A man is on his way to a date with his girlfriend when he encounters a mysterious strange creature. He impulsively destroys its nest, causing it to invade his body and immobilize him. But as it turns out, that's not the worst monster that crosses the man's path...

Hypnotic and deliciously creepy, animator Stas Santimov's animated horror short delivers a tale worthy of a modern-day Edgar Allen Poe, full of chills, terror and an ice-cold brutal sense of comeuppance.

Much of the film's spell is due to its visuals, which have a dark, painterly uncanniness to them. Each image is captivating, with details that build character or add a mordant whimsy to a scene. Undeniably accomplished, the moody palette and especially the distorted bodies have almost a murky, water-logged quality to them -- almost as if they're reanimated corpses come back to life. An evocative soundscape and darkly ambient score also builds a full sense of the narrative's world and imbues it with an ominous and otherworldly foreboding.

But beyond the visuals and sound, the storytelling is also consistently compelling, laying down the pieces of the puzzle with a patient deliberateness (and without dialogue): the waiting girlfriend, the carelessly destructive man, a desperately placed phone call.

But the story gains real traction and momentum when another character enters, one with its own agenda, intrigues and longings. And when these paths cross, it unravels a climax and ending that is skin-crawling and horrific and made even more so because it plays out with the same measured pacing, augmenting a feeling of further doom.

"The Surrogate" takes advantage of animation's narrative and imaginative possibilities, taking a story that perhaps would be gross or shocking in live-action and rendering it as a dark, sinister fairy tale in the animated medium. It's almost a strange, inverted take on the story of "Little Red Riding Hood," with its riff on a walk through a dark wood and other motifs of that classic narrative. (To detail more would be to give away the ending.) The real gift is how "The Surrogate" both feels complete in and of itself, but invites viewers to wonder what happens next -- demonstrating what a dark spell it has cast through its command of art, story and dread.

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