Sunday, February 11, 2018

Short Film Review: Side Effects (2018)

Zombie movies and the genre of comedy are not exactly strangers to each other. Ever since George Romero provided us with the first true vision of the brain-eating (or general human body-eating) brain-dead ghouls, humanity was hooked on this idea and rightly so. Unlike many other genres of horror, zombie one comes with a subtle disclaimer that this is not the most serious topic in the world.

Sure, they can come with truckloads of drama and The Walking Dead as a TV show epitomizes this premise. But, below the surface, we all kind of gets that walking corpses looking to eat the living aren’t exactly an expression of existential philosophy.

Jonathan Vargas as the writer and director of Side Effects, a short zombie movie, did not have any dilemmas about making his premise both zombified and ridiculous. In the movie, a small hustler and self-proclaimed ladies’ man ends up in trouble when he can’t repay the money he owns to the wrong people. 

So he reaches out to even more wrong people who can help him with some home-made drugs. Unknown to him or anyone else, these come with a very troubling side effect.

This short film is more of a comedy than anything else. Its characters are a cartoonish version of regular movie stereotypes covering a loser protagonist and his rational best friend as opposed to sexy dealers and sexy enforcers. However, Vargas does not stop there, so he throws in there crazy scientists who are willing to make things in exchange for sexual favors and a zombie outbreak, just to top the previous one off.

From the first moment, the film is at high speed and it never really whines down until the very final shot of the film. Vargas, who is now an accomplished and experienced filmmaker, takes the best out of his cast – all of them really do create many funny moments that are based on dialogue and actor reactions. There are some weaker points in the writing that occasionally might get slightly repetitive, but this might be the particular brand of comedy Vargas was aiming for.

Things like cartoon sound effect and general over-the-top atmosphere definitely point to a film that is wacky before anything else. Of course, comedy is nothing new to Vargas, even though I personally believe that his strongest work so far, like Loyalty or Betrayal, remains squarely rooted in crime drama (which is the genre where he should, in my view, try to go for something feature-length). Still, there is something both uplifting and strongly positive in Side Effects, especially in the twist ending that is very unexpected and even laced with a hint of social critique.

All of this makes the film fun and also something that feels like a great long-term exercise for Vargas. His ability to continue with using his recognizable style, mainly in his writing and camera work, show a film professional. Yet, the willingness to branch out to a less-known territory of hybrid horror comedy tells of an artistic impulse that makes the entire cinematographic craft he possess a tool that makes actual art, not just polished independent short films. I’m certain that this will allow anyone who sees Side Effect to be, if nothing else, amused and entertained.