer look at. The two films came at similar points in each animator’s career (both followups after their highly successful films, “Rejected” and “PSS”) with clear ambitions to tell a story of greater meaning. Yet the two films differ dramatically in execution. “The Meaning of Life” was (as much as I love Hertzfeldt, I know I’m not alone on this) a disappointment. Hertzfeldt cut back on his unique brand of silliness to go for a bigger message about the meaninglessness of life, and unfortunately, the film was neither funny nor meaningful. I saw the film as part of the Animation Show 2 tour years ago and remember even the diehard fans dressed as bananas and holding large spoons looking visibly disappointed (and Hertzfeldt was in the audience!).

    I’m glad to see Hertzfeldt hit his stride again with “Everything Will Be OK”, and you’re right, his stories have a warmth to them—they’re personal stories, after all (“Rejected” and the “Everything Will Be OK” series) with narration and a central character. OReilly’s “The External World” however, has succeeded where “The Meaning of Life” failed—in comedy and exposition. Perhaps through its “coldness”, it’s able to deliver a poignant view of society at large.

  • richard

    @ Andrew,
    Hmm, I quite enjoyed “The Meaning of Life.” I think the one mistake in your argument is the assumption that “The Meaning of Life” was intended in any way shape or form to be a comedy. I can’t think of much in that film that was even trying to be funny. That’s kind of like critcizing “2001″ for being a terrible comedy. Like the disappointed kids dressed up as bananas and spoons, maybe you brought a bit too much baggage into the theater, rather than simply watching the short for what it was. I don’t even think it was trying to be particularly profound, I just enjoyed it for being the weird Hertzfeldt-Fantasia halfbreed that it was. It’s a nice short that probably suffered at the hands of too much hype and audience expectation of something completely different. It’s not my favorite Hertzfeldt, but it’s worth revisiting with a clearer mind if you haven’t seen it now in years.

    I don’t quite agree that O’Reilly has made a similar quantum leap yet between his two films. Both of his shorts keep the audience at bay with a long pole and a lot of very similar stylistic winks and nudges. I look forward to when he gets a little more comfortable letting us in, and makes us feel something other than comedic shock, over and over. Maybe with the next one!

    And “I am So Proud of You”…. wow! Check it out, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. It’s his best yet.

  • Felonious Punk

    I just found a predecessor to this off-beat, sinisterly bleak animated movie. It’s a 2001 Japanese movie of 34 minutes called “Nekojiru-so”, or “Cat Soup” in English. I still like this “The External World” though. I think this is lighter in mood, and more humorous, while that one is elegiac. Both are still great though. :-)

  • kung_fuelvis

    In an amazing act of generosity & openness – director David O’Reilly is now giving away all 65 External World characters on a Creative Commons licence. Free download & info:

  • A?ko Rhône-Alpes

    that was so fucking good

  • A?ko Rhône-Alpes

    that was so fucking good