Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Backwater Gospel (2011) ***½

NR, 9 min.
Director: Bo Mathorn
Voices: Lucien Dodge, Zebulon Whatley, Phillip Sacramento, Laura Post

I’m sure I’ve expressed this before, but what a wonderful gift the Internet has been for the short film. YouTube and various other web outlets have opened up the world of short films to the eager consuming public. Thousands of short films that would surely never have been seen by more than a handful of people are now available for the all-consuming public thanks to online streaming. And so many wonderful cinematic gifts can now be passed on.

I’m not sure if it is correct to categorize “The Backwater Gospel” as a gift, but it is a wonderfully delicious dark little animated wonder. It imagines a little western backwater town (called of all things “Backwater”) that is frequently visited by the Undertaker, a spirit of Death who appears whenever one of the town’s citizens goes to meet the Ferryman. A crow heralds his presence and when he shows his face he has his handy measuring tape to begin the next part of Death’s victims for them.

The animation is as wooden and worn as the oak planks that make up the Undertaker's trade. Backwater is a town that lives in fear under his shadow. One citizen is a comedian musician who sings of the Undertaker’s actions as a joke. Another is a preacher who feeds of the towns’ peoples’ fear, using the Undertaker as a reason for them to fear the Lord. Neither serves the town’s best interest, and so the Undertaker waits. The comedian assumes he waits for someone else. The Preacher assumes he’s come for the comedian. Both are wrong.

The twist is easy enough to see coming, but the set up is so well conceived. The towns’ people are such sheep. The mood and atmosphere are so dark and so sweetly evil. It’s a harsh cartoon that sees how easy it is to sway the public away from their own good and into something bad. It isn’t uplifting, but it is very good.

Watch the film below.

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