If you were to imagine your innermost fear encapsulated as a living being, what would it look like? A towering kaijū monster capable of destroying whole cities or perhaps a giant boa constrictor intent on squeezing the life out of everything it encounters? For animator Malte Stein (Flut) he envisioned something much smaller, but just as terrifying, in his unsettling five-minute short Ding (Thing).
The “Thing” the title refers to is a skittish little being, naked and bucktoothed, which follows Ding‘s protagonist down the street. At first it seems frightened and somewhat cute, but as it lets out an open-mouthed hiss and begins to follow the man, we get a sense that this creature isn’t as innocent as it first seemed. As its infatuation develops into a taste for blood, when it bites a chunk out of the man’s leg, you start to wonder what this strange little thing wants and what it will take to stop it.
At just over four-and-a-half minutes long and the storyline pretty much as described above, at first Ding seems like quite a trivial film – a little shocking and funny, but not much else – but it’s the type of short that really crawls under your skin and demands further investigation. Talking to director Stein, you start to get a sense of the complexity at work here, as he describes his film as “a symbol of how ridiculous our impulsive aggression and fears can be”, an expression of his own fear of violence, a representation of humanity’s tendency to take advantage of weaker people and finally, a “kind of persiflage of the classic monster film”.
Beginning life as a short story by Stein, he decided to translate it to screen when he realised the potential it had to become an exciting and provocative animated film. Drawn to this narrative because of its high entertainment value, the director felt that through this storyline he could create a film that was full of emotion, laced with humour and tinged with horror, all in under five-minutes. We don’t feature enough films of this length on S/W, but Ding has all the components we’re looking for, as it’s unique, unforgettable and confirms Stein as an exciting new voice in the short film arena.
The distinct and memorable qualities of Ding don’t only come from its storyline however, as Stein brings a rich, layered aesthetic to the screen, perfectly capable of capturing the horrors of his narrative. Much like his previous film, Flut, despite the nightmarish qualities of proceedings there’s again a tangible quality to the design that makes it seem uncomfortably believable. The character design is unique, while the uniformity of the backgrounds again tap into both the surreal and realistic nature of this tale. The sound design, also by Stein, rounds things off perfectly, the scuffling of that little creature’s feet set to reverberate around your headspace long after its unnerving appearance has left the screen.
With an impressive festival run, which saw Ding play at festivals worldwide and win awards in Croatia, Japan, Italy, Slovakia and the US, Stein’s short has all the qualities to now translate that success to internet audiences. In the meantime, he’s already on work on a new film, which he describes as “my first project with sufficient funding” – we can’t wait to see what he can achieve with more resources at his disposal.