Like many of us, filmmaker Crystal Pastis discovered her love for horror films at an early age — sneaking in a viewing of The Exorcist when she was far too young (and had actually been forbidden to do so!), she had the wits scared out of her. However, somewhere deep down, she reveled in the feeling, and was marked for life; a determination to make horror films of her own would shape her goals from that point on.
Now, after a successful crowdfunding campaign, Pastis has realized her vision with her first horror short, Vanilla Cake.
It’s Alex’s sixteenth birthday party, but he just doesn’t look all that excited about it. His mother, however, seems to be all aflutter, preparing his cake, talking up the big day — albeit peppered with thinly-veiled disdain for his apparently deceased father, and constant nagging jabs coated with artificial sweetness. As we watch, we can sense some pretty bad vibes flowing through this kitchen, noticeable in the shaking hands of the young man as his mother prattles on with her bitchy rhetoric.
Finally presenting him with his birthday cake, Alex seems a little miffed that, despite his request for chocolate, Mom has prepared a vanilla cake. Talking over his protests, she doesn’t even acknowledge his words — until that seething rage that has been hinted at comes boiling over, and this sixteenth birthday party will reveal repressed urges and dark secrets that will change the dynamics of this family forever.
Pastis clearly has a deep respect for the genre — her setups, angles, and camera movements position we the audience perfectly in this small, 1950s-looking kitchen, privy to what she wants us to see, when she wants us to see it. The visual narrative is spot-on, and the lighting and sound complement the overall feeling well. You can feel the tension in that room, and like in any good horror flick, you know the fertilizer is going to impact the ventilator soon. The story hit me as a little anticlimactic, but I still felt that the way that things turn out provide a kind of Peyton Place horror that finds evil dwelling in places that we don’t suspect — hiding in guises we’d never guess.
Of course, good performances go a long way in elevating any story, and Coleton Ray as Alex and Julie Mitchell as his Mother provide characters that are grounded enough in reality to be believable, but just larger-than-life enough to feel contextually perfect for the unreality Pastis creates in this flick.
Coming in just shy of eight minutes, I think Pastis’ effort is a damned good one; I found myself caught up in the drama early on, and found myself still rolling it around in my head after the credits rolled — a perfect feeling for a good short film. You don’t have to take my word for it, though, as Crystal has been kind enough to let us show you her efforts right here, just down the page a bit.
So check it out, Fellow Fans, and keep an eye out for more from Crystal Pastis as she continues pursuing her dream of creating nightmares.
With this, her first effort, submitted as a testament to her abilities, I’m certainly going to be watching.
My two-fifths of a nickel on this one.