A woman stands at the end of a long hallway, where a red door awaits. She doesn’t want to open the door and go inside, but her counselor encourages her to face her fears, find her courage and try. But she can’t quite do it.
After multiple struggles, she finally opens the red door and goes inside. But now she must face her biggest fear of all.
Written and directed by Douglas Caden, this short comedy takes exposure therapy to the next level, as one woman confronts her innermost phobias and, in doing so, finds a new dimension of joy and expression in life. The film is in many ways an exercise in minimalism, with its slender but focused narrative premise and its relative lack of dialogue. But its pared-down nature brings a sense of whimsy and an arch comic tone to the fore, making for an enjoyable and entertaining bit of visual candy.
Exposure therapy, of course, is often used by psychologists to treat people with anxiety disorders and phobias, exposing them to “doses” of their specific fears in situations with no real danger in them. The narrative takes this idea and runs with it, eschewing realism in favor of stylistic panache. The stark gleaming setting, bold contrasts of bright light with darker surroundings and the strategic pops of red have the feel of a kind of “wonderland,” where eccentricity and surrealism could converge. The elegantly studied camerawork also heightens the stylization, as does the buoyancy of its excellent Baroque-like classical score, which adds lightness and levity.
The lead performance by actor Virginia Reese, too, strikes a balance between different tones. As the woman confronting her deepest phobia, Reese is committed to the emotional reality of fear, though with an exaggeration right out of a screwball comedy, and some very childlike moments hint at their childhood origins. But soon she discovers there’s a delight to confronting them, setting loose an inner freedom that she takes to a whole new level once she gets out.
The central inner demon in “Pop,” though, is actually a delight in many ways, and it injects the film with not only a riot of color but fun and exuberance. It’s a testament to the power of visuals to give color and shape to pure emotion, and it’s simply charming and joyous to watch. Both stylish and silly, its ending has a looseness and wildness that is a marked contrast to the buttoned-up control and elegance of the character and craftsmanship at the beginning of the story. But though there are many moments of playful exaggeration, it does get at the feeling of liberation and possibility that awaits us when we look our fears in the eye, confront them head-on, and discover what that courage can bring to our lives.