Malacostraca is the largest class of crustaceans, comprising thousands of connected species. But the titular crabs really aren’t the subject—it’s about a writer snapping his mental tether over the prospect of having a child. Charles Pieper’s latest short film Malacostraca is defined by its superb mounting tension, highly attuned atmosphere, and technical achievements.
After watching what looks like a small crayfish scuttling up his napping wife Sophie’s (Amber Marie Bollinger) stomach while she basked by a river, Chris (Charlie Pecoraro) reacts with a conniption fit laced with a heavy dose of semi-erotic (yet horrifying) hallucinations. As it soon becomes evident that Sophie is pregnant, Chris locks himself away with sizable bout of brooding dread, attempting to write his novel. Things rapidly deteriorate as rifts between the new parents grow.
“…it’s about a writer snapping his mental tether over the prospect of having a child.”
First and foremost, the incredible cinematography of Ava Benjamin Shorr—every scene is meticulously designed to wring the most satisfying tension from each image, and it’s astoundingly effective. These images play directly to the benefit (and support) of Pecoraro and Bollinger’s solid chemistry and largely convincing performances. There are instances where some hokey line deliveries took me out of the work, but that was more to do with the lines from Pieper’s screenplay than the performances of the cast. The script can honestly be considered one of the weaker points of the experience. However, that isn’t saying much. At the film’s start, we traipse along with some drive-by narration that adds little to the story and could have easily been taken out, but other than that and a few other moments, the story is sound and genuinely unnerving.
Matt Latham’s editing is sharp and concise, always playing with the film’s pacing to its benefit. Alex French’s makeup design gives a warped edge to the characters, fluctuating with the mental state of its protagonist. The special effects team are on their way to working with Cronenberg, as they manage some moments of cringe reminiscent of Naked Lunch—though the seams show before too long to make it completely passable, the film manages to work around its limitations rather effectively.
While there are a few scattershot moments of awkward filmmaking, Malacostraca is a damn fine short that boasts the sublime collective talent of its cast and crew.
Malacostraca (2018) Directed by Charles Pieper. Written by Charles Pieper. Starring Amber Marie Bollinger, Charlie Pecoraro.
8 out of 10