A woman dealing with agoraphobia is holed up in her apartment, unable to leave because of her fear and neuroses. Though she has Skype sessions with her therapist, she doesn’t have much contact with anyone else.
But when she tries to hang up a piece of art on a wall, she discovers a hollow space behind it, her growing fascination with the hole in the wall reveals a terror living behind it, which threatens to consume her mind… and perhaps even more than that.
Written and directed by Janina Gavankar and Russo Schelling, this horror short blends elegantly disciplined craftsmanship and a unique and thoughtful take on the grotesque to explore the deep, dark psychological terrain of guilt, fear, depression and stasis.
What marks the film as unique is its precise, cerebral visual approach. With its initial emphasis on distant high angles and skewed compositions that capture the main character scuttling around her home almost like a science experiment, it evokes a Kafkaesque alienation. The feel is remote and desolate, and the character portrayed strange and inscrutable.
But both the camera and storytelling begin to achieve an intense intimacy with its main character — also played by Gavankar, who has starred in movies like The Way Back and TV series like The Morning Show — once she discovers the hollowed-out wall. The visions and imaginings her discovery provokes — as well as her sense of time and reality — heighten and intensify, becoming more surreal and disturbing. But attuned viewers will also detect the deep, squeamish feelings at the core of the woman’s visions: her primal urges, self-loathing and shame.
Many of these are expressed through disturbing visions fixated on teeth, tongues, orifices and the flesh in general. But this isn’t meant to be gross for grossness’s sake: these motifs are deployed in service of the psychological, with a keen emotional intelligence. The symbols are woven together is strange and fascinating ways, escalating in an unforgettable final scene that is audacious in its scale and cathartic in its bravery.
Though it’s not a simple throwback, “Stucco” has more in common with horror classics of the past like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, which similarly explores how a disturbed young woman projects her innermost fears upon her environment. Yet the heroine of this short isn’t the victim of her time, her circumstances or her society. Instead, she must barrel straight into her own internal heart of darkness. But though her willingness to confront her monster directly, she achieves something truly remarkable at the end: her freedom.