Looking to tell a love story that felt like a panic attack, J. Casey Modderno’s Pet Rituals is a raw and emotive short orbiting around the dysfunctional relationship between the singer and drummer of a Hardcore band. A dramatic, but relatable tale, Modderno’s 20-minute short throws you headfirst into the hardcore music scene as we get a front row view of this tumultuous relationship as it explodes on the night of a gig.
Determined to make a movie set in the music scene he loves, Modderno chose the Hardcore community as the backdrop to his unstable love story, as he was eager to present a true depiction of the genre and its fans without it feeling “movie-fied”. With this subculture setting for his short in place, the central theme of toxic co-dependency came next.
Admitting he wanted to “really dig into the feelings of emotional entrapment and cognitive dissonance that can result from any purely co-dependent relationship”, although the on-screen couple at the heart of Pet Rituals feel extreme, a troubled romance is something the majority of us would have experienced at some point in our life – just hopefully nothing as poisonous as theirs.
A rugged narrative that builds to a combustible climax, before Modderno offers a relieving moment of tenderness with some flashback footage and a beautiful cover of Fugazi’s ‘Im So Tired’ (performed by the film’s leads Sophia Dueñas and Austin Ford), there’s no denying Pet Rituals is a film that will leave you feeling battered and bruised at its conclusion.
“There was the idea that the whole film should be leading up to a final performance where the burst of anger seems beautiful and cathartic in its inevitability”, the director reveals. “Like everything before the final performance is just beating away at us until we crave something explosive and huge and intensely visceral”.
Centred around a strong, but flawed, female protagonist it’s refreshing to see this kind of story where the woman isn’t portrayed as the unstable “bunny boiler” in the couple. Instead, although Anita feels trapped in her relationships by the threats of her unstable partner, she never truly feels like a character with no control. There’s a real on-screen presence in Sophia Dueñas’ performance that makes her portrayal believable and likeable and by making her the lead-singer of a kick-ass band it feels as if Modderno has given her a voice and outlet for her pain and frustration.
Currently wrapping post on two new shorts, Modderno is also currently developing two feature projects which he promises will be “full of visceral intensity, loner outcasts and truely doomy Pacific Northwest imagery”. Personally, I like the sound of this!.