Halloween is over, but does that mean we can’t program horror shorts any longer? Of course not! Good thing too, because today’s featured pick is fantastic. With creepy production design, kick-ass fighting and tons of gore, Boniato suggests that we should praise immigrants not simply for their thankless, hard-work, but for their abilities in the field of undead-killing badassery.
Elisia is an attractive young lady working on a fruit farm. Armed with a motorcycle and an intriguing backstory, she’s on her way, but to what or where she’s uncertain. “North” is her only destination. Before she can leave though, she’s lured into a supernatural hellscape which will take all her effort to escape from—along with some timely help from the enigmatic drifter “Boniato”.
Blending social commentary with horror and action hero mythologizing, Boniato is the kind of fluid genre mashup we’ve come to expect from Andres Meza-Valdes and Diego Meza-Valdes—brothers whose work we first encountered 4 years ago with their playful “dogs meet zombies” romp, Play Dead. Working off an idea from co-director Eric Mainade, they sought to transform the immigrant story into a heroic arc. Laborers have long cast a shadow on American mythology, from Paul Bunyan to John Henry, and Boniato is a welcome addition to this legacy. Being a Meza-Valdes film though a little blood proves to be necessary! The horror framework that surrounds Boniato and Elisia draws powerfully on ghost-story tropes, and is freaky enough to sustain a story in its own right.
In Boniato we see a film team that is running on all cylinders: the production design and costuming is super atmospheric and the practical effects are positively dripping. The Meza-Valdes brothers have proven themselves to be kinetic directors of action, cutting between shots in a fast and visceral way, but they do not sacrifice the audiences’ intelligibility of space in the process. Mainade is a stunt performer and coordinator by trade, so the fight sequences are quite accomplished by short film standards, and are admirably gymnastic as well as brutal. Each of the 3 directors took turns acting as underground creatures, a testament to how lean the team was able to keep the production.
Shot over a couple of weekends in Florida, the film draws on the strength and know-how of Borscht Corp., the prolific film collective based out of Miami responsible for many films featured on this site. Borscht co-founder Lucas Leyva is credited as an executive producer on Boniato, and Jonathan David Kane, whose short Papa Machete we featured last month, is one of two producers alongside Cory Czajkowski. It is seemingly a tradition that a Borscht Corp. short is programmed at Sundance every year, and Boniato helped continue that streak in 2015, before heading to Toronto After Dark and the Stanley Film Festival. The film team declined to share what they are currently working on, but I would imagine that after two smart, wildly entertaining short horror outings, the Meza-Valdes brothers are ready for a bigger canvas.