The world can seem like a strange and scary place through the eyes of the child. Attempting to capture this unique perspective, Jerry Carlsson’s unusual and unsettling short Skuggdjur (Shadow Animals) sets its audience a place at the table of one of the weirdest dinner parties you’re ever likely to experience. Watching events unfold from the viewpoint of the only child present, this 22-minute short playfully blends dance and drama and constantly crosses the borders of tonal territories, between the surreal and the scary.
Following young Marall into a social gathering with her parents, Shadow Animals instantly initiates its unsettling feel and we get an indication things are not as they seem, when a shadow queues at the door behind them. At first, we put this down to a childish imagination (Marall’s Dad explains early on in the film that she “fell asleep in the car on the way over”), but as we enter the house and the adults begin to engage in some truly bizarre rituals, we quickly realise life in Carlsson’s on-screen world is not at all like the one we know.
Featuring exaggerated sound design (the film feels as if it’s permanently underscored by the amplified sound of Marall’s breathing) and those titular shadows, there’s a tinge of Horror to Carlsson’s filmmaking, but it feels impossible to pigeon hole into one genre. Described by its director (in conversation with Abla Kandalaft for labrasserieducourt.com) as “surreal movement-based drama”, Shadow Animals is a dynamic short, at its best when it is constantly changing and surprising its audience, never letting them settle and always keeping them guessing.
“I wanted to create a film about human behavior and social rituals in a playful and absurd way”, Carlsson explains (again in Kandalaft’s interview) and absurdity is a key element in what made Shadow Animals such an appealing short for me. I’m constantly looking to be surprised by short film and Carlsson’s piece is one that caught me totally off-guard. The range of emotions it put me through in its consistently engaging 22-minute run-time is nothing short of impressive. The absurd nature of the storytelling made me laugh, cringe and recede with fear, all the time that unsettling feeling it had planted in my gut never diminishing.
Released on Vimeo early in 2020, Shadow Animals had quite the festival run, which included picking up awards at Clermont-Ferrand, Nordisk Panorama and Palm Springs ShortFest. Carlsson’s latest short, Nattåget (The Night Train) is currently touring the altered festival scene (it’s set to screen as part of the 77th Venice International Film Festival), if it’s as distinct and surprising as Shadow Animals, we can’t wait to see it.