An animated short film about an insubordinate bug has been making the festival rounds and doing incredibly well for itself. The Iranian horror short The Servant has generated a lot of buzz, snapping up a number of awards across festivals around the world, including ‘Best Short Animation’ award at both the London Independent Film Festival in February and the Atlanta Horror Film Festival. It has also gone on to win ‘Best Animation’ at both the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival and Tehran’s International Short Film Festival.
The nine minute film tells the story of a writer who finds a cockroach in his house and, instead of killing it, condemns it to a life of servitude. However, after putting up with mistreatment for so long, the insect begins to rise up against its master, resulting in a cat-and-mouse power struggle that runs throughout the household.
The short is directed by Farnoosh Abedi, who also created the 2014 family drama The Old Tree, and interestingly, both shorts show a number of similarities. The Old Tree is a family drama set in an old, wooden house and centres around a seemingly irresolvable conflict between father and son. The Servant is also set entirely in one house, creating a dysfunctional sort of ‘family’ out of a man and his cockroach.
The trailers and display the film’s claustrophobic, uncomfortable mood. The horror seems to stem not just from the familiar old idea of a servant turning on his master, but from the monstrous appearance of the overgrown vermin and the increasing the increasing threat the writer feels himself in.
The dreary domestic setting and the fact that the cockroach is actually sympathetic can’t help but be reminiscent of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Farnoush turns Kafka’s helpless and useless vermin on its head by making him a literal butler. This might just be a coincidence, but we’re tempted to think there’s at least a literary nod in there.
The film’s wonderfully quirky visual style (which it also borrows from The Old Tree) gives everything has a sketched feel, looking as if had been filled in with graphite pencil. Characters are lumpy and asymmetrical, which is rare find in the ultra-smooth world of CGI. The greyscale colour scheme also serves to undercut any cartoonishness with a sombre feel.
Hopefully The Servant continues to tour and pick up more awards, as it’s definitely one of the more unusual festival films this year. The blend of short, scary and animated hasn’t been this interesting in a while, and we can expect to see more of Farnoush’s unique visuals in the future.