Issue 10: Winter 2012

As Human As Animal (2012)

Kristina Klebe's short film As Human As Animal was shot as an assignment for the New York University Grad Film Programme under these instructions: Exteriors daytime only, no dialogue, and no music (although a subtle soundscape was added at a later stage).

It begins with a sunrise, ducks in a lake, and a slow motion shot of a fawn, establishing an idyllic mood. This is almost immediately threatened by the introduction of a hulking male figure (listed in the credits as 'Hank'), framed within the window of a cabin in the woods, frying a chunk of meat. Next, he is seen moving from the cabin with his food to the outside of a ramshackle shed. Along the way he picks up a scruffy fluffy toy from the leaf-covered ground and places it on a table with an assortment of slightly sinister objects - the skull of a cow, empty beer bottles, a tatty copy of Playboy - before sitting down beside it. Hank cuts up and chomps on the bloody rare meat, the texture of which is highlighted by lovingly queasy close-ups, while tossing scraps to a Labrador who is chained up nearby. Gazing up he sees a clothes line with fresh white sheets and baby clothes being hung up a young pregnant woman. But this serene moment begins to fragment with the intrusion of unpleasant images of the linen and clothes covered in dirt and rancid meat crawling with maggots, while sounds of a screaming baby can be heard on the soundtrack. Out of frustration, Hank throws his food into the air. He picks up a telephone receiver, dials 911 and walks over to the woman he saw hanging the washing. She is seated, motionless, and as he moves closer it becomes clear she is dead with a gory maggot-infested wound on the side of her face. He puts the receiver to her ear but the camera pans down to reveal the phine is disconnected.

As Human As Animal is a first effort and its film student origins are noticeable with occasional crudities in the sound mix and imagery, but the lack of dialogue and brief running time (under five minutes) are used to a great advantage, creating an ambiguous atmosphere with a strong visceral quality. A vivid sense of place is conveyed by the use of the rustic location (it was filmed in Upstate New York), the autumn/early daytime setting (the sunrise lends a yellow and orange cast to the visuals) and the textured Super 16 film stock. All of which bring a dated, worn quality to the imagery, with the golden colours and film grain recalling a faded celluloid print. The tranquil surroundings are juxtaposed with the rancid details of decay, and this contrast extends to the depiction of the lead character. Diamond Dallas Page, a former professional wrestler, displays an effortless screen presence as Hank, his large frame and world-weary face conveying in a wordless performance a mixture of violent anger and immense sadness. It is a melancholy tale of a man trapped in the past by his own brutal actions, and Hank is ultimately a tragic figure comparable in pathos to the monster in James Whale's Frankenstein (1931).

As Human As Animal screened as part of Twisted Celluloid @ Halloween 2012, Triskel Christchurch

- Chris O'Neill