Written and Directed by Carter Smith
Unease: the innate sense that something is wrong, which must have developed while we were a new species. Fresh and meaty, we needed something to keep our soft, supple bodies from becoming flesh for the innumerable beasts that stalked us with gobbling teeth and terrific claws.
Unease: the one advantage that prey are given over their all-too-knowing, all-too-sure predators; a marked moment in our fight or flight response that alerts us to how very nigh the danger may be.
In horror generating unease within the audience is crucial, but for as intricately imperative as it is, there are millions of ways to create and weave its magical spell. The worst of the worst is when a movie uses false setups to create wonderful tension and then blows it on a throwaway scare. This is cinematic premature ejaculation. The film just blew its load, wasted its power, and now we have to wait while the audience recharges to be able to perform the act fully again.
Powerful movies do not do this. Instead they keep their tension erections hard for the duration. They are able to not only maintain a heightened level of awareness to the situation at hand, but they can take the audience even deeper. The longer they maintain their rigidity, the harder they can fuck with us.
Bugcrush is a short story on film. It details such flowery ideals as infatuation, carnal lust, and sexual naiveté. The work flows on the screen like a poem, skipping along at a deliberate, desperate pace and keeping the audience’s ears tuned in to each subtle nuance and inflection it carries in its message. Bugcrush is also a trip to hell. It wanders down the road less traveled, taking you back to the moments in your life where you could had done something different and taken that chance, and then shows you how it could have gone terribly awry. But what just levels anyone who watches the film is the ripe tension, the imposing feeling of unease that permeates so much of the screen. Writer/director Carter Smith has prestidigitated this wonder out of a simple yet complex scenario that plays well off its subject matter.
Ben looks like a nice kid. Not quite a clean-cut geek, but neither is he a raging Goth. His longish red hair covers his eyes a bit and allows him to keep a boyish look. It is in this visage of youth that we grasp Ben’s innocence to the world and how it works. Within the world of high school, a pressure cooker that multiplies all the world’s woes and turns the most trivial things into life-ending affairs, Ben is a ghost. Wandering between the world of those who know and love him and those he wants to love.
There is a new kid. Dark hair, tall, and lean, his bony frame striking out a slash across the suburban landscape. It is this mark, this boy, that catches Ben’s eye. There is a brief exchange where barely a sentence passes between them, but underneath the exchange, hidden within its banality, is something more.
The overlying homosexuality in Bugcrush is a marvelous mix of uncertainty to the situation. Its power is split between two causes.
First, Carter Smith has created a film that will not cater to the Red State mentality. With its unabashed look at wanting through the eyes of a gay youth, Smith has already created a level of unease for select audiences who find homosexuality a taboo. Next, by framing the story in high school, intolerance and modern-day teenage violence dance in our minds. News stories of gay youths beaten or killed for being different cause alarm and dread in our minds for poor young Ben. He is stalking a prey here that may actually be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
And stalk is what Ben does. This tall, dark quarry of his remains an enigma. He cannot get a reading on who, or what, this new guy is about. Yet, this mystery only goes to make the situation between Ben and his object of desire even worse. The frustration and anticipation grow until Ben cannot take it any more. He confronts the boy/man.
Once Ben approaches and enters the world of his desired, there is scarcely room to breathe. The overwhelming crush of tension put upon the viewer is not only palpable, but supremely dominating. I wish I could see a film where this type of suspense could be maintained for longer than 36 minutes. Rarely do films fuck with you as hard or as deep as Bugcrush does, and that is a sad commentary for today’s genre fans. We want it, but they just can’t keep it up.
Cinematic Erectile Dysfunction.
The ecstasy that Bugcrush is flying on lands the story right into the realm of Interzone and the icky worlds out of David Cronenberg’s brain. Let me explain. The new kid is into some weird shit. He had an “experience” with a bug, a sexually charged experience, and now he wants to share with Ben. We have now broken through any or all safety nets granted to us by staying within the world we know. Homosexuality is one thing. Insects are another level of the inferno. To add an ever deepening layer of dread to the story at hand, Carter Smith has inserted a new twist into the taboo: sex with bugs.
Bugcrush is heavily aided by being more than competently shot and directed. Smith shows a knack for getting realistic teens down on film. These kids act, move, talk, dress, and behave like real flesh and blood teens. We are not getting Kevin Williamson teen clones that look the part but dress and act like something born in certain towns in Connecticut. Maybe if Smith had tripped up with this aspect, the film would have been just another tired attempt, but with the triumph of the characters he creates, there is no disconnect. We feel for them because they seem real.
It saddens me a bit to tell of how great something like this short film is, as most of our dear readers will not get to experience it. Even more depressing is the idea that movies like this are few and far between, but maybe that is a good thing. If experiences like this were grown in fields as vast as wheat, they may lose some of their virility. The advantage they have over their brethren, their distinct ability to surprise us, would be lessened. Part of Bugcrush‘s ability lies within its stealthy attack. On the surface it looks so calm, so clean, but deep underneath it lies waiting to grab us. Most good movies will fuck with you…
This one rapes you.
5 out of 5