Real or Ridiculous: Dark Humour in Canadian Film Festival Short Films
A filmmaker may choose to use the short film style for a variety of reasons. Short film can be poignant and emotional, or shocking and absurd. It can drive home a message succinctly and powerfully, or leave us with a few minutes of gorgeous imagery. In the past, we’ve even discussed how short film can aid in the discovery of new talent. However, upon watching a selection of short films from this year’s Canadian Film Festival, I was reminded of another strength of this form: its ability to make us laugh. The short film lends itself to the delivery of dark humour, through both its unique form as well as its particular techniques. This year, many of the shorts achieved their humour through a particular strategy: depicting everyday situations, but with a twist of the extreme.
My favourite short film at the festival and the one that best exemplifies this idea is Cancel the Fucking Internet from director Ryan Kayet. The premise is one to which we can all relate: a frustrated husband tries to cancel his internet service. Things start familiarly enough: he is put on endless hold, transferred to multiple different departments, and offered countless services to entice him to stay. Things take a turn for the worst and wacky, however, when his service provider begins to blackmail him with his search history records.
This tale works perfectly in the short film style, and the techniques used reflect the plot. The pace moves from brief tedious moments of still shots and languorous, bumbling music—when our husband is on hold, at the start of the short—to zippy scenes featuring frantic dialogue and quick cuts, when he finally gets through to a human on the other end. Because there is a limited timeframe in which to tell a whole story, small touches—such as the wife’s “Size Matters” mug from which she drinks tea while reading Stephen King’s Misery—reveal a lot about the characters, and quickly; we don’t have time to think much about it, but our subconsciouses register these little items and make judgements accordingly.
The film is shot in a reflective manner that places the viewer in the scenes, and reminds them of similar experiences. When the film eventually goes off the rails, the humour is twofold, because a viewer can’t help but wonder how they might react in a similar situation. We spend fourteen minutes experiencing an everyday, mundane happenstance, and the fact that it becomes ridiculous and yet we can still relate says a lot about just how real the film truly is at its core, and is done to hilarious effect.
I Love You More, directed by Kevin Hartford, also starts with a bit of a cliché: a couple flicking through the television channels ask each other what they’re thinking about, and then end up in one of those nauseating “I love you more” contests we’ve all had the misfortune to witness. The difference here is that every answer is an extreme we may have thought about, but probably wouldn’t admit, and their antics to prove who feels greater love for the other quickly descend into madness. This short reveals the ridiculousness of these conversations, by augmenting them far past the point of belief or possibility. The shots are simple back-and-forth cuts between the couple, but here, the focus is on the dialogue and nothing more complex is needed.
Finally, Must Kill Karl from Joe Kicak also hits close to home… to a point. We all have that annoying, offensive, over-the-top friend who we never seem to invite to group get-togethers, but always shows up at these events regardless. Maybe we consider unfriending them on social, or confronting them with our concerns. The group of nice, seemingly normal friends in this film decide to solve the problem in their own way—by killing Karl. Once again, an everyday situation is taken too far to be real, but a tiny part of the viewer’s mind may still be able to identify with the errant thoughts that these individuals choose to put into action. The humour here is less dry and more physical than the aforementioned films, but the darkness of the jokes and premise cannot be denied.
Are these films vulgar or witty? Well, perhaps a little bit of both. Are they real or ridiculous? Again, the humour here is derived from the rendering of the mundane, everyday, even cliché, into the extreme. This is why we laugh at it: because we can see our own lives reflected back in these films. In short film, we only receive a glimpse, which is probably for the best. Regardless, we watch and we thank the powers that be that we have not come to this ourselves—yet.