We Like Shorts, Shorts is a column in which we single out impressive short films which are easily accessible online. The full shorts are embedded in the articles for easy access.
Although many of us at 4:3 have had their Sydney Film Festival hopes fulfilled or dashed with the late additions from Cannes, my own hopes were already lived up to with the return of Malcolm Turner’s Animation Showcases, a great initiative that curates three sets of inspired and entertaining shorts. Among the top-quality offerings from last year’s inaugural event1 was a highway-set thriller called Cruise Patrol, directed by Bobby de Groot, and to this day it is a solid example of bizarre and beautiful adult animation on Vimeo, beyond the better-known likes of World of Tomorrow.
The cast bringing this story to life is sparse but striking. Among them are two men, both gaunt and angular like the figures of Judge Dredd comic book artist Mark McMahon, who is thanked in the end credits. The first is a dishevelled tourist driving a car down a desert road, blaring metal out of his stereo and nervously inspecting his blackened eye in the rear view mirror. Forcing him to pull over is a sheriff decked out in black leather and high-heel boots, which stick and glisten on him like tar as he walks across the crunching gravel on the roadside. Sporting a bare midriff and handsome face, he has a seductive air about him as he leans in and breathes curling cigarette smoke through the front window. Before he can say so much as a “do you come here often”, the driver whispers the only two words spoken in the film: “help me”. This is all dispensed in long takes “shot” at tight angles, and the next depicts a hand around a gun, which belongs to one of the other mysterious characters sitting in the back seat.
De Groot is well tuned to the mechanistic film language of his favourite directors (Sergio Leone and John Carpenter are also thanked), so he and his company House of Secrets enforce the same principles in their computer-animated space. Their visual style uses cel-shading and a lurid palette to create bold shapes and shadows, guiding the viewer’s eye in partnership with the virtual camerawork, and the sound design is similarly tactile and marvelous. Several directors follow the possibilities of unbounded camera movement off the deep end into weightless affairs, but by rooting their miniature saga in classic cinematic styles, Groot and his collaborators hit on a disarmingly playful emotional spectrum.
To say where it all goes would be a crime, as is usually the case with the dazzling shorts we have featured in this column. What is worth mentioning is how, amid the insanity of the second half, a curiously intimate attraction develops between the co-leads. It’s all too easy to treat queerness as an “issue” requiring exploration when present in unusual art forms, but here it’s an essential part of a tale that is refreshingly weird and fun. In this way, Cruise Patrol is a brief, brilliant reminder that animation deserves better than to be shackled to heteronormative sensibilities typically demanded of it.