Looking for a fresh start, Lauren is a single mother who moves in with her daughter Stella and her new boyfriend into a new home in Los Angeles. But their first moments reveal a dead electrician -- an ominous omen if there ever was one.
Despite the dead corpse, the new ad-hoc family unit moves in. But as they adjust to living together -- and occasionally chafe at their new domestic intimacy with one another -- the house reveals its own agenda as it slowly turns each member of the household against one another.
Writer-director Jason Gudasz's offbeat short injects elements of psychological horror into what is essentially an awkward, off-kilter dark comedy about home, belonging and family. Jagged in pacing and editing, it deconstructs the look of an indie family dramedy, as it zigzags between characters and genres, engaging viewers with an accomplished sense of craft and a wry, unique eye for how people can be lonely and isolated, even when they're sharing the same room.
The storytelling is more layered and ambitious than most short films, juggling three separate storylines as each character develops a unique relationship to the house. As the house's paranormal tendencies ramp up -- and are excellently constructed through sound and image, instead of special effects -- the trio grow apart from one another. Instead, each character becomes more enmeshed with the house, often to strange and insular effect (which goes hilariously unregistered by the other characters.)
Visually, the film also echoes this trajectory, deconstructing the look and feel of an indie family dramedy. As the narrative proceeds, the palette darkens and the editing seems to disintegrate into shards, as the story and the characters descend into an almost schizoid mode of behavior.
Lauren and her new family unit become increasingly outlandish and surreal, but it's sold with an excellent ensemble cast who balances the complex performance demands of the story. Each actor has to match the studied, awkward, almost mannerist tone of the storytelling, but they also have to come from a genuine emotional place.
They must register the growing detachment, isolation and even resentment of one another, while still hitting the "WTF" oddness of the film's humor. But when it all comes together -- and the family settles into the configuration that the house, and Lauren, truly desires -- it results in a truly engaging, unexpected experience: one with a genuine freshness in voice, tone and sensibility that entertains but also challenges the audience with original storytelling.
"Place" premiered at Sundance but also made waves at prestigious horror festivals like Fantasia and Fantastic Fest, which demonstrates both the success of its cross-genre pollination and its singularity of voice and vision. Absurdist and sharp, it gently interrogates the notion of the traditional family configuration, and may even have intriguing readings during a time when many of us are home more than ever -- and perhaps confronting the hidden and subsumed dynamics underlying our own lives.